This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

July 2002 Archives

July 31, 2002

9 Beet Stretch, Beethoven's 9th symphony stretched to 24 hours. Bizarre, and surprisingly beautiful, if a bit slow.

On April 31, 2002, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) introduced to the Senate Anticounterfeiting Amendments of 2002, which extended punishments of counterfeiting of labelling and packaging, such as in cases of mass piracy and re-sale of software, to the counterfeiting of authentication features such as holographic stickers. This generally seems like a decent idea. On July 18, the bill was reported to the Senate-- but rewritten to "make it a federal felony to try and trick certain types of devices into playing your music or running your computer program. Breaking this law-- even if it's to share music by your own garage band-- could land you in prison for up to five years. And that's not counting the civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense." (Not the best article, but it's the first one I've seen so far.) This makes the bill irresponsibly broad anti-circumvention legislation in addition to its original intent of reasonable anti-counterfeiting measures. The bill, with its last minute change, is being fast-tracked and is expected to have an "overwhelmingly positive floor vote."

July 30, 2002

In response to the Copyright Office's recent installation of destructively high Internet Radio rates, the Internet Radio Fairness Act seeks to make royalty arbitration more fair for smaller shops. The Act is proposed by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA), George Nethercutt (R-WA), and Rick Boucher (D-VA). This article discusses the "willing-buyer/willing-seller" principle that was used to determine the existing royalty pricing plan, which Inslee and Boucher describe as "flawed". (I'm compelled to mention that I'm in favor of at least the idea of this one, only because I tend to mention acts of Congress I oppose. :)

house.gov is being especially slow and intermitantly unavailable these days, but I finally managed to dig up a few links (related to IRFA and otherwise):

The History of Zelda. (Thanks Dan.)

CodeWeavers CrossOver is a commercial product that lets you run specific Windows applications in Linux. It's an interesting strategy: It isn't a full Windows emulator, and doesn't claim support for all Windows software. And you must still own the applications you want to run (it doesn't replace or emulate the applications). But it supports MS Office 97 and 2000, Internet Explorer, as well as a bunch of others. If MS Office and/or IE are the only reasons you keep Windows around, you can get the best of both worlds and make the switch with this $55 product.

July 29, 2002

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to allow copyright holders to hack or denial-of-service attack anyone allegedly distributing copyrighted works without permission. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) heads this up, along with Reps. Howard Coble (R-NC), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Robert Wexler (D-FL).

The copyright holder must notify the Department of Justice seven days in advance that they will take action and of what technologies they will use. The text of the bill only refers to "publicly available peer-to-peer file sharing networks", but splash damage to non-infringing file sharing activity is allowed "as may be reasonably necessary to impair the distribution... in violation of any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner." Cause of action for wrongful impairment only takes effect for "economic loss" in excess of $250, and compensation for loss plus attorney's fees can only be sought through an investigation by the Attorney General over 120 days.

Can the bill's definition of "public peer-to-peer file sharing network" be interpreted as "The Internet"? Can a falsely accused non-infringing individual (such as yourself) reasonably demonstrate in a court of law that a month-long Internet denial-of-service attack blackout by a media industry-hired disruption group caused them an economic loss of $250? (Do you pay more than $250/month for Internet access?) Would it be worth it to that individual to seek compensation? Do you really want to find out?

The hacking activities allowed by this bill under the given circumstances are otherwise a federal crime with stiff penalties.

Actor Rob Lowe to leave NBC's 'The West Wing' over salary dispute. Aww. (Thanks Brad.)

New species-- nay, a new genus-- of centipede found in Central Park. (Thanks Jason.)

July 26, 2002

True Porn Clerk Stories. Shit-job stories are funny, especially when they're written well.

I am a pacifist. I like to think of myself as a nonviolent and gentle person. I have actually fantasized about knocking Mr. Pig to the ground and kicking him. Once, when he was being particularly obnoxious, I had a flash of an image: Me putting a foot on Mr. Pig's chest, shoving a gun in his mouth, and blowing his brains across the New For Sale section. It frightened me, but I enjoyed it.

Worm's World Party brings the adorable Scorched Earth variant franchise to your Game Boy Advance. Available this autumn.

Want to give your Handspring Visor that Treo-like keyboard? Seiko ThumBoards are now only $19.99!

NPR revises its "no linking" policy at the behest of bloggers.

Sibelius Music has thousands of music scores in a variety of categories that you can play via MIDI. Download their custom plug-in and watch the score as it plays.

July 25, 2002

Jane has posted the clues and answers from the Son o' Wumpus hunt [PDF] that she and Bryan put together as a sequel to our Great Seattle Wumpus Hunt. Many thanks to them both for putting it together! It was fun to finally play one. So who's doing the next one?

Hugs and best wishes to both Jane and Bryan. They are each (independently) moving away from Seattle next month, Jane to San Fransisco on the 1st and Bryan to Dallas shortly thereafter. I'm hoping they'll eventually come to their senses and move back, but until then, may their respective adventures be exciting, fulfilling, and properly documented on their weblogs.

Alter Ego, a detailed and surprisingly fun live-a-lifetime adventure game in your web browser.

FlexCar's crazy rate plans had been nagging at me for a while to put up a web-based rate plan calculator. Flexcar beat me to it. :)

explodingdog and diesel sweeties books and t-shirts. Perfect gifts (or self-gifts) for fans of either exploding dog or diesel sweeties online comics. I'm especially excited about the $30 220-page exploding dog book. You can also get 18-pagers of both comics for just $7!

July 24, 2002

What's New with Regular Expressions, in which the author of Mastering Regular Expressions realizes that so much is new that he has to rewrite his book. (I think I've already mentioned that Perl 6 regular expressions are going to be revolutionary, though the recent spread of Perl-5-esque regex engines through all kinds of languages and applications means we'll be stuck with both for a long while.)

XSH, An XML Editing Shell.

Remember Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set, for the Commodore 64 and Apple 2? Check out Visual Pinball, a free beta of a sophisticated pinball machine editor and player for Windows.

Another in a long line of simulated programmable robots games, noted here to investigate later: Robocode.

July 23, 2002

Thanks to Bill for passing along the news that every episode of Sports Night will be released on DVD in one big collection, all 45 episodes of its two season run. Further down the page is a report that Fox has announced a release date for 24: The Complete First Season on DVD, September 17.

An excellent Sports Night FAQ.

The Sports Night dmoz category.

And finally, Television Without Pity has a Sports Night FAQ... of sorts.

Debian GNU/Linux 3.0! Debian GNU/Linux 3.0! Been waiting for this one for a long time. Debian tends to upgrade its components slowly and cautiously, which is great, all things considered, because it means lots of testing and time for security fixes before it actually becomes part of the recommended release. But it also means that the early adopter in me has to wait for things like newer Linux kernels that better support certain hardware features, major revisions of big packages like network and desktop windowing software, and newer apps. Sure, I can break from the latest stable distribution, but then I lose the reassurance that I'm on the same page as the official Debian world, whose very slowness I count on for stability and ease of maintenance. It's a hard life, being an extremely lazy system administrator. :)

Continuing the Great Open Source Summer Release Party: Ogg Vorbis 1.0! Ogg Vorbis 1.0! Ogg Vorbis is a completely open standard for streaming audio. Hooray for openness!

And I mentioned Perl 5.8.0's release yesterday, but it was buried, so I'm mentioning it again. :)

July 22, 2002

Woo! What a week!

Last week, Perl guru and Perl 6 co-designer Dr. Damian Conway was in town to play both host and guest to several Perl-related events, both evangelical and educational, with the support of Consultix, Inc.. On Tuesday, Damian presented his Time::Space::Continuum talk to The Seattle Perl User's Group, which he gave at this year's Yet Another Perl Conference 2002. I was excited to attend, as I greatly enjoyed his SelfGOL talk which he gave to SPUG last year. Similar to his famous Quantum::Superpositions talk, the lecture consisted of two hours of physics followed by a new Perl module related (if somewhat whimsically) to the rest of the talk. Quantum::Superpositions, for example, ended with a genuinely useful Perl module that implements set theory operators, such as: $x < all(@items) evaluates to true iff the value of $x is less than every item in the @items array.

Time::Space::Continuum also came with a Perl module that allows you to perform any calculations in zero time (as opposed to linear, logarithmic, or polynomial time) simply by using provided control structures that replaced the traditional ones. We didn't believe it either until Damian demonstrated it before our very eyes! Alas, Damian isn't going to reveal how T::S::C actually works, or release the module, until next year's YAPC. Perhaps based on the usefulness of the Quantum::Superpositions module, a few attendees actually appear to believe the demonstration of zero-time computing with this Perl module was genuine-- not that the module was performing some kind of miracle of time travel inside Damian's iBook (which was implied by the talk), but that the module utilized a trade-off between space (disk space, memory) and time (computing time), which Damian analogized to the relationship of space to time, or of energy to matter. I have no doubt that the revelation of the secret behind Time::Space::Continuum will be genuinely interesting and related to this idea, but I remain skeptical that the demonstration was anything more than slight of hand that won't result in a useful module. Kind of ruins the joke to say that, but the reactions of others to Damian's talk are notable. It was a very entertaining talk, and I'm grateful to Damian for coming to Seattle to present his light-hearted material at no charge, especially since I don't get to go to the Perl conferences.

Dr. Conway also taught several all-day classes throughout the week, and Tim Maher (of Consultix) raffled off seats to a class to raise money for The Perl Foundation, an independent non-profit that exists for the sole purpose of developing the Perl language and its culture. Fellow Blank White Carder, Wumpus Hunter and Seattle weblogger Jim Flanagan won a seat, but ended up not being able to go-- so he gave his prize to me! After begging my employer for permission, early Thursday morning I headed out to Kirkland for a day-long presentation of Perl 6, a very new version of the language that is still being designed. While a great deal of great work has been done on the design and implementation of Perl 6, it won't be ready to use for another two years, which is infuriating to realize after having spent eight hours hearing about all of the new features. Ever since the presentation, I've been thinking excitedly about going back to school for a Computer Science degree (for reals this time!) and studying computer language design like I had intended. And of course, like most Perl geeks, I've been rushing my brain to think of a meaningful way to contribute to the Perl community, which is especially difficult because I only have incidental day-to-day experience with the language, I don't get to write apps and use fancier language features. Nevertheless, I've made up my mind to preemptively understand everything I can about this language that doesn't yet exist, taking advantage of my co-workers' passing interest to ramble on and on about it.

While we wait: Perl 5.8.0 was released on Friday, with i-threads, even more Unicode support, and more. Of course I still only get to use 5.005 in every production environment I touch, but I can play with it at home.

Meanwhile, my father was in town on vacation for a few days, though unfortunately I had to work (and attend the Conway lecture), but we had a few entertaining dinners. On Thursday evening, I invited my sister, mother and grandmother into town (who are all merely a few hours away), and Lisa and I introduced our immediate families together for the first time over dinner. We were glad to get the meeting out of the way, in lieu of a real wedding, so there wouldn't be any awkward introductions at the inevitable future events where both families might be present.

Also, throughout the last couple of weeks we've been trying to obtain proper wedding bands, and after a few snags with ordering pieces not in stock and figuring out the correct sizes, we finally have them. It's been fun to wear them around for a while and test them (which I recommend, by the way, so you know you've got one that fits right before it's too late to return it), though we ultimately decided to take them off until we're actually married. I look forward to being able to wear it permanently.

Seahawks Stadium was open to the public this weekend, and it's pretty amazing to see. I'd like to write about how incredibly massive the thing is, with amazing views of the city from the southern seats and a view I've never seen of Elliot Bay off the western railings, but I just learned that a man commit suicide off the northwest ramp of the stadium the day we were there, so I'm no longer in the mood to wax poetic. I am pleased that, with all the thousands of college educations' worth of tax-payer money we poured into the stadium, we did the tasteful thing of not selling off the naming rights, though walking around the various private boxes, airport-like hallways and non-game-view seating areas (with dozens of expensive widescreen monitors-- there are even special monitors that animate the concession stands' price for a hot dog: $3.25) still makes it feel like a party to which I'm not invited. Maybe with use it'll feel more like ours and less like "theirs" (whoever they may be). Also, quick tip: the only drinking fountains in the entire place are hidden behind certain indoor food vendors, along with a hidden set of restrooms. Like most stadiums these days, you can't bring in your own beverages, so it's good to know where the water is, especially when it's so manipulatively hidden.

And finally, on Saturday, Bryan, Jeremy, Lisa and I saw They Might Be Giants. It was my first TMBG concert (and my second go-see-one-group-perform-in-a-large-venue-style concert ever), and it was quite enjoyable. Did you know the Paramount could remove their main floor seats for standing-only concerts? We had tickets for last year's concert scheduled for September 13, which was cancelled at the last minute for obvious reasons. I'm glad they made it back to Seattle. Many songs from No!, the usual popular favorites from Flood (plus my favorite non-Flood, "Ana Ng"), and hey, some stuff I've never heard before. The group has been recording for twenty years, and will be doing a free anniversary concert in Central Park real soon now.

July 17, 2002

How to use relative font sizes, despite browser bugs. The template examples are for specific weblog packages, but the technique is universal.

Ten MySQL Best Practices.

TiVo+weblog hacker extraordinaire Matt Kingston has made it so he can conjure up a list of the most recently updated of his favorite weblogs on his television set.

July 16, 2002

In case you haven't noticed, PayPal no longer allows credit card payments into personal accounts. Makes sense, as it cost PayPal money every time someone did that, but it's no longer a luxury they offer. They do accept credit card payments into Premium accounts, which takes a percentage plus thirty cents to cover the cost of the charge.

(.naD, sknahT) suineG. .elgooG

July 15, 2002

Library Book Sales. (Thanks Rebecca.)

Ooh, The Royal Tenenbaums was released on DVD under the Criterion label, just like Rushmore. Unlike Rushmore, it's a two disc set! Neat! (Thanks Evan.)

Gator has been issued a preliminary injunction to stop their scumware-served pop-up ads. I learned about advertising trojans the hard way over a year ago, so I'm pleased to at least see a temporary injunction while we figure out what we can stick 'em with. While it is the user's choice to run whatever software they want, and display whatever they want on their screen-- I'd hate to see a law that limits my ability to have two competing web sites on the same screen at once on the grounds of trademark infringement-- Gator ads are everything but chosen by the user, displayed by software the user didn't know was being installed and is difficult to remove, and there's plenty of evidence to show Gator is acting in bad faith in using the user-choice defense. It'll be interesting to see if a judge believes opening an anonymous window containing advertisement when a user visits someone else's web site constitutes trademark confusion.

I'd love to see software labelling laws that address these issues. Instead of (or in addition to) "licensing agreements", software would come with a concise description of what the software does to your computer when installed, the purpose of all relevant pieces of the software, and instructions for complete uninstallation. This could be accompanied by a technical solution that can interface with the operating system, similar to P3P, requiring software vendors to enter into a contract that anyone can understand, over which they can be sued if they are caught lying. Other technical solutions may involve making it easy to identify what pieces of software are doing what to the computer, and to completely uninstall the offending component. Modern operating systems don't do anything nearly this nice... yet... (I'm pretty sure Palladium doesn't provide a solution to this problem, at least not a direct one; Gator has to identify themselves as Gator with a certificate, but they don't have to make any other promises. Or does Palladium do other stuff I haven't heard of yet?)

July 12, 2002

Bank of America's online banking now lets you view scans of your checks and deposit slips. It's nice when a bank does something right. :)

July 10, 2002

Iocaine Powder Explained. How to win at Rock, Paper, Scissors. From the latter link (which has lots of great commentary):

Sure, the game has a simple optimal strategy (choose a move uniformly at random), but that has little bearing on the problem at hand. First, not all the players are optimal. This changes everything. To win a tournament where some players are known to be sub-optimal, it is absolutely essential to try to detect patterns and tendencies in the play of the opponent, and then employ an appropriate counter-strategy. A match consists of several turns, and this changes the nature of the game, as was seen in the famous Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma problem.

RoShamBo (and it's even simpler cousin, the Penny-Matching game) is an example of a pure prediction game. The difficulty lies in everything else that is associated with opponent modeling, or trying to outwit an adversary.

There is a lot of theory that can be brought to bear on the problem, including but not limited to advanced game theory (the "best-response dynamic in fictitious play"), prediction models, information theory, statistics, encryption, and even philosophical meta-theory.

(Thanks Geegaw, and subsequently David Chess.)

Another Cisco DSL modem upgrade. (Thanks Dan; I may never have heard of this.)

July 9, 2002

errorwear immortalizes your favorite computer errors as t-shirts. You may have seen BSOD shirts on your favorite Windows geeks (now available in WinNT and Win2k flavors). For web geeks, IE broken image, and default server responses. For me and probably three other people, Amiga Guru Meditation-- though unfortunately it's the less cute "Software Failure" of later versions of AmigaOS. (Older versions actually said "Guru Medititation".)

Their most popular shirt is both their geekiest-- it would require explanation to anyone but the greatest of '80s geeks and others who have seen this website, but involves iconic imagery even kids today might recognize-- and their most colorful:

There is no level 256 in Pac Man. Upon reaching this summit, the game simply breaks, and this is how it looks. For that added touch, we've also set the displayed score to be 3,333,360 which is the highest possible score. If you eat every dot, every ghost, and every fruit for 255 levels, this screen and this score are your rewards. Someone is even offering $100,000 to anyone who can get past this broken level.

(Thanks narilka.)

In addition to 3 cent stamps, USPS's online store sells fictional works about postal inspectors.

July 8, 2002

Salon.com: It's time for ICANN to go. John Gilmore on the scandal of ICANN (you know, the organization put in charge of handling Internet domain names and numbers).

How to Apply for a King County Marriage License.

July 3, 2002

How Microsoft's proposed Palladium 'security' standard would exclude GPL and Linux. Pretty much any proposal for a mandated, closed technology standard (whether proposed by the government or by a corporate entity) rules out open source solutions.

July 2, 2002

Yes & No. A well done, very entertaining (and already blog-popular) driver's ed Flash movie. More Flash cartoons need quality music and sound.

Latest Microsoft Windows Media Player security patch also changes the licensing agreement. The change gives permission to Microsoft to disable any software on your computer that doesn't conform to Microsoft's definition of "Digital Rights Management". I have Microsoft's Critical Update Notification installed, and when it told me about a patch for security flaws in Windows Media Player, I told it to install it. I do not recall having to re-agree to the modified license agreement, or being notified of any changes.

Microsoft is making me increasingly angry with their licensing practices. I'm currently running Windows 2000, and I have a (purchased) copy of Windows XP sitting on my desk, but I can't bring myself to install it. I haven't read the full WinXP license agreement yet, but from what I've heard, I don't think I'd be willing to agree to it. If it weren't for lack of support for a couple of teeny features of my laptop's docking station, I'd finally switch to Linux as my primary desktop system...

Triptych is like Tetris, but with real physics and bouncy bricks. A very neat idea, and fun for 15 minutes, at least. It gets a bit frustrating after a while, and lacks any real addictive qualities, but it's worth a look. Trial download for Windows, Linux and Mac.