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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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.

January 2003 Archives

January 31, 2003

A computer that plays Tetris. It uses a webcam to look at a Tetris screen, a set of relays to control the keyboard, and custom visual recognition and AI software to do the decision making. This was far more interesting than I expected it to be. Every aspect of the project is discussed in detail, including relevant code samples. I have an affinity for documented standards and APIs, so my favorite part was the specification for Standard Tetris, modelled after the original official Tetris, which is unlikely to have been met by any given Tetris clone.

The Open Content Network distributes the distribution load of web content, to relieve over-burdened websites with unexpectedly popular content. "Contrary to what some articles may say, the OCN is not a file sharing network like Kazaa. Rather, it is a controlled content delivery network for legitimate freely-distributable content." This is a fantastic idea with noble ambitions that have nothing to do with copyright infringement, and I hope it doesn't get overly construed as such.

Bookmark dumping ground:

January 30, 2003

For those users who live backwards in time, here is information about downgrading to Emacs version 20. We hope you will enjoy the greater simplicity that results from the absence of many Emacs 21 features.

  • The display engine has been greatly simplified by eliminating support for variable-size characters and other non-text display features. This avoids the complexity of display layout in Emacs 21. To wit:
    • Variable-size characters are not supported in Emacs 20. You cannot use fonts which contain oversized characters, and using italic fonts can result in illegible display. However, text which uses variable-size fonts is unreadable anyway. With all characters in a frame laid out on a regular grid, each character having the same height and width, text is much easier to read.
    • Emacs does not display images, or play sounds. It just displays text, as you would expect from a text editor.
    • ...

"Emacs 20 Antinews," GNU Emacs 21 Manual

perliaq - infrequently asked questions about Perl. An oldie but goodie.

Bookmark dumping ground:

January 29, 2003

Tom the Dancing Bug on Eldred v. Ashcroft.

Smullyan: Planet Without Laughter.

Netscape DevEdge has some fantastic HTML/CSS/DOM quick reference sidebars for Netscape/Mozilla.

Bookmark dumping ground:

January 28, 2003

Wikipedia hits 100,000 articles. Still quite the slow server, but the project seems to continue to function and progress. I'm always impressed by the quality of the articles every time I visit.

Pre-order The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker before March 27 and get the new GameCube port of Ocarina of Time for free.

Yamaha announces new models of Clavinova digital pianos. The Clavinova CVP 202, 204, 206, 208 and 210 continue the 200-series that came out in 2001 with expanded voice ROM, more user memory, and on all but the 202, USB connectivity. The USB port replaces the old proprietary "ToHost" cable that connected to a PC's serial port, itself an alternative to bulky MIDI cables and a MIDI interface (for Windows PC users, anyway). The USB interface also provides an alternative method to the 3-1/2" floppy disk for transferring files to and from the Clavinova's memory, which is almost enough to make me want to trade up. (Given recent pricing trends in U.S. Clavinova dealers, I'm sure the trade-up from a 207 to a 208 would be far too expensive to justify, though I'm curious what they'd offer.)

Floppy discs are increasingly becoming a pain; discs that I have sitting around never format properly on any of my remaining machines with floppy drives, and I can't tell if all of my drives are broken or if the media just has too many bad blocks to successfully take disk images.

The USB interface would allow Mac users to go MIDI-interfaceless, should Yamaha provide a Mac driver. (There's no info on the new models on Yamaha's web site yet, so supported OSes are uncertain.)

Unless you bother to figure out the on-board sequencing features of the CVP (which are actually quite impressive), you usually get around to doing all your sequencing through MIDI on a computer anyway, making the floppy drive moot. Then the difference between the USB port and a USB MIDI interface with MIDI cables is negligible. (Use an unsupported OS, and, well, I've covered that already.)

January 27, 2003

Knight Rider computer game to release later this year. According to this article (with screenshots), the game will feature material based on all seasons of the original TV series (Garth! Goliath! KARR!), and an "all-star cast," which I hope means David Hasselhoff and William Daniels at the very least (their IMDb bios don't mention it). The article says this "will ship in the first quarter of 2003," but that sounds like either a typo or misreportage, given how recently it was announced. From Tri Synergy, whose lousy website has no information on the subject.

Also: The Sci-Fi Channel is airing the original Knight Rider series.

People Are Wrong!, Saturday, February 1st, at 7pm and 9:30pm at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street (below Astor Pace) in New York City; further info at 212.539.8770 or joespub.com. MP3's of the show are available at PeopleAreWrong.net. From the TMBG newsletter:

People Are Wrong! is a manic and joyful celebration of melody and musical fable. Based on a true story, this original cautionary tale of a charismatic cult leader masquerading as a landscape artist in a rural upstate town is told entirely in song. Starring the brilliant downtown chanteur David Driver (Rent), John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants), Maggie Moore (Hedwig) and Chris Anderson (Muckafurgason), People are Wrong! introduces the songwriting talents of Julia Greenberg and Robin Goldwasser to the musical stage. Backed up by the Loser’s Lounge band and the inspired vocal group STC (Sean Altman, Tricia Scotti and Connie Petruk), this is the first original production to come out of this highly creative team. Produced by John Flansburgh. The Losers Band for this performance is Joe McGinty (musical director, keyboards) Jeremy Chatzky (Musical director, bass) Clement Waldman III (drums) Chris Woolsey (guitar) Jon Spurney (guitar)

They Might Be Giants also does their Valentine's concert at Joe's Pub, February 14.

GnuCash and double entry accounting, by Joe Mack. GnuCash is a GPL'd accounting program for Unix. It works well and is easy to use, but double entry accounting can be confusing to non-accountants like me. Joe clears up the terminology with a few simple examples.

January 24, 2003

I mentioned amending the U.S. Constitution the other day. USConstitution.net has lots of neat info on the U.S. Constitution, including (obviously) the text of the document and all 27 amendments in various formats, pictures, history, and debate. I particularly enjoyed their FAQ, which naively assumes that a FAQ list actually ought to be a list of questions that are asked of them by people, which makes for a fun read, if only for the kinds of questions asked.

Q6. "During class today, we were discussing Amendment 15. Is it true that it will expire in the year 2008?"

A. There is no expiration date on the 15th Amendment. Don't worry, the right of citizens to vote regardless of color is safe. Unfortunately, people are hearing the myth of the "Expiring Right to Vote" and spreading it as if it was true.

The rumor is that the 15th Amendment would expire in 2007 or 2008. The origins of this rumor appear to stem from the enforcement arm of the 15th, the Voting Rights Act. The Act was passed in 1965. Certain portions of the Act, which allow the federal government to take special actions against jurisdictions that refused to enact the Act, were to have expired, but have been extended several times, last in 1982 for 25 years by President Reagan. If, in 2007, these special actions are allowed to expire, it will likely be because no one deems them necessary any longer. If they do expire, and a court decides they are required once more, a court order can place them back into effect. This "expiration date" notwithstanding, the 15th Amendment is still in place. For more information, see the Department of Justice site.

The 27 amendments and their ratification data are also interesting. You may or may not know that the 27th amendment, "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened," was ratified in 1992. But I didn't know that it was proposed by the First Congress in 1789. Only six states ratified it by 1800, then Ohio in 1873, then the rest (for a total of 40 out of 50) between 1978 and 1992. In contrast, the 26th Amendment, "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age," was proposed by the Ninety-second Congress on March 10, 1971, and ratified by 39 out of 50 states by July 1 of the same year.

January 23, 2003

We are here today to celebrate the memory of a truly beloved cat, Alexandre Peabody, son of Poopy and Kíté, a good, good kitten. He is in the place where all cats go, a small subdivision of Animal Heaven called Whiskerville, where the rivers flow with milk, and the trees are filled with tuna. Montgomery and Bunny, without this cat in your lives, you will notice yourselves ultimately buying a lot less cat food. It is our curse as human beings to outlive our beloved feline friends. We must say goodbye, feel sad, and finally, get another kitty. A different kitty to love, and pet, and clean up after. It is the cycle of kitties. A moment of silence please, for Alexandre.

-- "Brendon Gets Rabies," Home Movies

The Wilhelm Scream, a film retrospective of a sound effect. The 47 MB video linked at the bottom is a film buff's must-see. (Thanks Dan.)

Frequently asked questions about spam.

How Ace's Hardware survived a Slashdotting.

January 22, 2003

I got to be a remote participant on a team for this year's MIT Mystery Hunt, a massive puzzle and scavenger hunt held at MIT during their January Independent Activity Period. Puzzles range from the challenging to the brain-hemorrhagingly impossible, and cover a wide spectrum of puzzle forms, including cyphers, acrostics, jumbles, trivia, scavenger hunts, mazes and even sorts of talent competition rounds. This year featured a bizarre backstory involving a fictional corporation, an assassination, and, um, The Matrix, with several layers of meta-puzzles. While many puzzles were solvable by remote team members through web collaboration, the game also involved tasks to perform on campus, including the writing and performing of a song, cooking (or finding) food using an Iron-Chef-esque theme ingredient, and being visited by fictional characters who deliver cryptic clues to your team's headquarters. Teams worked for three solid days, from noon on Friday to 7:26am Monday, before the hunt was completed by team Kappa Sig, a 60-person team, some of whom had six years of MIT Puzzle Hunt experience. Our team had, what, a dozen people?, and we made excellent progress, all things considered.

See this year's puzzles and their solutions (linked at the top of each puzzle page). Last year's puzzles are also available.

Seems like I've both looked for and blogged about a Stickies-like application for Windows before, but I can't find my previous entries on the subject to see what I had found. While there are many such apps for Windows, they mostly either weren't up to snuff or cost money. Still using a Windows desktop at work, so here I go again.

This Stickies app (website is a little slow) is free, has basic functionality and a few bells and whistles that might actually come in handy. Networking with your office mates allows for a sort of sticky-based instant messaging. You can put stickies to "sleep", turning stickies into alarms of sorts. I particularly like the transparency feature, which I haven't seen in a Stickies app before. Not completely intuitive to use; I've already managed to confuse myself by double-clicking on the title bar, causing it to disappear (show again by carefully trying to double-click on the teeny top border). But the overall utility and price of this Stickies app makes up for its few shortcomings. Companion applications extend it further, including Stickies Store for maintaining a drawer full of notes, networking enhancements, and command-line utilities for interoperability with other tools or scripts.

Another Stickies for Windows, which must be new since I last searched, would be perfect if it weren't for its requirement of having .NET installed (which it shouldn't need other than for it being written in C#). The app installer is 135k, the .NET runtime is 20MB. I assume WinXP already has .NET, I just didn't on my Win2k work machine.

I coulda sworn I mentioned this before, but 3M makes their own computer Post-It notes program, with a free version for Windows, as well as more featureful versions for sale with all these other common features (networking, storage and management).

Of course, it took me an hour to remember that Outlook has its own Stickies feature, which works quite well if you're required to keep such a giant app as Outlook open all the time for email and calendar reminders. This would also be why I never bothered to install Stickies apps at work, but I never seemed to get around to using Outlook's anyway. I continue to question the decision of my employer to require that we all run Outlook (or struggle with partially compatible substitutes) in an all-Linux shop, but whether I make my dev box my primary workspace or continue using Windows and Exceed, I suppose the Stickies question is moot.

January 21, 2003

Thanks to another fabulous gift from L for my birthday, I finally got to see Teatro ZinZanni's "Dinner & Dreams." I'm pleased to report that this "blend of European cirque, cabaret, spectacle, music, and culinary magic" is worth every penny of its ticket price. I blogged about ZinZanni back in May when I first stumbled across their permanent location in downtown Seattle, and have wanted to go ever since.

The evening as a whole can only be described as fun, luxurious, and damned entertaining. The individual acts between dinner courses only occasionally exceeded expectations, but the non-stop levity never ceases to serve a good time. The sheer novelty will be enough for most people to rave about it to their friends and coworkers the next morning. As an emulation of the burlesque it's rather tame, but the show's mainstream qualities only do it good: any further out and it'd risk alienating unsuspecting Seattleites, a dangerous proposition with something as intimate as interactive dinner theater.

My program lacked a proper cast list of the evening, but this old Seattle Times article drops some names: Madame Mable Dean (actor Kevin Kent in luscious drag) does a masterful job of hosting the show and making sure everybody has a good time. A 6-foot-plus Austrian woman (Manuela Horn) transforms, with a little help from other characters, from antithetical disciplinarian to sex queen, and finally around again to, um, Disciplinarian. A diva sings opera favorites and helps to introduce each course. Before the show, a cute, rather quiet woman climbed under our table to steal one of the shoes off of the guy sitting next to me, then returned later to spoon-feed him the soup course, and again just before the entreé to sell him back his shoe for $2. She also did an excellent big top acrobatic rope routine. All characters (each with distinct material but names difficult to catch) get equal stage time to demostrate multiple talents, musical, rhythmic, and physical. They wander about doing table acts during the food service portions of the evening; everything is exceptionally well timed to let you eat comfortably and enjoy every aspect of the show.

There are probably some people who wouldn't enjoy this sort of thing, but if you're only a little weirded out by the above descriptions and not all-out offended, rest assured the audience handling is top notch and never really goes too far. Indeed, anyone who enjoys this sort of thing might think they don't go far enough.

It's just too exciting to have a permanent cabaret dinner theater in my home town. It's priced for special occasions, but if you're looking for something more interesting than the Space Needle to entertain guests, or just want to kick someone's birthday up a notch, Teatro ZinZanni is not to be missed. Reserve your seats early; they sold out months in advance last Spring and Summer, and we could only get Thursday tickets with several weeks' notice (though see the article linked below). Our waiter promised that the show will undergo major content changes this Spring. The first ZinZanni show, "Love, Chaos & Dinner," is still playing in San Francisco. They also appear to do special shows on some holidays; we just missed a $200/ticket New Years gala.

This recent Seattle Times article on ZinZanni raves about the show and discusses its popularity, as well as the difficulties of big ticket entertainment in a down economy. One Reel has yet to recoup its initial $1 million investment in "Dinner & Dreams". They intend to continue the run through 2003, the San Francisco show as well. The article also mentions that the amazing chocolate dessert you get at the end was a tweak to the show made after the original dessert received lackluster reviews.

Updated: Aurelia Cats wrote me to say that she does a trapeze and contortionist act and not a rope act, as I had originally listed here. I'm sorry to say that not only was Aurelia not working that night, but I don't have a proper attribution for the acrobat who was. Oh well. It was a great show, and I'd like to give credit where it's due. :)

January 20, 2003

The New York Times covers Eldred v. Ashcroft: 20-Year Extension of Existing Copyrights Is Upheld, A Corporate Victory, but One That Raises Public Consciousness, The Coming of Copyright Perpetuity.

Contrast: The Los Angeles Times covers Eldred v. Ashcroft: Entertainment Industry Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Court Action.

Someone asked Google Answers for "as much information as possible about the personal and professional life of Paul Krugman, the Princeton economics professor who writes a column for the New York Times," and posted a ransom of $100 plus a generous tip for a quality answer. A variety of details, ranging from the professional to the suspiciously personal, were requested, enough to inspire a little back and forth between potential researchers and the asker on how personal a satisfactory answer needs to be. In addition to the customarily thorough answer from a Google researcher, Paul Krugman found out about the question, answered it himself, and requested the $100. It's difficult to tell what the asker intends to do with the information, though a $100 ransom plus $25 tip implies the asker intends to use the information for, well, something. All in all, very amusing, regardless of the original intent.

Emacs users, don't forget about EmacsWiki.org, a Wiki packed with useful Emacs goodness. Just a few examples:

January 17, 2003

More reaction from Lessig on Eldred v. Ashcroft, with regards to one of the essential questions I glibly dashed over yesterday:

...[M]issing from both [dissenting] opinions was the argument that I believed would win this case: That if there is a principled reason why Congress’s power is limited in the context of the commerce clause (and elsewhere), then that reason applies even more strongly in the context of the copyright clause. As we said over and over again, if you agree with the line of cases that Chief Justice Rehnquist is most famous for, then you must agree that the Copyright Clause restricts retroactive extensions. As the Chief Justice taught in the case of Lopez, if an interpretation of Congress’s power yields the conclusion that Congress’s power is unlimited, it is an improper interpretation. Yet that is precisely what the government conceded its interpretation did.

In September 2002, the major record labels agreed to settle a lawsuit over price fixing practices. They are settling for $143 million: $67 million for claimants, and $75 million worth of pre-recorded audio to be donated to non-profit and educational organizations. You are a claimant if you bought music from a store between 1995 and 2000. If that description fits you to a tee, you are entitled to a cash reimbursement between $5 and $20. Sign up as a claimant here. If there are so many claimants that your share drops below $5, the entire amount will be donated to charity. Not many people seem to know about the settlement yet, though you have until March 3 to register.

SendItToTheEFF.org encourages you to donate your settlement check to the organization fighting for consumers and artists against big media corporations.

Darkened Skye is a 3D fantasy adventure game for the GameCube and PC about Skittles. You know, the candy. Several reviews laud the game's writing and voice acting-- clips I've seen are delightfully hip, sarcastic and cute-- but criticize its unfortunately tedious gameplay. I'm interested in games that get lauded for their cut scenes and story, as such games are landmarks in the continuing convergence of movies and video games. Next up: games with fantastic voice acting, writing, story, and mind-blowing gameplay. Movie-like graphics and sound are inevitable and almost a no-brainer, though I'm sure we can identify landmarks in their progress as well.

I'm trying to think of other quality video games built around brands of other (non-video-game) products. So far, Cool Spot for the Sega Genesis, starring the red dot from the 7-Up can, is the only one I can think of. Seems like there were at least a few. I'm not sure Dole Banana's logos in Super Monkey Ball necessarily count, unless the game was their idea. Movie tie-ins have inspired a few quality games, though my experience is limited. Can anyone think of others?

Vector Math Tutorial for 3D Computer Graphics, a programmed learning approach. A nice, well-paced introduction and overview.

January 16, 2003

Ashcroft wins, 7-2. Eldred v. Ashcroft challenged the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, which retroactively extended copyright terms by 20 years. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the extension-- or more specifically, in favor of Congress's constitutional right to enact such extensions. Majority opinion [PDF], Stevens' dissent [PDF], Breyer's dissent [PDF]. Reactions from Lawrence Lessig, and others.

Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor who filed an amicus brief siding with Lessig on behalf of the Free Software Foundation, said one benefit of the decision is that it will radicalize programmers and free-software activists. At the same time, Moglen said, it will embolden the entertainment industry and eventually prompt them to "ask for too much" from Congress.

"The very same arguments the Supreme Court rejected today, it would accept in 2014, if there were no precedents against it," Moglen said. "Everyone who's a member of the literate community would see at that time what Justice Breyer saw today (in his dissent)."

If the majority opinion was they had no constitutional reason to block a retroactive extension by Congress of copyright terms from 75 to 95 years, why would there be a constitutional reason to block an extension from 95 to 115 years? Because 100 is a nice round number? I wholeheartedly believe repeated Congressional extensions violate the spirit of the "limited times" requirement of the Constitution, and with luck, polling the Supreme Court for their take on this every 20 years will eventually inspire the realization that this is what's happening. But 115 years is just as much a "limited time" as 95 years in the letter of the law, and it seems like it'd be difficult to convince a Supreme Court that they're entitled to think otherwise.

Assuming we can never build the overwhelming public support needed to sway Congress away from further extensions that will inevitably be purchased by big media (with the billions of dollars they will make exploiting a monopoly on 90-year-old works of art over the next fifteen years), what's left? An amendment to the Constitution? Who do we speak to about that? Two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures?

January 15, 2003

Overheard coming out of a movie theater:

Girl: ...It's when everyone is talking normal, and then suddenly people start singing and dancing, I don't know, it's...
Guy: Weird.
Girl: Yeah. I don't like it.
Guy: I don't like it either.
[beat]
Me: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? Stories have been told through song and dance for thousands of years! Countless works of stagecraft interleave dialog, action and music to elucidate emotional truth and to entertain, as do countless more works of film. Modern musical theater continues to explore wider, deeper territory, with aesthetic density that might not even be attainable by its non-musical counterparts, and modern musical film deserves a chance to do the same. Why did you see Chicago in the first place if you can't fathom the musical form? You illiterate know-nothings have murdered a genre!

OK, that last one wasn't out loud, but still. I don't mind if you didn't like the musicals you've probably seen. That bit about exploring wider and deeper territory isn't always true, and a good amount of American musical theater, including the stereotypical and even the popular, is clichéd, tired, shallow or downright vapid. If that's what you don't like about it, then that's not your fault. But the musical theater form has an immense amount of unexplored potential, and the musical film form doubly so. Dismiss it now and we may inadvertently banish musicals completely until a future, more enlightened generation rediscovers them.

(I haven't seen the new film version of Chicago yet. I've read that the film version attempts to soften the impact of spontaneous cantillation for a cynical audience, so maybe it's flawed?)

Jon Udell considers web services and the Prisoners' Dilemma, with regard to Amazon.com happening to have a pretty good solution to the problem of grouping formats of a printed work together (paperback, hardback, audio book, large print), and whether or not Amazon could reasonably be expected to open up that resource to a public that could really use such a service, such as to enhance computer catalogs of public libraries.

This slightly silly interactive demonstration of the Prisoners' Dilemma includes references to other material, including this online abbreviated textbook on game theory, and Robert Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation (book). See the Amazon customer review of Axelrod's book by Scott Ryan (scroll down), which nicely summarizes the Tit For Tat strategy and its results. I also had this nice formal article on the subject in my bookmark dumping ground. (Not that any of this necessarily applies to web services, but just for kicks. :)

January 14, 2003

The Beckett on Film DVD set features all 19 of Samuel Beckett's plays staged and performed for a camera. I just saw this set's production of Waiting for Godot on a public TV station and enjoyed it greatly. This'd be in my shopping cart if it weren't for the $150 price tag (which I'm sure it's worth, but I have no play money post-holiday); instead, it goes to the top of my wish list.

PBS's Media Matters is doing a show on blogs this week. Anil tells of his experience with the interview. According to my TiVo, Seattle's KCTS-9 will air the program at noon on Saturday, January 18.

Graffiti's Dead, Long Live Graffiti 2. Palm is dropping the Graffiti stylus text entry system for legal reasons. Apparently, it's too close to a Xerox technology. Palm will be using a modified version of Communication Intelligence Corporation's Jot handwriting recognition technology, renamed Graffiti 2, which might turn out to be easier to use than the old system anyway. According to the article, many Pocket PCs already use Jot. I'll miss Graffiti, if only because I got really fast at it at one point...

January 13, 2003

War... (huh!) Yeah!
What is it good for?
Reviving the economy! Say it again y'all.

War... (huh!) Look out!
What is it good for?
The advancement of technology! Listen to me...

"War, God It's Good, Y'all!", Jeremy Richards & Gabe Denning

What the--? The T-Mobile Sidekick is now down to $50 at Amazon.com. That's a mere $10 more than the monthly payment that I'm already (over-)paying for my cellular service. Still no software development kit, still a first-generation device, still waiting for new color-screen models which might be out as soon as a few months from now. Maybe this is a 1st-gen clearance price?

I've learned more about the range of GPRS portable Internet devices out there since the Sidekick got my attention, including the much beloved, well-tested, stable, Palm-based, Handspring Treo-- only $99 for the Treo 180 after rebate and with T-Mobile service plan. I'd love the color Treo 270, of course, but it's $499. Guh. Maybe $99 is also a clearance price, or maybe color is just so popular now they have to incentivize the older grayscale models. Maybe next year color will be as cheap as grayscale is today.

Still living within arm's reach of the Internet, though, so I have to be sensible and hold off until I actually have a use for GPRS. I miss having a PIM, and I already carry a phone, so replacing the phone with a cell-Palm is desireable. It's not $499 desireable, but it might be $99... *sigh*

As a surprise birthday gift (I'm 25 now), L gave me DDR Max for the Playstation 2 and the RedOctane Ignition Pad 2.0, a much higher quality dance game pad than you normally get for a home game system. I'm not a DanceDanceRevolution fanatic, and I'm certainly not very good at it, but we enjoy it whenever we're hanging out in an arcade, so it was a very fun surprise gift. The quality of the pad makes a big difference, and I can't imagine enjoying DDR at home with anything less than this model. (I did play a Disney dance game on a chinsey plastic game pad once, it was terrible.) I'm also impressed with the features of the new DDR Max, with a variety of practice and training modes for memorizing patterns. Do the songs and patterns in DDR Max for the PS2 correspond to arcade versions, so practice carries over? GameFAQs may have the answer.

January 9, 2003

A Zope-related note (meaning nobody will be interested except myself and maybe one or two Google searchers): Using Apache with ZServer (not Zope.cgi). ZServer is its own web server software, so you could easily run entire web site on just Zope. But if you want to use other web technologies in other parts of your site, like PHP or Apache modules (what the Zope documentation refers to as "legacy" content :), it's useful to pass some requests through Apache to ZServer. ZServer typically runs on a port other than your normal web server, so one way is to redirect URLs that begin with /zope/ to http://yourserver:9876/. Of course, it shows up in the user's browser that way when you just redirect. Another option is to use a CGI that handles the passthrough. But this method lets you proxy requests to ZServer with a seamless end-user experience, all part of one big happy web site.

The only configuration I could get to work this way involves making one particular Apache URL correspond to the root ZServer URL, as in http://www.myserver.com/zope/ -> http://www.myserver.com:9673/ . SiteRoot seems to do some pretty extreme things that can break the Zope management facility if there's more than one, or if it's not in the actual root folder. The steps I took, which differ slightly from the document linked above:

  1. In Apache's httpd.conf, make sure proxy_module is loaded. On a default Debian install, this means simply uncommenting the "LoadModule proxy_module ..." line.
  2. Still in httpd.conf, put something like this where it applies (in my case, inside an appropriate VirtualHost block), each ProxyPass/ProxyPassReverse/Redirect directive on one line:
    ProxyPass /zope/ http://www.myserver.com:9673/
    ProxyPassReverse /zope/ http://www.myserver.com:9673/
    ProxyPass /misc_ http://www.myserver.com:9673/misc_
    ProxyPass /p_ http://www.myserver.com:9673/p_
    ProxyPass /manage_page_style.css http://www.myserver.com:9673/manage_page_style.css
    ProxyPass /manage_zmi_logout http://www.myserver.com:9673/manage_zmi_logout
    Redirect /zope http://www.myserver.com/zope/
    There may be more ProxyPass'es necessary for all of the management URLs; I seem to be finding them gradually. If there's an easier way to pass through all of the management features, please let me know.
  3. Get into the Zope management facility, either with http://www.myserver.com:9673/manage, or with http://www.myserver.com/zope/manage (which now works, with images and stylesheets), and add a SiteRoot object in the root folder with a Base of http://www.myserver.com/zope and a Path of / . Type it right, because a typo might break the manager. (I'm under the impression you can always delete it through another Zope access method, like FTP or WebDAV, but I haven't figured that part out yet.)

Bada bing, http://www.myserver.com/zope/ is now your Zope server, and the rest of your website is Apache served. With this configuration, you cannot have any Apache-served content with the names /zope/, /misc_/, /p_/, or /manage_page_style.css .

Wasn't that fun? This DevShed article has more on Zope and Apache.

January 8, 2003

Not by Bread Alone: America's Culinary Heritage. (Thanks rebecca.)

'Why I turned Pepys' diary into a weblog'. "When the idea of making a website out of Samuel Pepys' diary first occurred to me it seemed so obvious that I was worried someone would beat me to it."

RedHat 8.0 users want to know: How do you customize the Main Menu? The answer is you can't... yet. There's some interesting innovations happening in this department, but we're supposedly waiting for Gnome and KDE to agree upon a standard way to solve the many menu-calculation problems before we can get a decent method of customizing the results.

I found this thread on RedHat 8.0's main menu quite interesting. Some great discussion on VFolders, the present and future of applications menus, and the need for even more standardization between the Gnome and KDE projects.

For the skip-to-the-end types, the definitive answer to the original question from a RedHat developer:

> I had trouble finding the equivalent XML files for individual users.
> Would that be files in
> '~/.gnome2/vfolders/applications.vfolder-info'?

Again, this was essentially nonworking in GNOME 2.0.1 and changed in 2.0.2. For Red Hat Linux 8 I'm hoping to put out an errata soon with the 2.0.2 fixes, but until then there's effectively no per-user menu in GNOME.

January 7, 2003

The Kiseido Go Server (formerly Igoweb) has some great Go resources, including this nice, short, interactive Go tutorial. (I love programmed learning.) You can also download the free 9x9 version of Igowin for Windows, from the maker of the full 19x19 The Many Faces Of Go. KGS, including the client and server software, is developed and maintained by the author of the original CGoban, that *nix Go board/client/editor program I mentioned the other day.

This brief article on using your iPod with Linux recommends gnuPod, a set of GPL'ed Perl scripts for managing songs and playlists on your iPod. The new Windows-compatible iPod uses a FAT32 filesystem, making it quite easy to use with Linux. The Perl scripts help manage the iTunes database, essential to operating the iPod.

In the last few weeks, my laptop computer has been losing time, with the system clock slowing about 2 minutes every hour. It seemed odd that it only recently started doing this. Dell's support website troubleshooter on slow clocks advised that I determine if software is manipulating the clock, or if the hardware is actually misbehaving. Sure enough, the clock runs fine with the computer shut off, and under Windows. Then I remembered that Linux likes to ask the hardware for the system time when it starts up, keeps its own time while running, then saves its own time back to the hardware when shutting down.

The linux-dell-laptops Yahoo group provides the answer, and reminds me that what changed on my system a couple of weeks ago, when the problem began, was the addition of the battery monitor to my deskbar. This bug persists in even the most recent release versions of the Linux kernel.

January 3, 2003

DVD video playback in Linux is easier than I expected it to be. Several major packages are available to try, and if one doesn't work right away it might be worth just trying another. My first shot used LiViD, but I couldn't figure out an appropriate configuration file. An output_audio_plugin of "sys" would hang after loading the GUI, and setting it to "esd" didn't work. (I expected it to because I'm used to sound players that don't cooperate with EsounD hanging like it did; "esd" was mentioned as a possible value in someone's web page on LiViD.) I gave up quickly, but I'm sort of glad I did, because Ogle worked out of the box. I merely needed to download and install the RedHat RPMs: libdvdcss, libdvdread, ogle (no ALSA), and ogle_gui. I also symlinked /dev/dvd to the appropriate /dev/hdx device corresponding to my DVD-ROM drive. I could then type "ogle" at a prompt and get a mostly functional DVD player, including support for menus.

The Ogle FAQ includes an answer for a problem I'm having, though I can't get the answer to work: "Playback is choppy. What can I do?" /sbin/hdparm -d /dev/dvd verified that DMA is off for my DVD-ROM drive. (It is on for my hard drive.) The FAQ suggests that this is the default in RedHat 8, and to enable I just need to, as root, edit /etc/modules.conf and add the line:
  options ide-cd dma=1
Sadly, I'm a novice with modules, so I actually rebooted at this point instead of just restarting the appropriate module. (I know, I know.) When I did, I could log in, but the Gnome taskbar wouldn't start up. Weird. hdparm did say that DMA was on for the DVD-ROM drive, but that's too bizarre a side-effect, so I nixed the line and rebooted to get it back.

Playback is sufficient if I'm not doing anything else with the computer, as both a window and as full-screen. I'm probably maxing out the software decoder anyway, with my laptop's 800MHz PIII. And audio is smooth even if video is jerky, which is fine for me because I'd only be playing DVD videos while doing other things to listen to commentaries. Alas, this version of Ogle seems incomplete. Not every feature of the GUI works (editing preferences, bringing up the chapters list, the Stop button [though Pause works]), and by default it spews all kinds of debugging information into the shell window I started it from (including when video and audio get out of sync, which is when the video skips a bit to correct). But it's good enough for now.

Note that using an "unauthorized" DVD decoder may still be considered a violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The posting of DeCSS source code was recently deemed protected by the First Amendment by the Appeals Court in California, and the California Supreme Court ruled that LiViD is outside the jurisdiction actionable as part of the DVD-CCA's suit against DeCSS in California. Open Source DVD players may be illegal, but they do seem to be available and fully functional, so I can play all these DVDs I own on this hardware I own that's designed to play DVDs. For now.

January 2, 2003

If you have a single MIDI device such as a digital piano, chances are you'll want to use it with a laptop computer. Some digital pianos (Yamaha only? I was never sure) have a "To Host" port that lets you connect via your computer's serial port, plus a driver you'll need to download. Mac users don't have a serial port, and Linux users don't have a driver (that I know of), so this is a Windows-only solution.

Mac and Linux laptop users will need an external USB MIDI interface. Midiman makes some, including the Midisport 1x1 (and company), which have tested ALSA Linux sound drivers. (Alas, I don't know if Midiman provides Mac OS X support, but my focus today is Linux, so I'm not going to research it.) It's tempting to get fancy with the SoundBlaster Extigy, an external USB SoundBlaster sound card with a bajillion features (a remote!) and ALSA support. No use for the Exigy near my piano, but it's neat to see such things exist.

On the subject of Linux and MIDI, this O'Reilly Network article on Linux Laptop Sound is an excellent run-through of setting up sound and MIDI, and Linux application support. RedHat 8 provided sound automatically out of the box, but no /dev/sequencer for sound-card-based MIDI. I'm still trying to figure out if I can configure software already on the system, or if I need a more complete ALSA installation, or if I have to settle for Timidity++ MIDI-to-wave conversion (which worked out of the box, thankfully). OSS is an inexpensive for-pay sound driver package that appears to provide great support for sound cards from companies that are stingy with the driver specs. But the ALSA sound card matrix indicates that very few cards are difficult to support these days.

January 1, 2003

Way down among Brazilians
Coffee beans grow by the billions
So they've got to find those extra cups to fill
They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

You can't get cherry soda
'Cause they've got to fill that quota
And the way things are I'll bet they never will
They've got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil

No tea or tomato juice
You'll see no potato juice
The planters down in Santos all say no no no

The politician's daughter
Was accused of drinking water
And was fined a great big fifty dollar bill
They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

-- "The Coffee Song," Bob Hilliard/Dick Miles

The National Academy of Popular Music presents the Songwriters Hall of Fame Virtual Museum, with biographies, discographies, audio clips, photos, and links to purchasable materials on dozens of American songwriters from 1600 to the present. The SHoF was founded in part by Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, and Frank Sinatra, and to date features 312 inductees. Found while looking for information on Sammy Cahn, who wrote hundreds of popular songs, including "Let It Snow" (with Jules Styne), "Love And Marriage," "Come Fly With Me," "The Last Dance," "High Hopes," and "My Kind of Town" (all with Jimmy Van Heusen, all for Frank Sinatra). (Oddly, I was inspired to search for Sammy by perhaps a lesser work, "California," which Sinatra recorded in 1963.)

Check out the 2003 nominees.

ABCOffice.com's Paper Shredder Equipment Guide summarizes the types of paper shredders, and definitions of the five security levels of paper shredding. I don't know how official the security levels are, but level 5 claims to be approved by the U.S. Department of Defense for top secret shredding (cross-cut 1/32-inch x 1/2-inch).

I've wanted a nice deskside paper shredder for a long time, so I finally decided to get one. The Fellowes P500-2 personal strip-cut shredder was the only one in stock at my local Office Depot, and it's nice and inexpensive. Alas, it's only a strip-cut shredder, and while it's plenty for credit card applications, I'm not sure if it's sufficient for bank statements and receipts. It turned one page into thirty strips of paper, and, knowing that they're all from one page, it would take mere minutes to reconstruct the document. Thirty pages worth would be a more difficult puzzle, but not unreasonably so if the payoff is a thousand dollars worth of identity theft. The cross-cut model is only $20 more, and it seems quite worth it.

Merchants that print entire credit card numbers on their receipts with the expiration date and my signature ("the yellow copy is yours") are the bane of my existence, and I don't think any personal cross-cut shredder would help me with that. I guess what I really want is a house with a fireplace. Of course, I'm fairly certain there are easier ways of getting credit card numbers than assembling shredded garbage, so maybe it's not worth the effort I go to to destroy receipts. But a shredder is nice peace of mind.