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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

February 2003 Archives

February 28, 2003

Red Dwarf is out on DVD in the U.S.! As of February 25th, seasons one and two of this essential British sci-fi sitcom have a region 1 release with commentary tracks by Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Norman Lovett, commentary on the first episode from Rob Grant, Doug Naylor and Ed Bye, a documentary, interviews, a Japanese episode (?), "Tongue Tied: The Uncut Version," and much more, all on 4 discs. Pre-release news of this one slipped past me, but thanks to Amazon recommendations, it's on its way. :)

Glen A. Larson is the man behind a bunch of famous TV shows, including Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Magnum P.I., and, of course, Knight Rider. It was actually a recent (failed) attempt to get into Battlestar Galactica, and not my continuing obsession with Knight Rider, that led me to his IMDb entry, but I can't help but notice an entry for Super Knight Rider 3000 at the top of his list, registered as in production. Counting Down, VideoETA, and this BBC article imply Hasselhoff and Daniels are both involved. The EZ Review [warning: annoying deep-link prevention] seems to have the best info so far: Revolution Studios (who did xXx) bought the rights and intends for a big-screen premiere in 2004.

Greg Costikyan has a review of a new kind of massive multiplayer game: A Tale in the Desert. Pushes the envelope of MMG design, free for the first month and it has an official Linux client? Ooh...

First, there is no combat in ATitD. None. Not PvP, and not PvE either. Okay, fine. So what do you do instead?

You grow flax...

Dull, right?

Well no, not really; for one thing, flax is beautiful, nice purple flowers. And the process--plant, water, watch the beds like a hawk because you have only a few seconds after weeds sprout to weed the beds, or the plants go to seed, harvest--happens relatively quickly, and is at least as interesting as attacking a gnoll, then sitting back for twenty seconds while the chat line tells you how much damage you do and take, then clicking on the treasure to pick it up. In other words: When you come down to it, MMG combat is pretty dull, too, because you don't really do much other than decide what to attack, when to flee, and occasionally what spell or special combat skill to use. There's at least as much interactivity, and at least as much interesting 3D animation, in growing flax as in fighting an MMG battle. The fundamental secret of game design isn't "violence sells," whatever the critics of games might think; it's "give players interesting stuff to do."

Another review, from MassiveMultiplayer.org.

And from the official game FAQ:

The ancient Egyptians wrote about Seven Disciplines of Man: Leadership, Thought, The Human Body, Architecture, Worship, Conflict, and Art. They believed that if a man could achieve perfection in all seven, he'd live forever.

A Tale in the Desert centers around the tests, which measure your skill in the seven disciplines. They don't measure your character's abilities --- they measure your abilities. That's a big difference. For example, to advance in leadership, you'll actually need to be able to convince people to do things. To advance in conflict, you'll need real tactical and strategic ability. To advance in art, you'll need artistic talent.

All of the tests share one thing in common: your goal is to affect your fellow players. In conflict, you must defeat them. In architecture, you must outbuild them. In worship, you must coordinate them. No matter the discipline, passing a test revolves around other players.

February 27, 2003

Fred Rogers dies at age 74. Mister Rogers had a profound positive effect on my emotional wellbeing through childhood, and I'll never forget it.

And I used to think "retroscripting" referred to the squiggly animation style. Animation World Magazine on Tom Snyder Productions, creators of such cult favorite TV shows as Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, Home Movies and Squigglevision (aka Science Court).

"I said, ‘Hey Annette, you want to come in this weekend? I want to record a crazy scenario and have you animate it,’" [Tom] Snyder recalls, "So, we did a show about a shrink and a kid. I changed my voice digitally so I could sound like a couple of different people. I sent it off to my friend in L.A. He sent it off to another guy and then to a production company who sent it to Comedy Central. I think six months from then we had an Emmy!"

More nifty articles at Animation World Magazine.

An animated advertisement over at GameSpot caught my attention (and I'm totally playing into it by blogging it):

Great leaders use words to resolve conflicts:

Words like 'carpet bombing' and 'Scud launcher'.

Command & Conquer Generals, available now.

I suppose as a great leader you're supposed to be saying, "I am ordering an immediate carpet bombing of those Scud launchers," but I had to think twice. I gather that C&C Generals lets you play as the U.S., China, or a fictional terrorist organization, so I guess the last one would let you use Scuds and would congratulate you on your success. I've always wondered if war games set in real wars or based on real countries and real conflicts are at all controversial for being so...

TiVo has bad scheduling data for Nick at Nite which is making it difficult to relive memories of Head of the Class, an ABC sitcom from 1986 to 1991. Head of the Class is special for its ability to represent gifted children on TV, lace its dialogue and stories with history, literature, and other academic material (admittedly nothing beyond a high school education, but what other sitcom expects even that much from its audience?), star Howard Hessman and eventually Billy Connolly, and still be a crappy eighties sitcom with shallow characters, simple, preachy plots, lame gags and an atrocious ill-timed laugh track (later seasons only?). When did it jump the shark?

Thankfully, N@N gave me a sample of three different seasons before I gave up on trying to relive this part of my childhood, and the pilot came close enough to redeeming both the Billy Connolly Christmas episode ("Viki's Torn Genes") and the Darlene-is-a-descendant-of-Benjamin-Franklin episode ("The Write Stuff," I think?) that I might be willing to try a few more. I'm disappointed to hear the NASA episode is considered terrible (as is all of Season 4), since it's the only one I actually remember anything about...

February 26, 2003

TurboTax 2003 contains invasive and potentially destructive Digital Rights Management software. ExtremeTech has a thorough summary of the debacle, including a timeline of how the news was discovered and how Intuit responded, lab analysis of how the software affects your computer, summary of the issues you need to be concerned with, and an editorial opinion. The very notion of DRM-protected software is interesting and highly debateable (especially when something as important as your financial records are at stake), but especially noteworthy in this case is the way in which it is implemented, and how various design and implementation failures affect users of this software.

There are going to be many examples of broken DRM implementations in the coming years, and it will be worth investigating each in this kind of detail. Consumers and media companies alike will have to decide if there is any acceptable notion of DRM that meets everybody's needs and protects everybody's rights.

Compromise copyright bill in works: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is introducing a labelling law on media containing anti-piracy measures.

Understanding Moore's Law.

February 25, 2003

SpamArrest defends its right to spam. SpamArrest offers to protect you from spam by requiring that everyone who sends you email verify themselves at the SpamArrest website. SpamArrest then turns around and spams the addresses of everyone that emails you. SpamArrest sucks. (Thanks Backup Brain.)

Movie-goers sue theaters for showing ads instead of the movie at the advertised movie start time. They're asking for minimal damages, and are obviously more interested in getting theater chains to change this offensive practice.

Most movie-goers consider trailers before a movie to be a separate issue, an expected and sometimes eagerly anticipated part of the movie-going experience. Not that 20 minutes of trailers isn't also a problem these days (and if you've been to a movie lately, you know this is not an exagguration).

Danger will release a beta version of the public SDK for the Hiptop/Sidekick next week. It will be available free to "registered developers" here.

The Handspring Treo 180 seems to have disappeared as I figured it would. At $99 (w/ service activation), I assumed it was a clearance sale. Now I either need to buy used, or wait for the 270 to drop in price, which will probably take a while...

February 24, 2003

Last week, U.S. intelligence officials stated that North Korea has the technology to fire nuclear missiles at the West Coast. What do you think?

Futurama, Season 1 will be released on DVD in the U.S. on March 25. The Amazon product description doesn't show it, but according to this DVDFile blurb, this highly anticipated boxed set will not disappoint: commentary on every episode, deleted scenes, storyboards and more. (A similar set with fewer features has been available overseas for a while, and they already have season 2 as well.)

I'm a closeted Family Guy fan at best, but for the rest of you, Family Guy will get its first DVD boxed set on April 15, including the first two seasons.

Now that the Supreme Court Has Declined to Limit Copyright Duration, Those Who Want to Shorten the Term Need to Look At Other Options, Including Constitutional Amendment, by Marci Hamilton.

February 21, 2003

The Case Against Intellectual Property [PDF]. Chapter 2 [PDF]. By professors of Economics David Levine and Michele Boldrin.

Parking Spots, a brilliant and silly photo project.

Another oldie but goodie: the Internet Theatre Database has cross-referenced information about stage plays and musicals, including original and revival Broadway casts as well as writers, composers, producers and more.

Bookmark dumping ground:

February 20, 2003

Seattle's ACT Theater is in a deep financial crisis, and would have had to close indefinitely tomorrow due to $1.7 million in debts. The ACT board ponied up $40,000 of their own money to extend the deadline by 1 month, giving them that long to raise the funds.

According to [board member Alan] Rappoport, some potential donors of large sums have told board members they need to see "a solid reorganization plan for ACT," as well as a "groundswell" of local support from other sources, before committing their own funds to the ailing theater.

I still have a $100 gift certificate for the ACT. Should I try to use it while the ACT is still around, or should I not use it and consider it a donation?

Some technical support anecdotes are so outrageous that they must be ficticious. Well, photos never lie. (Thanks jefflog.)

Plugger is a plug-in for your Netscape/Mozilla on Linux that lets you run a variety of multimedia helpers as plug-ins for embedded content. Note that you can't just do this by setting up the helper apps directly. This is worth a look if only for their list of links to Linux multimedia players, including XAnim, which claims support for playing QuickTime and AVI files, among other things. I can't say I've had complete success with either, yet, but Netscape's plug-in recommender says "Plugger" for pretty much everything.

The Internet Movie Database, now a commercially managed project and a very popular Internet destination, started as a volunteer effort by a few folks on Usenet. It was all hand-managed lists of actors and directors from 1989 until 1993, when a database was set up with an email interface to collect submissions. The database was given a web interface later that year and quickly received "tens of thousands of requests each *day*" (quite a bit for a volunteer project even by today's standards, but this was 1993). The data was always freely available to download, and there was plenty of software to search the database locally on your computer. In 1996, IMDb "became a sponsorship and advertising supported service."

The Movie Database FAQ from 1997 includes the transition of IMDb into a commercial entity, and does not appear to betray the 1994 version, so is probably the best history up to that point. What I don't see is a discussion of who owns the copyright to the information collected prior to the 1996 incorporation. Most of the FAQ, especially question 5, implies that almost all of the work to collect the information was done by a small group of people that all became part of Internet Movie Database, Inc., largely from "direct sources". I have little doubt that this is the case after the 1996 incorporation, and I'd guess that by then they had an explicit copyright policy that took control over all volunteer submissions (like they do now). And I would assume most of the current database represents work by the company and not by volunteers.

IMDb.com still offers partial database dumps, but claims copyright on all of the files provided and strongly restricts online use beyond a few entries to paid licensees. They claim copyright back to 1990, which would be fine if they had agreements with all of the original creators. I don't see any evidence that the project had a copyright policy that took control over third-party submissions before 1996. The files they are providing certainly contain legitimately copyrighted data, but I wonder if there are datasets out there that fall outside of IMDb's legitimate copyright claims.

February 19, 2003

Snopes.com on the history of Happy Birthday.

Comments on the Happy Birthday copyright story.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. (Thanks David.)

How to be a Programmer.

Bookmark dumping ground:

February 18, 2003

LinuxFest Northwest, April 26, 10am to 4pm at Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham, WA. From an email announcement: "John "Maddog" Hall is coming to hangout with us and volunteered to be the keynote speaker. Randal Schwartz (the famous O'Reilly Perl author), Brian "krow" Aker (senior developer for Slashdot), Brian Hatch (author of Hacking Linux Exposed), Chris Negus (author of The RedHat Bible), to name a few, have also volunteered to speak." And best of all, admission is free.

The Onion A.V. Club interviews The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, and Mo Rocca. (Thanks Jerry.)

The music of Sierra's Quest games. A giant collection of MIDIs and great MP3 recordings and re-workings of themes from the likes of King's Quest, Space Quest, Willy Beamish and Leisure Suit Larry. Real fans will want to download the complete MIDI soundtracks of some games and just let them play.

February 17, 2003

Metropolis, the Restored Authorized Edition will get its much anticipated DVD release on February 18. It includes a 65-piece orchestral performance of Gottfried Huppertz's original score. DVD Savant Glenn Erickson has his usual fantastic article on the film, the version of this new restoration that toured last year, and the new DVD. See especially the bit about why Kino decided to use a speed of 24 frames per second for the DVD (dammit!), despite the use of 20 fps for the touring version.

I already mentioned The Day The Earth Stood Still will be out on March 4. More details on the extras are now available, including a 70-minute making-of documentary (!!), a commentary by director Robert Wise (!!!) and Nicolas Meyer (who's that?), the full shooting script and more.

Turner Classic Movies presents The Fourth Annual Young Film Composers Competition. Score one of the four 95-second clips of silent films provided and upload it to Tonos, and you could win $10,000 and the opportunity to score a complete TCM silent film for professional production in Los Angeles, to air on TCM next year. Last year's winner scored the 1928 silent Laugh, Clown, Laugh, which will premiere on TCM on February 26.

I mentioned the Back to the Future DVD framing problem back in December. The Digital Bits article I linked mentioned an email response Universal was sending with a mailing address where you could send discs 2 and 3 for replacement, but I wanted to confirm the address before shipping off my discs, so I decided to call the 1-888 number DVDFile mentioned in their article. Because I couldn't seem to remember to do it during the day, it was around 1 am when I called. I expected a recording that would simply confirm the details.

I didn't realize it was a human being until she asked me for my zip code about 30 seconds into the script. She explained that Universal will send a return envelope, and collected my address and phone number. By virtue of the number I called, she already knew to read the BTTF script, so it was a simple and straightforward transaction. Her script mentioned that the mis-framing affects 2 minutes of BTTF II and 4 minutes of BTTF III, widescreen editions only. She also said that they will start shipping replacements in late March. I didn't get any further information.

The number I called: 888-703-0010. The Digital Bits article mentioned a Canadian support number: 866-532-2202.

February 16, 2003

Whoa: Google Buys Pyra. Big news for bloggers everywhere, especially Blogger bloggers.

February 14, 2003

The Linux Game Tome polled for the best Linux games and came up with a notable list of excellent games for Linux, free and otherwise. Frozen Bubble, a bubble shooter clone, took several categories, including Best Free Game. In addition to being a slick implementation with graphics, sound and music above and beyond what you normally get for free, Frozen Bubble also deserves mention for being written in Perl, using the SDL cross-platform multimedia library and SDL-Perl glue code.

Similarly impressive: PySol, a massive collection of solitaire card games implemented in Python.

Usenet Physics FAQ. (Thanks David.)

Bookmark dumping ground:

February 13, 2003

Rice For Peace, a not-so-new idea in non-violent protest of war.

Long story; short pier notes that the anecdote of Eisenhower being influenced by a similar campaign in 1954 to decide against bombing China is an urban legend. The Fellowship of Reconciliation issued a message last week to clarify the use of the anecdote in promoting the Rice for Peace campaign. Doesn't mean it's not a cool idea, though.

(If you do choose to participate, please note the packaging alert, which was the first thing I thought of when I read about sending baggies of rice to the White House.)

Video games without frontiers:

...[A]ctions, such as destroying a key artefact or murdering a potential ally, can radically change the game.

The story management system would not prevent such events, but would re-make the world to take them into account.

Prof Young said it does this by drawing on narrative theory to create convincing stories that explore the consequences of player actions.

Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide.

Coincidentally related to yesterday's Mozilla post: If you use Emacs a lot, you might think it's annoying if you accidentally start up a second Emacs process when you already have one running. An Emacs process can be slow to start up, depending on how many custom modules you've added to it, and a separate process doesn't know about all those buffers you already have open. If you set your EDITOR environment variable to 'emacs', other utilities will try to open new processes, even if you've already got one up and running.

XEmacs and GNU Emacs 21 users can run their Emacs process as a "server": just put '(server-start)' in your .emacs file. With the server running, the 'emacsclient ...' command will open a file (or files) as buffers in the existing Emacs process. If you always have Emacs running, make 'emacsclient' your EDITOR. The emacsclient command will not return until you close the server-opened buffer with C-x # (server-edit)-- useful for utilities that open EDITOR and wait for you to finish with the file.

emacsclient run without an existing server process won't do anything but complain. Use the ALTERNATE_EDITOR environment variable, or the -a command line option, to give it something better to do, ala: 'emacsclient -a emacs ...' Or even: 'emacsclient -a vi ...'

Alas, in a windowing environment, emacsclient calls make no effort to bring the Emacs window forward. I also notice emacsclient requires a filename. I was hoping to use emacsclient not just for EDITOR, but for invoking from the command line and opening a new frame if it's already open. Using emacsclient is most definitely faster than waiting for a new emacs process to start up, and might make it easier to use Emacs for all editing tasks, not just the big ones. Maybe with a little bit of pixie dust here... and here...

Users of GNU Emacs prior to version 21 can use GnuClient to achieve the same effect. XEmacs and GNU Emacs 21 come with the emacsclient feature. See the manual for more info. Of course, true die-hard Emacs fanatics will tell you that you should never have a reason to leave Emacs in the first place to make emacsclient necessary...

February 12, 2003

Embrace file-sharing, or die. A sharp, insightful message from John Snyder, president of Artist House Records, 32-time Grammy nominee, and board member of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences, to the rest of NARAS. (Thanks Rebecca.)

DVDs don't last as long as we thought they would. Corrosion and delamination cause DVDs to be unplayable. DVD-CCA licensing practices and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act make it illegal to back up your media. This means you may need to re-purchase your DVDs possibly as soon as you would need to replace VHS tapes. The article says some movie rental stores are reporting only getting two or three rentals from a DVD before losing them to DVD rot.

After I installed Mozilla 1.2.1 for Linux using Mozilla.org's x86 binary installer, I noticed that if I started a new Mozilla process when one was already running, it would complain about the default profile already being used, and I'd have to exit (or choose another profile). How annoying! When I run Mozilla, I just want a new window, not a new process.

Thankfully, it was easy to write a runmozilla script:

#!/bin/sh

HOMEPAGE="http://www.google.com/"

if /usr/bin/mozilla -remote "ping()"
then
  if test -z $1
  then

  
  /usr/bin/mozilla -remote "openURL($HOMEPAGE, new-window)"

  elif test -f $1

  then

  
  /usr/bin/mozilla -remote "openFile($1, new-window)"

  else

  
  /usr/bin/mozilla -remote "openURL($1, new-window)"

  fi

else

  /usr/bin/mozilla $*

fi


Strangely, when I had installed Mozilla 1.2.1 from RPMs (also from Mozilla.org), it never complained about profiles in use. (I had to purge that installation because it would crash when I tried to view Page Source. It may have been a botched RPM, I don't know.)

February 10, 2003

Entertainment Weekly picks their 25 favorite Simpsons episodes. It's a difficult subject, and I'm sure everyone would have different picks, but they did a good job of picking good episodes that emphasize most all of the show's strengths, even as the tenor and focus of the show changed over the years. I am strongly in the jumped-around-season-ten camp (1999), and while I could burn pages of blog space on the subject (and probably getting nowhere in doing so, given how people tend to feel about the subject), for now I'll simply express satisfaction for the season tally in EW's rankings:

  • 1990, 3 episodes
  • 1991, 1 episode
  • 1992, 3 episodes
  • 1993, 7 episodes, 5 of which were in their top 10
  • 1994, 4 episodes
  • 1995, 1 episode
  • 1996, 2 episodes
  • 1997, 4 episodes
  • No favorites from 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001. The declared worst episode is from 2000.
  • 2002, 1 episode.

Reminisce at one of the greatest collaborative volunteer data-collection efforts on the Internet, The Simpsons Archive.

The Glenn Gould De-Vocalizer 2000. "Now you can listen to Glenn Gould recordings without the extraneous humming and singing OR add your own with the included microphone. Great for dinner parties!!!"

Dave also did the excellent (and less silly) Dave's J.S. Bach Page, a fantastic collection of information and multimedia.

Improving accessibility with ACCESSKEY in HTML forms and links. I'm finding I've been away from browser implementation technology for so long that there are many cool things I don't even know about.

Mozilla's Site Navigation Bar is far less ubiquitous (Mozilla only) and possibly not as useful, but it doesn't hurt other browsers in any way and adds compelling standardized navigation functionality to a web site (when the user has it enabled).

February 9, 2003

This might be too late a mention for most of you, but just in case: Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio will interview the cast of the Simpsons tonight. Bravo will repeat the show later in the day as well, as it will overlap with an actual Simpsons episode in some markets.

February 7, 2003

The Piano Education Page is excellent.

Learning to Play the Piano: Learning On Your Own.

From On Teaching Piano Technique:

... Often, the refrain from piano teachers is "Practice, Practice, Practice". Scales, arpeggios, and technical exercises are prescribed, without acknowledging that an improper technical or practice approach will not lead to natural facility, and may in fact, damage it.

... As a college teacher, I find that I do a lot of rehabilitative work with my students, trying to retrain their physical instincts and gestures at the keyboard. A spiral of incomplete technical thinking, over-ambitious repertoire and little time for easeful practice leads to a high incidence of serious injuries. ...

A Look at Canada, what you need to know about Canada to become a citizen. (Thanks, Boing Boing.)

Wired on Project Gutenberg and the universal electronic library.

I was never a Photoshop expert, but I got to the point where I was able to do quite a few fancy things with it quickly and easily. I attribute this in no small part to major advances in Photoshop's user interface over many well-tested versions, as well as good on-board documentation. Of course, now I'm trying to learn how to use Gimp, the Open Source equivalent. Despite the fact that many seem to love this program, I'm finding it difficult to do anything more than a few basic tasks. I imagine this is what Photoshop might have been like in its earlier versions, when cutting off someone's head and putting it on someone else's body involved skilled manipulations of masks and channels.

A bunch of books are available on the subject, both in print and online. The Gimp Manual appears to be semi-official, and is available online or from Coriolis. Its many examples are inspiring, and feel like good starting points for experimentation. Amazon customer reviewers hate it because it dashes over actual instruction to favor demonstrating the program's power, which so far seems true. Grokking the GIMP, full text and figures online and in print from New Riders, does a pretty good job covering basics and discussing theory and technique, but I find myself begging for step-by-step screenshots even simpler than it provides. It fairs much better in the Amazon customer reviews. A problem common to both books, or at least their online versions, is that I can't tell which version of Gimp is used in the examples, so when theirs doesn't look like mine, I can't tell if I'm not looking for the button in the right place or if the button moved. Maybe I'll have better luck with these tutorials...

February 6, 2003

More Knight Rider: KnightRiderOnline.com has more info and screenshots of the upcoming computer game, which will apparently be available for both the PS2 and the PC.

This Knight Rider FAQ has some great info, including a collection of "technical information." It quotes a TV directory's article on the show:

Brandon Tartikoff, youthful head of programming at NBC, once gave California magazine this version of the creation of Knight Rider: It seems he and one of his assistants were discussing the problems of casting handsome leading men in the series, because many of them can't act. Why not have a series, he mused, called "The Man of Six words," which would begin with the guy getting out of a woman's bed and saying "Thank You." Then he would chase down some villians and say "Freeze!" Finally the grateful almost-vitims would thank him, and he would murmur, "You're welcome." End of show. In between, the car could do the talking.

The series that made it to the air as Knight Rider was scarcley less preposterous than that, but it was played with such a twinkle in the eye that viewers--especillay kids--made it one of the hits of the 1982 season....

It also makes sure to note that the seat ejectors do not automatically activate the sun roof, the significance of which I forget. There's actually not a whole lot I remember about the show, which is partly why I'm enjoying the re-runs on the SciFi channel.

This FAQ, while not as orderly, is also not to be missed. It includes gems such as:

How many episodes has K.I.T.T. had to have been rebuilt in the series?
Goliath, Knight of the Drones, Junkyard Dog and Knight of the Juggernaut.

Does K.I.T.T. turbo boost in every episode of Knight Rider?
No. Kitt never turbo boosts in Deadly Manuvers, Killer Kitt, Voo Doo Knight or Goliath.

And finally, Juha's KITT Dashboard Project. Makes me wish I had been 8 when the show aired so I could have taken notes. (I was 4.) See also Juha's silly feedback page.