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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

April 2003 Archives

April 30, 2003

If Richard Feynman interviewed at Microsoft.

Extending your Titanium PowerBook's wireless range— by squeezing!

The Unix-Haters Handbook, full text online. More background on the book. (It even came with a Unix-haters' barf bag.)

I asked Google how to render PostScript files as GIFs, and it gave me this page which discusses the proper GhostScript arguments.

April 29, 2003

Manuel conquers S.S.C. and takes some amazing pictures.

Manuel conquers K.S.S. and takes some amazing pictures (and several movies).

Jim informed me of a way to enclose the retractable lens on an Olympus C2020Z, using a filter adapter housing, a filter cap, and a couple of stackable filter rings (possibly with the filter removed) to get enough extension to put the cap over a fully-extended lens. These cameras use a motor to extend the built-in lens when turned on and retract it when turned off, but it's faster, easier and less battery draining to leave the camera on all the time with the lens extended, and let the auto-sleep feature conserve power when not in use. In the switched-on extended position, however, there's no way to attach the official lens cap. I think the built-in lens on my C3030Z has already taken rain damage.

What's worse is when you leave the cap (which latches pretty tightly to the base of the unit) on when you turn on the unit, and the motor rams your lens into the cap with horrible grinding noises. The C*0*0Z series has few design flaws, but that's one of them.

A link from that page: Digital Photography For What It's Worth, a collection of nifty articles, including some all about Olympus digital cameras.

pnhtoolbar is a Mozilla extension for web developers that collects a bunch of useful bookmarklets into a single XUL+JS toolbar. Interfaces to over-the-web validators, hide and show style sheets, apply external style sheets, view page cookies, and more. Mozilla already includes some powerful features for web development, pnhtoolbar adds a few extra features to a convenient toolbar.

If you're debugging HTTP headers, LiveHTTPHeaders for Mozilla looks handy. Watch HTTP headers scroll by in a window.

"Planet CCRMA at Home is a collection of rpms... that you can add to a computer running RedHat 7.2, 7.3, 8.0 or 9 to transform it into an audio workstation with a low-latency kernel, current ALSA audio drivers and a nice set of music, midi, audio and video applications." The installation process takes you through every step to install the ALSA drivers and build a low-latency kernel, as well as install tons of sound software.

April 28, 2003

My home-grown blog software, while kind of lousy, does something I haven't seen other blog software do well that I can't live without: automatically publish post-dated entries. You may have noticed that my entries are usually about a week behind the rest of the weblog world. This is because I collect subjects for entries throughout the week, then do all of my write-ups and posting on Sunday, to be meted out in regular doses across the following week. Real-time posting just isn't my style.

Every time I sit down to write out a list of things I want my blog software to be able to do, the amenable, inevitable, effin' ineffable Moveable Type hits every mark except this one. Of course, I've considered modifying MT myself to add the feature, but never had enough consecutive chunks spare time to follow through. And of course, I mention it to MT hacker extraordinaire Jim Flanagan last Saturday, and by Sunday he produces Trickle.

With this plus other MT add-ons, it's almost a slam dunk for my purposes and tastes. It's pretty much assured that I will be using or modifying MT for this site at some point. Probably not this month, but soon.

How to Choose a Search Engine or Directory. (Thanks Rebecca.)

Why Am I Getting All This Spam? A paper on how spammers get your email address, bare addresses on web pages being the most popular. I keep telling community web site maintainers not to display users' addresses to non-logged-in users, but do they listen? Nooooo...

A history of spam and anti-spam efforts.

CodeWeavers CrossOver 2.0, the run-popular-Windows-apps-in-Linux software, has released, including support for Office XP and Photoshop 7. I never needed MS Office in Linux, but now that Photoshop 7 is supported, this is a must-have for me.

April 25, 2003

The Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall Of Shame. (Thanks Brad.) A Truck Driver's Gear Change is when a song, usually a pop song, modulates up half a step or so near the end to repeat its chorus (or more!) into the fade-out. I'm sure the fade-out phenomenon, every songwriter's excuse to not write an ending and every album producer's opportunity to burn a chorus into its listeners' brand recognition circuits through repetition, is partly responsible. Without a real ending, the Truck Driver's Gear Change can "open up" a song near the end to simulate a big finale without actually ending. The site features MP3 clips of many examples, browsable by artist, title and year.

Musicology dives like this one make me wish computers were better at identifying pitches in music. We need to load all of the world's music into a giant database where we can perform advanced queries to identify musicological trends like this one. Not that the RIAA would let us do such a thing even if we possessed the technology (we could do lyric databases today, but we're not allowed), but it's fun to think about.

Here's such a dive I've been interested in for a while, somewhat related to the fade-out and the TDGC: How many pop songs use and end with repeated phrases that don't end on the tonic? "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" come to mind-- and never leave.

Aw. The Piano Education Page (which I blogged about earlier) has been inexplicably taken off the Internet. I wish I had web space I could donate, but Mr. Zeigler deserves a steady space, and perhaps a domain name.

Internet Wayback Machine to the rescue!

One of my favorite music theory and notation books is Elementary Rudiments of Music by Barbara Wharram. It's pretty rigorous, and you get quite a bit of notation practice while you take in the theory, but the rigor is well-paced and worth it. I'd never absorbed so much theory so quickly as when I was working with this book. It's mostly a work book than a reference, so my 9-year old copy is pretty worn and full of pencil markings. I'm looking to order a new copy: Amazon can special order it, but Tapestry Music has it [wrong cover on that page, but the right book] as well as the answer key, which is probably worth having.

April 24, 2003

Gutenberg Radio, free computer-generated audio books of public domain texts.

Philosophy Radio.

Music.MetaFilter.com. Music by MetaFilter users. A spiffy idea, and the initial submissions are not all bad. :)

I have a process on my web host that runs every hour and uses the database, so I get email whenever the database is unavailable. Every four or five months, DreamHost has an unannounced database outage, often for many hours. By count of the emails I received, the outage earlier this week lasted over 11 hours. Every time this happens, I fret for days about changing web hosts, only to be stalled by the cost of doing so, and then my interest fades until the next outage.

I have a hard time knocking DreamHost, because they're otherwise pretty stellar and deserving of their loyal following. Their prices are good, their automated features are many and powerful, and their customer service blows me away. I've sent several people to DreamHost based on these qualities, including a policy I renew every year for my mother for Mother's Day, and a high-traffic (high-paying) non-profit organization. But unannounced hours-long database outages are inexcusably unprofessional. To think that they hope to cater to small businesses.

It is pretty clear from previous outages that it isn't a matter of a poor planned outage notification policy. They just lose control of their database systems every once in a while, and have to scramble to get them restored. I remember one outage left me with corrupt tables and resulted in lost data. DreamHost has been struggling to figure out what a high-end web host looks like on the back-end, with high traffic or poorly written software installed by customers capable of affecting other customers. Their solution to the database problem: bill per database connection, and per query (the charge calculated from a combined number they call "conuery"). I don't know of any other web host that meters database usage like this. (Do you?)

Any anti-DreamHost thread deserves a mention of Pair.com, which has competitive prices and features, and is especially known for their reliability, size and industry experience. Nobody has ever complained about Pair, and they're always overwhelmingly mentioned in "what's a good web host?" discussions.

I'm also seriously considering self-hosting over my DSL line. I worry about this option because I don't understand my usage patterns well enough to know what the line can handle, and it will inevitably be less reliable than any web host. If my server goes down, not only would I be without access to email, but emails sent to me would bounce. If I'm on vacation when it happens, there's nobody to fix it until I get back. But I'm already paying for the static IPs, I have the know-how and the hardware, and I'd enjoy the control provided by self-hosting.

I'm hardly the first to complain about or leave DreamHost because of egregious quality control problems, but I may be the next.

April 23, 2003

A Guide to Art, by Brendon Small. Bredon appears as GirlComic.net's token male.

More on Brendon Small: Stand-Ups Find Sit-Down Jobs.

ExtremeTech builds a cheap media server using Freevo.

WineX 3.0 is out. TransGaming's user-sponsored Windows gaming library emulation for Linux project lets you run many popular Windows games without Windows. I'm happy to be a paying subscriber to TransGaming (you don't have to pay to get the software, it's GPL), but I have yet to get a game to work fully. I can't say I've tried that hard, but it's notable that it isn't as easy as one would hope.

Linux Wireless LAN Howto, a collection of resources from Hewlett Packard.

April 22, 2003

The BBC TV movie rendition of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, the Tony Award-winning play about Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, will be released on DVD on May 13.

A lecture on Frayn's Copenhagen.

BOMB interview with Michael Frayn.

I haven't read it yet, but The Copenhagen Papers: An Intrigue by Michael Frayn and Copenhagen star David Burke looks like fun.

... This book concerns a mysterious package Frayn received during the play's London run, from "Celia Rhys-Evans," saying that she had seen the play, and that during a stay at Farm Hall in the '60s she had found some papers written in German that must be relevant. The crumpled papers appeared to make a joke about Ping-Pong and uranium 235. In true British style, it turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by Burke, revealed by a third person just as Frayn was about to go to the papers....

(You can also buy the script, of course.)

Bikestation, a new bicycle-sharing program that features attended bike-transit centers, bike service, emergency ride-home service, indoor bike parking, and shared bikes and scooters, opens its first Seattle station in Pioneer Square on May 16.

Pine 4.55 released.

April 21, 2003

HP has a K-12 Create-a-Calculator Contest.

I like that An Introduction to Reverse Polish Notation is linked on every page of this site. I've never liked the in-fix notation used by traditional calculators, requiring careful use of a "memory" register (the M, MC, M+ and M- buttons) and in-brain or on-paper management of operation order to do anything more complicated than dividing two numbers, or adding up a list. RPN calculators have advanced displays that include the contents of the last few levels of the "stack," but it's hard to imagine the equivalent features, namely multiple memory registers and an on-screen display of all memory contents, being as powerful or as easy to use. I hadn't thought calculators could get any more intuitive, even for basic operations like adding up numbers, until I first used an RPN calculator in high school.

Just thinking about RPN and my HP48GX makes me wish I still had opportunities to use it. Of all the computer-like devices I've owned and used, I've never felt such an aura of power and mystique as I do from my HP48GX. I wish everything used RPN, and I don't even know what that means.

GRPN is an RPN calculator for Linux, with a Gnome (X) interface.

VC is a command-line RPN calculator with special features for vectors of arbitrary dimension (including scalars), written entirely in Perl. I quite like this.

Creating Adventure Games On Your Computer, by Tim Hartnell, was originally published in 1983, and is now available online through AtariArchives.org. I cherished this book when I was a kid even after I stopped working with computers that ran BASIC. It was quite inspiring.

For future reference: The Mozilla.org Community includes mailing lists and newsgroups for Mozilla developers.

April 7, 2003

In episode 56 of Knight Rider, "Lost Knight," an accident causes KITT to lose his memory and KITT and Michael to be separated. A young boy, Doug Wainwright, played by '80s TV child actor Jason Bateman, befriends the car and keeps him a secret from his mother. As Doug leaves KITT in a hiding place in the hills, they have the following exchange:

Doug: So you gonna be OK, or what?

KITT: I'll be fine. And I think my memory is improving.

Doug: Well good. I'll be back tonight, late, when everyone else is asleep.

KITT: That sounds like fun. Goodbye, Elliott.

Doug: Doug. My name's Doug.

KITT: Then who's Elliott?

Doug: How do I know? I thought your memory was getting better.

KITT: Yes, well, at least it's not getting any worse.

The episode, first aired on December 9, 1984, obviously refers to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (June 1982). According to TV Tome, the episode was originally titled "K.I.T.T. Phone Home." As with the premise of E.T., the premise of the episode seems especially targetted towards young boys, a big demographic for the show. Knight Rider appears to use pop culture references of its era in various ways; almost every episode has 30 seconds or so of a pop song from the era, which always makes me think it was placed their promotionally.

I find this especially amusing because E.T., in addition to well-executed product placement for Coca-Cola and Reese's Pieces, has several blatant Star Wars references, including Elliott excitedly introducing E.T. to his Star Wars action figures, and E.T. excitedly chasing after a child in a (pretty nifty) Yoda costume while they're out for Halloween. (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace returns the favor with a background E.T. cameo.) It's as if these children's pop-culture powerhouses, despite their own merits, felt it necessary to include each other to lock themselves in to the pop culture pantheon.

I got the same vibe from episode 52, "K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.," when some guy sits in KARR's driver's seat and says something to the effect of, "I bet George Lucas drives one of these."

April 2, 2003

Congrats to Jeremy for getting one of his humor pieces on All Things Considered! You can hear it online.

I enjoyed seeing David Mamet at Seattle Arts & Lectures last night. The house was packed, and this was Benaroya Hall (2,500 seats). He read a fun essay ("The Secret Names of Things," not sure if it's published yet), then answered audience questions. I was pleased that to the question, "What screenplays do you wish you had written?" Mamet's reply included Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (The Godfather was first in his list, and I believe Yankee Doodle Dandy was also mentioned. I don't recall the others.)

Dean Allen invents Textile, a light-weight in-line text mark-up language for web display. Noel Jackson gets excited and makes up propaganda/reference cards. Brad Choate makes a Textile text formatting plug-in for Movable Type. Mark Pilgrim ports it to Python. One of Mark's readers asks what the major differences are between Textile and reStructured Text, a light-weight mark-up language born of Python, Zope and Structured Text. Mark answers.

I'm glad someone asked. I have to switch between several different kinds of light-weight mark-up in a single day, and I'd hate to have to learn another one without a good reason-- especially since the only reason there are such significant differences in the others are due to lack of historical knowledge by their developers. No doubt different designs will work for different purposes (blogging is likely different from commenting source code), I just don't want to see this particular wheel re-invented again without historical guidance.

Quick start guide to reStructuredText. Docutils project page.

The Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act may contradict the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. College media centers are concerned that the DMCA will prevent their rightful exercise of the TEACH Act to use CDs and DVDs for distance education.

makb3th.

Inspired by Macbeth,this brand new script mixes techno-slang with extracts from the original text to create a dark piece of modern,digital theatre.

>On an abandoned oil platform in the North Sea, a community of libertarian cypher-punks establish the world's first free data haven:

pirateutopia.org uses actors,SMS text messages, ASCII video footage and a techno soundtrack to perform a unique style of theatre

>An idealist hacker shares more than sleeplessness with Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Bleeding-edge Open Source technology allows the audience to eaves drop on the characters and receive individual text messages from them

April 1, 2003

One thing the Bloggies are good for is picking out some good stuff from the weblog universe. I'm sure most clued-in people don't see anything new in the nominees and award winners, but I appreciated the pointer to Introducing Dive Into Accessibility from dive into mark.

House Joint Memorial 40, introduced in the 46th legislature of the state of New Mexico, "affirming civil rights and liberties; declaring opposition to Federal measures that infringe on civil liberties."

Aurelia Cats, trapeze contortionist and cast member of Teatro Zinzanni, wrote to correct my attribution of the rope act I enjoyed when I saw the show. I'm sorry to say that not only was Aurelia not working that night, but I do not have a proper attribution for the acrobat who was. Oh well.

I enjoyed browsing through Aurelia's image gallery.

Still figuring out how to use your Yamaha Clavinova 200-series digital piano? Try these Clavinova 200-series tutorial videos, VHS or DVD. 100-series also available, VHS only. A little pricey, but if you're still getting used to the features, probably worth having. The site has sample Quicktime video clips.