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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

June 2003 Archives

June 27, 2003

The MoveOn.org PAC is holding a vote to select a Democratic presidential candidate for their support. If you have a favorite, sign up and vote.

Sorry, I accidentally scheduled this to be posted just after the polls closed. The results are in, and without a majority vote (50% + 1 vote), it looks like MoveOn.org will not be endorsing a specific candidate for President in 2004 for the time being. Some interesting numbers: Dean got 43.87% of the primary vote, and 86.02% support from the voting pool. Kerry got 75.29% support, but only 15.73% of the vote.

Seattle commute got you down? You may be able to bid for a single-driver pass to the carpool lane on eBay, an idea proposed by Mercer Island state Rep. Fred Jarrett. Lots of info about our transpo crisis I never paid attention to because I don't drive, even though I'm willing to help pay for it.

Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Child Internet Protection Act, Ed Felten suggests it might be time for a librarian-friendly Open Source censorware project. (Here's a Wired search for older CIPA articles.)

June 24, 2003

Harvard Business School has an excerpt from Code Name Ginger, a new behind-the-scenes tell-all about the Segway Human Transporter. The excerpt describes the meeting attended by Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, and their actual reactions.

A recent Perl Quiz-of-the-Week inspired discussion of suffix trees. That summary article includes a JavaScript suffix tree generator.

A simple HTML mode for Emacs. (Thanks GeneHack.)

June 23, 2003

The Matrix Reloaded: The Abridged Script.

Hidden Treasures of the Perl Core, part 1, part 2.

I started a "learning Perl" project a few months ago where I planned on reading every page of several important Perl books, taking notes on bits I didn't feel I know well enough to use. I had also intended to study all of the built-in functions and core modules-- not to memorize what I could always look up, but to become more familiar with what's available. There's often a point in learning Perl where it appears easier to hack together your own solution than go researching an official one. The key word here is "appears;" if it actually were easier, then it'd probably be better. But not knowing about File::Path, for instance, might cause an additional 45 minutes of work reinventing a function that's sitting right under your libs.

I made it all the way through Learning Perl, 3rd edition, and was surprised how much I didn't know. I knew pretty much all of the core material by heart, but there are some great nuggets in the footnotes.

Michael of beebo.org has discovered a useful bug in the NY Times website's "email this article" feature. If you know the URL of a story that has slipped into the archives, and is thereby normally only available for a fee, you can hack the "email this" URL with it to mail it to yourself (or others) for free. No doubt this loophole will close as soon as the NY Times admins hear about it via weblogs, and it's only useful if you know old URLs, but still, whaaah, eh?

June 17, 2003

The 25 Dumbest Moments in the Video Gaming Industry.

This is a true story: A young Japanese woman travels to North Dakota looking for the million dollars buried in the movie Fargo, and dies. The author of the article seeks to make a film of the event, and discovers the real story.

June 16, 2003

Garage Billiards is a popular place to play pool in downtown Seattle. Coming soon: Garage Bowl. Awesome.

Do Not Touch The Tools, from BitWorking. (Via dive into mark.)

Lawrence Lessig and the RIAA's Matt Oppenheim answer NewsHour viewer questions about copyrights and music piracy. There are some decent (and some not so decent) arguments made by all three parties (including the viewers), though all pretty standard for those familiar with the debate. A digital copy of one of the questions and answers:

Chris from Santa Monica asks:

To Mr. Lessig: please explain how anyone can claim that distributing copies of copyrighted music to a total stranger without authorization of the artist or song owner is not copyright infringement? No one thinks that making a large number of Xerox copies of a book and handing them out on the street is legal, so why is P2P [peer-to-peer] different?

Lawrence Lessig from Stanford Law School responds:

That would be hard for me to explain because I don't know anyone serious who doubts that under current law, individuals engage in copyright infringement when they make large quantities of copyrighted material available for others to copy without the permission of the copyright owner. But I also don't think that's the issue with P2P technologies.

P2P technologies can be used for totally legal purposes, even if they are also used for illegal purposes. Indeed, as they develop, the vast majority of uses of P2P technology will be legal. As the Supreme Court has rightly held, a technology is not illegal if it is capable of "substantial noninfringing uses." Every P2P technology that I have seen satisfies this test.

Matt Oppenheim from the Recording Industry Association of America responds:

AMEN!!

June 12, 2003

Ice is strange stuff: brittle when struck suddenly, yet malleable when pressured over a period of time. With low but steady pressure, this plastic deformation can continue indefinitely. Above all, ice is unpredictable. Molded into a beam, it will fracture at loads anywhere from 5 kg/sq cm to 35 kg/sq cm. Because it fails at unpredictable loads, it is not ideal as a building material...

Pykrete is a super-ice, strengthened tremendously by mixing in wood pulp as it freezes. By freezing a slurry of 14 percent wood pulp, the mechanical strength of ice rockets up to a fairly consistent 70 kg/sq cm. A 7.69 mm rifle bullet, when fired into pure ice, will penetrate to a depth of about 36 cm. Fired into pykrete, it will penetrate less than half as far—about the same distance as a bullet fired into brickwork. Yet you can mold pykrete into blocks from the simplest materials and then plane it, just like wood. And it has tremendous crush resistance: a one-inch column of the stuff will support an automobile.

"The Floating Island", Cabinet Magazine

More on the story of a failed, secret WWII project to build ships out of ice.

Modern Pykrete experiments.

Everyone knows GIF, the image file format most commonly found on web pages. The GIF file format is patented, which means that our free use of GIFs is by the grace of Unisys. All use of GIFs were free of royalty obligations until December 1994, after its wide-spread adoption on the web, when Unisys decided to start collecting royalties from anyone who writes software that can create or edit GIFs. This means Open Source graphics editors have a hard time supporting a very popular format. In response, BurnAllGIFs.org encourages web pages to never use GIFs, and instead use the completely open, unpatented and equally featureful PNG file format. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to do, as browser support is limited, with common browsers missing features like transparency. (PNG's alpha transparency for web pages would be cool, even better than GIF's binary transparency.)

The GIF patent expires on June 20. Do we still need PNG?

June 11, 2003

Ed Felten Explains How Black Boxes Interfere With Effective Public Policy.

PoGo! Radio YourWay is portable TiVo for radio. Record radio programming digitally, listen to it at your leisure, transfer it to and from your computer, record voice with the built-in microphone, and even play MP3s. And it's solid state (no hard drive), with 32MB RAM built-in and an SD/MMC slot. It sounds like it's not perfect, but it's a nifty start. If only there was something on the radio worth listening to...

NPR nuts might want to note that several popular NPR programs are available via subscription from Audible, which you can listen to on an iPod. I've got about 30 hours of Fresh Air on mine right now. Here's hoping that a substantial portion of the subscription fees benefit the programming.

WinSCP, a GUI SCP (secure file transfer) for Windows. (Thanks Dan.)

June 10, 2003

"Weird Al" Yankovic has a new album. I've long grown out of an interest in parody for parody's sake, and indeed I'm too far removed from pop music to enjoy it anyway. I have to wonder if Al has lost interest in pop music with age as have his aging fans; the time between the release of a song and the release of Al's parody seems to have grown with each album, as if Al doesn't listen to the radio any more either. But a Ben Folds track (with Folds on piano) and a Dylan tribute with palindromic lyrics are enough to pique my interest.

I don't know if it says more about Yankovic's waning fan base or the music industry in general that I would not have known of this new album were it not for a mail-order ad on television.

I've personally lost interest in portable Internet for the time being, but since I blogged about it at length before, the new color Danger Hiptop/T-Mobile Sidekick is now available. It's $299 for the device, perhaps a little much for me, but there's also news of a new data-only plan from T-Mobile for $29.99/mo.

Perl 6 Essentials is already in O'Reilly's catalog, and available for pre-order. Considering it'll be released this month, it sounds like it's more of a tale of things to come than a manual, considering Perl 6 is still another year or two away.

June 9, 2003

Ely Landau's American Film Theatre Collection, a 1974 project to make movies of great plays, is out on DVD, as boxed sets or individually. A second set is due in July, and a third set is due in Fall, for a total of 14 films. Set one includes O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, Ionesco's Rhinoceros (starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder), Luther, The Maids, and Butley. Set two includes Albee's A Delicate Balance, In Celebration, Pinter's The Homecoming, Chekov's Three Sisters, and The Man in the Glass Booth. Playbill article, Alan Bates Archive article.

While playing with my new iPod and it's tiny, massive 30GB hard drive, I realized that the next step is obviously a portable color video player of comparable size. Color PDAs are already able to play MPEG-4 video, they only need the capacity for a full TV show or ten, and a way to sync up with a TiVo. I'm actually quite terrible at trend spotting, and if I've thought of a neat idea, it's inevitable that someone already has it in development. (No mention of TiVo yet, but it seems unlikely that this isn't already on a few hundred drawing boards and the tips of everybody's tongues.)

Windows XP "Messenger Service" spam, spam that pops up in a window with the title "Messenger Service" in Windows, is common enough now that Microsoft has a popular page about it. Their answer for Windows XP users is to install Service Pack 1 and turn on their limited but still useful Internet Connection Firewall. Many more details, including how to turn off the Messenger Service (which should never have been left on by default in the first place) in their Knowledge Base article.

For third-party information, see StopMessengerSpam.com. They even show a screenshot of a full example on their front page, phone number and everything, which I'm sure the original spammer considers free advertising. (I wouldn't want a fake University diploma, or at least wouldn't pay money for one, but if I wanted one, the only place I know to find out how to get one is StopMessengerSpam.com.)

June 5, 2003

A classic nugget for C programmers: Duff's Device.

Many people... have said that the worst feature of C is that switches don't break automatically before each case label. This code forms some sort of argument in that debate, but I'm not sure whether it's for or against.

FreeZope.org, no-cost Zope hosting on a subdomain. Now you too can have a ZWiki without running a cumbersome Zope server or paying for Zope hosting.

June 4, 2003

Want to play chess with your computer, but want to use real pieces on a physical board? Play with your scanner!

Steven Spielberg's Duel will get a Collector's Edition DVD release on August 12. Most compelling special feature: "Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel."

Photos of pets with their heads in bags of food. (Thanks Cam.)

June 3, 2003

The Making of the Sitcom. (Thanks Cam.)

THe Photographer's Right: Your Rights When Stopped or Confronted for Photography. (Thanks Flutterby.)

Andre has been writing some great personal stories lately, including this one he wrote for Newly Digital, a "distributed anthology of early computing experience." That I completely forgot about disk notching until I read Andre's story is why I feel inadequate in the realm of childhood storytelling.