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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

July 2003 Archives

July 30, 2003

SILENCE! Silence of the Lambs: The Musical, by Jon & Al Kaplan. Hilarious audio clips, and a buyable cast recording. Do see the authors' bio. (Thanks Mermaniac.)

Retro video game fonts. (Thanks Jerry.)

I appear to be on a music recontextualization (someone give me a better term) kick these days. I managed to simultaneously discover and acquire both Brave Combo's Box of Ghosts, themes from the classical repretoir in a variety of modern styles, and Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits, covers of just-slightly-before-my-time cartoon themes by '90's bands. Both are great, though I'm having a hard time convincing anyone else of this, it seems. And now I absolutely must have a copy of The Langley Schools Music Project: "Innocence and Despair" (Amazon link). My coworkers will not be pleased.

July 29, 2003

I've been pleased that I could do most anything Linux-y I wanted with a 300MHz Celeron processor and a motherboard that doesn't recognize more than 256MB of RAM. But I was copying a few gigabytes of data from one drive to another the other day, I realized that if I'm going to move all of my personal web and email to that box, I'm going to need some new hardware. It's been almost four years since I've really done much with PC hardware, and it's like I'm starting from scratch. CPU, motherboard and memory standards alone have gotten more complicated, enough so that I've resisted upgrading on sheer learning curve. I've never been all that confident about my motherboard knowledge, beyond CPU socket type and case form factor. And today's motherboards have so many built-in features these days, a $100 MB and a $250 processor is practically an entire computer now. (Sorry, it has been a while.)

I am quite impressed with my new ASUS A7N8X Deluxe motherboard and AMD Athlon XP 3000+ processor. Here I am, still trying to get over on-board sound, and this thing has not one but two on-board ethernet interfaces, four USB ports with support for two more on-board, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), and serial ATA support which I'm not even going to use. I don't even have an AGP video card. Maybe it was a slight mistake to model my new server off of a configuration meant for gaming, but I just wanted a powerful configuration that works. I think I secretly desire a PC powerful enough for modern gaming, but don't have the cash to put together a box just to run Windows games. My main computer is a laptop, and it's difficult to justify leaping back onto a desktop platform.

Linux support for the A7N8X is not necessarily automatic, something I really should have looked into before purchasing-- as in, boy was that stupid, not checking first. Just goes to show exactly how much time I have for this sort of thing. There are kernel patches to enable most of it, and NVidia has provided a driver for one of the NIC's. There are skeptical reports, but some people seem quite happy with it as a Linux mobo, so I'm not giving up. Looks like this is good advice for Debian users with the ASUS A7N8X, like me. In general, it's a popular motherboard, so eventual support is likely, especially, it sounds like, in later kernels.

Then again, for what I'm paying for static IPs, I could get pretty decent hosting, and then I'd have an extra PC for games...

July 28, 2003

Jamey Aebersold Jazz, Inc. has a bunch of resources for people interested in playing jazz, including free resources for download and mail-order, such as Jamey Aecersold's Jazz Handbook.

Jon Udell's report from Zope HQ has a few handy tips for Zopers.

Want to know how other Linux users back up their systems? Linux-Backup.net, while a tad jarring on the eyes, has scripts and links.

I've mentioned Mondo Rescue before, and only today decided to try it out. It's fantastic, especially for CD-R backups, just run it and drop in the blanks. The backups it makes are bootable for recovery purposes. Do a whole machine, or just specific directories. Other backup media are supported, of course. The development team appears to have a (probably justified) bias against Debian Linux, which I'm running. Debian does come with Mondo, but (as is typical for Debian) the older version 1.4x. My Debian install did not have ramdisk support in the default kernel, but otherwise running a backup was a delightfully smooth process. This is easily something I can do once a month, like I ought to be doing.

July 25, 2003

I'm hardly the first to discover them (or the first blogger to blog about them, I'm sure), but I gotta gush about my new Sennheiser PXC 250 headphones. I'm already familiar with the quality of the Sennheiser brand, with a big hurkin' pair of studio-quality phones (HD-250's, I think) attached to my digital piano. Noise reduction ("cancellation") headphones compensate for low hums and hisses in the surrounding environment by listening to the noise with small microphones, and emitting waveforms shifted 180 degrees to cancel it out-- effectively reducing noise by making more noise. Whatever you're listening to stays (mostly) intact.

Great for airplanes, and especially great for the back room in our apartment. We live atop a grocery store/restaurant complex on the border of an industrial district next to the train station, Safeco Field, Seahawks Stadium, and the freeway, and there's a giant exhaust fan on the roof that runs 24 hours a day. On hot days like these, it is impractical not to keep the windows open. I can only imagine that the reason why noise-cancelling headphones didn't occur to me earlier was because I had never known how well they actually work. It's not completely silent, and things I might want to hear (or not) like conversation are still audible, but it's a huge difference in our back room. Finally, I can enjoy classical music without turning it all the way up.

But I fell in love with these even before I tried the noise cancellation feature. They're the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn, they're small and light. They sound fantastic both with and without noise cancellation. And because they're Sennheisers, certain parts that might wear out are replacable on a part-by-part basis. A small canister sits in the middle of the cable to contain two AAA batteries for the noise reduction; the phones do not need batteries to work without the noise reduction feature, but you cannot remove the canister. But it's a well-designed little canister and there seems to be just enough cord length that it's been an non-issue so far.

They're a perfect companion to the iPod. My ears just weren't made for earbuds, though I've used them reluctantly for their portability. The headphones fold in on themselves and fit into a carrying case (included), which makes them perfect for travel or even just keeping in your backpack.

They retail for $150, and are on sale at Amazon for $117.

July 23, 2003

AAAH! I've been hearing about these concerts at Marymoor Park in Redmond, but I appear to be realizing only too late that I really want(ed) to go to most of them. Same with the Woodland Park Zoo concerts.

So of course I only yesterday found out about Lottapianos, the Tori Amos/Ben Folds joint tour, whose only northwest dates are this weekend, with the first concert on Saturday at Marymoor. Ticketmaster says I managed to get tickets, so yay!

Aimee Mann at the zoo on July 30 is sold out, but I have connections...

July 22, 2003

GameSpot reviews real life. They give it a 9.6.

Comic Adaptation. Newsweek's Brad Stone describes how the original comic "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is a shining example of what comes from a thriving public domain, and the new movie is a tragedy of what comes from stagnating copyright laws. (It sounds like the movie sucks all around, but the issue is relevant.)

More on The League and the public domain from The Morning News.

Sherzod Ruzmetov has written up documentation for MovableType's Perl API. See Sherzod's other MovableType Hacks.

July 21, 2003

For five days in August, The Paramount Theatre in Seattle will become an ice rink. The chilled surface will host the all-new Seattle Ice Theater production, "Cold Fusion," featuring Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul, and will also be open for public skating for several sessions. Tickets to Cold Fusion range from $29 to $42, public skating is $17 ($15?) per person; purchase via Ticketmaster, the Paramount website, or at the window.

According to the website, this is only the second time the theater has been iced, and the first time it will be open for public skating. It seems like only a few months ago that I found out they could remove the main floor seating to install a flat surface.

Best use of the Amazon.com web services API ever. (Thanks Zannah.)

Portraits of famous or important people in the Open Source community, from OSCON 2003. Probably not as fun to look at if you don't know who they are, but they're neat professional pics.

July 16, 2003

How does Internet Explorer decide when to show its familiar "friendly" error messages, and when to show the web server's own usually more useful and informative error pages? By their size. Not totally unreasonable, I suppose, assuming that if a 500 error (server error) message is less than 512 characters it probably doesn't contain information useful to the end user. But it can make debugging difficult if a broken web server prints diagnostic information and doesn't meet the threshold.

July 15, 2003

Another neat-looking game I'll probably never get a chance to play because nobody wants to play these kinds of games with me: Zendo. (Thanks Cam.)

Rich Salz examines what is wrong with RSS, and how Necho may have some technical advantages as a syndication format.

Emacs Code Browser. (Thanks GeneHack.)

July 14, 2003

"The sole certainty about the future is its Amishness." I really enjoyed this.

Starting today, Governor and Presidential candidate Howard Dean will be guest-blogging on Lawrence Lessig's blog. The Dean campaign has been surprisingly 'net-community-saavy from day one, including a Meetup.com monthly gathering of supporters and an official blog, blogforamerica.com. The official blog uses MovableType, supports comments and TrackBacks, and links to other blogs in the sidebar. You know there's a clued-in old school blogger driving that train.

July 8, 2003

The Anonymous Game Developers at Tierra Entertainment have successfully completed remakes of King's Quest I and King's Quest II in full VGA color, the latter with many megabytes of music and speech. More fan-made Sierra-y goodness! (Thanks Dan.)

I'm not sure how many Wiki systems are really set up for this, but in general, I bet any Wiki system that stores nodes as flat files can reasonably support editing nodes with Emacs. Emacs comes with Ange FTP, which can transparently load and save files on remote servers using FTP. Just use a path like:

/user@domain.name:path/to/file

Kwiki lets you get away with this, though your change won't appear in the list of RecentChanges. I haven't tried Twiki yet; they want me to fill out a form to download it, which I'm not in the mood for. (Can someone provide a non-form-blocked link? It's GPL'd.) For UseMod Wiki, you'll need the RawMode patch.

Editing the nodes plain lacks much of the potential of the idea for Emacs-Wiki integration, so EmacsWiki has an Emacs Wiki mode with some nice features.

Of course, Zwiki supports remote editing without changes because nodes are just Zope files, all of which can be edited in this manner. Zope servers, by default, set up their FTP access on port 8021, so you'll have to add the port number to the path like so:

/user@domain.name#port:path/to/file

Like some other wikis, Zwiki keeps a change tag at the top of the node files to track concurrent submissions (conflicts when two people are editing the same node). A special ZWiki Emacs mode helps to manage this. Alburt's instructions and code also show how to set up convenient node creation from Emacs via a fancy XML-RPC call you add on the server side, as well as convenient file path parsing from ZWiki URLs, though I haven't gotten either to work out of the box yet due to my non-standard set-up and lack of Elisp experience. Nifty ideas nonetheless.

There's also a Zwiki.org node on the subject with a few alternative approaches, including ExternalEditor support which I haven't fully investigated.

FTP, of course, is not desireable in this day and age. FTP is an old protocol that transmits your login, password and all other traffic unencrypted, and that's bad. EmacsWiki has some notes on using ssh tunnelling with AngeFTP, and this script to get AngeFTP to use rcp/scp instead of FTP could also come in handy. For those with "sftp" on their system, a .emacs line such as (setq ange-ftp-ftp-program-name "sftp") might suffice.

As for getting an encrypted connection from Emacs to Zope servers, I'm under the impression that Webdav is the best bet. More on how to Webdav with Zope and Emacs when I figure it out; you smart folks are welcome to post instructions in comments and save me the trouble. :)

July 7, 2003

It's Not Nice To Be Smarter Than Other People.

Herman Miller has produced a sort of low-budget Aeron: the Mirra. I'm enthusiatic that it's half the price as the Aeron, but I'd have to sit in it to believe it. I've been looking for a half-price Aeron ever since I left Disney, especially when all the Aeron-laden venture capital experiments folded, but the darned things never seem to go down in price, and nobody seems to sell them used despite what I had hoped would be a flooded market. Or maybe I missed a gravy train. Anyone know where I can get a real Aeron for less than, say, $350?

The Pre-History of Cognitive Science. (Thanks Jerry.)

July 4, 2003

The Guardian on the uses and abuses of "irony".

CASPIAN - Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering was originally created to fight invasive, offensive and ought-to-be-illegal (for price manipulation) surveillance "membership" cards. I'm pleased to see that they are also taking on privacy issues with RFID tags. RFID means every product everywhere will have a tiny (invisible, permanent) embedded chip that uniquely identifies the item to proximity scanners. This could be a fantastic win: Instead of having to barcode every single item, the contents of an entire pallet could be identified simply by forklifting it in the door. The revolution in inventory tracking alone is staggering.

My first thought when I heard of RFID was of walking through an airport security checkpoint wearing a t-shirt I bought at the Gap, and having the red light go off because I bought hummus from Safeway the week before.

SecurityFocus has a great summary article on the RFID issue, which lists other pending uses of RFID, including in common currency.

Pioneer will make a TiVo + DVD burner for archival storage of recorded TV programming. More from CNet.

I don't know anything about the set-top DVD recorders out there now, but I suspect PVR's will be a necessary part of archiving TV programming until burning optical media becomes more reliable. I'd be afraid to attempt to record live TV to burned media lest the burn fail and the program be unrecoverable. Anyone own a set-top DVD-R that can fill me in on how well they work?

July 3, 2003

The National Do Not Call Registry is open for registrations. Registering now will prohibit solicitous calls to your home phone starting October 1st-- from most telemarketers. I'm rather annoyed at that short list of exempt institutions, as almost all of the telemarketers that call my home fall into those categories. I must remember to look into it more, but I doubt there is any moral rationale for exempting those categories, they just happened to lobby hard enough.

Cory apologises for recommending the T-Mobile Sidekick. T-Mobile's handling of the Danger Hiptop, apparently, sucks.

Lately, TiVo has been leaving our TV set to the Travel Channel at just the right time of day for me to end up watching, and getting into, the World Poker Tour (Travel Channel site), from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. They play Texas Holdem, a poker variant that's surprisingly engaging as a spectator sport, and works well on television since we can see the hole cards. The various affectations, nicknames and costumes of some of the poker stars give it a pro wrestling feel sometimes, and the pots are so large they hardly register as cash money. I'm especially surprised to be entertained considering I'm not much of a gambler myself. But the pro-level strategy is just too fun.

See also the unofficial WPT fan site.

July 2, 2003

Space Quest 0: Replicated, a fan-made Space Quest prequel game, is available for download. This is wonderfully awesome, on par with that fan-made Star Trek episode, possibly more so depending on how good it is. I can't wait to try it.

FindLaw provides a legal perspective of the SCO scandal. Is Linux on thin ice, or is SCO?

The Free Software Foundation's position on SCO v. IBM. The FSF position includes what many have speculated, that since SCO has been distributing Linux under the terms of the GPL, then if the code they claim is copyright infringement is included in their distribution, they have no claim to trade secret liability against IBM.

The Future of Mozilla Application Development.