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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

September 2003 Archives

September 29, 2003

Pop vs. Soda and other informal dialect survey maps, some more interesting than others. (Thanks Zannah.)

Kwiki has gained a great deal of popularity as a Wiki package, and while I was hesitant to accept yet another Wiki implementation with yet another slightly different Wiki markup syntax, it is now my wiki implementation of choice. It's still a bit new, with kinks expected of a 0.x release, but it has the cleanliness and underlying modularity that made Movable Type so popular with power bloggers. And just as MT attracted a community of hackers and modders extending the product, so has Kwiki.

Just the other day I conceived of a mod to Kwiki that would allow a node to have an automatically generated table of contents, with links to anchors of headings later on the page. Naturally, someone beat me to it, with an implementation so identical to the one in my head that I can't lay claim to it. It's just that good an idea, I guess. :) Thank you, Iain!

I have another couple of features I'd like to add, but I hardly have time to write about them here, let alone implement them myself.

On November 3rd, Paramount will be releasing a very limited edition (1000 numbered copies) of a DVD box set containing every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. 176 episodes will span 48 discs. This will be a region 2 release only. Pre-order from Amazon.co.uk. Only interesting to me for the sexy box, and it looks like it comes with a clock?

Every episode is already available on DVD (region 1) for about $120 a season. Not sure it's worth that much to me, but considering the amount of material involved, I'm not surprised. I guess we're still waiting for a convenient (and conveniently-priced) boxed set of The Original Series, which have been mostly available two or three episodes a disc for a while.

September 24, 2003

A Guide for Teaching Mathematics. (Thanks Dad.)

September 23, 2003

Already feeling the effects of VeriSign's Sitefinder: My browser (and yours) remembers URLs you've typed in to your address bar, so that if it looks like you're about to type them in again, the browser gives you the option of auto-completing what you're typing. Thing is, it only remembers the addresses that work, that is, bring up a valid page, so if you mistype a domain name or a filename and you get the appropriate error message, it won't remember those. Thanks to Sitefinder, all unregistered domain names (including any and all possible filenames underneath those domains) now resolve without error, so any typo in the domain will cause the URL to be remembered by your browser. (IIRC, this would be even more annoying in Internet Explorer, because you practically have to swat the auto-complete off with a stick when the completion is not what you want. And don't give me any of that "you can turn that off" stuff, it's annoying. When I press Enter, I mean Enter, dammit.)

Also notice that it's not just that invalid domain names resolve, but they serve valid (as in status 200) pages for all paths beneath the names. They could have thrown us a bone and served their portal pages with status 404, "file not found," but that would inspire Internet Explorer to swap in its friendly error message. Can't anyone follow a standard?

For fun, I tried emailing test@argargargar.to and test@argargargar.com. The former caused my mail client to stop me in my tracks to tell me the address was invalid, and it even left the composer window open so I could fix it and immediately re-send. In the latter case, because the invalid domain resolved, my mailer sent the mail to my outgoing mail server, and I didn't know anything was wrong until I received the bounce message from VeriSign's server-- thankfully sent as an error message to the outgoing mail server, so at least it could do the right thing. I think this also means that VeriSign does not receive the full text (including return address) of email sent to invalid domains. Without testing I would have wondered if VeriSign is OK with serving ads for invalid web requests, what'd stop them from collecting email addresses from mail sent to invalid email addresses? I'll have to re-read my mailer books (or get around to testing it manually) to remind myself how this works. (They simply aren't accepting connections on other ports, which they easily could have done for mail connections, but the bounce message is polite because otherwise outgoing mail servers would repeatedly retry to send the mail over several days before giving up.)

Meanwhile, VeriSign refuses to turn off Sitefinder despite ICANN's request.

John Sayle's directorial debut Return of the Secaucus 7 is out on DVD, and includes a Sayles commentary.

In 1994 a group of guitar players and other musicians gathered in Seattle to create an open musical community. In 2001, after seven years of growth, this community has formed Seattle Circle, a nonprofit corporation.

The purpose of the Seattle Circle is to develop and promote appreciation in music in the Puget Sound area through education, workshops and music events.

This will be achieved by providing a professional facility in an educational atmosphere for the enhancement of skills in the field of music, by providing instruction on both the individual and group level and by presenting the results of our work to the general public through performances, workshops, and presentations.

September 22, 2003

The million-dollar keyboard has been collecting some excellent customer reviews, though my favorites have already been nixed by the editors...

The price has been fixed, but people aren't letting up on the reviews:

Well, I was all geared up to buy one of these beautys, and then it happens - IT hardware costs just keep getting cheaper and cheaper and the 'L' shaped Enter Key is no exception - a price drop of $999985.22 is not suprising in todays busy IT marketplace - I await the 'M' shaped Enter Key with baited breath and can only guess at what ramifications this will have on the Industry as a whole.

ICANN's September 19 advisory on VeriSign's SiteFinder service mentions that ICANN has requested that VeriSign voluntarily and temporarily suspend the service until its impact can be reviewed. The Internet Architecture Board's response and subsequent correspondence includes an initial review with many technical details. VeriSign's design and implementation violate technological standards and domain policies, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

FDA Approves Sale Of Prescription Placebo.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. (Thanks Girlhacker.)

Flexcar, the fabulous car sharing program now in several major cities including Seattle, is raising its rates by $1/hour starting October 1. My reaction: It's about time! Given gas price increases and steady expansion of the program with dozens of cars everywhere, I'm surprised it took them this long.

Also, members who have joined after October 1, 2003, will have to pay a $25 annual fee. Members who joined before that date are exempt, so if you've been thinking about getting a membership, now is the time. Until October 1 it's only a one-time payment of $25, then you can stay on the "Standard" plan with no monthly fee, pay as you use, while you try it out.

Too bad houses in FlexCar (urban) neighborhoods tend to cost half a million dollars...

September 17, 2003

Popular Domain Name Server Software to block VeriSign's Site Finder service. BIND, in use on 80% of the world's domain name servers, will have an emergency patch later today to block VeriSign's attempt to hijack unused .com and .net domain names, so they will continue to behave as non-existent domains.

Apple responds, sort of, to the doctrine of First Sale and the iTunes Music Store. Some software manufacturers offer the ability to purchase their software and immediately download it, or purchase their software and receive a CD-ROM in the mail, often at greater cost. The U.S. Copyright Office believes that only in the latter case are you allowed to resell what you've purchased, despite the Doctrine of First Sale.

Slashdot thread on hybrid cars. Mostly the usual bulletin board chat, which gets especially thick on the subject of cars, but sometimes it's fun to hear what people think.

Perl 6 Design Philosophy, an excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book about the great unfinished programming language, Perl 6 Essentials.

September 16, 2003

VeriSign now resolves all unused .com and .net domain names to point to VeriSign. This is a terrible idea from a technological standpoint alone: many systems depend on non-existent domain names not resolving to catch errors. The next time you make a typo in a domain name when sending someone email, you're relying on VeriSign's servers to send you an error message, when you ought to be able to rely on your mail client noticing that the domain name doesn't exist. What a terrible abuse of the public trust. As if the squatters that register typos to put up generic "portal" pages weren't bad enough.

Hurricane Isabel looms, and the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund is empty.

September 9, 2003

Five Lessons Open Source Developers Should Learn from Extreme Programming. I read this as "how to apply professional standards to your personal programming projects," but perhaps that's not quite what they mean.

The Japanese version of the if-I-needed-a-car-I'd-want-a 2004 Toyota Prius can park itself.

September 3, 2003

Edward Tuft: PowerPoint Is Evil. Tuft's new monograph, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," is available from his website for $7. His joke poster on the subject is available for $10.

The EFF has issued a congressional lobby action alert against SCO for their unfounded claims to copyrights in the Linux operating system and abusive tactics to collect royalties from individual Linux users on those grounds. While all this should really take is a legal action strong enough to force SCO to demonstrate proof, end users and small companies using Linux do not have the money or power to bring such an action about, and current actions may take many more months to resolve. SCO is attempting to collect in the meantime, potentially supporting its case in larger actions, so the EFF action calls for "the Commerce Committee" to intervene.

What Was the First Personal Computer?

September 2, 2003

Cem Kaner's Software Customer Bill of Rights has been making the blog rounds lately. Curiously missing are two things I've always considered an important part of this idea: 1) disclosure of all installed components, and 2) a reasonable mechanism by which all installed components can be removed ("uninstalled"). Such a bill of rights must protect users against malware, where a company can sneak a program that displays dissociated ads or sabotages competing products onto your computer and not remove it when you uninstall the original application. Less ominously, applications that do not completely remove themselves (intentionally or otherwise) could possibly leave behind bits that degrade the performance of the computer, outside of the user's immediate control.

Ed notices that disclosure of known defects would be difficult.

Wired solves the mystery of the time traveller spammer.

Fry's 'nerd heaven' pulls techies to Renton. I've never been. Should I be excited?