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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

March 2004 Archives

March 25, 2004

I mentioned I was looking for a non-Apple-Pro USB keyboard to use with my Mac, and that I would ideally get to continue using my Key Tronic Lifetime keyboard. Unable to find USB Key Tronic keyboards from resellers, I ordered one directly over their rather cheesy, but straightforward website. Model E03601 Black USB (E03601QUSUSBBC, $21.50 US plus shipping) arrived at my door the other day. I like it well enough: It's your standard 104-key keyboard with quiet but firm keys in the usual arrangement. All the keys work as expected with Mac OS X: Alt is Option, Windows is Command, and the secondary keys and number pad all function. The unit seems excessively deep by about an inch, but it slopes up in a really nice way, and can be tilted further up with Key Tronic's standard feet that fold out. Like many Key Tronic keyboards, backspace is shortened to make room for moving backslash to its left, so Enter can be big and L-shaped. I got used to the Apple Pro keyboard having a big backspace key, but I always hit the right side anyway, so it's not a problem. I'm already typing faster and more comfortably, so it's definitely an improvement.

I don't know enough about keycodes to know what Print Scrn, Scroll Lock, Pause, and Num Lock are expected to do under OS X. (Right now, they beep or do nothing, as far as I can tell.) It'd be really cool if they could be re-mapped to replace the volume and media eject keys I grew to love. So far all I can find is the usual keyboard shortcut for Eject in the Finder menu (adjustable via the Keyboard and Mouse System Preferences panel), but the Finder must be active for that to work (one extra click). I liked an Eject key especially with a slot-loading media drive, so I can easily tap it before trying to stick in a disc, just to be sure I won't jam anything.

Newbie Mac tip: Die-hard Mac users want the command key next to the space bar, which means they want the Alt (Option) and Windows (Command) keys reversed on a keyboard intended for a PC. DoubleCommand seems to be a popular way to do this, among other popular remappings. I'm not used to the Mac way, so this isn't an issue for me, though the Windows key is not positioned or sized for use as common as the Apple Command key. I never really thought the original location of Command was that comfortable either, to tell the truth. Die-hard Unix users believe Control (the most popular Unix meta key, like Command is for Mac OS) belongs to the left of the 'A' key, where Caps Lock is on mainstream keyboards, but it's difficult to remap Caps Lock on mainstream keyboards because it tends to have special behavior in the keycodes it sends. uControl, another keymapper utility, takes advantage of a special code sequence emitted by Caps Lock to simulate normal key behavior for remapping to Control. Perhaps Command belongs where Control is, Control belongs where Caps Lock is, and Caps Lock doesn't belong on the keyboard at all.

March 23, 2004

Newbie T-Mobile tip: T-Mobile offers two separate interfaces to AOL Instant Messenger from certain cell phones: an SMS-based interface and a WAP-based interface. The SMS-based interface sends alerts to your phone when you receive messages over AIM, and lets you reply or send new messages by sending text messages to special phone numbers. As with all SMS messages, there is usually a per message charge for messages sent and received. T-Mobile also offers pre-pay bundles of AIM service for lower rates. To use AIM via SMS, sign up through T-Mobile's website. It is not necessary to sign up for a pre-pay plan to use AIM via SMS: the basic rate is 5 cents per message. The set-up process will populate your phonebook with the AIM codes.

The WAP interface is available through T-Mobile's WAP service, t-zones. t-zones costs $5/mo and includes a variety of other WAP-based services, as well as WAP access to the Internet. AIM is accessed through WAP pages, like other WAP services, and requires no additional set-up. AIM messages through WAP are no extra charge, they come included with t-zones's unlimited WAP usage. (As far as I know, there is no mechanism by which incoming AIM messages will send notification to your phone using the WAP interface exclusively.)

If you do sign up for AIM via SMS, don't use your regular AIM account, create a separate AIM account for mobile use. If you use your regular AIM account, like I did, conversations you have on your PC will be beamed to your phone, one message at a time, and bill you 5 cents a message. If you sign up for AIM via SMS and don't want it any more, "sign off" from the phone by sending a blank text message to the sign-off number T-Mobile provided (4647).

This distinction between SMS and WAP AIM isn't that clear from T-Mobile's web site. All they say is AIM access is free with t-zones, and they also provide a way to sign up for the (separate) AIM via SMS service, with only a hint or two that it'll cost you 5 cents/message. This is apparently an easy mistake to make: when I informed T-Mobile I had not intended to sign up for AIM via SMS, they granted me a small stipend to ease the blow of the accidental SMS bill. (Points to T-Mobile customer service for responding to my email within 24 hours.)

Via that Sony Ericsson T610 for Mac OS X page I mentioned the other day: PhoneAgent is an OS X app to manage resources on your SE phone, including a phone book editor, direct access to SMS and MMS messaging from your Mac, a theme editor, and more. $29.95 is a little much for a toy for my toy, but I otherwise haven't figured out how to do some of these things easily with the default facilities.

Salling Clicker and Romeo are both apps to let you control Mac OS X applications via your Bluetooth-enabled phone as a remote control.

March 22, 2004

Typophile Forums: Double-spacing after periods. (Thanks Jason.) I don't know how I'll ever break the habit. HTML fixes the "problem" invisibly by ignoring the extra space, and everywhere else I've just gotten used to the "wrong" appearance. There's some indication in this discussion that it was once considered appropriate for fixed width typefaces (typewriters), which is how I've done most of my life's writing.

And I thought camera phones were creeping featurism: a remote-control car you can drive with your Sony Ericsson cell phone via Bluetooth.

On a more practical note: a desktop charger that's also a speakerphone.

While I wouldn't jump for joy for a cellular phone company, I have to say I've been very pleased with improvements at T-Mobile over the past few years. There's now a $30/mo level that meets my needs, when there wasn't when I first joined; I ended up on the $40/mo plan for years, because the $20/mo plan would easily cost more in overruns for even my light-to-medium use. The plan I was on included unlimited weekend minutes and free nationwide long distance, both of which were features that were "added" to my account to encourage me to sign new service contracts, and were not available (together) to new customers; now they're part of the standard plans. You can change plans at any time via the web site, and the plans are succinctly arranged and described. Changing plans does not require signing a new commitment, and you can always change plans, and drop and add features, at will during your commitment period.

I remember the day when it was common knowledge that existing T-Mobile customers got screwed when they wanted to upgrade their handset. Eventually, word got out that if you called them up and threatened to switch to another provider, you could get the new customer rebate deal. Today, new customers can always get the new customer rebate on a new handset if you agree to another 1-year commitment, and they offer it to you without being asked.

Even in my first cell phone days I enjoyed their 24-hour phone-based support. They were especially willing to replace faulty hardware when I was still figuring out that my crappy old apartment's power outlet was responsible for blowing out my batteries. Lately, their phone scripts seem especially well-written and pro-actively offer commonly desired information. I called to express interest in their phone Internet service (now that I have a phone that supports it), and half of my questions were answered before I asked them.

I'm also pleased to notice that when you send email to a T-Mobile phone, it arrives within seconds. T-Mobile used to be terrible at this: I once was invited to a movie by a friend via email to my phone, but didn't receive it until over 24 hours after the movie had ended. I had coworkers that tried to use mail to their phone as their work pager, only to give up because it was unreliable. Personal tests and more word of mouth indicate that this little problem has been fixed.

While all of these improvements seem like obvious necessities in the highly competitive wireless phone industry, they're all reactions to specific (but I imagine common) customer demands. It's great to see T-Mobile have matured as they've grown. (I have a not-so-short list of complaints, of course, but I'll save those for a later entry.)

March 18, 2004

Just as I was ordering my new Sony Ericsson T610, Sony Ericsson was announcing their new 2004 line-up, including the K700. Slightly smaller form facter, slightly larger screen, and the capability to take movies in addition to stills with its built-in camera. I doubt I'll regret getting the earlier model, but I'll be curious to see what they've improved. (The T610's camera, not that I'll use it, is much maligned in customer reviews.)

March 16, 2004

100 common mispronunciations in U.S. English. (Thanks Girlhacker.) Naturally, the phrases less often seen in print are more likely to have cultural "mis-" pronunciations. Some of these I've heard before (and thereby consider common), some I've never heard before (and thereby consider silly), and there are even a couple in this list that I may have misunderstood myself (and thereby consider obscure). The overall pattern would probably indicate the zip codes in which I was raised. Unfortunately, this list seems less interested in regional dialects than in rehashing commonly picked nits, and they've mixed in some misheard phrases, which aren't necessarily mispronunciations, either. (Who the hell says "Laura Norder"? I might say "lawn order," but...)

Autoclave is a classic utility for securely wiping PC hard drives. I successfully used it when I sold my laptop, it was super-easy to use.

Why getter and setter methods are evil.

March 15, 2004

I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. Ever since, I have imagined, re-imagined and re-worked a vision of what a movie of Isaac Asimov's short story series I, Robot might be like, starting with the original stories, analyzing Harlan Ellison's unmade screen adaptation, and otherwise figuring out what movies are made of. I had no doubt that when a movie was actually made that it would be drastically different from what I had in mind and would disappoint me by comparison, but this trailer [Quicktime, 30MB] makes me terribly upset. There's a real possibility that the trailer was cut from a better film for the Will Smith summer action audience, and the full movie might actually be something I'll enjoy watching, but hopes are very low, and I'm trying not to think about it. (I was kind of hoping Will Smith would be playing a robot, but even that is too sophisticated for a Hollywood film.)

The official I, Robot movie site.

Paring a Sony Ericson T610 cell phone with a Mac via Bluetooth. This phone was so heavily promoted last holiday season that I got sick of it before I was even interested in getting a new phone. But my current phone is pretty battered, and those Bluetooth headsets are pretty sexy. Recently reported security issues supposedly have been fixed in newer phones, and older phones can get an upgrade.

It's especially nice to have confirmation that some of these newer cell phones support direct uploading of MIDI files for ringtones, images, and even J2ME software. When the first polyphonic ringtone-supporting phones came out, I had wondered if they used proprietary formats that required that everyone pay someone, such as the cell service provider, for the privilege of using a custom ringtone. It was surprisingly difficult to confirm or deny this with casual web searches: search engines are pretty clogged on the subject of cell phones, with a million web sites wanting to sell you ringtones for $3 a piece or give you lousy free ringtones so they can display more ads, and a dozen other sites dedicated to clogging search engines, with phrases like "free ringtones" repeated a thousand times on a page. In many cases, not even product manuals say anything about support for uploading MIDI files as ringtones. So it's nice to have confirmation that these phones indeed provide such support.

Sony Ericsson's developer site pretty much answers my second question, how easy is it to write my own software for a phone that ostensibly supports J2ME. Their SDK and emulator are written for Windows, but there might be ways around that. The T610 supports on-device debugging (though it's obviously not a substitute for development with an emulator).

Club Sony Ericsson has some good information and resources.

About.com on the T610.

Switched Ethernet considered harmful. Pretty technical, but interesting to the interested.

March 10, 2004

Turn your blog into a book. Not sure why you'd want to. A couple of years after I told my father I had a blog, I was surprised to discover that he had printed out the entire contents of my archives. I don't mind, but it seems so contrary to the idea, especially of the sort of blog mine tends to be, where the real content is in the other sites, not mine. I suppose BlogBinders is expecting more of the journal-type bloggers to be interested in having a bound paper archive, but even there the idea seems out of place. An archive seems secondary to the purpose of sharing the latest entries with the world. With paper diarists, I would expect the paper keeps a record so the sharing takes place later, if at all; I suppose a print edition of an online journal would play a similar role for those who hadn't read the web edition. In my case, my archive is of value to searchers (including myself) as a haphazard repository of information and links I'd collected. For link blogs like mine, the older the entry, the less valuable it is, as the links go bad. I've considered setting up automatic deletion of posts older than X years...

Someone ought to be offended by BlogBinders's slogan: "Turn your blog into reality." As if a word is worthless until it's on paper.

March 9, 2004

Here's part two of that Mac OS X-based intro to LaTeX.

My father recently asked me about an ad for spyware/adware removal software that keeps popping up every time he starts up his computer. It appears Enigma Software Group (www.enigmasoftwaregroup.com), makers of Spyhunter, are using despicable tactics, including adware, search engine clogging, and even trademark violation (registering Spybot as a Google sponsored search word, then pointing it to their own site), to advertise their product. My father was smart enough to not click on the ad, and you should be too.

The makers of the free anti-spyware/adware software Spybot Search & Destroy want no part in the Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology Vendors (COAST) because of the involvement of Enigma Software Group. Lavasoft, makers of AdAware, has also broken off their relationship with COAST for similar reasons.

MediaWiki, the wiki software package that powers WikiPedia, has many of the best features the wiki community has come up with for collaborative editing of short, long, formal and informal documents. I've been avoiding feature-rich wikis in favor of the simple, extensible Kwiki, having compared wiki creeping featurism to that of other popular web applications like message boards, which I can barely stand without stripping out half of the default functionality. The larger wiki packages, like Twiki, seem to involve a bit of a commitment, and if I'm trying to limit the number of syntaxes I have to learn, it seems better to stick with a smaller package. But I've seen some of the bigger packages used well in a variety of settings now, and I'm starting to want some of those features.

The canonical list of wiki engines is awfully long these days. Different use cases call for different implementation choices (language/environment, data storage method, syntax, features, weight), so it's nice to have a choice, but guh. It's mostly daunting to me because I can't tell if the features I want have already been done, or if I need to implement them myself...

March 8, 2004

Attention Seattle film buffs: Do not miss this opportunity to see Cinerama films at the Seattle Cinerama this week. This is Cinerama and How the West Was Won are both excellent entertainment, and a rare treat considering they can only be seen properly in a real Cinerama theater: three projectors on an extra large, curved screen with 7-channel directional (surround) sound. Single projector 65mm films on the large screen (2001: A Space Odyssey, and, sure why not, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) are also worth a trip. Seattle Cinerama is one of only a handful of theaters in the world to have a working three-projector set-up. The few three-strip Cinerama movies in existence are not the best movies in the world, but it's amazing to see such a large picture and such great sound with actors, settings and styles from the 1950's. I gushed about it the first time I saw it.

Here's a fresh link to the rec.arts.movies.tech FAQ, which includes a section on Cinerama with a complete list of films.

Cinerama at the Widescreen Museum, including a still from HTWWW demostrating the three-strip image.

Cinerama Adventure, a feature length documentary on the widescreen format (though, alas, in a regular aspect ratio :), was screened last Thursday. Their ugly but informative website has more history and images.

Another history of the Cinerama format.

This history of CinemaScope discusses Cinerama's influence and importance in film history.

A lot of money and effort went into restoring the Seattle Cinerama theater for use with the three-strip films, so this isn't likely to be the last opportunity. But it's still rare, so take advantage.

It seems the last few times I've found or been given links to Mac OS X-native versions of windowed Emacs, they were old, abandoned projects whose pre-built binaries don't work with Mac OS X 10.3. Enhanced Carbon Emacs is recently updated (11/2003) and built for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (with older versions lower on the page). This bundle also includes packages for LaTeX editing. It's great, fast to load, and is far better integrated than my script to launch X11 Emacs.

I've heard Emacs can now be built for OS X native directly from its official source using ./configure --with-carbon --without-x. I haven't tried it, but it's nice to know I won't have to wait for someone to step up and provide a build the next time the binary is incompatible with the latest OS, though with the pre-built downloads, they've done all the work of packaging the application with its elisp and whatnot.

I mentioned a regular expression coach for Windows or Linux the other day. It's written in Common Lisp and distributed as binary only, so Mac OS X users need another option.

Kodos is written in Python, and appears to have a nice GUI similar to the other tool. It requires PyQT, which has a Mac OS X version. PyQT requires SIP; the Mac OS X version of PyQT requires SIP 4. SIP 4 requires Python 2.3 or later, which comes with Mac OS X 10.3, but not 10.2, so if you're without, you'd need to upgrade python. You have to build SIP with Qt support, obviously, which means you need to install Qt libraries, such as via Fink's qt3 package. And tmake, you need tmake. And something else to make tmake work, but this is where I gave up, sorry. If you can finish this story, let me know, PyQt is something I might want to use.

There was some famous early work (with a paper) on a Perl regex debugger. ReBug appears to be one realization of that effort. ReBug requires Perl/Tk. Knowing that Perl/Tk is something I want to use, I installed it via CPAN, and most of its tests passed (with X11 running) (and I've never seen Tk pass all of its tests, even on other platforms, so I forced the install). Test Tk apps will run, but I can't get ReBug to connect to my display. My patience spent on PyQt, I gave up early.

rred is a simple regex tester. Best of all, it's just a Perl script, so it doesn't require any compiling or installing of dependent GUI libraries.

March 3, 2004

Magic Words: Interactive Fiction in the 21st Century. A nice long article on contemporary IF.

The Regex Coach is a GUI app for Windows or Linux that helps you figure out Perl-style regular expressions. Verify matches, grouping behavior, step through the regex one character at a time, view the regex parse tree, get an English description of what the regex is doing, and more.

March 2, 2004

Muppet Central is one of the most elaborate, well done fan sites I've ever seen. Too professional to be a fan site, but too comprehensive to be an official site. One of the best parts: Muppet Radio, featuring some songs not even available on CD from the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and more.

A simple Perl script to stream MP3's. Supposedly works with WinAmp, I don't know the details of the streaming protocol to say what other clients it'd serve (haven't tried it yet). Also a nice introduction to socket programming in Perl.