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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

October 2004 Archives

October 31, 2004

Fall back!!! Fall back! Everybody fall back! Move move move!

October 29, 2004

Iain Houston explains John Coltrane's Giant Steps. (Thanks Dad.)

iPod Photo. There it is. Color screen, AV cable for hooking it up to a TV, new version of iTunes, bigger hard drives and claims of improved battery life: 15 hours of music.

Also, iPod U2 Special Edition, which doesn't necessarily interest me except it's black.

Jason Scott reviews "The Last Starfighter: The Musical", now playing at the Storm Theater off-Broadway, with spoilers. Connor Dickie has a short review as well, with a couple of pictures.

Sheepy's web development reference sidebar for Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape.

October 28, 2004

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been having the occasional comment spam appear on my weblog, in the Chatter sidebar and on old entries. MT-Blacklist was identifying these as potential spam, though for this recent spate the spammer had registered a bunch of new domain names so they weren't outright blocked. MT-Blacklist puts suspected spam in "pending" status, so I can check if it's actually spam and let it through or delete it. For some reason, comments in pending status were being posted to my website, which meant I had to actively delete them and rebuild to get them off the site.

Turns out my problem was I was using an old version of Adam Kalsey's
SimpleComments plugin, which I use to combine TrackBacks and comments in a single display. The old version did not recognize the "pending" status and displayed all comments. I'm pleased to say the latest version does the right thing, and I no longer have to worry about spam appearing on the site.

Special thanks to Adam for quickly fixing a small bug I found where comments with a status of "pending" would cause old trackbacks to appear undesirably. The latest version also includes a few other features.

Broadway: The American Musical, a new multipart documentary by Michael Kantor, recently aired on PBS. The info is nothing new to Broadway buffs, nor are many of the clips (and they left out ____!), but it's a solid documentary, better than others on the subject, and about on par with others of this format.

The DVD box set is already available for the holiday gifting season, three discs with a large quantity of extra material. Even better: the companion 5 CD box set is, well, five CDs worth of showtunes. There's also a book.

October 27, 2004

Ubuntu Linux has made their first official release. Ubuntu is Debian Linux with recent versions of all software, a regular release schedule of every 6 months, a commitment to 18 months of security updates for every release, and a focus on extreme easy of use as both a desktop operating system and a server.

I'm having a hard time getting excited about Ubuntu. Seems like I should be. I'm a Debian fan for its stability, security updates and general GNU-ness, and Ubuntu wants to be Debian improved. I'm using Linux for a low-maintenance personal server, not a desktop system, but I also like new things, and get frustrated at the rarity of Debian's feature releases. I realize Debian "unstable" is in practice reliable enough for my purposes, but I've stuck with "stable" to let someone else decide what a secure set of software is on my behalf. Contradictorily, I've taken to installing some apps from tarballs instead of Debian packages to get newer releases, which means managing security updates myself. So Ubuntu should be right up my alley.

What the hell. They're giving away CDs, so I might as well try it. They're even encouraging people to order a bunch at once (the default is 10), so I'll have some to give away.

The Society for Technical Communication is holding their 52nd Annual Conference in Seattle, May 8-11, 2005. I don't know much about STC, but now that I'm a technical writer, I should probably take an interest.

MP3.com interviews Ben Folds on Has Been, his new collaboration with William Shatner. (Thanks Jerry.)

October 26, 2004

Ed notes, via Jason and Frank, that Senator McCain (R-Arizona) is blocking two copyright expansion bills because they contain language that implies it is illegal to fast-forward through commercials while watching a recorded TV show. Senator Leahy (D-Vermont), a co-author of this and similar legislation along with Senator Hatch (R-Utah), blasts McCain, charging him with partisanship, placing the economy at risk and contributing to a trend that causes losses of "literally hundreds of billions of dollars every year to various forms of piracy."

Dvorak, A Nomic Card Game. 1000 Blank White Cards with a bit of structure, which may be welcome or shunned depending on the temperament of your BWC group. (Thanks Jerry.)

At the end of Urinetown, the tragicomic supersilly musical satire about water conservation and corporate oligarchy, Officer Lockstock and the rest of cast shout, "Hail Malthus!"

Economist Thomas Robert Malthus is most famous for his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, expanded in 1803), which that bio summarizes as follows:

In this famous work, Malthus posited his hypothesis that (unchecked) population growth always exceeds the growth of means of subsistence. Actual (checked) population growth is kept in line with food supply growth by "positive checks" (starvation, disease and the like, elevating the death rate) and "preventive checks" (i.e. postponement of marriage, etc. that keep down the birthrate), both of which are characterized by "misery and vice". Malthus's hypothesis implied that actual population always has a tendency to push above the food supply. Because of this tendency, any attempt to ameliorate the condition of the lower classes by increasing their incomes or improving agricultural productivity would be fruitless, as the extra means of subsistence would be completely absorbed by an induced boost in population. As long as this tendency remains, Malthus argued, the "perfectibility" of society will always be out of reach.

Wikipedia on Thomas Robert Malthus.

October 25, 2004

PerlTeX. Write LaTeX macros in Perl!

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers. (Thanks David.)

The infield fly rule. (Thanks Jason.)

October 23, 2004

The Office: The Special airs on BBC America this weekend. This is the Christmas special we've all been waiting for in the US! The DVD will be out this holiday season, both on its own and in a complete box set.

October 20, 2004

World of WarCraft ships November 15, now available for pre-order. And yes, like other Blizzard titles, a Mac OS X version is included on the same disc as the PC version! $47.99 from Amazon, and supposedly $29.99 from WalMart, which is a bit nicer for a game with a monthly fee. Even better, a nifty collector's edition includes a month's worth of service, a behind-the-scenes DVD, a soundtrack album, and more, definitely worth the extra $30 and easily makes the wishlist.

I can see it now. 3am, wife and baby will be sleeping on the 2nd floor while I'm in the basement getting repeatedly PK'd by some 13-year-old orc on his dad's Dell. This could be bad.

Trying not to keep expectations too high, though. The MMORPG industry is just beginning to learn lessons from past mistakes, and it's still taking even the largest, most anticipated games a very long time to get off the ground even after launch. Star Wars: Galaxies has its fans, and might be right up my alley, but mixed reviews make me think there may never be a MMORPG so good I'd be willing to spend $20 a month and who knows how many hours on it. Perhaps it's the time factor that's intimidating; I'm likely to be a casual MMORPGer at best, and paying a monthly fee for something I'm only going to do a few hours a week sounds lame.

BBS: The Documentary, a mini-series on the computer bulletin board systems of the '80s and '90s, by the creator of TextFiles.com. The documentary series will be available in a 3 DVD set directly from the filmmakers in December 2004. Pre-order now and you can submit a paragraph of text that will be included on the DVD.

As we may not be carrying DirecTV with us to the new house, we're starting to look forward to trading in our DirecTV TiVo for a TiVo DVD recorder to burn recorded shows to DVD-R. This model even includes a Firewire (1394) port for transferring video directly from a camcorder to the unit for burning purposes. And it's only $399!

The blog The Future of Television is careful to note that this model cannot burn programs recorded on other Series-2 TiVos then transferred to the unit via the Multi-Room Viewing option. We were hoping that the Multi-Room feature would allow us to partially recreate the convenience of the DirecTV TiVo having two tuners built in (record two programs at one, watch live TV while something else is recorded), so this limitation is good to know.

Now, can I hook up a second TiVo to my camcorder, hook my camcorder to the TiVo DVD-R, and burn that way?

October 19, 2004

I'm not necessarily in the market for a new text editor, but I've seen TextMate pop up on everyone's Mac lately, not to mention several blogs. Looks like it has some features common to fancier programmer's editors, including dynamic source code outlines project-based file organization and folding features. Ruby lovers (never! never I say! I—ooh, what's that...) love TextMate for its Ruby support, and perhaps also for its lack of Perl and Python support. And its $49 price ($39 until November 1st), though still a bit of a commitment, makes $179 BBEdit look downright overpriced. Ahem.

43 Folders has productivity tips for TM users, and his feature exploration notes end with links to reviews on other sites, even the most positive of which indicate that TextMate is still very much in its early stages. And there are detractors. The MacZealots.com review paints a pretty good picture.

For the product's highlights, I and a dozen others reflexively cough "Emacs," but these new editors tend to be compelling for re-imaginings of powerful ideas. (I mean, if Emacs doesn't already have "snippits," it'd take less than an hour to implement them in ELisp. And I don't even know ELisp.) Naturally, Mac users appreciate a proper Mac OS X-style interface, and are willing to pay for it. Nothing wrong with that—assuming TextMate has the goods, and it sounds like the UI is the least impressive part of this product. Swing and a miss.

Update: Didn't take long after writing this out to actually try it. I'm unimpressed, but a 2.0 release a year from now might be interesting. It's got me thinking about what the perfect Mac OS X programmer's editor would actually look like, beyond a feature list. If I had desktop app development experience I'd make an experimental project out of it.

Tracing the Evolution of Social Software from the 1940's to the present.

Syntext Serna v2.0, a "WYSIWYG" XML editor for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Serna renders your XML through your XSL stylesheets on the fly as you type, supposedly giving you a WYSIWYG editor experience for any structured content. I assume custom DTDs would require custom XSL, possibly specially written for the purpose of editing, but it comes with out-of-the-box support for DocBook and DITA.

October 18, 2004

New house!

It's Seattle, it's urban, it's greatness. I'm naturally excited to be a first-time homeowner, and may end up posting lots of house links for a while. We already have our first DIY home improvement projects lined up.

King County home buyers and owners absolutely must see
the King County GIS Center map portal, especially the Parcel Viewer. The Parcel Viewer lets you search for a property, find the parcel number, see maps and get OMG-I-can't-believe- that's-on-the-Internet reports, including a description of the house, the name of the current taxpayer, the date and amount of the last sale of the property including the name of the previous seller, district info, and much more. Use the map to see reports for your potential (or current) neighbors.

The current owner and previous sale information may indicate the softness of the asking price for a property for sale. If the previous sale was recent and for notably less than the asking price, it might have been purchased by and investor for fix-up and resale. A "sale" might also represent a divorce. If you look up the taxpayer in white pages and find an address other than that of the property, it might be (or have been) a rental property.

From the GIS Center link, see also the iMAP utility, a very useful (high bandwidth) mapping tool with lots of data and print capabilities. See also the Virtual Map Counter.

I couldn't quite get the zoning information I wanted out of iMAP for some reason, but I was able to find some fantastic maps and data at the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Map Center. The "DPD GIS" interactive map utility only works on Internet Explorer for PC, so I couldn't play with it, but Map Books Online has a huge amount of detailed map data. Clicking on a numbered rectangle downloads a gorgeous 2-3 MB PDF file, including streets, parcel numbers and zoning borders.

It was from this map that we discovered the house we were considering (and ultimately purchased) bordered a small commercial zone, limited to neighborhood service and 30 feet in height (NC1-30). Even though the neighboring properties in the zone are houses, in ten years they could be condos. There's a gas station and mini-mart in that zone, so I suppose we could be living next to a Burger King someday, too.

October 14, 2004

A "die-hard" Windows user spends a month with Mac OS X. I've lost interest in most Mac OS X review articles, but this one gets a link for its details. The author, being a Windows user, loves keyboard shortcuts, and found some great ones I didn't know about. I'll re-mention some here as Newbie Mac OS X tips:

  • To type letters with accents in Mac OS X (such as é): Alt-e followed by the letter. In pretty much every application, Alt-e will show a little accent sitting by itself with a darkened background, which is replaced by the proper character when you press the letter. Similarly, letters with umlauts (ü) are Alt-u letter, and letters with tildes (ñ) are Alt-n letter, both of which I got on my first guess after reading about Alt-e. I'm so glad to finally know how to do this in Mac OS X (and yes I'm dumb for not having figured it out).
  • The task switcher appears when you hold down the command key and hit tab. I knew that. With command held down, you can hit tab repeatedly until an app is selected; releasing command will make the app active. I knew that. What I didn't know: Other keys do things while command is held and the task switcher is displayed: "q" to quit the selected app, "m" to minimize all windows for the app, and "h" to hide all windows for the app. Task switcher stays up so you can kill or hide several apps quickly this way.
  • Finder keyboard shortcuts: To go up in a folder path, command-up. To enter the selected folder, open the selected file, or start the selected app, command-down. To rename the item, hit Enter and type.
  • You can select text and images and subsequently drag them from another window without giving that window focus (making it the active window) by holding down the command key while you do it. Assemble an e-mail or blog entry from stuff in multiple windows without extra clicks or keyboard manipulations of the clipboard.

I'm considering tearing out all the pages of David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual and reassembling them as a page-a-day desk calendar.

Soapbox: Humans should not have to grok XML. (Thanks David.)

October 13, 2004

37signals: An Introduction to Using Patterns in Web Design.

VideoLAN is an open source project to provide a media player that supports most popular formats (including direct playback from DVDs), runs on most operating systems (including Linux and Mac OS X), and can stream media from one computer to another (even cross-platform). I can't wait to try this with our home server, whose big hard drive contains most of our media.

October 12, 2004

NaNoWriMo 2004 is gearing up for this year with a brand-new web site powered by Xoops, an Open Source PHP-based content management system. I'm no longer affiliated with the NaNo technical team, but I'm not surprised they threw out the old site in favor of a full-fledged CMS. I had built the site they used the past two years with phpBB, and wrote the front page CMS, excerpt posting and word count facilities myself using phpBB's templating engine and user account system as a base. The result worked well enough, but extending the site with new features required too much developer involvement. I'm not familiar with Xoops specifically, but it's clear NaNo.org could benefit from a real CMS's features.

Speaking of NaNo, check out No Plot, No Problem! by NaNo founder Chris Baty.

Speaking of Open Source CMSes, Jeffrey Veen has a rant worth listening to. Some of these are very difficult problems to solve, especially by volunteers with limited free time, but they're good points of focus. Also includes some follow-up comments of mixed quality.

Thanks to John for his description of how he manages his productivity using Planner Mode for Emacs. That site also plugs emacs-wiki.el and remember.el. John's description reminds me I'm under-utilizing my home server in a serious way.

October 8, 2004

A nice article on how RedHat Linux startup files work.

Thanks to Jason for pointing out this Typographica thread on fonts for programmers. This is one of those environment problems I don't think enough about, and just live with what I have as if there were nothing I could do about it.

October 5, 2004

Dilbert's Ultimate House is complete! Combining thousands of suggestions from Dilbert fans and advice from experts, Scott Adams designed the ultimate geek-friendly family-oriented energy-efficient Silicon Valley house. The site includes detailed requirements, 3D images and movies, and lists of popular, funny and impractical but interesting suggestions.

Coming Soon: Spaceballs 2.

October 1, 2004

Transformers: A History. That's a lot of backstory to justify a toy robot that folds into a toy semi truck.