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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

November 2004 Archives

November 18, 2004

Fun With Prime Numbers, on writing computer programs to find primes.

Merlin reminds me that, as usual, I am underutilizing my tools, in this case Quicksilver. I must follow his set-up advice and get plugged in.

Second Life, a user-authored MMORPG (aka a graphical MUD).

Folding in Emacs:

November 17, 2004

A round-up of Mac text editors.

Radio Recorder is a Mac OS X audio stream recorder, and it's free (GPL).

Zope X3 3.0.0 final released.

November 16, 2004

Teaching Bayesian Reasoning in Less Than Two Hours. Fighting innumeracy with Bayesian inference. (Thanks Jim.)

A review of Komodo 3.0. Komodo is a GUI IDE for languages like Perl, Python, PHP, Tcl and XSLT, for Linux, Solaris and Windows. Free demo, $30 for non-commercial use, $300 for the "professional" edition.

Saft is an add-on to the Mac OS X web browser Safari which provides a handful of features, including full-screen and kiosk browsing modes, find-as-you-type, history search, "control-drag" to push a large page around, and a bunch of little things you may have wished you had, like "open tab in new window" or "always open browser window in tab." $10.

Firefox has many of these features, and I'm a Firefox fan, on all platforms, for a bajillion reasons. It turns out, however, that I use Safari most on Mac OS X, perhaps due to loading speed or just habit, and it may very well be worth $10 to get the features I miss into the browser I use rather than switch tools.

November 15, 2004

It's $40, it's gorgeous, and it works! The Delicious Monster website has been swamped most of the week, but I've finally been able to download the Delicious Library demo and check out the details. For a v1 product, it's great. Minus some keyboard shortcuts and context menus, the design is Mac-alicious and elegant. The display in general is great fun, especially the clever use of product images. The use of Amazon Web Services in general is especially thorough and brilliant, including the automatic downloading and storage of product descriptions and statistics. Find-as-you-type search of a large library rocks. And the killer feature, barcode scanning with a camcorder, works flawlessly and speedily, given enough light and holding the item close enough to the camera. Red laser scan lines appear over the camcorder image, animated to look like a real grocery scanner—and it beeps, and pronounces the title of the item (using the speech synthesis Mac users are used to, because it comes with the OS).

It's still v1, and so far the most notable flaw is the application speed. On my G4 Powerbook, it can take a second or two to get feedback for some actions, and I'm not used to that. More ickily, it appears to slow down everything else on my machine. I've already found a reproducable crash condition, though it's not one that I'm bound to run into every day. And the aforementioned lack of context menus and keyboard shortcuts is a whole layer of intuitiveness and user expectation missing. (Pretty much every action can be found by selecting something and clicking on the gear drop-down menu.) But the camcorder scanning is fast enough that I'll gladly buy it now, scan in our thousands of books and DVDs, and hope the final touches come as a free upgrade.

MacMinute reports that the Bluetooth barcode scanner costs $175. I don't see a way to buy the Bluetooth barcode scanner directly from Delicious Monster yet (did I just overlook it?), and haven't found an alternate store with this particular model of scanner. I see a corded model and a "wireless" model with a USB dongle, but I'm going to wait for Bluetooth.

ArsTechnica has a thorough and entertaining review, including commentary on the genius attention to detail in the graphics. It also mentions some background on the developers: They're from The Omni Group.

Bruce Schneier: The Problem with Electronic Voting Machines.

Also: Found artifact from the future, from this month's Wired.

What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point Arithmetic.

November 12, 2004

Update: Many thanks to Dan Halloran of ICANN for clearing up this issue with bloggers spreading this inaccurate story. (See comments.) I've corrected my post below. In short, this is a pro-owner rule encouraging registrar portability. I still have questions about registrar slamming, but ICANN's announcement claims the usual authorization methods are still required to complete a transfer.

New ICANN rules state that owners of domain names do not have to explicitly authorize the transfer of ownership registrar of their domains. When an ownership a registrar transfer request is received, the owner is contacted by e-mail, and has five days to say, "Hey wait a minute, I didn't approve a transfer! Gimme that back!" If they don't respond, the transfer goes through.

This means domain hijacking (theft) will be easier, as easy as simply requesting a transfer of ownership of someone else's domain. Some registrars offer domain "locking," which, by your request, causes ownership registrar transfer requests to be automatically denied. If you own a domain name, contact your registrar immediately, and see if locking is an option. Though locking appears to be a relatively new feature, I'm surprised to learn that not everyone offers it. Most notably, Register supposedly doesn't. Dot-com-era hero has easy self-service locking, and remains my registrar of choice.

While you're at your registrar's website scrambling to figure out how to prevent your online brand and identity from becoming a pr0n site domain name from switching registrars without your permission, make sure your contact information is accurate and up to date, and the e-mail address you use for domain registration will accept mail sent by your registrar (and not spam-filter it).

Fans of KUOW, a popular Seattle public radio station, will want to check out KUOW2, a second 24-hour stream available exclusively on the web. The second station features some great programs that are sadly not available in their regular broadcast, including Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, and—finally—Le Show. Windows Media only. (Thanks Anita.)

Of course, if you're online, you can catch these and many other fine programs not available in your area from a bazillion other feeds. Crank up Audio Hijack and timeshift your favorite programs into your life.

A neat little interview with composer and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, from the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference.

S5: A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System using XHTML, CSS and JavaScript. I was just about to write my own, glad to see I can just use this.

November 11, 2004

Merlin lists the apps he discussed at OSXCon. A few cool ones I hadn't heard of before:

  • Notational Velocity, a notes program with emphasis on ultra-simplicity, all-keyboard access and incremental search. That's one weirdly written web page; the download link is at the very bottom, outside of the border. Free.
  • VoodooPad, another notes program with emphasis on versatility and multimedia. Self-described as Wiki for the Mac desktop; I'd need network/Internet sharing of notes to take that claim—and this would especially rock if it had such a feature. Looks cool as it is. $20.
  • Growl, a notification platform, of sorts. Instead of having each app tell you about stuff in its own way (Mail goes ding, AIM pops up a little box), Growl watches for events and tells you about them in any of several ways you decide. Features an API with bindings in many languages, so your scripts and custom apps can notify you as well. Free.
  • GeekTool is a sort of system monitor that can spew logs, show graphs and run commands in foreground and background windows or onto the desktop. Would be especially useful for servers or development environments.
  • fiwt, incremental search for Safari. After Mozilla/Firefox introduced find-as-you-type, I haven't been able to live without it. Free.
  • I-Search Plugin, adds incremental search to most Mac OS X text boxes. Sweet. Free.
  • PathFinder also gets a mention because people asked Merlin about it (it wasn't part of the talk). I haven't given this Finder power boost a try yet, but I've been meaning to. $34.

O'Reilly's Mac OS X Innovators stuff includes articles about winners of their contest from this and previous years, and other articles.

How to get music off your iPod, a tutorial, with updated information on reversing a recent Apple software update that prevents a popular technique. The Dance of Markup. XML markup languages for describing folk dances.

November 10, 2004

Via Anita, Dana of Eat the Lettuce discusses computers and very young kids. There's a part of me that wants to save my child from getting too into computers too quickly. There's another, much larger part of me that wants to introduce the little daughter to computers and video games as early as possible, because my friends with kids tell me stories of their kids mastering complex games before they're even able to read, and I think that's cool.

Noting for later: There are many utilities for copying music from an iPod back to a computer (normally disallowed by Apple's software). Open Pod 0.9e is one, and it's GPL.

The ten worst cover songs.

November 9, 2004

In all the hustle and bustle, it appears I forgot my own blogoversary.

1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003

Five years, baby!

November 5, 2004

The house is officially ours! We got the keys, sat in the empty house, ordered pizza and drew pictures. Now it's time to start thinking about pre-move-in improvements.

I want to run gigabit ethernet, telephone and coax (for cable TV) to the two bedrooms, the living room and the basement, with the distribution box in the basement. Terminating cables and setting up network topology are the easy part. What I want to know is, how do I get the cable to each of the rooms?

Initial research produced a few suggestions:

  • Drop the cable from an attic, crawl spaces and other open areas. I'd love to, but we have a notable lack of access to such spaces in this house. I think our best shot at the bedrooms will be coming up from the living room, not down, if that's even possible. This article tries to be helpful with this suggestion, but assumes we're lucky enough to have such access.
  • Run cables on the outside of the house, drilling in to destinations. This seems to be what cable/phone company installers do, because it's fast and easy. It's my least favorite option because of how it looks, and potentially how it performs. shows pictures of such an installation, recommending following an existing cable into the house if possible.
  • Use fire retardant cable and run through air vents. Since this is an older house, our vents are large and run pretty much straight down the middle. It doesn't give us direct access to our ideal destinations, but may be the easiest way to get from floor to floor.
  • Run cable under the carpet and/or beneath the base boards. Only the bedrooms have carpet, and I have a feeling this option is too cheap for its own good. I just imagine messing it up and having lumps in my carpet. Base boards sound alright, though, and it's encouraging to believe they are easy to tear up and glue back down again, if necessary.
  • Punch holes in the walls to drill through the studs, then patch and paint. Saw this in a book on electrical wiring, where it's important for wires to get directly to specific locations on the wall (or ceiling). Sounds like a last resort, and a lot of work, but good to see it suggested in case it's necessary. The general advice is to avoid doing this as much as possible, using the space between studs in an interior (uninsulated) wall as a channel for cable. Our real estate agent warned us to be careful going through floor joists, because you don't want to weaken them with holes.

Why not wireless? Speed, signal, security. We'll do wireless for couch computing, but home servers, networked TiVos and desktop workstations deserve better.

MacNQC is the Mac version of the Not Quite C compiler, which can be used to program the Lego Mindstorms (still buyable at Amazon) programmable brick. Nice to see the project is still getting attention, especially since this would be the way I'd be playing with Mindstorms if I ever got ahold of a kit.

The Compass DeRose Guide to Ethernet computer network wiring.

November 4, 2004

Via LawGeek: The printer company Lexmark attempted to use the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to prevent Static Control, a third-party company, from manufacturing replacement toner cartridges for Lexmark printers. Static Control has won in appeal. The opinion [PDF], the history.

Antipixel on "justified" text on the web and otherwise: don't.

What do you think? I'm justified, but I didn't put much thought into it, and have mixed feelings about the look...

Constructs of the C++ Programming Language.

SGI's C++ Standard Template Library reference.

November 3, 2004

Apple is claiming Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger "will be the most important release for developers since Mac OS X was first released in 2001." I'm hardly a Mac developer, so I'm not in a position to say, but the Developer Overview has some exciting dev-oriented details and pretty pictures. And if you're really interested, attend a free Tiger Tech Talk.

The O'Reilly Mac OS X Innovator's Contest has announced its winners:

  • First place, U.S.: The aforementioned Delicious Library from Delicious Monster Software. Book/music/video library catalog with fancy barcode reading skills. Price to be announced.
  • First place, international: FotoMagico from Boinx Software. Get more control over using photos in presentations, with iPhoto and iTunes integration. $79, with free demo.
  • Second place, U.S.: Curio from Zengobi. Fancy idea development and organizational tool, with good multimedia support and outlining capabilities. $129, with free demo.
  • Second place, international: iDive from Aquafadas Software. Organize your digital video shoebox with this clip organizer. $70, with free demo.
  • Honorable mention, international: Process from Jumsoft. An outliner with some nice features. Looks a bit more traditional than Curio, but still good. $25, with free demo.

Kudos to Process for being reasonably priced. I'm dying for something like iDive, but not $70 dying. Curio might be worth $50+ if I tried it and couldn't stop using it. And I'm praying Delicious Library will be, say, $30 without the hardware, and $80 including the Bluetooth barcode scanner. But it'll be more, probably.

Not sure why Mac shareware (do we still call it that?) developers like to charge $100 each for small utilities. Just because we spent the bucks on the hardware doesn't mean we're made of money. Quite the opposite, really: there's nothing left for software, we need it cheap or bundled. I use OmniOutliner partly because it's a decent, run-of-the-mill outliner, but mostly because it came with my PowerBook. (It's $30 to everyone else.)

Thinking Machine 4, a chess playing Java applet that visualizes its thinking on the board. (Thanks Zannah.)

[Small update: This page's title included a <br> tag, which inspired my weblog to draw a big line across the entry, at least in Safari. I've removed it now. Neat effect, though, and kind of a cute way to trip up careless bloggers using MT's QuickPost bookmarklet, though in this case it probably wasn't intentional.]

Allowing Registration-Required Binary Downloads, a PHP implementation of the popular browser-based file download idiom.

November 2, 2004

I want to diagram the floorplans of the house. Before I even went looking for cheap/free CAD software, someone clued me in to
QCad, a free/inexpensive 2D CAD program for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Source is GPL'd, so you can download it and use it for free if you build your own, and they distribute and license binaries for a fee. QCad Professional one-user is $26.

Links to Linux CAD software projects.

The Londonderry Air: Facts and Fiction. The melody of "The Londonderry Air," a traditional Irish folk tune, was given lyrics and became "Danny Boy" in 1913.

Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit.

November 1, 2004

The Onion A.V. Club interviews Shane Carruth, creator of the latest ultra-low-budget film sensation, Primer.

Also: The Onion A.V. Club interviews Christopher Walken.

American Rhetoric: Top 100 American Speeches, including text and audio when available.

Zannah mentions an upcoming Mac OS X application called Delicious Library, a book/music/video library manager with fancy barcode reading abilities, most notably the ability to read barcodes using a camcorder (!). You will also be able to buy a very nifty sounding Bluetooth barcode scanner directly from the makers of this software. Details such as price won't be announced for another week, which gives us enough time to get all frothed up. How much would you pay?

Their website is a little too eccentric for its own good, and appears to lock out more obscure browsers such as all forms of Internet Explorer and Firefox for Linux. Mac Safari, Mac Firefox and Windows Firefox, with Flash plugin, should be able to browse their animated product information. Browser lockout is pretty much always unnecessary, but maybe they're too busy banging out the product to whip up a few simple static pages.