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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

April 2005 Archives

April 29, 2005

Jason is keeping track of Mac OS X apps that may or may not need upgrades with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, which we Mac loyalists (that aren't Mac developers) will be getting very soon now. This will be my first major OS X upgrade since I got a Powerbook, so I don't know how reliable an upgrade (in-place) installation is expected to be. This may be the first time since I ran MS Windows that I'll backup, catalog, and disassemble everything on my hard drive, wipe the disk and install everything from scratch, but I'm pleased at the thought that it may not be necessary to do so. (I'll do it anyway, naturally, because it's one of those compulsive things I like to do.)

Derrick Story has an article about preparing your Mac for a clean (backup-wipe-install) Tiger upgrade.

HackersLab, a "hacking" game. Telnet to game servers, do whatever you want to get to the next "level". Of course, I wonder if anyone has successfully hacked the game in ways other than what was intended. This could easily be set up as a trap for newbies if players don't take precautions.

Database schemas for tags. (Thanks Jason.)

April 28, 2005

The New York Times Magazine: Watching TV Makes You Smarter, a fun article adapted from Steven Johnson's new book, Everything Bad Is Good For You. It's a compelling premise, though partly so because it's precisely what someone like me wants to hear. When asked (usually by my wife) why I watch some of the TV that I watch, I usually say what I'm watching is "crap," but is titilating in a particular way that I like and I otherwise wouldn't recommend it. I get defensive because it seems I can't justify it over "better" uses of my time (reading great literature, learning a new skill, excelling at my job), yet I have a pretty good idea why I prefer it to, say, most everything else on television.

Steven Johnson's weblog.

Mentat Wiki, a wiki of tips on being "a better thinker." I'm not sure if memory tricks alone make you smarter (though an argument could be made), but they could certainly come in handy. (Thanks Merlin.)

April 27, 2005

Jason recently linked to a 2003 interview with Ludicorp's Stewart Butterfield about Game Neverending, a browser-based MMORPG/MUD game/universe that had a popular public prototype, but was cancelled due to the raging popularity of Ludicorp's other brilliant product. I've been thinking a lot about GNE lately, what it was and what it would have been, and why.

Compare this 2005 interview with Butterfield on Flickr. Of all of the big ideas in each of these projects, the ones they share are perhaps the biggest.

johnaugust.com, the blog of a working Hollywood screenwriter. (Thanks Matt.)

April 26, 2005

The BBC's illustrated web remake of the classic text adventure game based on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy recently won a Bafta award in the online entertainment category. The remake now comes in two editions featuring artwork submitted to a competition. It's a beautiful remake, and a well made web site with plenty of introduction for people new to text adventures.

Also: The Quandary (4th) phase of new episodes of the radio series will begin on May 3rd. Despite their generous webcasting, I neglected to listen to the Tertiary phase, and there are no (legit) online archives. Thankfully, it's already out on CD.

The Amazon Theater / Tribeca Film Festival Short Film Competition screening room is open. Use your browser to view short films randomly selected from every film submitted to the competition, then rate them for a chance to win a sweepstakes. The films were not pre-screened, so you may be the first person ever to see a film. I think I'll wait until the family has gone to sleep to take a look, just in case...

Analysis from Ed Felten on AACS, the next generation DVD DRM technology. AACS does what the CSS (the current standard) tried to do, but does it "correctly," and will sufficiently limit the ability to build and distribute a DVD player (or DVD playing software) without signing a contract with the DVD-CCA.

What it won't do is prevent DVD piracy. As before, if the pirate wishes to make a copy of a DVD on DVD media identical to the original, he does not have to decrypt anything, he just copies the complete encrypted set of data. But if he wishes to decrypt the data for some other form of redistribution (i.e. a form without DRM), he only has to reverse engineer an existing player to do so. With AACS, the DVD-CCA could deter widespread use of the results of that reverse engineering by blacklisting the compromised player's Device ID for all new DVDs being printed (by printers contractually bound to the DVD-CCA to honor the blacklist). But only a seller of non-compliant DVD players would need to make widespread use of a compromised key; a pirate does not need to publicize which keys he used to benefit from the results.

April 22, 2005

"What pitfalls do I need to avoid in an authors publishing contract?" Anti-author contract gotchas for (technical) book writers.

Roy Osherove's advice on unit testing, a collection of short articles.

The New Yorker on early 20th century composer Harry Partch.

He summarized his thinking in a 1949 book entitled “Genesis of a Music,” which begins with the most startling forty-five-page history of music ever written. The art really began to go downhill, we’re told, when Johann Sebastian Bach got his grubby fingers on it. Partch held Bach responsible for two trends: (1) the movement toward equal-tempered tuning, which meant that composers could not absorb the scales of other world traditions; and (2) the urge to make music ever more instrumental and abstract. Although Bach advocated neither of these things, Partch’s critique of the long-term denaturing of music still packs a punch.

(Thanks Robot Wisdom.)

Joel on Software recently ran a five part series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) sharing anecdotes from the development of the latest version of his company's bug tracking product, FogBugz.

I enjoyed part 3's discussion of their proprietary ASP-to-PHP compiler that helps them create a Unix (PHP) version from the same source tree as their Windows (ASP) version, especially the mention of the difference between Simonyi's ("Apps") Hungarian Notation and Petzold's ("Systems") Hungarian Notation. Petzold's version was popularized in the Windows world by his books; see a discussion about the two versions, and Simonyi's original paper.

April 21, 2005

Building Good CPAN Modules, a collection of good advice on making sure your Perl software can withstand the different versions and platforms it may encounter in the real world.

How a software development team completely recreated a 1955 Glenn Gould performance using nothing but a scratchy monophonic recording, translating the recording into a high-definition MIDI file and playing it on a (high-definition) Disklavier Pro. The article focuses on how good software practices helped solve this extremely difficult problem. (No discussion of their algorithms, only their testing process.) (Thanks Girlhacker.)

SCIgen, an automatic random computer science paper generator. As a sort of statement against conferences with no quality control that "exist only to make money," the creators of SCIgen sent a randomly generated paper to a conference— and it was accepted without review. Thanks to thousands of dollars donated by excited visitors to their web site, they now plan to attend the conference and give a randomly generated talk with a straight face.

April 20, 2005

XSLT-process "is a minor mode for GNU Emacs/XEmacs which transforms it into a powerful editor with XSLT processing and debugging capabilities." It uses one of two Java-based XSLT processors (Saxon-B is free; an early version is included with XSLT-process, and I think you can upgrade) for some of the heavy lifting, but it includes a full XSLT debugger, with breakpoints, stepping functionality, and global and local variable viewing.

XSLT-process is released under the GPL.

See also: EmacsWiki: XmlParser. Info on XML parsing and manipulation from Emacs, including an XPath package. Some Emacs-based interactive XPath development tools would be nice, especially when built into xslt-process (I want to test XPath expressions from the context node and using local variables at a breakpoint)...

AIGA Year in Design 2004 [Flash].

Also: Outline of Edward Tufte's books on information design. (From UW's C&C, even.)

What Do You Call a Group of...? (For animals.)

April 19, 2005

FXSL, the Functional Programming Library for XSLT.

The Functional Programming Language XSLT: A proof through examples.

Create multiple files from a single data set in XSLT 2.0.

The Dozenal Society of America and The Dozenal Society of Great Britain advocate the use of a base 12 numbering system for numeration and measurement. This is a natural extension of a reasonable counterargument against metric (decimal) clocks: 12 is useful for its factorability.

DSGB's web counter is in decimal.

April 15, 2005

The National Center For Education Statistics (NCES), Create-A-Graph for Kids! A web app for making certain kinds of graphs. You know, for kids.

What's your personal video gaming history? I love games, but I've always felt my personal history of games was less than gamer. The thought that someone might actually care almost as much as I do that I once enjoyed Zaxxon, Paperboy, The Killing Gameshow, Willy Beamish and Space Quest gives me a good feeling.

April 13, 2005

Google news travels faster than I do these days, but just in case: Check out Google Maps Satellite feature. Look up an address, then click "Satellite" in the upper right to switch to an overhead photo of the location. It zooms and pans just like the map view, and you can even plot driving directions on the photo.

Then check out Matt Haughey's mash-up of satellite images and Flickr annotations to document his childhood, and the "memory maps" of others playing along. (Nothing Google-specific about Matt's idea or satellite photos on the web, but Google's interface is just plain inspiring.)

Stanford Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium, webcast and archived. Noted so I'll remember to revisit after C-One designer Jeri Ellsworth visits Stanford on May 18, but there are other good ones in their list.

Library of scanned player piano music rolls converted to MIDI files. A similar effort is on my someday-projects list.

State of Idaho House Concurrent Resolution No. 29, "stating legislative findings and commending Jared and Jerusha Hess and the City of Preston for the production of the movie "Napoleon Dynamite."

WHEREAS, the State of Idaho recognizes the vision, talent and creativity of Jared and Jerusha Hess in the writing and production of "Napoleon Dynamite"; and

WHEREAS, the scenic and beautiful City of Preston, County of Franklin and the State of Idaho are experiencing increased tourism and economic growth; and

WHEREAS, filmmaker Jared Hess is a native Idahoan who was educated in the Idaho public school system; and

WHEREAS, the Preston High School administration and staff, particularly the cafeteria staff, have enjoyed notoriety and worldwide attention; and

WHEREAS, tater tots figure prominently in this film thus promoting Idaho's most famous export; and

[...]

WHEREAS, Tina the llama, the chickens with large talons, the 4-H milk cows, and the Honeymoon Stallion showcase Idaho's animal husbandry; and

WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!"

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the members of the First Regular Session of the Fifty-eighth Idaho Legislature, the House of Representatives and the Senate concurring therein, that we commend Jared and Jerusha Hess and the City of Preston for showcasing the positive aspects of Idaho's youth, rural culture, education system, athletics, economic prosperity and diversity.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we, the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the State of Idaho, advocate always following your heart, and thus we eagerly await the next cinematic undertaking of Idaho's Hess family....

Adopted, April 6, 2005, 69-0-1 (zero nay votes). (Article in the Idaho Statesman.)

April 12, 2005

Do-it-yourself MMC/SD interface for your Commodore 64.

Thanks to comp.sys.cbm for identifying one of my favorite Commodore 64 games from childhood:
Ghettoblaster, aka "Street Beat." Get it. There's even a walkthrough.

Render dynamic graphs in SVG.

April 8, 2005

Protégé is an open source ontology and knowledge-base framework, with support for RDF and OWL, and a bunch of other stuff I don't understand. Neat, though.

Penny bridges.

Leon Brocard writes a new Perl debugger. It has a browser-based interface. "[T]his isn't an April Fool's joke." Available on CPAN as Devel::ebug.

April 7, 2005

Last year, a company by the name Tulip Computers released the Commodore 64 Direct-to-TV game machine, an inexpensive 30-retro-games-in-a-joystick unit with Commodore 64 games. By itself, the joystick simply plugs directly into your TV, shows the C64 start-up screen, and automatically LOADs and RUNs the 30-game menu. The game selection is modest, but it's got a few good ones. Through the end of last year, the C64 DTV was exclusively available at QVC (the home shopping channel). QVC still has them for sale. $30 for one, $52 for two.

But it's not a simulation, it's a full Commodore 64 redesigned on an ASIC by C-One chip guru Jeri Ellsworth. The best part: Wiggle the joystick during the start-up routine, and you get a fully functional Commodore 64, with an on-screen keyboard you control with the joystick. Even better: If you open the thing up, you can attach a PS/2 keyboard, add a 5V power supply, and connect an original Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive. The contacts on the circuit board are labelled, for Pete's sake. LOAD "$",1 and you see the contents of the built-in games "disk," which contains not only the 30 games, but easter egg pictures, little extra games, a demo, and documentation on hacking the unit.

More C64 DTV hacking.

Oh, and Tulip has since purchased Commodore International and all related intellectual property.

Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition. I routinely visit the idea of a modern Emacs book in my head, mostly because the Gnu books could be improved upon, and other commercial offerings haven't been updated in a while. I don't know how many items on my wish list are in this new 3rd edition, but it's nice to see there is still industry interest in Emacs books.

Norbert's Emulators, including a general arcade machine emulator implemented as a Java applet. Play Tailgunner in your browser.

April 6, 2005

Eric Von Hippel's book, Democratizing Innovation, has been released under a Creative Commons license. The PDF is available as a free download from the web site.

MIT's Technology-Enabled Active Learning Project held a contest to make pretty pictures from a Java applet that visualizes vector fields. See the course materials and the TEAL web site for the class.

Information on the upcoming Muppet Show DVD season sets. We own the complete Time-Life DVD release, which, sadly, is incomplete, and will need to be replaced with these inevitably expensive season sets. Yes, they will.

April 5, 2005

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead has a new U.S. two -disc region-1 DVD release, with interviews with Stoppard, Oldman, Dreyfuss and Roth.

DrunkenBlog interviews veteran Mac developer Jonathan 'The Wolf' Rentzsch.

Katamari Damacy II screenshots.

April 1, 2005

Calculating Entropy for Data Mining. Makes me wish I paid attention in school.

NPR's Weekend America, Podcast.