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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

May 2005 Archives

May 27, 2005

'This is how science is done': the letters of Richard Feynman.

Greasemonkey is an extension platform for Firefox for quickly and easily writing plugins that change the appearance and behavior of other web pages.

Dive Into Greasemonkey by Mark Pilgrim. Go Mark go! (I wish I had the time to write Open Content technical books...)

The story behind new Xbox design.

May 26, 2005

Daddy Types, the weblog for new dads.

Battlestar Galactica, the 2003 Miniseries on DVD. Amazon has a particularly good price compared to the store I first saw it in, only $21.

Kevin Kelly introduces 20Q, a $14 toy you can buy at Amazon that plays the game 20 Questions in the palm of your hand. The origin of this toy is just amazing: Inventor Robin Burgener built the web site to play the game with visitors, and learn from every game. After 1 million games over many years, Burgener sliced and compressed the resulting neural net, burned it to a chip and made it a toy. The backstory alone makes this toy worth owning. Does having played a bunch of times years ago make me a co-inventor?

May 25, 2005

Dual Photography: generating photographs from the light's point of view with a camera at a different angle. Wah.

The new version of the Safari web browser included in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (Safari 2.0) has new ways to open pages in tabs, particularly when submitting web forms. Merlin explains why this is cool.

Merlin mentions quickly deleting multiple items from an Amazon wish list as a use case, and while it's a valid example of web forms that inconveniently redraw everything at the touch of a button, you don't need Safari 2.0 to do this. The wish list "delete" button is just a link, so any tab-enabled browser (Firefox, earlier versions of Safari) will let you middle-click to execute the action in the background while you click on other delete buttons.

Type Cast, a Dashboard widget for font previewing.

May 24, 2005

Check out these amazing 3-D sidewalk chalk drawings. (Thanks Dad.)

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger includes a lightweight database engine called SQLite, a free, embeddable, zero-configuration database system that is gaining popularity over the previous contender, Berkeley DB.

MacZealots has an article on installing Movable Type on a Tiger system using SQLite. I'm mostly linking it for its SQLite material, but MacZealots has published a MT-on-a-Mac how-to before, which uses MySQL, for a general audience. (You can also use MT with Berkeley DB quite easily, but SQLite looks like more fun to hack.)

After seeing John Siracusa complain about the Mac OS X Finder for the umpteenth time (and I don't disagree), I've finally got around to trying Path Finder, a popular third-party Finder replacement. This thing has been on everyone's must-have Mac software lists for a long time, and I can see why.

It's a little feature-heavy, and the default apearance is a little intimidating: a tight columnar file list with column headers, a path bar, two status bars, a toolbar, and an open drawer on each side that look like my window has wings and is about to fly away, with another drawer on the bottom that's closed by default. And everything—everything—is brushed metal by default. Naturally, everything is customizable, and once you turn off the brushed metal and figure out what's in the drawers, it's quite comfortable to use.

The bottom drawer (the one that starts out closed) is a little Terminal window that starts out in the window's current folder. I got so used to the command line and the Finder being separate environments that I would do everything in either one or the other, and I was about ready to give up the Finder and just do it all in Emacs. I can't help but love the Terminal drawer.

Built-in PDF and text file viewers seem like baggage, but they eliminate a minor annoyance of viewer apps (TextEdit, Preview) left sitting open after casual file browsing. It's a very minor thing; Preview sitting open does no harm other than to clutter process lists (Cmd-Tab, DragThing or Path Finder process panes). There's also a built-in hex viewer, and both it and the text viewer are immediately made available for files with no associated applicaitons.

What kicked me over to PF from Finder was an attempt to learn Finder's keyboard shortcuts. Too many times I've hit Enter to open an item, and too many times I've been disappointed that this doesn't open anything. Instead, it tries to let you rename the item. Maybe there's a user-friendly rationale for making Open a more difficult keystroke (Cmd-O, or Cmd-down), but it'd almost be better if Enter did nothing. For it to do something entirely different from what I want is frustrating. In PF, Enter's behavior is configurable, and opens by default.

The only real problem I see so far is the tendency of other Mac apps, such as Safari, to continue to resort to Finder for certain tasks. It seems my usual workflow can help but result in Finder windows mixed in with my PF windows, even if I start out with Finder not running. Maybe PF 4.0, due later this year, will have solutions for some of these little problems.

Speaking of DragThing: Between QuickSilver and Spotlight and Path Finder, I wonder if I need it any more. I still see a use for organizing some less-often-used apps into little categorical collections, pretty much all of my other uses for DT are handled by these other apps. Once again, this probably means I'm under-utilizing my tools: I've seen people use DT for shelving, and I have yet to try anything shelf-like in my work environment. I just don't get to use my Mac for project work often enough.

May 23, 2005

The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Season 1, on DVD.

Music from The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

A Video Game Written In Ant. Must everything be Turing complete? I mean really.

"Bad Wolf" has appeared in every episode of the BBC's latest series of Doctor Who, with additional cryptic mentions on official web sites. An episode later this season, entitled "Bad Wolf," is likely to provide an explanation.

I'm not familiar with the extensive backstory in the Doctor Who universe that precedes the new series, but I'd be surprised if Bad Wolf was anything but The Master, and the episode "Bad Wolf" involved anything but The Master disguising himself as the Doctor and doing bad things. Hints all imply the Doctor is being mistaken for someone known as "Bad Wolf", and Rose's introduction included an obvious Red Riding Hood reference.

The official in-joke web sites are pretty fun. See, run by present-day Earth character Mickey.

May 17, 2005

Despite its keypad locking feature, my old cell phone dialed out from my pants pocket far too often, and answered calls before I got a chance to hear it ring. Combined with problems getting reception in my basement, and my wife's desire for an inexpensive cell phone, I decided to switch carriers, switch phones and get a "family plan."

continue reading...

May 9, 2005

Roger Weeks blogs a workaround for a common problem with Mac Mail, one I've noticed but couldn't quite figure out the cause. If you're composing a message and Mail interrupts to tell you it could not save it, then it can't find your Drafts folder. In Panther (Mac OS X 10.3), Mail needed to be told explicitly what the path to these folders was. In Tiger (10.4), Mail displays IMAP subfolders automatically, but still needs to be told about the path in a separate setting. Lame, but good to know the fix.

May 6, 2005

This site and my e-mail access may disappear for a couple of days while a DNS change propagates. Please stand by.

May 4, 2005

Make Your Own Music Software with Pure Data. Rich Web Text Editing with Kupu, an open source JavaScript WYSIWYG rich text editor. Seems like one of many solutions at this point, but the article is a nice introduction to this particular project.

So You'd Like to... Use Technical Writing to Defraud Employers.

Sex is power. Most males are inwardly fearful of their childhood Mommy, easy to sexually intimidate. They twitter & enjoy the attention but are inwardly frightened and will throw territory or money to appease. Men survive fighting in wars, yet will give thousands $$ to strippers, even windup easily killed by strippers & their criminal-friends. Again, if you meet a fool like this, it is your DUTY to remove their money from them--I'm sure it's in the Bible.

May 3, 2005

MomHacker! GirlHacker starts a baby blog, not for cute photos or baby stories, but for parental advice and product reviews.

Darth Vader's weblog:

Due to Ozzel's bungling we arrived too late, and the lion's share of the rebel terrorists had already escaped. I could feel the presence of my son, but he was not at the base. The good news is that as I came into the rebel landing bay I saw the renegade Han Solo escorting the traitor Leia Organa aboard the same Corellian freighter that we captured them in last year. And do you know who else was with them? C-3P0!

Talk about a blast from the past!

Cubase SX, the professionally priced (expensive) music and audio authoring suite from Steinberg, has a new major version, Cubase SX 3. People who purchased or upgraded to Cubase SX 3 for Mac OS X should download the latest patch to

Cubase SX 2 users (like me) are advised to update to the latest version, Steinberg gets points for trying to clean up their lousy web support for their products, but they have broken all of their old links in the effort, including the SX 2 update link on their current site (which goes to an incorrect URL for version I know about because I went straight to to look around, and found the correct file locations. It appears that the update is not a complete update (only 5 MB compared to, which is 20 MB).

The correct update process for SX 2 users (for Mac OS X) is to download and install the update if you haven't already (including the Syncrosoft license control software update), then download and install the update. The update will not run correctly without the update installed (it complains "File not found: Cubase SX").

The fixed version of the license control software can also be obtained directly from Syncrosoft.

May 2, 2005

ArsTechnica's detailed overview of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.

John Gruber is keeping an incremental list of unpromoted Tiger features—and mis-features, a must-read-and-revisit for all Tiger adopters.

For instance: StuffIt Expander, the file archive program for Mac, used to be included with Mac OS X. With Tiger, it is not. There are still quite a few ".sit" files around, which require StuffIt Expander to unbundle. StuffIt includes a registration roadblock (valid e-mail address required, guh) and confusing "free trial" language, but you end up with a free (non-trial) version of the Expander, which is all you need.

MacDevCenter has Tiger upgrade advice, as does MacFixIt. MDC advocates a backup-wipe-install, though mostly as an excuse to clean up your files.

For the record: L did an upgrade install, and suffered kernel panics and reboots for a bit until it all settled down and now seems to be OK. I did a wipe-and-install, and forgot to de-authorize my Audible account, so now I need to beg Audible to let me re-authorize. Backups are essential; some software I needed I could only obtain from my backups. If you don't have a nice external hard drive yet, buy one and use it before upgrading any operating system on any computer.

Safari feels faster and more robust, my biggest wish for Tiger. The new Dictionary is fabulous (hadn't heard of it before, a nice surprise), and well-integrated into the OS. Hate the new Mail buttons. QuickSilver seems faster than Spotlight for launching apps, but they both do so many different things that I'll probably use each of them. Dashboard is cute, but I keep forgetting it exists; was that way with Expose at first too, I suppose.

Quick note for the Emacs-on-Mac-from-CVS folks in the audience that haven't already figured it out: Emacs needed a bit of a tweak to work in Tiger, but that tweak has been integrated into the latest sources as of a couple of days ago, so the usual checkout-build-and-install instructions will work.

Mac OS X Spotlight Plugins. The OmniOutliner Spotlight plugin is obviously essential. Pretty much any application that can have a Spotlight plugin ought to.

In contrast, the Delicious Library Dashboard widget is more obviously a cheap attempt to promote their product on Apple's web site. But it's cute! More Dashboard widgets.