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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

September 2005 Archives

September 28, 2005

Speaking of new Perl books, there appears to be a new edition of Advanced Perl Programming this year.

Scary but fascinating Mario and Luigi comic art. (Thanks Jason.)

Daring Fireball: Rhymes With Ditty.

I recently had a conversation with my sister about MP3 players. She wanted to know why iPods were such a big deal, and was considering other players that were less expensive and had voice recording capability. Somehow, her take-away from our conversation was that iPods were popular for superficial reasons, and concluded that MP3 players with more features and lower prices were obviously a better value. And if iPods are a hype-driven fad, they must be resisted.

The point I was trying to make was quite the opposite: Aesthetics are a major component of a user's experience with a product. Sparkly shiny shine provides genuine value with a device as personal, as intimate, and as immersive as a portable music player. Any music player manufacturer that believes their player is better just because it has more features doesn't know what a good product is.

I don't have any strong opinions on which music player is best for a particular person. If you have a genuine need for a portable music player that's also a low-fidelity voice recorder, by all means get one. (You can buy an attachment that makes an iPod a voice recorder.) And if you're really short on cash, an iPod may not even be an option, when other players are. You pay as much as $50 just for the sexy. But the sexy has value, and it may be worth the price.

September 27, 2005

Via Merlin, a brilliant piece of Mac OS X donationware: Textpander expands and replaces the text you type in most any application, as you type it. Insert commonly typed text fragments, replace common typos, insert the current date and time, insert images, use fillable text snippits—in any application. Fabulous!

Julian Kwasneski: Inside Game Audio. Another fun O'Reilly Digital Media article.

The Spyware Warrior List of Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web Sites. " 'Rogue/Suspect' means that these products are of unknown, questionable, or dubious value as anti-spyware protection." They also have a short list of trustworthy anti-spyware products. (About the author and these pages.)

September 26, 2005

Quantum Link Reloaded. The old Commodore 64 network service has been reverse engineered, and now emulated and actual C64s can connect to this new network using the original software and an Internet connection.

I used to wake up at 6am and drag my C64, modem and monitor out to the kitchen every morning, just so I could go "online" for an hour before the network closed. (QLink was only open from 9pm to 7am due to off-peak long distance Internet charges.) I did my best to only use the basic features that came with the monthly fee, and avoid the premium services—everything cool, including chat and downloads—which had an additional per-minute charge. But I recall I could not resist a few hours of downloading a month. I think that "Thief" game cost my mom $60.

We Love Katamari, the sequel to the quirky, original, addictive PS2 game Katamari Damaci, is out.

Cute puzzle game: Professor Fizzwizzle.

September 23, 2005

Palm fixes their Mac OS X software! Palm Desktop 4.2.1 Rev D now available, with an explicit admission that the permissions thing was wack and is now fixed.

Oh, and I found my Tiger install disc, though not after buying a new one from a friend. I was disappointed to discover (years after everyone else, I'm sure) that Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger does not include the Mac OS 9 system software. I still have 10.2 and 10.3 install discs, and even an OS 9 disc that came with our iBook years ago, so I'm not hurting for system folders. But apparently I'm too chicken to run an OS 9 installer on my Powerbook, and I've lost interest anyway. :)

September 20, 2005

I took my Handspring Visor Deluxe out of a old box to play with, and was disappointed to discover that Palm's official software fails to install, despite claims of compatibility.

By coincidence, a day later I stumbled across Damien's post about the newest version of this installer destroying people's computers, and I wonder if the misbehaving step is the step that is failing—after reading this warning, I hope so. MacInTouch has some good commentary on this discovery, but their site lacks permalinks, so you'll have to search for it (see 9/5/2005 and 9/7/2005). MacInTouch's running list of Tiger compatibility problems suggests v4.2.1 B (the previous version) might work, but Palm is not making that version available, and it too is known for permissions corruption. That list also suggests that installing as root—and allowing it to trash all the directory permissions unabated—would produce a "successful" install.

There are third-party conduits, but I haven't found any easy answers just yet. The Missing Sync, a commercial third-party conduit that does not depend on Palm's HotSync, does not support the old Visor Deluxe. ColdSync seems promising (if a bit raw), and claims to build smoothly on Mac OS X, but does not compile out of the box with Tiger (probably a gcc 4 thing, but I don't know, and haven't tried it with gcc 3 yet). I bet I'd have more luck running a version of Palm's software for Mac OS 9, using Mac OS X's OS 9 emulator. Unfortunately, I do not have OS 9 installed, and I have lost my Tiger install disc. *sob*

Anyone know of any other options? Is anyone fixing Palm's installer on their behalf, or is it just too busted?

The new controller for Nintendo's next console is a neat idea, and seems like an important part of Nintendo's strategy. Like the GameBoy DS, new standard controllers potentially mean completely new styles of games and gameplay, if not new genres. And with Nintendo itself developing these new games, it'll happen, even if not right away.

Not that I own a GameBoy DS.

(Some are calling the GameCube a failure, I guess in a business or technological sense, since almost all of its quality titles were developed by Nintendo, and not third-party game companies. I'd say the GameCube is worth owning just for the Nintendo titles.)

Pirates of Silicon Valley now on DVD, and only $15. Sweet. :)

September 19, 2005

I tend to wrinkle my nose at Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, mostly because every time I have needed a style guide in my life, TEoS has failed me and I've had to go to other sources. (I also have an annoying aversion to popular things, I don't know why. Am I jealous of a 70-year-old English style guide?) But TEoS is online, if you like.

I prefer The Chicago Manual of Style. It is not available online, despite appearances: If you register for an account (free), you can search the 15th edition (the latest) of the guide, but the search results only give you section headings, you are expected to refer to your printed copy for the text.

DHTML Lemmings. Lemmings in a browser, fun!

Just when I thought there were no more good books to be written about the Perl programming language: Perl Best Practices by Damian Conway and Higher Order Perl by Mark Jason Dominus are two recent must-have titles. I was playing with both of these in the store the other day, and couldn't put either of them down.

I was less impressed by Perls of Wisdom by Randal Schwartz, but mostly because it was stuff I had read before: It's a collection of previously published articles by Randall, and may be useful to many everyday Perl programmers that haven't spent the last few years knee deep in Perl advice. The collection is not as good as his truly exceptional books, Learning Perl and Learning Perl Objects, References & Modules.

Now is just the right time for these books: Perl is mainstream, widespread, and used for many heavy-duty applications. These books condense years of computer science and real world experience with the Perl language into essential reading for the next generation of Perl programming. It'd be nice if the language itself would get around to its next generation as well, but there's much that can be done with the tools that we have.

September 15, 2005

Mac OS X Tiger Backups: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

How to turn your Mac mini into a media center.

Octave is an open source Matlab equivalent, a programmable environment for making calculations. It interfaces with gnuplot for plotting.

September 14, 2005

Cyan is shutting down. The Myst series of games launched and defined a generation of multimedia personal computing and gaming, continued and advanced the adventure game genre while other genres seemed to have a stranglehold on the industry, and elevated computer games as an artistic, cinematic storytelling medium. Cyan was simply great.

All signs indicate that the concluding episode in the Myst series, Myst V: End of Ages, will release on schedule by the end of this year.

September 13, 2005

Builderoo v0.7 Released

Builderoo v0.7 has been released. Builderoo is the text formatting system for Movable Type. This new version is a major upgrade to take advantage of features in Movable Type 3.2.

Instead of listing its features again, I'll just link to the original announcement and refer you to the documentation. I'll also repeat the demo of RooLaTeX, the plugin for Builderoo (included) that lets you insert mathematical equations in a blog entry simply by typing LaTeX mark-up into the entry text.

I'll also mention RooSpell again, a spell-checker that highlights misspelled words when you preview the entry (and not when you publish it), because I think it's neat and people might want it. (RooSpell is also included with Builderoo.)

This is still a 0.x release, with a couple of known issues I'm still working on and would like to fix before declaring it 1.0. I'm eager for bug reports, questions and feedback, so if this interests you, please give it a try. It's free! :)

September 9, 2005

TargetAlert is a Firefox extension that puts icons next to links that represent the type of the file being linked. I'm always checking the filename extension in the status bar before clicking on a link, and often want web sites to provide this icons for me. Implementing this as a browser extension is elegant and brilliant., free documents on Java best practices and high performance coding.

3D Buzz has free video tutorials for 3D art, programming, and math. Registration required for the free ones, paid membership required for the full series. The "Modelling on the fly" series shows a professional 3D modeller doing a complex model in real time, start to finish, which is neat. The only programming tutorial available for free only covers installing PHP and MySQL on Windows. All of the math ones are available for free. They're mostly review of high school math, but they're actually a nice little refresher in some cases. 3D Buzz has full training packages for purchase, and a free 4-times-weekly radio show.

Most impressive to me is how effective these training videos are using just a view of a computer screen, a few simple PowerPoint slides, and an empty Photoshop window for scratch handwriting space. I regularly dream about producing training videos like these with high production value animation and sound, but two guys sitting at a computer for an hour get most of the way there with much less preparation.

September 8, 2005

The Onion has a new design, and new features: daily updates, a Jackie Harvey blog, and the complete archives now available for free.

A message from the publisher, J.Phineas Zweibel: Introducing The Onion's New Look.

Khoi Vinh was on the team that worked on the redesign, Behavior Design.

Haaarg, world! A six-year-old learns to program a modern computer, in Python.

Pencil Revolution. Once again, someone steals my idea.

September 7, 2005

Libelous Claims About Large Corporations.

An Interview with David Heinemeier Hansson, inventor of Ruby on Rails.

Taking Time to Think. I've been reading a bunch about (software) development methodologies recently, and I notice many of them don't talk about, and are possibly incompatible with, the early stages of idea development. Thinking stuff up vs. getting things done.

September 6, 2005

Best new-to-me discovery of Bumbershoot for 2005: Charlie Hunter, frickin' awesome jazz guitarist, who played Bumbershoot with the also awesome Charlie Hunter Trio. Hunter has recorded many albums, and was well represented in the Best Buy Bumbershoot Store, and is now well represented in my CD collection.

Wikipedia on Charlie Hunter.

Usability test: This is the Mambo home page. Without clicking on any links, what is Mambo? If you can't figure out what Mambo is from the home page, what link would you click on to find out?

I don't think open source projects need to devote a huge number of resources to marketing, necessarily. But it seems like a common problem that development projects focus so much on development that project home pages can be complete blockers to new users. Some projects are getting wise, and Mambo's site isn't the worst—at least there is a Learn More article that says, "Mambo is a full-featured content management system" (albeit almost below the fold).

It's also interesting that in the prominent "Is Mambo for me?" box, the first link the "Download Mambo now," as if downloading it is how I would want to find out if Mambo was for me, when I don't even know what Mambo is yet. +10 points for including an online demo, but -5 for not making "Learn More" the first link in this box.

The "Mambo is..." sentence should be the first sentence on the home page. The second sentence should point to the online demo, then the download link. Everything else can stay the same.

Idea Generation Methods. (Thanks, Merlin.)

TactaPad lets you manipulate objects on your screen using your fingers. A camera continuously captures your hands on a tactile pad and shows them on the screen. Presses and drags on the pad register like mouse clicks. The surface can be touched in multiple places at the same time, and specially-built applications (such as their TactaDraw) respond intuitively to multi-finger manipulations. The touch surface gives tactile feedback that corresponds to what's on the screen.

TactaPad is not yet in production, of course, much like that keyboard with little LCD screens on every key that people seem to like so much. (I wonder if there is any overlap between the group of people that are excited about the Optimus keyboard and the group of people that are excited about Das Keyboard.)