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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

December 2005 Archives

December 29, 2005

I've made a total of two posts on my blog complaining that FlexCar's web site doesn't support non-IE browsers: one when they put a snippy comment about their browser block in their newsletter (ostensibly in response to weisenheimers like myself who e-mailed them to complain), and again last week when Microsoft announced they were discontinuing IE for Mac. That's one too many times to pick on a web site in any case, particularly one I like, but I'm pleased to say I can retract that last one. FlexCar has implemented cross-browser support in their delicious web app, including Safari support, without telling me, and I didn't bother to test if they made any updates in the last 18 months before unfairly making an example of them for a second time.

Also: Yay FlexCar! Awesomer than ever!

December 22, 2005

CustomFlix, on-demand DVD publishing. Includes storefronts and Amazon.com placement, only $50 for set-up. DVD replication (high volume), duplication (short run, $5/each), and authoring (transfer from tape) services are also available.

CustomFlix is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com. See also BookSurge, an on-demand book service, also owned by Amazon, which includes Amazon's Buy X Get Y and Search Inside the Book features.

December 21, 2005

Internet Explorer for Macintosh has been discontinued, and will no longer be distributed by Microsoft after January 2006.

Despite the best efforts of the browser industry to establish and conform to standardized technologies, the differences between various web browsers are sufficiently taxing that the builders of any web site have to make a business decision about which web browsers to support with their site's design. There are so many browsers out there, each with its own variance, that developers of a site can't possibly build for and test them all. A line is drawn, typically based on market share, but also based on target audience, as well as the biases and perceptions of the people making the decision. Some browsers just don't make the cut.

Browsers specific to a platform, such as the Macintosh-exclusive Safari browser, drag operating system perceptions and biases into the browser wars: Site builders acknowledge that a percentage of people in the world use Macs, but is it worth building for and testing a browser that's only used by 5% of the population, and possibly less of a percentage in our target audience? Some browsers, like Firefox, are seen as cross-platform solutions: If the site works in Firefox for PC, it should work in Firefox for Mac, therefore Mac users would be able to see the site with some browser, and so we do not need to support Safari. (Nevermind customer preference for a particular browser, or the inconvenience of opening a different application just to get to one particular web site.)

Experienced developers know that the cross-platform assumption couldn't be more false with regards to Internet Explorer for Mac, yet site builders with a strong Microsoft bias (typically those that use MS technology on the server side) still assume that IE, by far the most popular browser for Windows, is the only browser that needs to be supported, and Mac users can always use the Mac version. Some sites go as far as to block browsers that don't identify themselves as Internet Explorer from seeing anything on the site, even if the site would be reasonably functional in other browsers without changes.

FlexCar, I'm talking to you: Whatever MS-certified contractor you hired to build your site two years ago set up a blocking mechanism to prevent non-IE users from logging in to the reservation system, likely because he couldn't get his fancy time-range selector grid widget to work in other browsers, and/or because he convinced you it wasn't worth trying. I still contend that falling back to a simple table display for other browsers would be inexpensive and allow the rest of the world to use your service, but you seem to think the widget is more important, possibly justified by the existence of IE for Mac. Well, IE for Mac no longer exists. What are you going to do? Update: They're gonna make me feel stupid by building cross-browser support into their web site a long time ago without telling me, is what they're gonna do. Yay Flexcar!

The official death of IE for Mac tolls the bell loud and clear: No more excuses. Support standards-compliant web browsers.

December 19, 2005

Eyetrack III - What You Most Need to Know. Eyetrack research shows what people look at when they see a news web site. Useful results!

Ruby on Rails has gone 1.0. Time to try it out?

The download page claims the Ruby 1.8.2 that comes with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger is "broken" (dunno why), and recommends this guide to installing fresh Ruby, Ruby On Rails, and dependencies. I'm gonna skip LightTPD in favor of getting FastCGI and Rails to work with Apache, but still cool.

Pipmak Game Engine, for building Myst-like games.

December 14, 2005

Samorost2, a beautiful click-on-stuff graphic adventure game you can play in your browser. Though I appear to be stuck already... [Flash.]

The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web - a practical guide to web typography.

December 13, 2005

A list/blog of well-made web games, some I've never seen before. I like Lightning Pool especially.

How to Split a Shared Cab Ride? Very Carefully, Say Economists. (WSJ, The Numbers Guy.)

December 12, 2005

IFC Original Documentary by Kirby Dick 'This Film is Not Yet Rated' Investigates Hollywood's Best-kept Secret: the MPAA Film Ratings System and its Impact on American Culture. The MPAA screened the documentary and gave it an NC-17 rating—obliterating its potential to be shown in most theaters—for "some graphic sexual content." IFC will show the film uncut, uncensored and commercial-free next year.

No offense to anyone who may have sent me any large packages recently, but I hate styrofoam packing peanuts. They're difficult to clean up, usually come in very large quantities, and cannot be put in curb-side recycling. If I were to throw them away in the regular curb-side trash, they would cost me $5 a bag as overflow, with several bags worth for a large box. Not to mention putting a large volume of non-biodegradable stuff in a landfill.

Thankfully, some shipping places take styrofoam packing peanuts for re-use. Find one in your neighborhood using the
Plastic Loose Fill Council Collection Center finder. Two UPS Stores in Seattle show up in a search, so I'm hoping the one a few blocks from my house will be willing.

Google Transit, Google Maps plus bus schedule data. Portland, OR, only at the moment. Not quite BusMonster yet, but it may get there.

December 8, 2005

SunnComm's MediaMax copy protection, used on some Sony BMG music CDs and those of other publishers, also has a serious security flaw, also has an official patch available, and the patch also causes problems. Specifically, the patch is vulnerable to the same flaw it's trying to fix, according to researchers. Sony has already pulled CDs with the XCP copy protection (though has not offered compensation to those already affected), but has not yet recalled CDs with MediaMax. Combined with the finding that MediaMax installs itself even if you decline the end user license agreement that pops up when you stick an affected music CD in the drive, this is another very serious problem.

MediaMax is on far more CDs than just a handful of Sony BMG releases, including many dozens from other publishers. I hope a new list of these affected titles is released very soon.

The flawed patch was accompanied by a joint press release with the EFF, who had filed suit to bring attention to MediaMax problems while XCP was getting all the attention. It appears the patch was developed with the cooperation of several third-party security firms (mentioned in the press release). The flaw in the patch is being presented by Dr. Felten's research team.

December 7, 2005

Pandora uses the Music Genome Project to recommend music based on your tastes. It's fun and impressive to watch it play a song by your favorite artist, then watch it find another song by another artist that has similar musical characteristics.

December 6, 2005

Newbie Mac tip: On Mac OS X, Adobe Acrobat Reader installs itself as a Safari plugin, overriding Preview as the in-window PDF viewer. If you subsequently try to uninstall Acrobat Reader, PDFs in Safari go broken. To go back to Preview for viewing PDFs in Safari, quit Safari, then trash /Library/Internet Plug-ins/AdobePDFViewer.plugin. (Thanks Apple support forums.)

December 5, 2005

Top 10 custom JavaScript functions of all time.

sky. Fly through the clouds in your browser. [Flash.]

dooce: "This is what you get when you rely on the Internet to answer potentially life-altering questions" Heather asks LazyWeb what Count von Count's pet name for his wife is, because on Sesame Street it sounds unusual and is difficult to look up based on a phonetic spelling. Heather gets lots of answers, including the correct one: "Sachertorte."

After seeing Heather's original plea, I made effort to dive into a TiVo'd episode of Street and turn on closed captioning. Alas, closed captioning often leaves out words, phrases and sentences to simplify the dialogue for a reasonable reading speed. Muppet vampire spousal pet names derived from Austrian pastries tend not to make the cut.

I enjoyed Wikipedia's entry on Count von Count.