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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

June 2006 Archives

June 28, 2006

The latest version of TiVoToGo, TiVo's software for your computer that lets you transfer TV shows from your Series2 TiVo to your laptop for later viewing, can now transfer your shows to your video iPod or PSP, and can burn shows to DVD. Those new features will cost you $25, but there's still a free version without them.

TiVoToGo is only for Windows, not for Mac, but guess what, Macs run Windows now. TiVoToGo runs pretty well in Parallels Desktop running Windows XP. You'll need an MPEG-2 decoder for Windows Media Player to watch videos, and I'm guessing most people get one with their video card, but not with Parallels. The easiest way I could find to get an MPEG-2 decoder was to just pay TiVo the $25 for the upgrade. That worked.

June 27, 2006

I was pleased to see that high efficiency compact flourescent bulbs now come in reflector (flood-style) casings, so I replaced all the lights in my kitchen. The quality of the light is excellent, no regrets in that regard. Time to do the math:

The 70 watt bulbs cost about $3 each, and last about 2 years. The 14 watt bulbs cost $6 each and are said to last 7 years. So the HE bulbs are slightly cheaper to purchase.

70 watts, 6 hours a day, 365 days a year: 153,300 watt hours, or 153.3 kilowatt hours.

14 watts, 6 hours a day, 365 days a year: 30,660 watt hours, or 30.66 kilowatt hours.

At 8.39 cents per kWh, the 70-watt bulbs in the kitchen burn $12.86 a year in electricity. The 14-watt bulbs will cost $2.56 a year in electricity. So I'll save $10 a year having replaced the kitchen bulbs.

I've got six more in the basement that get similar use, so there's a few more bucks a year. DS Lite, here I come!

EnergyStar's light bulb page. Seattle City Light rates. Bulbs.com online light bulb store.

Confirmed: Comedy Central has renewed Futurama for 13 new episodes, with the original cast.

iStache, a program for adding moustaches to photos. They stole my idea!

Seriously, I had this in my project idea list for at least a year. I had interface drawings and everything. But prizes go to those who execute, so, kudos!

June 26, 2006

Video demo of BumpTop, a prototype 3-D desktop environment that uses a physics model and pen gestures to let you create and manage piles of things on your computer desktop.

Another entertaining Amazon.com reviewer. It's amazing how proper spelling and punctuation can make any text look legitimate, regardless of what it says.

Edward Tufte's fourth book, Beautiful Evidence, is now available. Buy all four directly from Tufte for $150 total.

June 23, 2006

People who care about this sort of thing have already seen it, but the latest installment was compelling enough for me to blog it so I remember it:

Mark Pilgrim, a rather famous die-hard Mac user and, simultaneously, die-hard advocate of free software, recently decided to switch from an Apple PowerBook running Mac OS X to a Lenovo ThinkPad running Ubuntu Linux. His few stated reasons were personal to him, but substantial in truth, and they provoked all kinds of criticism from the traditional to the incoherent.

John Gruber, a rather famous die-hard Mac user and sole proprietor of the Mac blog/column Daring Fireball, wrote at length about Mark's announcement and the subsequent reactions, and included a bit of analysis of his own.

Both were good reads, but the most informative contribution to this discussion so far is Mark's response to John's article, which gets specific about the pain of proprietary data formats.

Seth Stevenson reviews Apple's new Mac commercials for Slate.

15 Exercises to Know A Programming Language.

June 22, 2006

How to cheat good. A college professor gives his advice on how to cheat, because cheaters are bad, but bad cheaters are just depressing. I love #8.

Cubicle Culture: How brainstorming works best. Team brainstorming sucks!

NeoOffice, the Mac OS X native port of OpenOffice, is running a fundraising program to support the Mac Intel port. "Members" get early access to the Intel test version. You can pay a small amount of money for early access to just the Intel port (NeoOffice 2.0 Alpha Intel), or you can buy a full subscription to early access to every 2.x release. If the speed difference between NeoOffice MacIntel and NeoOffice PPC is as good as Eclipse on MacIntel vs. Eclipse on PPC, this'd totally be worth it. And of course, the final product will still be freely distributed and open source.

OpenOffice itself does have a Mac version, and it does run fine on MacIntel computers. OpenOffice requires that the X windowing server be installed, which you can find on your Mac OS X install disc (as an optional component that is not installed by default). The latest versions of OpenOffice for Mac OS X can automatically open the X server when you try to run the program. There are user interface differences that make NeoOffice a better choice than OpenOffice for regular use on a Mac, but OO does run just fine.

June 19, 2006

Peanut Gallery: The Online Interactive Multi-User Movie Viewer, for Mac OS X. Chat client plus video player equals online MST3k. It even has robot silhouettes avatars!

Multiple participants can watch a DVD, but everyone must have a local copy of the DVD. The DVD video does not stream from one chat client to another.

Almost making up for it, if two people want to watch a video hosted on the Internet, then both clients can stream or download directly from the Internet site. The Internet video does not stream from one chat client to another.

In Second Life, the increasingly popular massively multiplayer online universe with free downloadable clients for Windows, Mac and Linux and free visitor accounts, players can build things. And since in-game currency is readily transferable to and from real U.S. currency, they are motivated to do so, with as many business models as there are in real life. (It's no surprise that most models are based on gambling.)

Of the many games and toys people have built in SL, one game qualifies as the ultimate runaway success: Tringo, a sort of multiplayer Tetris-like shape game, began as a Second Life franchise, and now not only dominates the virtual world, but is about to become a web game, a Gameboy Advance game, and (wha!) a TV game show.

Wagner James Au offers advice to would-be SL game designers on how to make a game successful in the virtual world.

I just noticed that Thunderbird has a really nice keyboard shortcut for "labelling" messages with one of six colors. From the message list, you can change the label of the selected message just by hitting a number from 0 to 5, 0 being normal (no special color). Suddenly, color labels have gone from "eh" to "wow!" in my personal productivity, especially with the number pad right next to the cursor keys.

June 16, 2006

Let's Tell a Story Together, a history of interactive fiction.

Python 2.4.4 is likely to have Universal Binary build support. (That is, building Python from source on an Intel Mac will produce a correct Universal Binary that runs natively.) Python 2.5 beta builds have Universal Binary build support, and that support will be back-ported to 2.4.x in the hopes that Apple will include it with the next version of the operating system. According to this post, the version of Python 2.3 that Apple includes today is "broken" on Intel Macs. (Scare quotes around "broken" not because I doubt it, but because I don't know the nature of the breakage.)

MacPython 2.4.3 is a Universal Binary. I can come up with some guesses as to why Apple wouldn't just, say, distribute MacPython, but I don't really know.

Natural Language Game Programming with Inform 7. Liza Daly writes about Inform 7 for OReillyNet.

June 15, 2006

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Logic and Games.

Juggling in a Cone [YouTube]. (Thanks James.)

How the Death Star destroys planets.

If you wish to destroy a planet, you must scatter its mass so quickly that the forces of gravity cannot reverse the expansion process. In other words, you must accelerate the planet's entire mass to escape velocity. Another way of saying this is that you must bring the planet's gravitational potential energy state up to zero. The concepts of gravititational potential energy and escape velocity are both discussed in the science page. Using those concepts, the energy requirement for blasting a planet apart can be calculated.

June 13, 2006

Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard. The title is misleading (no secrets or insights on game industry success are revealed), but it's a fun article anyway.

Lunacore Photoshop Training: Beautify a Face.

Letterbox, a widescreen layout plugin for Apple Mail. Three vertical columns.

June 12, 2006

The Road to Hell: Now Paved with Innovation?, Design Observer on spec-work "competitions."

Wired News: GNU Radio Opens an Unseen World.

OmniDazzle, a new product from the Omni Group that drives an assortment of real-time screen effects. Most are just for fun, but a few seem genuinely useful, especially the presentation highlighters. Free during beta; I wonder how much they'll charge for the full version...

June 9, 2006

Psychology Today on procrastination. Not a lot of new advice, but a nice succinct description of the problem.

Wired 14.06: START. Wired uses a choose-your-own-adventure format to write about the return of Choose Your Own Adventure books. A rather short article with not much information, but I suppose the CYOA format would be too annoying otherwise.

My wife has been collecting vintage CYOA for the past year or so in anticipation of sharing them with our children, and she was quick to notice the re-release of several CYOA titles, eight titles all written by Ray Montgomery.

Healthy Food on an Unhealthy Budget, a blog post aggregating advice on eating well with not much money.

June 8, 2006

Linux.com: GNU grep's new features.

"Cargo Cult Science," by Richard Feynman.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Emacs 22 for Mac OS X builds and runs great on an Intel Mac as a native Intel application. It is not a Universal Binary in the sense that the same, pre-compiled binary can be used on both PowerPC and Intel architectures. Also, the Emacs build instructions indicate that Emacs does not like Rosetta. So there's still some work to do before Emacs 22 can be officially released for the Mac—which hasn't stopped anyone I know from using it, on any platform.

To check out and build Emacs 22 from CVS on a Mac, building as a Carbon application installed in the Applications folder:

cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@cvs.sv.gnu.org:/sources/emacs co emacs
cd emacs
./configure --enable-carbon-app
make bootstrap
make
sudo make install
June 7, 2006

Want to use Eclipse on a new Intel Mac? As of this writing, the official stable download does not work (you'll get an error when it starts up, and a log file complaining of an "UnsatisfiedLinkError"). However, interim build Eclipse 3.2M5 for the Mac fixes the problem. It runs great, much more responsive on faster the hardware.

Conkeror is a mozilla based web browser designed to be completely keyboard driven, no compromises. It also strives to behave as much like Emacs as possible. This means all the keybindings and to-die-for features of Emacs that can be imitated by a javascript/XUL web browser Just Work.

See Bill Clementson's extensive write-up on Conkeror for more information and screenshots.

Newbie Mac tip: If you have a fancy new MacBook or iMac with a built-in iSight camera, or you just have a video camera and want to try out video conferencing, but none of your friends have fancy new MacBooks or video cameras, you can perform a one-way video chat with your friends using iChat. To initiate a one-way video chat, control-click (or right-click) on your friend in the Buddy List, then select "Invite to One-Way Video Chat".

June 6, 2006

FireBug, a great JavaScript debugger for Firefox, has a new version out.

An In-depth Look At The Future of Javascript Debugging With Firebug.

SmackBook. Desktop switching using the MacBook sudden motion sensor. Check the video, even if you don't have a use for this or know what it is.

People are awesome.

DreamHost Blog: The Truth About Overselling! The lovable batshit-insane voice of Dreamhost* explains how overselling isn't evil, at least for webhosting. The article also addresses "CPU minutes," an important eh-not-quite exception that DH customers run into on a regular basis, often thanks to blog comment spammers. (Update: DH has recently lifted their CPU minute restrictions! Problems will be handled on a case by case basis, pretty much as they had been in the past.)

I've never run into any problems with the practice of overselling shared web hosting, at least with regards to capacity. Then again, I've never known any sensible person to complain about it, so...

* It feels like a weird business practice to publish a monthly customer newsletter that's over-the-top wacky and sometimes borderline offensive, but the damn things are readable, and I wouldn't still be subscribed if they weren't.

June 5, 2006

Adobe support article: Installation freezes on Intel-based Macintosh with QuickTime 7.1 (Adobe Creative Suite 2, After Effects 7.0, Photoshop CS2, InDesign CS2, InCopy CS2); or, Intel-based Macintosh computers freeze during startup; or, Activation of Adobe Creative Suite 2 fails on Intel-based Macintosh computers. Solution: Upgrade Quicktime 7.1 to Quicktime 7.1.1. This update is available via Software Update (under the Apple menu).

Amazon.com Grocery. Non-perishable food items now buyable—and eligible for Amazon Prime!

Enable two-finger right-click on a 15" MacBook Pro. I'd want to inspect the download carefully before installing it, but there it is. (I also share the suspicion echoed in the thread that Apple will probably update the official software to enable the feature soon.)

June 1, 2006

Big list of Mac games and the status of their ability to play on Intel Macs, and the status of Universal Binary updates. The Sims 2 has been updated (1.0 Rev D), and the update is free. Myst V needs a patch to install, though it's only the installer that is patched, and the game itself still runs "playably slow" with Apple's Rosetta emulation layer. Older games, like Warcraft III and realMyst, do not have updates, but are reported to run well without an update in emulation. The list is also tracking updates that have be announced but not yet been released, such as Civilization III and IV.

Myst IV, not mentioned on the list, seems to have mixed reports of success. In my case, it installs fine, but crashes during start-up, and this tip does not seem to resolve the issue in my case (nor does the official patch to 1.01, an old patch that has nothing to do with Intel Macs). Another report talks about installation problems but no blocking issues running, so I can't say for sure what the problem is. Thankfully for Myst fans, Cyan always includes both the Windows and Mac versions on the same discs, so we can use Apple Bootcamp to install Windows XP on a partition on an Intel Mac, then install the Windows version of Myst IV. (Blizzard has also included Windows and Mac versions on the same discs for most older titles, in case WarCraft III doesn't run to your taste in Rosetta.)

Incidentally, Sims 2, with the patch, runs much better on my MacBook than it did on my PowerBook G4 (1.25GHz, 1GB RAM). This was to be expected, since the software update allows it to run natively and on faster hardware, but it's nice to see some obvious validation of the hardware upgrade.