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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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 2006 Archives

September 29, 2006

Transit of ISS and Atlantis in front of the Sun. Fun photo.

Fear of flying | Welcome aboard | (Thanks Brad.)

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

September 28, 2006

UNIX productivity tips.

Trailer for 49 Up, the seventh film in a documentary series tracking the lives of a diverse group of people of similar ages. The first film, 7 Up, was made 42 years ago.

September 22, 2006

Five movie voice overs in one limo [YouTube]. (Thanks Dan.) Seems like an awfully risky gag flim to make. What if there was an accident during filming? Shouldn't they be kept in different parts of the globe, for the sake of humanity?

Larry Sanger, Citizendium, and the Problem of Expertise. Clay Shirky provides a brilliant analysis of former Wikipedia staffer Larry Sanders' efforts to fork Wikipedia into a project run by "experts."

Back when the Guardian had a few experts critique Wikipedia entries in their subject of interest, those experts couldn't be bothered to update the entries they found flawed. Naturally, the Wikipedia community fixed the entries discussed in the article.

Dan Dickinson: The Primary Vivid Weblog: Dissecting iPod Games.

September 20, 2006

LA Theater Works, producers of The Play's The Thing, the public radio series of plays read for a live audience by famous actors of stage and screen,
sells dozens of their recordings on CD. Search by title, playwright or actor. Seems priced for a library or avid collector, but it's the only official way to get quality recordings.

A less official way to get recordings is to set up your Mac with Audio Hijack to record the live broadcasts off the Internet stream of an appropriate public radio station. (Alas, my laptop is my main computer, and I don't leave it on all the time.)

Khronos Projector, an interactive spatio-temporal interface to a 2-dimensional moving picture. With explanatory notes, videos, and demo applets. (Thanks Kate.)

September 19, 2006

Python 2.5 (final) has been released, right on schedule. What's new in Python 2.5.

A draft of the new Scheme standard, R6RS, has been released.

TurboGears 1.0b1 has been released. Still a beta, but the API is finally frozen. I was too nervous about the differences between 0.8 and 0.9 to try either of them, so I've been playing with Django instead. Entirely a marketing problem, though: Django is also still pre-1.0.

September 18, 2006

CNET video tour of an Equinix data center. I've taken data center tours before, but nothing like this.

How to Write a Fugue [YouTube].

Python 2.5 RC2 has been released, in the hopes that the official Python 2.5 release will be just around the corner.

September 15, 2006

NPR on the non-promotion of Mike Judge's new film, Idiocracy.

Idiocracy is currency 73% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

NYTimes' ethics columnist talks to an audience for Times Talks [MP3]. Listen to the whole thing, especially for the audience Q&A at the end, where audience members bare their souls with actual ethical dillemas.

Times Talks podcast [RSS]. (Thanks Mom.)

As predicted by everyone and their grandmothers, Star Wars has been re-released on DVD with both Special Edition and original theatrical releases. So we must now take out our wallets one more time.

Multiplayer Game Of The Year. Cabel reviews the Nike+iPod kit. Also linked for his side comments about online video games, with which I sympathize, and for the bit about how the XBox 360 "kind-of sucks" if you're not into multiplayer.

September 14, 2006

Heather's entry on shielding our children from the evils of the world.

Barney is on our list, but atop that is McDonalds, and it's infuriatingly difficult to keep that one out of our children's lives. McDonalds sponsors public television children's programs and the Disney Channel, and those are two of the very few places on the dial with (otherwise) advertising-free programming. McD's even has spots on some children's videos. We pay $60 a month for cable just for Noggin, the only source of purely ad-free passive childertainment—if you don't count Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes music videos, or that Curious George movie fiasco a while back.

It doesn't matter how food-free their sponsor spots are: Their purposes is to expose my children to the name and the logo. So far we've managed not to learn the name, in part due to diligently skipping the promo spots with our fast forward button, and also not owning a car. I'm pretty sure our immediate family will honor our wishes, but when the kids start spending time with friends in the care of less careful parents, all hope will, no doubt, be lost. Maybe we should institute a no-friends rule before it's too late.

Photo graphic Periodic Table Posters. The kind of thing I can justify buying because I have kids who will become better people if I put this up on their wall.

Daddy Types: When What We Love And Who We Love Are At Odds.

The A.V. Club reviews The Weird Al Show: The Complete Series, now on DVD, with commentary tracks.

And when will The Compleat Al be on DVD? Hmm?

September 13, 2006

Latest Apple iPod/iTunes announcements. Watch the video. iTunes 7 feature walkthrough.

Personal favorite new iPod/iTunes feature: gapless playback.

I used to wonder about the iTunes Music Store pricing model for TV shows. $2 per episode is OK for single episodes I may have missed, but at that rate, some shows cost $40 a season. Most of the shows I watch are one-viewing shows: I don't need to see it again once I've seen it once. If a TV show is so culturally or personally significant to be worth re-watching, I'll buy the DVD. (And I'll only be interested in doing that as long as the media format is reasonably rippable, and DVD is dubiosly so thanks to anti-DRM-circumvention laws.)

It only now occurs to me, as Apple makes its next big move toward living room dominance with better-than-TV-quality video and a pre-announcement of a new AirPort Express-like device for streaming video, that iTMS TV pricing makes plenty of sense for me personally, on the condition that it completely replaces cable. As a TiVo user, I live the on-demand lifestyle: I only watch shows I like, I like the shows I watch, and I watch them whenever (and thanks to DVD burning, wherever) I like. iTMS has every show I watch on Comcast digital cable today, and, DRM aside, it provides a better viewing experience given a Mac in the living room. For what I'm paying for digital cable, I could get 20 TV show seasons from iTMS, and I haven't actually watched more than 10 in the last year.

iTMS is hardly a slam-dunk cable TV replacement at the moment, for lots of reasons. But it's interesting (to me) that my limited and dwindling interest in TV is largely met by the current iTMS selection and features. As IPTV takes over the world, iTMS is poised to replace cable TV as the conduit for high production values content.

(Noted for the link: If I ever did replace the cable box and TiVo with a Mac Mini, I'd still probably want a broadcast TV receiver device for the living room Mac.)

September 12, 2006

Numerical Recipes in C, complete text online.

September 11, 2006

The Overtom Chess Computer Collection. Pics and descriptions of hundreds of consumer chess computers. Unify and Synchronize Your iTunes Libraries.

The Economist: The non-denial of the non-self. Storing secure information in negative databases.

September 7, 2006

ZeFrank Speaks at TED [Google Video]. I love that man.

teTeX is dead. Well, it's not really dead, it's still useful and cool and based on one of the best written pieces of software ever. But the distribution is no longer maintained by its original maintainer.

Long live TeX Live!

Filtering the current plague of image spam with Mac Mail. I love the trick mentioned in the "update", where mail in the Junk folder can be labelled with a color corresponding to the rule that junked it.

September 6, 2006

Tic-Tac-Toe Playing LEGO NXT Robot, with video., a LEGO Mindstorms NXT community. bNXT. The NXT Step.

Also: RobotC. Microsoft Robotics Studio. NXT Byte Code (NBC).

(As before, I don't own a NXT set, nor can I possibly justify the financial or time cost of owning one. But damn.)

An excellent discussion of Fitts' Law and how it applies to new user interface features in the upcoming version of MS Office.

As discussed in the article, one of the useful consequences of Fitts Law applied to the mouse cursor is the usefulness of UI elements on the sides and in the corners of the screen. Clicking on a target tucked into the corner is ostensibly much easier than a target elsewhere because you can just "toss" your cursor into the corner, click, and know the target was acquired.

It's a great idea, but I fear it faulters due to lack of user education. Maybe I'm just an idiot, but even when it seemed possible to toss the mouse to get what I wanted, it took explicit knowledge of that ability before I learned to take advantage of it. Even though the Mac's menu bar is always at the top of the screen—put there solely to take advantage of Fitts' Law—I still creep my mouse up to click in the middle of a menu title. The first feature that really felt intuitively on the edge to me was the Mac OS X Dock, and that's why the Dock (or dock-like things, like DragThing) feels fast and efficient to me.

Part of the problem is the style of the graphics. Especially in MS Windows, it's difficult to make a clickable thing flush with the edge or corner because it'd look weird. As the article mentions, the original Windows Start button was helpfully in the corner, but was surrounded with a border of dead (unclickable) pixels. This made the Start button behave intuitively as it appeared (like a button with a border), but ruined the opportunity to throw the mouse. The newer green Start button is flush with the corner, and even if you switch back to a classic appearance, the border is still clickable, even though it doesn't appear clickable.

So it's a little disconcerting that the slick new Office maximized window elements, such as the Office Button in the top left and the Quick Access Toolbar along the top, are still rendered with a border, even though you can click all the way to the edge. I'm hoping that MS's extensive usability testing has found that people clicking sloppily get the benefit of Fitts' Law without having to know how it works. But from personal experience, the border seems likely to train users to creep up to the target anyway, leaving the "click anywhere" trick to be a power user effect, to be written about in Office tips books and practiced like keyboard shortcuts.

Great opening shots in movies, a blog based on reader contributions, run by Jim Emerson.

September 5, 2006

OpenOffice to be 'true' Mac application. It's already a little spiffy how OpenOffice automatically opens X11, but it'd certainly be spiffier if it didn't need to.

Wired: Can the PS3 Save Sony?

ExtremeTech: Ten Gaming Myths. E.g., "The Playstation 3 will fail."

ArsTechnica in-depth review of Lego Mindstorms NXT.