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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

March 2008 Archives

March 20, 2008

MozRepl, part of MozLab, a Firefox extension for developers that lets you interact with the browser via a JavaScript prompt over telnet, including complete access to the DOM. Features Emacs integration.

March 19, 2008

Hulu.com, the joint effort of media conglomerates to put TV and movies on the web free to viewers and sponsored by video advertising interruptions (i.e. to compete with free video sharing sites that can't completely control the illicit uploading of studio content), is out of beta with a substantial selection. Some movies are only clips, but there are plenty of full-length movies as well. Material intended for "mature" audiences requires a free account to view.

As 21st century content delivery goes, this isn't a complete space-shifting solution, since content isn't downloadable or transferable to portable or set-top devices. A web browser with Flash plugin and a high-speed Internet connection is required. In practical terms, it'd be sufficient for time-shifting for anyone willing to watch TV on a computer in a browser window, if the selection meets the needs of the viewer. The free instant access to movies and TV back catalog is genuinely fun for lazy rainy afternoons.

I feel completely entitled to continue to resent media corporations, especially NBC-Universal, for withholding participation from established space/time-shifting monetization platforms (iTunes), and especially for sabotaging personal video recorders (TiVo) with show schedules that extend past customary half-hour marks (episodes that last 1 hour and 2 minutes to prevent you from recording a show that airs the following hour on another channel).

And selection will continue to be spotty while the corporations experiment with new revenue models with projects like Hulu. Shows from the Sci Fi cable channel, for instance, are still completely unavailable through legitimate online sources, so if my TiVo's little IR remote control dongle fails to change the channel on my Comcast box (as it does about 1 time in 10), I have no legitimate way to watch the episode.

Ultimately, Hulu represents an uncomfortable compromise offered by the networks: "Let us control the content, the distribution channel and the method of use, and we'll make a few concessions on minor features that are otherwise provided by unfettered access to the content." Some kind of compromise (with "free HD commercial-free MP4s!") is necessary, of course, but I hope future for-pay models evolve from services like iTunes, and are not just expensive versions of Hulu.com.

Boston Dynamics Big Dog [YouTube]. See also RHex [YouTube] from the same developers.

March 17, 2008

Newbie Emacs tip: In Emacs Lisp, to print a message to the *Messages* buffer, use the message function:

(message "hello")

To print an arbitrary value of a variable to the current buffer as the text of an elisp expression, such as for debugging, use the pp function:

(pp some-var)
March 14, 2008

Two bills in the Washington State legislature to exempt car sharing from the new 9% car rental tax have failed. ZipCar (formerly FlexCar) just sent out the "we give up" email to its members. Lame.

March 13, 2008

Microchess, by Peter Jennings. Source code and documentation for a chess-playing program that runs on the KIM-1, a 1976 hobby computer with a 6502 processor and 1k of RAM. More on Microchess , including a version of the source formatted for modern cross assemblers and a C emulation.

March 10, 2008

TWiT 133 with Jonathan Coulton and "Rock Bad." The Internet rock star and comedy composer joins mega-podcast This Week In Tech for a show, linked here via Merlin Mann (who is also in this episode). The episode is its own fun, but I'm mostly linking this for the video in Merlin's post. I'm not sure I can adequately set this up for people who don't already think this is cool, but: JoCo recently wrote a song [YouTube] for the end credits of a video game, which developed enough of a following that the song is now to be featured in an edition of Rock Band [site resizes window], another video game where players mimic performance of songs. The video is of JoCo playing his own song in Rock Band, with Leo Laporte, Merlin Mann, and Veronica Belmont.

March 7, 2008

Macworld's live-blog of the iPhone SDK announcement. It sounds like everything we've been hoping for, except for the App Store intermediary, which was entirely expected, and not entirely undesirable. Most notably in that regard, App Store is no charge to use for free apps, so there will be free apps, and you'll be able to find them and download them from anywhere, even over EDGE. You can also install apps onto a physical iPhone using the app's source code and the SDK.

The SDK is available now as a free download, as is a beta release of the iPhone 2.0 OS that supports it. The final 2.0 OS release will be pushed to all iPhones (and available for iPod Touches) in June. I expect we'll see hundreds of install-via-the-SDK apps between now and June.

March 5, 2008

The Stranger reports on ZipCar's bumpy entrance. ZipCar acquired FlexCar, and recently completed the transition in the Seattle area. I was impressed with the contrast between ZipCar's website copy and FlexCar's: They both use a casual tone, but ZipCar's is actually a bit aggressive compared to FlexCar's friendly, generous text. I hadn't seen the $50/hr punishment for late returns in their fine print (FlexCar had a simple auto-extend mechanism, with grace period), so I'm grateful to the article for mentioning that.

The higher rates and the difficulties they're having getting Washington State to let up on the car rental tax are really pushing the edges of our ability to justify the car-free lifestyle.