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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

August 2001 Archives

August 31, 2001

Wow, printing paychecks must cost companies a fortune. Either that, or banks must give big incentives for companies to use their payment systems and promote direct deposit. Next week is National Payroll Week, when we'll all be asked by our employers to visit to learn about the joys of not having to pick up a check. (The domain name is registered to New York Clearing House.)

Nothing against payroll, of course! Every department deserves a week to celebrate their trade, and be recognized for their contributions. Where would we be without payroll?

ProleText Information is a document formatting standard supposedly used on ClariNet that stores text formatting information invisibly, so text readers not supporting the standard can still display the text legibly. The problem with HTML in email or newsgroup postings, for example, is that it looks like this when being read by a non-HTML client:

<h2>The Meaning of Life</h2><br><p>The cosmic balance in the universe is portrayed in <b>many</b> ways, such as in Pinkleton's essay <i>The Tired Sheep</i>...

ProleText moves its encoding information to the end of each line as a series of tabs and spaces, which often don't make a difference when viewed by a text-based email or news reader. A ProleText reader can use the extra spaces and tabs to show paragraphs, lists, and other formatted characters. Additionally, a formalized system of inline tags, such as *bold* and _italics or underline_, is supported in such a way that people reading encoded text with a non-ProleText reader can still understand that those represent bold and underlined text.

I don't know if this is still actively in use, but it's a neat form of backwards compatability that could still be useful in some contexts. See also the spec and an illustrated example.

(Found in the documentation for Acme::Bleach, ::DWIM and ::Morse, more examples of Damian Conway's wicked sense of humor.)

Vavatch Orbital visits Microsoft to meet the A.I. Game Puppetmasters, gets some great photos. Very cool.

Shrek's release on DVD seems to be the big DVD news these days, set for November 2. A whopping 11 hours of extras, including extra character animation, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and what looks like at least one computer game for the kids (not to mention a hint guide for the main Shrek computer game).

For those looking forward to buying the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 30th Anniversary DVD, wait. WB is releasing this in full-screen format only, but now admits that this is a mistake on their part based on market research that ignored the diehard fans that want to see the film in its original aspect ratio. 1.85 : 1 isn't super-wide, but it's still a very visual movie, and deserves to be seen in its original form.

If you can't wait, you may want to hunt down the previous DVD release that is currently out of print, which has both widescreen and fullscreen versions. I'm actually not sure if it's the best widescreen crop, and there are no extras on the disc.

August 29, 2001

Powers Of 10. (Already made the blog circuit a while ago, but it's too fun not to mention again.) Zoom zoom zoom!

A gigantic reference website for the Apple I. Tasty computer history.

Another reason not to steal a weblog's design. Design stealing has been appallingly common in the weblog world, and thanks to the heart of the universe being mostly web designers, thieves are quickly found out and harrassed off the web. So when a Netherlands teenager both steals a weblog's design and (perhaps accidentally) leaves his webcam on while he and his girlfriend have sex, it's not surprising that the situation has gotten a little out of hand. (Gotta appreciate The Register for not holding back; they include a link to the snapshots. Might not want to follow that link if you're browsing at work, though.)

New for your Handspring: wireless ethernet module. Supports IEEE 802.11b standard (should be interoperable with Apple Airports).

The Godfather DVD Collection will be released October 9, 2001. Five discs: one for Godfather I, two for Godfather II, one for Godfather III, a fifth for documentaries, storyboards, notebooks and many other extras.

August 28, 2001

This amazing, extensive and thoughtful essay on NewsRadio gives proper credit to the show in so many ways I always thought it deserved. What Makes Maura Tierney So Special is a similarly fantastic, long theoretical analysis of Maura's acting style. Part of a flattering fan site. All three links are must-sees, especially for NewsRadio fans, but also for those that enjoy the marvels of obsession.

UPN 11 in Seattle will be bringing back NewsRadio re-runs this fall, 10pm weekdays.

Does your Palm Pilot HotSync connection drop while you're syncronizing AvantGo? Apparently, it just does that. The solution is to cut down on your channels, set them to update less frequently, or just uninstall the whole damn thing. (If you need to sync the other stuff and don't want to hassle, you can temporarily set HotSync to skip AvantGo for one sync.)

What I really don't like is that it resets all of my USB devices when it does that, which gives me the willies.

The Ultimate Limits of Computers. encourages you to read a book, register it with their site, label the book with their URL and an ID number, then throw it to the wind. When someone else finds your book, visits the site and registers the book again, you'll be notified. Kind of a Where's George for books. Everything you wanted to know about "Memento". Long, juicy, and with lots of spoilers-- don't read if you haven't seen the movie yet.

August 22, 2001

Ivars Peterson's MathTrek: Scrambled Grids. (Found while searching for information on my great uncle Bill Sanderson; the Bill Sanderson mentioned here is not him.)

Faking It: The Internet Revolution Has Nothing to Do With the Nasdaq.

Google Image Search: beagle puppy.

The Global Ideas Bank: most socially innovative ideas and projects plus awards.

Mee-mee, mee-mee mee mee meee-mee...

August 21, 2001

Mr Pants links to mandalas drawn by 5th graders.

Mr Pants thanks Joel of Magic Robot for the link. Magic Robot is also worth seeing.

rec.arts.henson+muppets Frequently Asked Questions. Together with the linked resources, it's a nice compilation of Muppet info.

Mr. Rogers Takes a New Direction.

Exhibits Collection: Amusement Park Physics.

An accidental Google Search for the letter 't' brought about some interesting facts: 1) Google will actually perform a search on the letter T. 2) AT&T's trading ticker symbol is T. 3) The first search result for the letter T-- at the time of the search-- is Because of the common appearance of certain single letters, especially since words like "don't" count as hits for the letter T, Blogger quickly shifted from the number one spot. But it's still fun.

What interesting single-character searches can you find? A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, U, V, W, X, Y, Z, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

August 20, 2001

For those awaiting the answer to last Saturday's question, so far so good: My DSL line hasn't crashed once since the upgrade. If someone could confirm for me that the worm is still crashing other peoples' lines, I'd say this affirms that a complete erasure and re-install should be the recommended course of action for those that continue to have problems with their Cisco 675's even after disabling web maintenance.

Where he was, what he was doing. David has always been willing to put it all out there before, but never quite like this. (Well maybe not, but such an eloquent attempt at a personal chronology deserves a rhapsodic introduction.) See also his tickets and games pages, and for Pete's sake, read his weblog.

The Olive Garden Targets Tap Water & Wins! A certain sister of mine works for an OG, so I get the inside scoop on how they try to manipulate customers into spending more money on things they don't want. Well, manipulate is too strong a word, since it never seems to be anything clever, just instructing their waitstaff to push customers towards desserts or sodas. Often these instructions involve internal sales contests as employee "incentive", so it's more like manipulation of the waitstaff to push on the customers.

It's particularly delightful that this article is an industry article (from Coca-Cola) praising the practice:

When the contest was completed, almost all participating restaurants realized significant increases in beverage sales and reduced levels of tap water incidence - a strong indication that Olive Garden restaurants succeeded in enhancing the customer's dining experience.

The MetaFilter thread on this is entertaining.

The Stony Brook Algorithm Repository. See also the Library of Efficient Data Types and Algorithms (LEDA).

Bring Back the Classic Cut! Don't let corporate monsters rule your lives!

Here's a great list of music from TV commercials.

August 18, 2001

Update! I have successfully restored my Cisco 675 router!

I was pretty sure that when Qwest said my router was dead that they were just trying to get out of telling me how to fix it. And I understand that; hand-holding potentially thousands of users through the process would cost a fortune, support-wise. But insisting that the user must spend $300+ on hardware they already own seems to be crossing a line. So if you have a Cisco 675 (or 678 or any of the other 6xx'es), take heart: it is always possible to clear out the router, install new CBOS software, and set it all back up again. Don't let Qwest convince you it's an unfixable situation.

How to erase and re-install your Cisco 600-series router's software. I don't recommend doing this unless you have to, of course. There are a bunch of additional set-up steps to get your router re-trained. A Qwest technician was nice enough to walk me through the rest of the set-up after I did this unsupported step, because they have a script they can read from for set-up. (I still think the guy I spoke with was being nice because I sounded like I knew what I was doing, so either project an air of confidence, or tell them that another Qwest techie sent you to that Cisco page. :) Also note that you'll need another way to connect to the Internet (dial-up modem, or just take a floppy disk to work) to download the image.

The question of the summer: Will this eliminate my problems with the Code Red worm? I was one of the unlucky ones, where the advice that seemed to be helping others (disable the maintenance web server, assign it to a new port) wasn't working. Supposedly upgrading to v2.4.1 of the CBOS software would have helped, but it didn't the first time I tried-- but I didn't do a complete erase and re-install that time. Maybe, just maybe, the hole has finally been plugged. If I don't have to power cycle over the next week, that's a good sign that this procedure could help others with the same affliction. (It could also mean that the worm has gone dormant, as it is supposedly programmed to do by a certain date, in which case I might still be vulnerable when it comes back.) Stay tuned!

August 17, 2001

For the first time in my life I have incurred financial loss and substantial personal inconvenience at the hands of an Internet worm. The Code Red virus (let alone Code Red II) infiltrates Microsoft web servers and uses them to search for other Microsoft web servers to infiltrate. I wouldn't let IIS in my house, but a secondary effect of the worm as it scans for susceptable web servers is to crash Cisco 675/678 DSL modems. The result for most DSL users with these modems is a dropped connection every few hours, and the only way to restore the connection is to unplug the modem, wait, and plug it back in again and wait for the connection to come back. A major annoyance, for sure, and since I'm paying Qwest $80/mo for the ability to run servers (much more than the cost of just fast web browsing), this past month has been a waste of money.

Two nights ago, my modem crashed yet again, and I begrudgingly unplugged the modem, plugged it back in, then waited for the connection to return. And waited. And waited. It didn't come back. I tried unplugging and re-plugging again, but no luck.

I eventually determined that circumstances of the last reset had corrupted my Cisco 675's internal software. The flash ROM, which I had upgraded to version 2.4.1 under the advice of Qwest, detected the corruption and refused to start up. Stuck in monitor mode, there was nothing I could do but call Qwest tech support again.

A Qwest technician advised that there's almost nothing that can be done in this situation, but suggested that I could download the software again, and a technician would help me install it "by hand." I hung up, used my dial-up modem to connect, and downloaded the 2.4.1 software again. When I called Qwest tech support, a different technician said that the previous technician shouldn't have told me that they would help me, and that my only choice was to purchase a new modem with my own money-- and the new modem would be just as susceptable to failure at the hands of Code Red.

It seems like Qwest and/or Cisco should be held liable for their faulty hardware, and I should be able to get a replacement at no charge. Traditionally, agreements regarding hardware involve warranties, and I believe I'm past my warranty, so I'm not too upset, despite the fact that the hardware has not failed due to wear and tear. However, the lack of accountability in the software industry also applies; software is typically "SOLD AS IS WITH NO WARRANTY OR ANYTHING". It's also worth noting that Qwest is not refunding DSL charges to victims of the worm.

There is also no known solution that applies in all situations; previous theories seem to have helped some people, but not in my case or in the cases of people I know in similar situations. Qwest is finally admitting this, and "Qwest and Cisco are working on a permanent solution." I'm not sure what to do in the meantime. I'd like to temporarily cancel my DSL to save a little money, but I'm afraid the waitlist for DSL means I wouldn't get it back again. So all I can do is complain about it on my web site.

What do you think? Who is responsible for these damages, and what should Qwest be doing to make good with its customers? How should Qwest be handling this situation? Cisco?

The Brunching Shuttlecocks rate Crackers. Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg has shown signs of genius before at BC: The Björk Song, Your Guide to the New Twenty-Dollar Bill, The Sarcasterizer, and Vampire: The Masquerade FAQK are just a few semi-random examples. One of my favorites: The Ten-Question Purity Test.

SECAM/PAL/NTSC map. (Thanks Mr Pants.)

Center for the Public Domain.

Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary.

Are Digits of pi Random? (Thanks Bubble Chamber.)

Macrovision's new anti-copy CD technology has been bypassed. Bet you didn't realize that anti-copy CDs have been quietly released into the market for weeks now.

August 16, 2001

Two mathematicians try to prove pi is normal.

Hmmm... Let's see... "BRAINLOG" converted to decimal digits, two digits per letter of the alphanet numbered consecutively, starting with A as 01, is 02 18 01 09 14 12 15 07. Does the string "0218010914121507" appear in the first 100 million digits of pi? Sadly, no, but that was rather unlikely. But wait, if we consider that all 26 alphabetic letters can be represented by 5 binary digits, we get 0001010010000010010101110011000111100111, which converts to decimal 88086098407. Is that in the first 100 million digits of pi? ... no... What about my birthday, 01111978? ... no... What about if you leave off the 19, 011178? Holy crap! My birthday appears 460786 places after the decimal point in pi! Well that was fun.

Eat the Runt, the new off-Broadway comedy, in addition to having a snazzy Flash web site, has a puzzle game to play.

The New York Observer has an account of the first Friars Club roast open to the public.

Merriam-Webster gets audio pronunciations! Very nice. (Actually, this happened weeks ago, but my links are stale. :)

The Chronicle on good titles for academic works.

Airline Ticket Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ.

You may be better off buying your tickets (or preparing your tax return) with the assistance of an independent consultant -- a travel agent -- not beholden to any particular airline(s), even if you have to pay for their services. The worst place to buy your ticket, if you care about price, is directly from an airline. If you buy tickets from a web- based ticket sales robot, look closely at whether it is owned by an airline (as Travelocity was until recently owned and controlled primarily by AMR, the corporate parent of American Airlines, and as is owned primarily by airline-owned reservation system Galileo/Apollo).

August 15, 2001

Sleepycat Software maintains the age-old open source embedded database system, Berkeley DB. I was blind to the virtues of Berkeley DB until now. Having grown up on relational databases and SQL, it's too easy to forget that relational organization isn't necessary for some applications. Indeed, the relational data structure for this weblog, including the comments system, and its data access needs are too simple to necessitate the overhead of parsing SQL and managing the data in a relational way. (I didn't realize that MySQL actually uses Berkeley DBs internally, and just applies relational functionality on top of it.)

If you're at all interested, check out this great tutorial, which includes an excellent introduction to database theory as groundwork for discussing the pros and cons of using Berkeley DBs.

Salon on the hacker public's reaction to ExtractStream, the save-TiVo-video-to-your-computer software.

Unisys Apologizes for Creating Unintended Consequences of the Computer Age. An actual press release. (Thanks Zannah.)

Gateway to Heaven: a Chart of Undeniable Causal Relationships.

Features of CompuServe v6.0: "1) Sort e-mail by date, address or subject! 2) Create e-mails faster with Address Auto-Complete! 3) Print your Address Book! and much more..." OK, I added the exclamation points, but it's exciting! Seems like feature #4 should be "CompuServe still exists!"

August 14, 2001

Is Killing Robots Okay?

Scared, a fun little first-person 3D shooter, in a Java applet.

HardSID - The C64 (SID 6581/8580) soundcard for the PC. I wish I could justify going to such lengths to listen to old tracker files the way they were meant to be heard.

HDTV FAQ by Seattle-area blogger Richard Gillmann.

Tom Lehrer retires.

Debunking the Myth of a Desperate Software Labor Shortage.

August 10, 2001

quine: /kwi:n/ /n./ [from the name of the logician Willard van Orman Quine, via Douglas Hofstadter] A program that generates a copy of its own source text as its complete output. Devising the shortest possible quine in some given programming language is a common hackish amusement.

SelfGOL was Damian Conway's intended entry to the Obfuscated Perl Contest. It can print its own source code (self-replicate), rewrite other Perl programs so they can print their own source code (and still perform their original functions), detect un-rewritable Perl programs, play John Conway's Game of Life using its own source code or a specified file as a pattern for the board with a board of arbitrary size, or animate a rotating banner of an arbitrary short amount of text. SelfGOL's source is under 1000 bytes of standard Perl, does not import any modules, and doesn't use a single if, unless, while, until, for, foreach, goto, next, last, redo, map, or grep.

#!/usr/bin/perl -s
q<#!/usr/bin/perl -sw
!$s?do{>.($_=<>).q<}:do{@s=(q[printf+pop@s,@s],q[#!/usr/bin/perl -sw


  • selfgol -s
    outputs its own source code.
  • selfgol <
    makes self-replicating (with a command line switch of -s), outputs new source to STDOUT.
  • selfgol -g [-y=## -x=##] [<gamefile]
    plays the Game of Life with its own source code or an arbitrary file, with optional height and width restrictions.
  • selfgol -d[=bannertext]
    displays a rotating banner with the provided text. If no text is provided, it uses the program name as the text.

SelfGOL was written to win all four categories in the Obfuscated Perl contest (3rd year, I believe, whose web pages are no longer available) and still comply with other restrictions of not using modules and being under 1000 bytes. Alas, the rules were drastically changed for the following year's contest, and so it was never entered.

Damian is touring with a presentation of how SelfGOL works, and because he is very generously not charging admission, I got to see the presentation last night at the Seattle Perl User's Group meeting. It was surprisingly instructional to see how some of the more obscure features of Perl work, and recognize why outdated features existed in the first place. (The $; special variable just shouldn't be, both for what it does and what it looks like. But that's how things worked in Perl 4, and still work in Perl 5.)

Academic exercises in recursion and self-reference are always fun. If you don't think the animated banner or the Game Of Life have anything to do with quines or self-reference, you're not looking closely enough. Not that I recommend looking closely, though you're welcome to try.

August 9, 2001

How I Spent My Summer Tax Rebate Check.

A Clockwork Orange, the Kubrick film, will get a limited edition collector's set treatment on DVD, releasing September 11.

An Onomastikon. A big one, too.

"Huh?" said Hesketh, putting Lalley's middle-class Baby Boomer liberalism to the test by forcing him to realize that he deeply despises the blundering ineptitude of the uneducated.

FreeCraft is a free real-time strategy game engine for multiple platforms (Linux, BeOS, MacOSX, Windows). Currently only a WarCraft II clone is available, but the engine could be the basis of any of the games in the genre.

Simple DirectMedia Layer, or SDL, is a cross-platform multimedia library intent on replacing the proprietary-for-Windows Microsoft product DirectX. DirectX was very successful in providing a foundation for Windows games, but the beautiful part about getting such wide adoption of a hardware interface platform-- namely, potential for cheaply porting the games to other, supported platforms-- has been largely untapped. Being under Microsoft control, licensing DirectX to makers of other platforms could have been a big deal. For all I know, it already is, though I'm under the impression that the Microsoft gaming console X Box will be the first major player in providing a easy way for game developers to cheaply develop for both PC and console users.

SDL, on the other hand, is free and open (with all the joys Open Source brings), is gaining acceptance (especially by small game developers), and already has ports for a variety of platforms, including Linux, Windows, and MacOS. And now, Linux for PlayStation 2. FAQ part 4: buying a racket.

August 8, 2001 I love this kind of interactive visualization. I still have visions and dreams of a interactive visual tutorial web site in a wide variety of subjects.

Some bad, bad news concerning Kevin Smith and GLAAD. GLAAD expresses superficial concerns over language in Smith's latest film, Smith talks it out with a GLAAD representative that admits 'Chasing Amy' deserved a GLAAD Award, Smith donates $10,000 to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, GLAAD attempts to smear Smith's good name anyway.

Docking Station lets you play the game Creatures online for free. Creatures was one of the first, or at least one of the better, "artificial life" train-your-creature computer games.

Britney's NT hack guide. Britney Spears is smart.

The AI Challenge: create a program that can win at a game without knowing either the game's rules of the identity of its opponent.

Articles on F.W. Mernau's Sunrise.

The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World, by Clifford Lynch.

August 7, 2001

What's Wrong with This Elegance?, from Physics Today, March 2000. Letters in response (from August 2000). (At the very least, this properly attributes the quote, "Elegance is for tailors," to L. Boltzmann, and not Einstein, who merely cited it.)

Finding Music By Its Genes. A new form of music recommendations technology uses the music itself, rather than the artist and genre information, to suggest music you might like. Rebecca says Barnes and Noble is already using it for jazz.

GameSpy's Top 50 Games of All Time.

NYPress's fun review of Jennifer Jason Leigh's The Anniversary Party.

Modern Humorist: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Pirated MP3s.

August 6, 2001

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

-- Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

Python is now GPL-compatible! Yay! I'm just about to sell my soul to Zope, so this is fun news.

USPTO Seeks Public Comment on Prior Art Sources for Business Method Patents. So much for my patent on selling books over the Internet.

There is no going back.

Thorough article on multithreading.

Area Man Gets New Phone, Cardboard Box, Bubble Wrap, Polystyrene Blocks, Plastic Bag, Twist Ties.