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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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 2003 Archives

March 31, 2003

While probably not an Oscar-worthy performance in and of itself, I think many people who enjoyed the movie of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers believed Andy Serkis's performance as Gollum and the animation and technical work that completed the character were something special. I wondered if the Academy might have considered Gollum a special achievement of some kind, or if the Academy even did such things.

It turns out they do. In fact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit received the Special Achievement Oscar for their work in combining animation and live action. I wonder what other recipients of the Special Achievement there have been?

WikiPedia has recipient lists by category, which is nice, but their Special Achievement page is blank! I'll have to add Roger Rabbit. Are there others? Too busy to research this further, alas. :)

In case you haven't seen the bazillion TV ads for it, there's a new Who Framed Roger Rabbit DVD with a new restoration, a big ol' commentary track, and a bunch of the usual extras. Two discs, "one family friendly, one for the enthusiast," a weird-ass way of implying kids don't like widescreen features but do like animated kiosk menu "games". Thanks Mermaniac for mentioning the DVDFile in-depth review.

IEEE is developing a standard for the transmission of MIDI data over ethernet and wireless networks. Soon you'll be able to play your neighbor's digital piano!

RedHat 9 will be released today to RHN subscribers and the rest of the world the week after. It appears they're skipping the traditional 8.1 and 8.2 releases to catch up to the marketing version number of other commercial releases. Hopefully they'll go back to point releases after this; most RH users depend on later point releases as a broad indicator of stability. I've been happy with 8.0 at home, but I would not expect a business environment to adopt an x.0 release, at least not within the first year.

March 25, 2003

L thought it was cute that I misspelled "tout de suite" the other day. I like my uneducated Americanized never-seen-it-in-print-before spelling, so I'm leaving it that way, but I wanted to log the correct spelling for Google, so nobody can justify their misuse with my misuse. :)

Google for "tout de suite": 352,000 results. Google for "toot sweet": 5,020 results.

Toot Sweet is a old toy that turns Tootsie Rolls into whistles. (Cool! Where do I get one?) Toot Sweet is an album by French jazz musicians Lee Konitz and Michel Petrucciani, with that spelling. Toot Sweet is a popular name for jazz and wind ensembles. Toot Sweet is a pair of woodwind and brass repair and sales shops in the UK.

Phrase Finder might be a good phrase search engine (is 12,000 phrases a lot?), but they want you to subscribe for $45 a year to get complete access. They provide free access to a substantial subset of their supposed database, so it's still a potential resource, but geez. I'd rather buy a book.

Al Gore joins Apple's board of directors. Apparently, Gore has recently been a senior advisor to Google, as well.

Ex-RIAA chief Hilary Rosen gave a rather spectacular valedictory speech the other day.

Dang, I should have known that all this time I've been silently complaining about not being able to view some kinds of multimedia on the web in Linux, a solution was sitting right under my nose. MPlayer has codecs for AVI, WMA, RealPlayer and Quicktime, among many others. It'll even play DVDs and Video CDs. MPlayer Plug-in handles all those embedded media files flawlessly. Both projects provide binary RPMs for i386 Linux, which means easy download and install for everything. I'm using a non-RPM install for Mozilla, of course, which meant I had to symlink the plug-in into its proper place, but otherwise everything just worked!

I can't believe it! I'm watching Quicktime movie trailers directly off Apple's web site, and I'm not using any commercial software to do it! :)

March 17, 2003

English Sans French.

Pres. Jimmy Carter on the justification of war:

Profound changes have been taking place in American foreign policy, reversing consistent bipartisan commitments that for more than two centuries have earned our nation greatness. These commitments have been predicated on basic religious principles, respect for international law, and alliances that resulted in wise decisions and mutual restraint. Our apparent determination to launch a war against Iraq, without international support, is a violation of these premises.

In a Digitally Animated World, Oscar Stands Rigid. Virtuality blurs the lines between the Academy Award categories.

March 14, 2003

Mozilla 1.3 is out. The most compelling new feature for me is Midas, rich text editing controls for the browser. Here's a demo (works in Moz 1.3 only, of course). I hope web-based content management systems pick up support for this toot sweet when they detect a Moz 1.3 browser. I'll probably add it to my blog editing interface as soon as I can figure out how it works.

Moz's new junk mail filtering capabilities seem to be a big deal (they're Bayesian!), but I'm having 100% success with my server-side filters, so I won't touch it until I need it.

March 13, 2003

Two-Way Telephone Interaction, a tutorial on using Perl and a voice modem to make your own touch-tone phone applications.

VOCP, a Perl+Linux solution for touch-tone phone applications.

An ugly but comprehensive object oriented programming FAQ.

March 12, 2003

Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction.

A bit old at this point, but the pictures are still fun: The Toaster mosaic.

The Unofficial Yamaha PSR Resource Site has a huge searchable index of MIDI files for your listening pleasure, especially some intended for Yamaha instruments (like my digital piano).

March 11, 2003

GirlHacker's write-up of an NYTimes article on string vibrato. More from

Many thanks to L for pointing out that the official Mister Rogers' Neighborhood web site has a song list with lyrics, RealPlayer streaming audio, and PDF sheet music you can download for each of fourteen Mister Rogers songs.

Individually wrapped peanut butter slices. (Splendid Table piece, ABCNews story.)

March 10, 2003

Perry Hoberman: ACCEPT. Satirical art in the world of home computing. See especially INFRINGEMENT, OK/CANCEL, and Art Under Contract.

The Lebanese Loop ATM Scam your friends may have forwarded you is apparently true. It's supposedly popular in the UK.

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science.

March 7, 2003

My contribution to mentions of the passing of Fred Rogers was brief because, while the effect of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood on my early childhood was profound, I couldn't think of an expression of my gratitude equally profound, or as unique or interesting as many other rememberances. A week later, it occurs to me that the show is largely responsible for one of my few life-long interests: piano jazz. My father and my mother's father both get partial credit, but it was the traditional improvisational lines over the closing credits of Neighborhood that got me hooked on the form.

I've realized this fact several times in my life, and each time I had thought to research the name of the music director for the show and locate possible other works. My research obviously wasn't very thorough, but even when such fact finding became easy to do on the Internet, my attempts to identify the musician were fruitless. After over twenty years of searching, I owe thanks to Fresh Air's tribute show to Fred Rogers for finally connecting me with his name: Johnny Costa.

Thanks to Gael for reminding me that Television Without Pity is a must-read companion to any major television show. TWP: 24. Also check out their interview with Leslie Hope (Teri, aka "Bride") from last year.

Using the Fluhrer, Mantin, and Shamir Attack to Break WEP. It's hopefully common knowledge by now that WEP is too insecure to be relied upon to hide wireless network traffic from snoops. This paper explains how and why. (WEP is still useful for keeping casual wi-fi hoppers off your lawn, it just won't stop anyone who cares.)

March 6, 2003

Balloon v1.0. (Thanks Jason.)

For the would-be interactive fiction authors out there, there's now an Inform Beginner's Guide in addition to the Designer's Manual.

Wanted: Traffic Cops for Space.

On Monday in Vienna, a panel of scientists from space agencies around the world will submit to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs recommendations for designing and flying space vehicles to reduce the amount of debris they produce and cut their chances of colliding with one another. ...

The shift is driven by growing awareness that, in space, litter and erratic movements can kill. Recent years have seen a marked increase in space debris, everything from used rocket boosters to paint chips, much of it from the increasing numbers of privately launched spacecraft, like communication satellites.

Because the material is moving at such high speeds, even a small chunk can cause potentially lethal damage. A collision with a small piece of space junk remains high on NASA's list of possible explanations for the puncture that apparently led to the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia as it re-entered the atmosphere.

March 5, 2003

Talkin' Broadway - Spotlight On Jason Robert Brown.

Want to edit ID3 tags and filenames for your MP3/OGG collection in Linux? Get EasyTAG. I'm particularly impressed because I've been thinking a lot about what I'd want an application like this to look like, and EasyTAG is pretty much exactly what I wanted.

This shouldn't have been as hard to figure out as it was, so I'm blogging it for Google: Files that end in the extension .bz2 are files compressed with bzip2 (or something that uses libbzip2). bzip2 comes with RedHat Linux, but doesn't typically come with other distributions.

Hooray for WikiPedia for being there when Google couldn't give me a straight answer. WikiPedia on bzip2; WikiPedia's list of file formats.

VBacs, a MS Word .dot that gives you Emacs key bindings in Word. Useful for heavy Emacs users that (for some reason) occasionally use Word, and also useful as examples of how to customize Word keybindings.

March 4, 2003

Leela: Hey, you're enjoying this!
Environmentalist: Look, nobody enjoys shooting penguins. But if you have to shoot penguins, well, you might as well enjoy it.
L: I'm sorry, but if it's fun in any way, it's not environmentalism.
E: Oh really. How about blowing up dams?
L: Yeah, that is fun.

— Futurama, "Birdbot of Ice-Catraz"

Brad points to The West Wing DVDs overseas, which in turn mentions that Bravo secured the syndication rights and will begin airing them late this year. I didn't start watching the show until after the first couple of seasons, so it'll be fun to pick up on some of the earlier plot material.

Building a Vector Space Search Engine in Perl. Information science researchers have all the fun.

A certain online retailer posted a letter, of sorts, to not-logged-in customers visiting the home page, about their rating on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. They have consistently scored higher than anything else on the index, ever, across all of retail (not just online), and last year jumped four points higher than the previous year. That's neat, but I'm mostly blogging this for the rest of the report. Check out the low scorers in various categories: Kmart, 70; Home Depot, 71; Wells Fargo, 69; Aetna (health insurance), 65; McDonald's, 61 (ouch!).

March 3, 2003

Pulitzer prize-winning science journalist Laurie Garrett attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and sent an informal email about the conference to a few of her friends. The subjects of conversation at the WEF were interesting and provocative enough that the email was forwarded to friends of friends. Within two weeks, Laurie's letter was on the web and gathering a great deal of unwanted and unexpected attention.

James Grimmelman's lengthy treatment of the leak on LawMeme, Accidental Privacy Spills: Musings on Privacy, Democracy, and the Internet, is worth a read.

Latest Blank White Cards posted.

I hate to be a TV blog (or admit how much television I watch, for that matter), but I'm compelled to mention that I'm quickly becoming a Stargate SG-1 fan. Considering I didn't like the movie on which it is based that much, and have all but given up on science fiction on television, I'm quite impressed at how steadfastly the show holds my attention. Charming cast, reasonably engaging characters, and-- let me see if I can put this the right way-- some of the best damned science fiction screenwriting I've ever seen. Even the plots recycled from the science fiction canon are self-aware and well-executed. After watching six or seven episodes from several different seasons, I'm comfortable saying SG-1 is more consistently entertaining than any of the Star Trek series, though I've seen a lot of Star Trek, so that might be unfair.

The show's art design and production values play a big part in keeping me interested, I'm sure. SG-1 is conservative in its alien designs, with most aliens looking just like humans; no crinkly noses or giant heads to remind me I'm watching a TV show. (I understand this is consistent with the backstory of how these planets, including Earth, were colonized.) Color choice is equally conservative, with heavy use of glowing blue (how long before it goes out of style?) and military grey. The show is obviously filmed in Canada, as skies are almost always overcast or cloudy, which makes it seem all the more real and familiar to a Seattleite like me. (Sunshine just seems so... fake!)

The SciFi Channel is airing brand new episodes weekly (currently on season 6), and older episodes nightly. The show is also syndicated (on Q13 in Seattle), one season behind. Seasons one and two are out on DVD.'s SG-1 FAQ. MGM's SG-1 FAQ.