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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

January 2005 Archives

January 31, 2005

Every adult has a high school advice speech in their head. I bet they're all about the same. I haven't written mine out yet, but I think about it regularly. Paul Graham recently wrote his.

Printing XML: Why CSS Is Better than XSL. Printing, as in paper.

JavaScript: The World's Most Misunderstood Programming Language.

January 28, 2005

MacCentral counters the "Dells are still cheaper than Mac mini" articles. The most notable bit here is reportage of confirmation from Apple that you are allowed to open and upgrade your Mac mini without voiding the warranty. Apple's price on a 1GB RAM upgrade is exorbitant ($475 $325, possibly changed due to customer complaints), and can be had for much cheaper ($225) if you buy it separately and install it yourself.

The AppleScript Sourcebook includes an AppleScript tutorial, updated to Mac OS X 10.2. is a collection of AppleScripts, useful at least as a bunch of working examples.

Apple's own AppleScript site includes official documentation, and descriptions of example scripts for a bunch of Apple applications, some already on your hard drive and others available for download.

Overall, AppleScript: The Definitive Guide appears to be one of the best introductions to the language. It's quite readable, though there's so much discussion I'm not interested in that, for me, the book could be about half as long and contain as much useful information. I made the mistake of buying it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore for full price ($40); Amazon sells it for $16.

Namco confirms Katamari Damacy sequel for 2005.

January 27, 2005

PUBLIC NOTICE AS REQUIRED BY LAW: Any Use of This Product, in Any Manner Whatsoever, Will Increase the Amount of Disorder in the Universe. Although No Liability Is Implied Herein, the Consumer Is Warned That This Process Will Ultimately Lead to the Heat Death of the Universe.

A CGI Reconstruction of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Buy the Katamari Damacy Soundtrack from

January 26, 2005

Movable Type users should upgrade to v3.15 as soon as possible to patch a mail-relay security hole. The patch is also available as a plugin for those who don't want to upgrade that far, advertised to work with v2.661 and other v3.x releases.

January 20, 2005

Every CD I have of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (I think I have three different versions now) splits the variations into separate tracks. When listening to the CD directly, each track moves seamlessly into the next, as intended. On an MP3 player, however, each track is a separate file, and so there's always a blip of silence between each variation, sometimes even cutting off the last couple of notes of the track. And each variation is less than a minute long, which makes the blips especially irritating. I don't listen to CDs directly any more, so I haven't been able to enjoy this piece of music in years.

Technical note: I'm not talking about extra silence that some MP3 rippers sometimes put around a track, which is often configurable. I do blame the ripper (iTunes in this case), but I'm not sure the player (iPod) could play better files without the gaps.

For now, I may have to tear open the MP3s with an audio editor and stitch them together into one long file, or go back to the original CDs and figure out how to rip the whole thing as one track. Any other suggestions? Would other codecs do a better job? AAC?

January 19, 2005

Gish, a new kind of platform game from indie game publisher Chronic Logic, features unique physics-oriented interaction between the main character and the environment, and great artwork. It's available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. The demo is free, and the full version is only $20.

The Torture Tape Experiment. Two guys try to destroy each other by making the worst mix tape they can think of, then daring each other to listen to it for 18 hours straight. Includes track lists and a handful of MP3s.

January 18, 2005

Rael is playing with microcontroller stamp kits, including Parallax's BASIC Stamp Discovery Kit, a stamp programming app for Mac OS X called MacBS2, and a USB serial adapter. I'm convinced that my casual (and pretty much entirely unexplored) interest in electronics probably won't go any deeper than stamp kits at this point. After getting the light to go on, the next thing I'll want to do is get the light to go on from the Mac OS X command line, and I'm probably not patient enough to learn the interim steps, at least not right away. I have a couple of "build your own Z80 computer" books from twenty years ago that I keep thinking will be a project some day, and I had thought stamp kits were cutting a corner I wanted to navigate myself. But stepping through a classic Forrest M. Mimms book then getting a stamp kit sounds like more fun right now.

Also: MP3 player in an Altoids can.

Did Greedo shoot first? Let the courts decide!

January 17, 2005

The theater troupe my sister founded, Fever Theater, opens their latest original production, Like a Five Wheeled Bicycle, on January 20th. Shows are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, on the seventh floor of the B&O Warehouse in Portland, Oregon. Free elevator rides!

Here's the Portland Mercury's review of their last original production, Sneaky Little Armageddons.

Bluefish, a professional-caliber Open Source text editor, has released a 1.0 version. The editor specializes in web authoring and programming. It runs on "POSIX compatible" operating systems, including Linux and Mac OS X with the X server (Fink currently has v0.13). Not that I need another text editor, but it's nice to know about it.

On the subject of free text editors for Mac OS X: After about twenty minutes with Bare Bones Software's newly free editor TextWrangler, I am comfortable stating out loud that it rocks very much. I can see why people have been so hot for BBEdit for so long, and there are enough of its features in TextWrangler to satisfy anyone with a need to edit text. I've been waiting for Bare Bones to respond to the latest entries in the cheaper-than-BBEdit Mac text editor market (recently amped up a bit by the nice-try-but-no-cigar TextMate), and TW is a nice gutsy move that takes advantage of their experience in the industry. And it's got BBEdit gateway drug written all over it.

January 14, 2005

As part of a bigger swarm of ideas, I've been trying to figure out how easy it is to use existing, ubiquitous technologies to implement remotely editable secure storage. Since WebDAV is HTTP-based, it is typically straightforward to combine it with other features of a web server to provide authentication, authorization and a secure transport layer. At least, this appears to be the case for an Apache-based WebDAV server using mod_dav, mod_ssl and mod_auth.

On a similar track, I've been trying to figure out how easy it is to use Zope with SSL. M2Crypto, a Python crypto and SSL toolkit, includes ZServerSSL, which provides an HTTPS server that works just like the HTTP server (but with SSL). That's great! But what I was hoping to find was a way to add SSL to Zope's WebDAV server.

Another common way SSL is added to Zope is via an Apache proxy: An Apache SSL web site is configured to reverse-proxy traffic to an otherwise non-SSL Zope port. (I assume there would also be a way to block access to the Zope port for everything but the proxy, perhaps with the usual firewall techniques.) I don't know how much gets proxied by the proxy-based solutions, but if it preserves the WebDAV-y bits, it could work.

WebDAV clients that support SSL are a separate question, but I haven't tested anything yet. This WebDAV client testing chart is out of date, but is a good starting point. I've found a few old mentions that Mac OS X's WebDAV feature doesn't support SSL, but they all refer to Mac OS X 10.2 or older. Some of these mentions point to Goliath as an SSL-WebDAV solution for Mac users. I'll have to set up such a server to figure out if Mac OS X 10.3+ does any better.

Windows users appear to be in luck, at least with some configurations. DavFS2 for Linux explicitly claims to support SSL.

On another note, I'm impressed how few web hosting providers offer WebDAV support. I was hoping to be able to glue WebDAV clients onto some of my favorite apps, then recommend it to people as a secure remote storage and sync'ing solution using open technologies. I should be able to piece something together on my personal server, but a mainstream audience will want hosting and one-click client apps.

Learning Python and the Mac OS X Cocoa Framework.

Cocoa with Python currently requires PyObjC, the Python-to-Objective-C bridge. See also this tutorial on how to write a Cocoa app in Python using PyObjC, including how to package the app for distribution to other Mac users. (They'll never know you wrote it in Python!), links to resources for Python programming for Macs. Especially: the wiki.

Oh, also: Ways to do OSA / AppleScript via Python.

January 13, 2005

My, Earth really is full of things.

You begin small, blocked by large things, consuming small things to get larger. Once large, you consume the large things that once stood in your path. This is immensely satisfying, especially as it becomes clear that everything around you is potentially consumable. When you really get rolling, you start having accidental success, plowing over things you didn't expect to be able to pick up.

Brilliant gameplay, hilarious writing and wonderful music, and only $20.

Several of the nicer flat-panel monitors support display pivoting, aka display rotation, aka "portrait" mode, aka the ability to grab your expensive new screen with both hands and twist 90 degrees such that the side edge becomes the top edge. You want to do this because your wide screen would then be tall, and you can preview or edit a typical printed document a full page at a time, or see more of a long web page at once, or just enjoy the novelty of a tall screen.

At least, you would be able to do this if you had a computer running Windows, or Mac OS 9 (or 8 or 7), and special software distributed with such monitors to detect the fact that you twisted your screen and flip everything accordingly. However, what appears to be the only company in the universe that writes such software has decided not to write it for Mac OS X.

Cursory googling brings up a MacSlash thread from earlier this year that provides almost no information, which indicates there really is no solution. Someone mentions a thingy that enables features of OEM Radeon video cards, of which this might be one, but it isn't clear if that does me any good. I'm amused by the suggestion of the technical feasability of arbitrarily rotating and zooming OS X windows in code, but any hack involving this technique would be rather advanced and not entirely useful.

So how 'bout it, Mac fans. Are OS X users stuck without portrait mode? Are there any solutions that work with Powerbooks? Is this really a hard problem, or is there just an OS X culture bias toward Apple Cinema Displays?

Wyvern, an MMORPG/MUD with retro graphics and Java-based clients for multiple platforms, including a PDA client that won an award.

I recently found out that Wyvern was created and is maintained by a friend and coworker of mine. Also: I remember seriously considering dedicating all of my free time to trying to win the very award the Wyvern PDA client won. It wouldn't have beaten Wyvern, so I guess I'm glad I didn't, but I was fond of my idea.

January 12, 2005

AnandTech's intro to LCD monitors, defusing the heavy confuso-marketing speak that permeates the flat-panel monitor industry. I've decided to want a nice large flat-panel monitor on several occasions, and immediately retreated into my little hole after trying to read anything about them.

After an amusing confrontation with a Fry's salesman—I didn't want to, but I had to see one of these things actually do 1600x1200 to decide if I really wanted one—I now have a ViewSonic VP201s. No regrets, I love it.

Cory of Boing Boing raves on Gaming Hacks, the new book in O'Reilly's Hacks series by Simon Carless.

Via a friend: Dansm's Guitar Pages. Lots of nifty articles for beginning and intermediate guitar players.

January 11, 2005

Macworld Expo announcements from this morning. It's like Christmas all over again.

The "rumor" sites (you know, the ones getting sued) appear to have had good sources this time. Screenless iPod for $99, screenless Mac Mini for $499 ("somewhat similar in appearance to an Apple AC power adapter"). iWork, a productivity software suite including Keynote 2 and the new word processor Pages, will only cost $79, less than Keynote 1 alone used to cost.

Also: Bare Bones Software announced the release of TextWrangler 2.0, a text editor with mild programming features. And it's free. Features in BBedit but not in TextWrangler.

TiVo To Go has launched. A feature of the new TiVo Desktop software for interfacing your home computer with your TiVo, TiVo To Go lets you transfer shows to your computer for viewing on the road or burning to DVD-R. The new TiVo To Go feature is currently only available for the Windows version of TiVo Desktop; the feature is supposedly coming soon to the Mac version. (The older Mac version of TiVo Desktop still does music and photos.)

My Humax TiVo DVD burner takes some of the excitement out of this feature: I can already burn shows and watch them on my laptop like any other DVD. But it might be nice to be able to casually play a show on my Mac in the office without the intermediate DVD burning step.

The Edge Annual Question 2005: What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? Scientists and intellectuals respond.

From the intro to the piece: "We are in the age of 'searchculture', in which Google and other search engines are leading us into a future rich with an abundance of correct answers along with an accompanying naïve sense of certainty. In the future, we will be able to answer the question, but will we be bright enough to ask it?"

January 7, 2005

GNU Emacs Color Theme Tests: C, ELisp, LaTeX, Perl. See one you like? Get color-theme.

The problem with the Emacs face (font style/color) editor is that there are too many damned faces. Like other UI theme package facilities, color-theme means I can pick something I like while trusting someone else with the details.

Designing Musical Instruments for Flow: how modern electronic musical instruments (and equipment and software) destroy the musical creative process. It's striking how absent good user interface design is from music software and hardware.

See also this group's "white paper." "It is the considered opinion of group participants that the instruments and programs for making digital music universally suck."

January 6, 2005

Children of today play games of yesterday and talk about them. On Defender:

Parker: You wasted quarters on this?

EGM: Yeah.

Parker: That's so sad.


Rachel: If I knew what any of these buttons meant, I might push them.


Garret: Oh, so the aliens pick them up, and if they're carrying them, you have to kill the aliens and catch the people. [The player starts shooting people.]

Parker: Or not.

Dillon: If you shoot them, then the aliens can't get them.

January 5, 2005

Alek Komarnitsky's Christmas lights hoax. Alek's web site claimed you could control his Christmas decorations from the web and see them change with a webcam. After a great deal of unexpected media attention this year, Alek came out to the WSJ. See also Alek's personal confession.

What's cool about this hoax is that it's about as elaborate as actually setting up the hardware it emulates.

Ricky Gervais to write for The Simpsons. Gervais, co-creator, writer and star of The Office, is the first British writer for the show. I can't tell what effect this will have on the show; the Simpsons has changed styles so many times, and given the track record for the last, oh, seven years or so, it's difficult to imagine it recovering even with fresh blood.

Related but less interesting: I'm enjoying The Simpsons: Hit and Run, received for xmas. A little repetitive, but it's fast and reasonably free-form.

January 4, 2005

The Graphing Calculator Story.

Where d'you get those peepers, Richard Dawkins on the evolution of the eye. (Thanks Jason.)

January 3, 2005

Niel blogs about his success streaming iTunes from Ubuntu Linux. My Ubuntu server (yes, I'm running Ubuntu now) is where I keep all of my music, and I've been disappointed how inconvenient it has been to keep it there. Streaming straight from the server to the local network would rock.

Creating Dynamic Websites with Lisp and Apache.