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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

June 2005 Archives

June 30, 2005

Rebecca is interviewing bloggers. First up: Matt Haughey. Great questions and great answers on the nature of blogging. Next month: Jessamyn.

Some neat tricks for Mac Mail.

Via some guy who thinks I'm his brother but he actually has the wrong GMail address: The Ewok Celebration Song, original lyrics and translation to English.

June 29, 2005

Why fans make better Star Wars movies than George Lucas.

For an ultra-low-budget film made by hundreds of volunteers for absolutely no chance of direct profit, Star Wars: Revelations is amazing. Bad acting, muddy writing, Williams-style music played on MIDI-controlled sample machines, and tons of chromakey and CG animation. By the end, I was wanting more, and not just for its cliffhanger plot. It's fun to say it's as good as the last few official Star Wars films, but that's not entirely fair: Despite all the hard work, Revelations is far more derivative than the story of its creation implies; more emulation than innovation, like most fan films. But the passion is all original, and it's hard not to get caught up in all of it. Definitely check out the two commentary tracks, the behind-the-scenes feature, and the soundtrack album.

Troops, now several years old, was one of the better Star Wars fan films because it was funny, original, and designed to its budget (set in a desert, with well-chosen special effects shots). And now, from the makers of Troops: IMPS: The Relentless, a documentary series about the greatest military force the galaxy has ever known. Chapter 1 available now, more to come. See also the teaser trailer, the soundtrack album, and the composer's track notes.

How did Mad Hot Ballroom survive the copyright cartel? A documentary on ballroom dancing in a New York public school spent 45% of its budget on music licensing. The interview includes some good details on the complexities of music licensing, and the impact the legal threats have on low-budget documentary films.

Via John: First editions of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, a beautiful book, include a twelve-frame film strip from a 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey owned by Stanley Kubrick.

June 28, 2005's Wikipedia History donation-funded LazyWeb bears fruit!

An Overview of Shareware Registration Services. (Thanks André.)

In Mozilla/Firefox for Linux, if you middle-click in a browser window, the contents of your clipboard are sent to Google, and to whatever web site shows up as the first search result with your clipboard contents as the query string.

This is a feature. In Unix-like environments, selecting something copies it to the clipboard, and middle-click pastes—and this is often very handy. The Linux version of Firefox (and Firefox for any other platform with this feature explicitly enabled) allows you to middle-click-paste any URL into any browser window to visit the URL. If what you paste is not a URL, it treats it as a Google search, with Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" feature turned on, so you automatically go to the first search result. That web site gets the Google search query in the referral string.

I almost never use this feature on purpose. But I almost always click on links with the middle mouse button, which, on a link, opens the link in a new tab. If I slip and miss the link when I click, whatever is on my clipboard—perhaps something I copied a long, long time ago, perhaps something personal or confidential, perhaps something I selected by accident while dragging my mouse around—becomes a Google search and ends up in somebody's referral log. This happens so often, I have to consider it a security risk.

To disable or enable this feature in Firefox: Enter about:config in the address bar, then find the preference called middlemouse.contentLoadURL. Double-click on it to toggle its value: "true" means it is enabled, "false" means it is disabled. Notice that middle-click for opening links in tabs, and middle-click for pasting into form fields or the address bar, are not affected, which is exactly what I want.

June 24, 2005

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out, Neal Stephenson's insightful (and popular) essay on Star Wars.

The Art of Science Competition, 2005 Gallery, Princeton University.

Making the jump to tableless design, slides for a nice intro to CSS. I love the use of a <ul> for a nav bar. (Thanks Jim.)

June 23, 2005

This week's The Onion is from 50 years in the future. Cute!

Warnings and Promises, a letter to the music industry.

The creator of JavaScript, on the future of JavaScript.

In passing, Brendan mentions TIBET as a cool example of a JS toolkit, which deserves a closer look.

The author of this interview with David Sedaris sent the text of unused portions of the interview to this blogger, in which Sedaris cites the audiobook for Jonathan Lethem's Men and Cartoons (read by the author and seven actors, including TMBG's John Linnell), saying, "I think it's the best-produced book on tape I've ever heard."

The audiobook's listing features a customer review that gives it 5/5 stars, entitled, "DON'T BUY THIS", with the following text:

If you are looking for cartoons, I'd skip this one. There's only a cartoon face on the cover. Men, on the other hand, are explored in depth.

I wasn't going to link the reviewer because their 50+ other reviews aren't as sharp, but then I read, "Blossom Dearie is not really a diva. She's more the Bob Newhart of jazz piano. I mean that in the best way possible." So the link is earned.

June 22, 2005

Lucas vs. Spielberg, The worst best friends in Hollywood. promotes Voluntary Collective Licensing with a rather moronic opening question that I'd like to pick on for a moment:

APRIL 28, 2004 - Today is the one year anniversary of the iTunes Music Store. As of April 15, Apple had sold roughly 60 million iTunes and 3 million iPods (sources below). That's about 21 songs per iPod. For perspective, the smallest iPods hold 1,000 songs, and some hold 10,000 songs. So, when people fill up those iPods, where does all the music come from?

From our own collections of CDs we have purchased, you jackass.

OK, snarky ain't my style, and I don't mind the actual premise of the web site: that filesharing networks are (or potentially represent) a benefit for the public that should be supported by our copyright values. And they admit in small print that people rip their own CDs. But their subsequent assumption that people's interest in high capacity music players represents an interest in large quantities of free music is hard to swallow, and potentially offensive to people who don't already agree with them on their actual point.

Their "catch" is lame, but could be extended to something more reasonable, though less catchy: If, from either purchased albums or iTMS, the average cost of a song is somewhere between 70 and 99 cents, then it'd take $7,000-$9,900 to fill a 10,000 song iPod with purchased music, and "obviously" few people are doing that. But the premise is still broken, because I have a 10,000 song iPod, and you know what's on it? My entire CD collection ripped to MP3s, every Audible audio book I ever licensed, a handful of audio files (music and non-music) distributed for free by their creators, and lots of blank space.

How full is your iPod?

Video of 13 minutes of a Tom Lehrer lecture/performance. At a piano. Yay!

June 17, 2005

Bus Monster provides live, real-time tracking of Seattle Metro bus locations, bus stop locating, route planning and even alarms for when your bus is about to arrive at your stop, all using the Google Maps interface. Plot your routes, get schedules, and see satelite photos of your bus stops.

It combines Google Maps, the King County Metro Trip Planner, and the UW Intelligent Transportation Systems project, all of which provided this functionality separately using separate interfaces. The combination is just plain slick. Built by a coworker of mine, kudos to him.

The EFF's Legal Guide for Bloggers.

The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards Official Website has video clips for every show nominated this year, the raw material used during the ceremony. The clips are very low quality embedded Windows Media, but there's enough of them to almost make up for it.

Naturally, their site ("by IBM") blocks all but three kinds of browsers. Safari users can enable the Debug menu (requires restarting Safari), then go to Debug, User Agent, and select Windows MSIE, to get a fully-functional-you-browser-blockin'- designer-monkeys web site.

June 16, 2005

The Prequel Generation Questions A New Hope: What a 7-year-old who has seen the Star Wars prequels wonders about Episode IV (the original Star Wars movie). Kids are smart. "So, does this mean that R2-D2 is really the main character in Star Wars?" has posted a bounty for a Wikipedia change animator. And I'm busy this weekend. :/

"The technology world is a bigger, virtualised California." Matt Webb on what mass market technology isn't and could be.

June 15, 2005 has been acquired by Yahoo!

I'm 100% excited about this, at least so we'll have a widely implemented, highly available, reliable blog ping system.

Wow. And to think I seriously considered making Jim an offer.

Matt guested on LifeHacker recently, and produced a handful of nice articles. How To Enjoy Audiobooks includes some good suggestions, and links to two threads on Ask MetaFilter about finding good books and good readers.

Andre adds mentions of Project Gutenberg audio books (read by human volunteers, and computers), which in turn mentions and Literal Systems. While not necessarily sources of high quality readings, the fact that they're free means you can easily go sniffing for gems.

Finally, LCD display pivoting for Mac OS X: Jim suggested a trick to access to "Rotate" option in the Display System Preferences panel, but I notice that in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, no trick is necessary: "Rotate" just shows up in the preferences panel on my rotatable LCD display! (Maybe this is new with Tiger? I couldn't find any info of this sort back when I was looking.)

It's not automatic: it won't just detect that you twisted your screen and adjust, you have to go to the preferences panel. But who needs that? I'm writing this on a gorgeous tall screen. I probably wouldn't do this all the time, as horizontal space is actually more useful most of the time. But it's nice to know I have the option.

June 14, 2005

Fast Film, a 14-minute animation made from 65,000 photocopies of frames from 300 films (not to mention their soundtracks). An homage to cinematic storytelling, a must-see for all lovers of film, viewable in its entirety from this web site.

Do-it-yourself book binding. See also.

Rapid afterimage optical illusion. A cool optical illusion I haven't seen before.

June 13, 2005

Hey neat! You can now create and manage more than one wishlist. Great for freaks like me who use their wishlist as a product bookmark facility as well as a "wishlist".

This feature includes a new interface for splitting up your existing wishlist. See the new "My View" bar (right above "Sort by"), with "Normal view", "Compact view" and "Move items to another list". Also, compact view is great for deleting a bunch of items at once, as well as searching a list with a bunch of items on one page.

Nintendogs (Flash video). Finally, a reason to get a GameBoy DS. Very cute.

Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. With cartoon foxes.

MP3s of old 78 RPMs from 1900-1930.

June 10, 2005

BBC Radio 3's Beethoven Experience, all nine of Beethoven's symphonies performed by the BBC Philharmonic, to be made available as free MP3s after they are broadcast in June. 1 through 5 already available. Go BBC go!

The downloads are quite slow (4.2 KB/sec), so allow a couple of hours to download each symphony. (This is what BitTorrent is for, but I don't see anything on the site that would indicate they'd be OK with someone setting it up. Not that that's ever stopped anybody.)

Look Ma—Hands! Choosing and Using MIDI Controllers. Fun article about all kinds of MIDI controllers in various shapes, with photos and MP3s.

How to Solder Electronics. Short instructional videos from NASA.

June 9, 2005

May the Type Be With You, Typographica on the Star Wars opening.

See also Suzy Rice's defensive telling of the story of the Star Wars logo.

Jim notices TiddlyWiki, and generalizes: Wikuments - Self-contained Wiki Documents.

Such that fully functional document viewers for a standard document format, available on very many platforms, are fully capable of performing editing and writing tasks on those same documents, if the documents themselves describe the editing application in full. (Jim says more, but this is the bit I should have realized a long time ago.), a fabulous wiki for Mac OS X Cocoa developers.

June 7, 2005

The Trouble With EM ’n EN (and Other Shady Characters), a nice A List Apart article on proper use of punctuation. (Thanks Dan.)

It's worth noting that better tool support is required to make fancier punctuation easy enough to be worth using. My blog software tried to include the reverse single-quote character in the title of the article as a literal Unicode character, which would not necessarily appear properly in some browsers, and I had to visit the article to determine the proper corresponding HTML entity. If it were any other article, I would have just replaced it with an ASCII apostrophe. (The SmartyPants plugin might have helped, but I don't know if it would have handled this particular case correctly.)

CGNetworks Challenges are art contests for computer-generated graphic artists, that encourage not just participation, but discussion of the development process. Many winning images include detailed explanations of what the artists did along the way, as they posted their works in progress to gather feedback.

Why smart people defend bad ideas, and how to defend against them (when you need to).

June 6, 2005

BBS: The Documentary, DVD now shipping.

Homebrew Nintendo DS Development tutorials. (Thanks Jason.)

Big list of links to programming language tutorials. (Seems like I blogged a similar list not that long ago, but I can't find it in my archives on first glance...)

June 3, 2005

The Technical Editors' Eyrie, resources for technical writers and editors.

A Gamers' Manifesto. A nice snarky summary of what's wrong—and will just get more wrong—about the video game industry.

Dan Says uses AppleScript to implement an SMS-based inbox for OmniOutliner, via

June 2, 2005

Some basic grilling tips from Robert Brown.

Got an IDE hard drive from an old Linux box and you want to access its contents with your Mac, without setting up a temporary Linux system and networking it? Get a Firewire enclosure and download the Ext2 filesystem utility for Mac OS X. Ext3 is also supported, though journaling is not.

Sadly, the ReadMe says Mac OS X 10.4.x (Tiger) is not yet supported, and sure enough, I couldn't get it to work.

A "vi" cheat sheet on a Cafe Press mug. Brilliant! (Thanks Matt.)

June 1, 2005

MacZealots: Beginning Mac Development. Not the best writing on the subject, but otherwise a decent overview for beginners.

Freecell for Mac OS X. The latest version uses a game number scheme compatible with the Windows version, which is important to die-hard players. With source, MIT/X license.

How to fix form tab-focus behavior in Firefox for Mac OS X.