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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

February 2006 Archives

February 28, 2006

Good web browsers allow you to save a web page to your hard drive. Since a web page is often made from many separate files (HTML, images, stylesheets, JavaScript, Flash), for the saved page to be useful, the browser needs to stash all of those pieces somehow, and automatically edit the HTML to use the stashed pieces instead of fetching the pieces from the web site. Some browsers (IE, Firefox) can save a web page as a collection of files, but this can be cumbersome to store and send via e-mail. Some browsers (IE, Safari) can save a web page as a single file (or something that can be manipulated like a single file), but the file is usually in a proprietary format that requires the same browser to view. When tossing information around to other people, some people resort to PDFs as a way to keep text and images together in a single file.

Unipage Unifier is a free utility that saves a web page, and all its bits, as a single file that can be viewed with any web browser. It supports JavaScript functionality (not available in a PDF), and even embedded Flash animations.

Digi-Comp I was a plastic, mechanical toy computer—no batteries, just tubes, rods and rubber bands—that was sold as a kit in 1963. Digit-Comp I v2.0 is a faithful recreation of that kit, and is available for purchase! $55 includes shipping in the U.S.

JavaScript 2 to borrow from Python.

February 27, 2006

Macworld: First Look: MacBook Pro: First day, first Lab tests. MacWorld: MacBook 2.0 GHz, full review.

ifixit MacBook Pro disassembly guide. OWC MacBook Pro disassembly photos.

The Python Challenge, programming riddles in Python.

Enigmo 2 is the gorgeous sequel to the gorgeous Mac puzzle game Enigmo from Pangea Software. New substance types and mind-blowing 3-D levels, with a surprisingly effective 3-D interface. Well, surprising once you get used to it, anyway. Difficult, to be sure. And it's a Universal binary, so it ought to play well on new Intel Macs. (Need more Universal games!)

Enigmo 2 includes a built-in level editor, which you can use to make and distribute your own levels. Win a video iPod in their Enigmo 2 level design contest, which runs until April 30th.

February 23, 2006

Washington Post profile of botnet hackers. What do the people who write viruses and hack your home computer use your computer for once they're in? Making lots of money in the black market.

A Guide to Combining Colors & Color Schemes for Great Web Design.

Quantum Physics Made Relatively Simple, three lectures by Hans Bethe (video).

February 22, 2006

Katamari Damacy retro 2-D Flash game. Awesome.

CalTalk, a freeware iCal Bonjour calendar sharing program. iCal is desperately missing the ability to share calendars over a local network. This is the missing link. And it's free!

The Blue Ball Machine [has embedded sound]. (Thanks Jason.)

February 21, 2006

Pictures comparing the Nintendo Gameboy DS and the upcoming DS Lite. I've never considered myself in the market for a DS, and I believe this is partly due to how big it is: a big handheld looks like a big investment. The DS Lite looks like something I can just keep in my bag and play with whenever—even though it's only a little bit smaller. Same effect with the Gameboy Micro, though the size difference there is much more substantial. I believe the smaller size will actually contribute to broadening the user base, not just provide a nicer form factor for existing users.

Big improvement on the screen brightness, glad to see that.

Abston Church of Christ, an inspiring Lego construction.

In the 2/10/06 episode of the O'Reilly Network Distributing the Future podcast, Rael Dornfest and Tim O'Reilly discuss Amazon Mechanical Turk as a way to integrate human power into automated systems to extract value from large amounts of information. used Mechanical Turk to transcribe the podcast, thereby making the podcast findable and searchable with text-based Internet resources. Not sure why the podcast isn't linked from the transcription, but still, cool.

February 17, 2006

Yahoo had some nice Valentine's Day presents for web developers:

Yahoo! User Interface Blog. A blog about web UI design.

Yahoo! User Interface Library, open source (BSD-license) JavaScript code for rich UI experiences.

Yahoo! UI Design Pattern Library, specifications for major categories of UI controls useful on web sites.


Mail Act-On 1.3.1 - Key Stroke Plugin for Apple Mail.App

Mail Act-On is a plugin for Apple's Mail (Panther) in that allows you to map specific mail rules or actions to "Act-On" keys. When viewing mail you can apply the "Act-On" action for a message by making simple keystrokes.

Mail Act-On makes use of Mail's existing rule engine, so if you have ever created a rules, you already know 99% of what you need to know to build an Act-On action. Imagine, no AppleScripts or other macros. (Even if you haven't ever created a mail rule, there is very little to learn!)

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. (Thanks Merlin.)

Rule number 3, "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue," is a faith-in-public-education milestone for me. That is, it's one of those things that at some point I realized was true, despite being in direct contradiction with something taught in elementary/junior high/high school English classes. When I recall such milestones, I think of an English teacher I had in junior high who once told me, in private, to never listen to what teachers tell me.

Is Design Dead? Martin Fowler on designing before coding, and Extreme Programming.

February 15, 2006

Lego Difference Engine.

Neat video of experiments in multi-touch touch screen research.

As a follow-up to my recent post about Powerbook battery capacity readings, coconutBattery is a little graphical app that illustrates your battery's capacity relative to its capacity when it left the factory, as well as its current charge, among other things.

February 14, 2006

Finalists for Firefox's extensions contest. Some useful extensions for Firefox users. My wife recently switched to Firefox (from Safari on a Mac) just for the extensions.

There's a lot of trouble in the Sanderson home, but it's nothing a tiny robot can't fix with a few simple tools and a can-do attitude. GameSpot gives Chibi-Robo, a new GameCube game, a middling review, but I expect that more positive word-of-mouth will encourage me to buy it. My 2-year-old loves "Robot King" (Katamari Damacy), even though she can't work the two-stick controls well enough to play it, so I'm on the lookout for more family friendly console titles. (She's my kid, I can ruin her any way I please, thank you very much.)

The trailers are actually a little disappointing, looking more like a typical graphic adventure game with boss enemies and such, but in a cute setting. Not sure I'd pay $50 for it, though it'll probably be bargain-binned or available used later this year.

The SubEthaEdit story.

February 13, 2006

Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Schmoozing.

Apple maintains a list of Mac applications that have been released as Universal Binaries in their database of Mac software titles. This list is (probably) compiled from every company who has signed an agreement to use the Universal Binary logo on their software packaging, which includes permission for Apple to publish such a list [PDF].

MacInTouch also has a list, including companies that have promised UBs, but have not yet delivered.

How to make poached scrambled eggs.

Boing Boing linked this alongside a mention of how Teflon from non-stick pans is toxic, which garnered a comment from someone from the Environmental Working Group about Teflon found in newborn cord blood.

February 7, 2006

Welcome to Perplex City, a massively multiplayer offline/online collectible card game geocaching contest cash prize puzzle thing. A puzzle on each card contributes to the main game, with online components. Live events in London and New York this February.

Simply adding collectible cards to the mix is just brilliant.

Via Boing Boing. Sounds like Mark got a personal introduction to be convinced to spread the word.

Effects Corner, a visual special effects video podcast/blog.

They Write the Right Stuff, how NASA writes software.

February 6, 2006

Adobe will not release Apple Universal Binaries until the next major release of their products next year [PDF], and will not be re-releasing existing versions or providing free upgrades to existing customers.

Similarly, Microsoft will not release Apple Universal Binaries of Office until the next major release, also probably next year, and will not be re-releasing existing versions or providing free upgrades to existing customers.

I imagine Adobe and Microsoft would release free UB upgrades if it were cost-effective to do so. Forcing existing customers to re-purchase their software to run effectively on new hardware leaves an opening for smaller competitors. For many, this will be an opportunity to consider alternative products.

I hope that, at least, Adobe will use liberal upgrade pricing for the new versions. I (legitmately) own seven Adobe and Macromedia products in fairly recent versions, and I suspect at least a couple will not run to my taste under Rosetta. I don't recall MS ever releasing upgrade versions of Office with special pricing, but I rarely use Office anyway.

Metacritic: 2005 Film Critic Top Ten Lists. (Thanks Jason, who points out the kick-ass histogram at the bottom of the page.)

February 3, 2006

The Comcast digital cable outage ended some time last night, after three and a half days. I may have to stay home from work today to recuperate, but at least it ended in time for the weekend. I think I have the TLC logo burned into my retina.

I wonder how much money Comcast will refund us in apology for this outage...

Merlin mentions the joys of being able to drag almost anything and everything into an OmniOutliner outline. I've been doing this obsessively ever since I discovered I could, and have been repeatedly frustrated that I can't do this with e-mail messages from Mail. A comment on Merlin's post points out that you can drag a mail message from a Spotlight window, with the slightly cumbersome side effect of an unusable file name (which you can rename).

A few weeks ago, I was trying to explore ways around this shortcoming—which is a shortcoming in Mail, not OO—when I discovered that if you select a message in the message list then hit Command-C, the entire message, plus a useful selection of headers, is copied to the clipboard. So that's something.

Copy and paste, or AppleScript or Automater solutions, are probably sufficient for most uses, but what I really want is an OmniOutliner object as rich as URLs and media. I want to be able to forward or reply to a mail object from within an outline, or take addresses for the Address Book.

I want the Omni Group to do a mail client.

Chaucery Blog: Doctor Who's very special effects. Old Doctor Who episodes use BBC Micro computers for the futuristic computer-y displays. Some shots show computer-y mumbo jumbo that's actually the BBC Basic code that renders the next computer-y screen. Careful examination of the Basic code even shows strings like "LAST CONTACT" and "BELIEVED DESTROYED", which appear in the subsequent readout, and even the "RUN" command at the bottom waiting for an actor to press the Return key on cue. Brilliant!

The WHALE Car-Seat Occupant ID Program encourages parents to put identifying information about their children on the backs of car seats, and WHALE stickers on car windows and the sides of the seats to tell emergency personel where to look. Seattle parents can get free WHALE kits at Swedish Medical Center. You can also buy them from

February 2, 2006

Day three of the Great Parts-Of-Seattle Comcast Digital Cable Outage of 2006. My Good Eats collection is now woefully incomplete, missing "Tender Is The Loin 2," which aired last night. I should prepare a backup plan in case this thing bulldozes my Friday sci-fi.

David Lynch's Dune has been re-released on DVD in its extended edition.

How to Take Great Photos of an Electronics Product with a Digital Camera. Nice tips for beginning eBay photographers.

Whom The Playing Changed: An Analysis of 72 Player Transcripts. The author exhibited a work of interactive fiction at the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition, then analyzed the transcripts of the people who played the game at the exhibit.

February 1, 2006

Comcast Cable digital subscribers in many Seattle neighborhoods have been without service for two days now. The damned box only shows The Learning Channel, and knows of no others.

I'm missing my shows, and I have no recourse but to complain about it on my weblog. The only other blogger I've found complaining about it is Kim Douglas. Kim makes the very good point that if this isn't fixed by Sunday, there will be hell to pay.

Programming Like A Mathematician.

I don't have much new to say about the risks of debit card fraud, other than that I've been a recent victim, and it sucks more than credit card fraud because the bank won't give you your grocery money back for at least five days, if ever. It's just as easy to get hit as with a credit card because the scammer only needs the check card number to spend all your money. Even if your bank will refund the full amount—and they're not required to—you are still liable for overdraft charges and other problems during the interim. In my case, I'm certain that you don't have to have used your check card in a risky way (online shopping, sketchy storefronts, scary generic ATMs) or accidentally drop your PIN into conversation in mixed company to result in your account being charged $500 from a Point Of Sale terminal in another state.

US PIRG warns against the unspoken, added risks pushed onto customers because banks make more money from check cards than from real, PIN-required ATM cards, and advocates for stronger state and federal laws limiting customer risk and liability.