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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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 2007 Archives

February 28, 2007

YouTube implements my most desired feature: QuickLists

Now I just need a way to download every video in my QuickList to my iPod, ideally when I sync the iPod with other things.

ridiculous_fish: Barrier, on threading.

Yahoo! Pipes, a geeky new service that lets you aggregate and manipulate web feeds, with a visual programming environment. Tim O'Reilly thinks this is important.

February 27, 2007

Think, a new Mac OS X app that dims your screen for everything except the app you're working in so you can concentrate. You can adjust the dim level and color, and quickly pop applications in front of and behind the curtain using keyboard shortcuts. Slick, and free.

Compare Backdrop.

Made famous by this picture comparing the size of an iPhone to other devices, Sizeasy helps you visualize how big something is by comparing it to other things. As in the iPhone example, it's especially useful for consumer electronics, where a centimeter can make a big difference in comfort and usability that isn't obvious from the numbers alone. I'm always surprised by how small cameras and MP3 players are when I see them in person, because I spend a lot of time looking at context-less photos of them before encountering them.

Here's three digital cameras and a soda can, which I put together because I can't find a Canon PowerShot G7 in a store to try out. The PowerShot SD700 is widely available (and damn is it small!), and the Olympus C3030 is my current camera.

Note to sizeasy development team: Please implement a way to rotate an item in the view, including the presets. Thanks!

Touring Raffi Refuses To Play 'Shake My Sillies Out'.

February 26, 2007

Googler Opens "Pay What You Want" Cafe, called Terra Bite, in Kirkland. Seattle Times article. Use Quicksilver for quick timed reminders. In the latest Quicksilver (β51), you can turn "proxy objects" on as follows: Open Quicksilver Preferences, select the Catalog tab-button, select the Quicksilver category, then check Proxy Objects.

Lifehacker: Getting good with Google Reader.

February 23, 2007

When I try to print from OpenOffice 2.0 for Mac OS X to my Canon iP4000 color printer, it uses color ink to represent black. This wastes the color ink and fails to take advantage of the high-capacity, high-speed blank ink feature of the printer. It's also slower. I didn't realize it was doing this until used up all of the color ink, and I noticed that the printer hardly touched the black. Telling OO to print grayscale doesn't help, and OO for Mac does not bring up the Mac OS X printer dialog like everything else does.

Canon has a great knowledge base on their web site (to which they're discouraging deep links, sadly—or search engine indexing!) with several articles on the subject of the printer using color ink for black. According to their docs, the printer will intentionally use color for black when color goes unused for a while, to keep the color jets from getting clogged. Unfortunately, this doesn't explain my problem, which is clearly software-related: I can get fast black prints in all applications that use the Mac OS X print dialog. And it seems like a naïve printer controller problem that would be typical of a cross-platform app like OpenOffice.

One workaround: Use OpenOffice's Export to PDF feature, then open the PDF in Preview and print from there. If it's all black and white, or you force grayscale in the print dialog (under Quality & Media, check Grayscale Print), the document will print with fast black. Saves money and time: The Canon IPs print all-black pages as if on fire, using a high-capacity black ink cartridge that you can purchase separately from the others.

A unit test framework for Emacs Lisp, using Behavior-Driven Development terminology for extra goodness.

Coding Horror: Stylesheets for Print and Handheld. Jeff reminds us how easy it is to make printer- and mobile-friendly versions of your site with a few lines of CSS. Jeff also describes the procedure for downloading and installing a mobile web browser emulator for testing purposes.

February 22, 2007

I asked MetaFilter what classical stringed instrument I should consider learning if I want to join a string quartet, and they overwhelmingly recommended the viola. I *heart* AskMeFi.

Coding Horror: Dynamic, Lightweight Visualization, about Ben Fry and Processing.

People who need such a thing typically know about ImageMagick, a rich open source suite of command line tools for manipulating images. If you're looking to manipulate animated GIFs, especially if you're looking to create one, also check out gifsicle.

February 19, 2007

The public choice economics of Star Wars: A Straussian reading.

Hedgehog, a fun, fast platform Flash game.

All About the Commodore 64, and other old C64 demos turned into YouTube videos. All About... has a special place in my heart as one that I watched over and over again as a kid. Seriously, hours of my life were spent watching this. I'm bored out of my mind watching it today (it's over 9 minutes long), but at the time, it made me think of all the amazing things I might be able to do with computers someday.

I used the music from this one in little videos I used to make.

February 16, 2007

Copilot 2.0, the no install no configuration help your parents with their computer problems from the other side of the globe program and service, now works on a Mac. And 24-hour passes are only $5. And it now does file transfers.


Managing gigabytes of personal data using a NAS and a home network, including iTunes.

February 15, 2007

A nice list of ergonomic keyboards, and other ergo product lists elsewhere on the site.

ToySight Gold, a collection of Mac games that use your iSight camera (such as the one built into most new Macs). Move your body to control on-screen elements.

Boinx iStopMotion. Make stop-motion animations with your Mac. Also does time lapse video. $39.95, with free demo.

February 13, 2007

Managing Movable Type Comment Spam With Database Queries

For this blog, any comment that Akismet believes to be spam gets flagged as junk. Akismet catches about 60-70% of all spam posted here. All of the remaining spam posts get flagged as "moderated" by ModerateViaDelay, which assumes that comments on old entries that haven't seen any comments in a while are probably junk. Moderated comments do not show up on the site until I approve them, which means no comment spam ever makes it to the site. I make periodic sweeps through the moderated comments to publish the occasional legitimate comment posted to an old entry, and re-flag everything else as junk.

Movable Type's administrative interface makes it easy to apply a single action, such as "flag as junk," to up to 125 comments at a time. However, I usually have to clean out several thousand moderated comments in one sitting. I'd much prefer a "mark all moderated as junk" button. Until I get around to writing a plugin to add such a button (or until someone tells me there already is one), here's a MySQL query that moves all moderated comments into junk status with MT 3.34:

update mt_comment set comment_junk_status = -1 where comment_visible = 0;

Movable Type is supposed to be able to delete junk messages older than 7 days, if set up correctly. Either my set-up hasn't been doing this, or I get tons of comment spam, but I had over 31,000 junk messages in my database one recent evening. Unfortunately, that's enough to overload the "delete all junk" button in the MT admin interface on my cheap web hosting. Here's a MySQL query that does the same thing (which took 55 seconds for me—like I said, cheap web hosting):

delete from mt_comment where comment_junk_status = -1

Keeping the comment posting form open on old entries wouldn't be worth all the effort, bandwidth and disk space, except for the fact that 75% of the visitors to this site are people finding old entries from search engines. The two or three "thank you for posting the solution to this obscure technical problem" comments I get in a year make it all worthwhile. Though I enjoy comments from regular readers as well. :)

A good list of web games, some classics and many I've missed.

From that list, this short list of game sites for toddlers.

Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts.

February 12, 2007

The Economist: The triumph of unreason? Why you are not always rational with your credit card.

Finite state machines in JavaScript, Part 1: Design a widget

A simple "lorem ipsum" dummy text generator for Emacs. I was considering writing one of these as an exercise (and may still), but my interest was to speed up rapid prototyping, and using someone's else's code is faster than coding from scratch.

February 9, 2007

Don Park's Identicons give each comment poster a pleasant, unique little icon based on the poster's IP address. Even acknowledging the problems of identifying people by IP, the results speak for themselves. Inspiring.

Web Clustering with Amazon EC2. (A response.)

Someone has finally written a Quicksilver user guide [PDF]. The author says it's a work in progress, and he's collecting feedback here.

February 8, 2007

Describing a slice instead of the whole pie. 37signals Matt on how four sports writers describe an athlete by describing a single play.

U.S.-ians, don't forget to file for the Telephone Excise Tax Refund with your taxes this year. It's not that much money, but we're probably going to hear a lot about it leading up to April.

12 examples of page layouts using CSS.

53 techniques for using CSS to create special effects.

February 7, 2007

The Machine is Us/ing Us [YouTube], a fun short film about the future of the Internet. (I can't bring myself to say "Web 2.0.")

Widely blogged for a reason: Unhappy Meals, by Omnivore's Dillema Michael Pollan. Megnut's summary, The Kitchen's summary.

Hell yeah I'm buying the calcium-fortified chocolate syrup. My kids deserve the best in nutrition.

Prototype applications for Jeff Han's famous multi-touch display. (Link to information aesthetics.)

Ask MetaFilter: The question of a second child.

Ze Frank to go to Hollywood after his last show on March 17. Nice article.

February 6, 2007

the show with zefrank :: waves.

Google TV - An Elaborate Hoax. A beautiful hoax video showing you how to get access to a secret beta of a non-existent Google television service, including a tear-jerking but also fake "this is not a hoax" follow-up video. I love how the follow-up video zooms the camera in on the URL on the page with the "TV" link on it, then pulls down just before he clicks so we can't see the URL of the link. Must see.

7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creative Output. This is excellent.

5 Ideas for Stressful Living.

Le Grand Content [video]. (Thanks Matt.)

February 5, 2007

Ask MetaFilter: Buying an LCD tv. Recommends this article.

I keep telling myself that I'm not getting a new TV until my 27" Sony Trinitron dies, but I try to pay attention to the tech just so I'm not completely baffled when the time comes. I've also been nervous about media industry efforts to mandate copy protection technology that would invalidate all the digital high-def TVs currently for sale. Some pundits are starting to say that now that Microsoft and Apple both have living room devices that output unencumbered pure digital signals, deployment of unencumbered tech is pretty much a done deal, and encumbered tech won't be able to get a TV set in edgewise. I'm still pessimistic, given how digital cable TV and DVD players are tightly controlled by media companies, but maybe the picture will be clearer when I do get around to buying a new TV.

Bruce Schneier on picking a good password. Bruce uses real world information about bad passwords and password cracking software to inform the decision.

Back in 2004, Roy Peter Clark wrote 50 short essays detailing writing tips for journalists. For a year or so afterward, I referred people to the site, and silently begged Roy to make a book out of it. The good news is the book is out (as of last June, so I'm late), and Roy has a regular blog and an audio podcast.

The not-so-good news is that Roy took the essays offline to promote the book. But still has 'em, and Dumb Little Man summarizes the direct links.

I love the Poynter Institute web site. Seems like an excellent example of a site with lots of different kinds of content and target audiences that presents a lot on one page, but is still easy to use.

February 1, 2007

Minuteur, a timer and stopwatch program for Mac OS X. Slick and easy to use. I can see why Minuteur is popular. Donationware.

I had been using Pester for its ability to display a message after X amount of time or at time Y, and it still deserves a shout-out for being a simple app good at one thing. Free.

FlexTime also looks worth noting for more advanced features, like the ability to build consecutive timer lists. Shareware, $18.95.

The Simpsonzu by *spacecoyote on deviantART. The Simpsons characters drawn in anime style. The same artist also did one for Futurama, also good though surprisingly more recognizable. More resonance with the sci-fi vibe, I think.

Attach icons to anything with CSS. Link hint icons are one of the few widget-y bandwagons I like, and I've been meaning to try it. I didn't realize there was a CSS technique to make it super-easy—though my official solution will probably involve a Builderoo plugin, so the server adds the icons automatically.