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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

August 2007 Archives

August 30, 2007

The Lemmings Story, a personal account of the history of the landmark computer game, Lemmings.

August 28, 2007

The Seattle Channel has video of a press event for Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. Standard press packet fare, but fun to see the actors in their natural voice.

Also on that page are other preview and behind-the-scenes videos of Seattle theater, including ACT's 2007-2008 season preview reel, and of course 5th Avenue Spotlight Nights which I've mentioned here before.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. The web at its finest: a definitive, exhaustive resource for a very specific subject, assembled and maintained by enthusiasts of the subject.

Argh! The other day, I mentioned that my iPhone's On-the-Go playlist feature wasn't working. When I add podcasts to my On-the-Go playlist then start playing the first item, the first item plays, but then one of two things happens: It plays the first track again, or it plays a random track. If I select other items from the playlist, they immediately skip to a random track. This is not related to "shuffle" play and cannot be mistaken for a feature: It clearly says it's going to play one track, then the display jumps and starts playing another track. It's a bug.

This problem seems to be limited to podcasts: OtG playlists seem to work for music.

This seems to be limited to my iPhone. OtG playlists work with podcasts on at least one other person's phone (sync'd to their own iTunes library), and I haven't found mentions of this problem on the web.

I did a full restore through iTunes. No change.

I suspected that the problem might not be with the iPhone, but with the indexes iTunes generated for the iPhone. So I moved my music and podcast files to another hard drive, obliterated my iTunes library and index files, opened iTunes to create an empty library, sync'd the iPhone to clear its memory and indexes, then manually copied the music and podcast files back to iTunes and sync'd again. No change.

I'm deeply skeptical that getting a replacement phone will fix the problem, but at this point the only other thing I have to try is to sync a clean phone with my iTunes and see if the problem persists. I guess I'll have to drag my computer and iPhone down to the Apple store and give this a go.

If anyone else has seen this problem, or if anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.

August 27, 2007

The new Stanley Kubrick DVD box set includes new transfers of 5 essential Kubrick films, all with commentary tracks and 3 bonus discs. It also includes the uncensored version of Eyes Wide Shut.

Amazon reminds me that if I like this box set, I'll just love this new 5-disc edition of Blade Runner, including a massive new high-def extended version of the film and a 3-1/2 hour documentary, all in a little metal briefcase. The set is also available on Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Technical book publisher Apress has made available the complete text of several of its older titles as free e-books. I'm surprised to see Practical Common Lisp [PDF] by Peter Seibel, in this list, which I thought was one of their bigger sellers. But for good books, nothing beats a bound paper book, so it's unlikely to detract from sales. (And for bad books, nothing beats a free e-book.)

I consider Practical Common Lisp successful because it seemed like most people I know who are interested in the subject matter considered it a worthy successor to Paul Graham's On Lisp as the canonical first Lisp book. Well, now you can see for yourself, because Paul has made On Lisp available as a free download.

August 24, 2007

Shure's iPhone headphone adapter is supposedly now available at some Apple Stores. Amazon still says the release date is November 14th. $40 is the Amazon price, which seems like a lot for a headphone cable, though it does include the in-cable control button. It also looks like a lot of cable, when all I really want is something to escape the recessed jack. Something other than Belkin's grotesque grey thing.

Someone noticed this cute little thing that used to come with the iPod Shuffle Sport Case works great, and now small vendors are taking up the slack with similar products. See also eBay.

August 23, 2007

The latest version of Google Earth features a stargazing component called Google Sky. BBC News has an article, PC World has a tutorial.

Handbrake 0.9.0 released. DVD ripping at its finest, Mac and Windows versions. (This is the official site. As of this writing, they've paired it down to just the download links to save bandwidth while everyone blogs about it.)

August 21, 2007

Google Book Search in Google Earth. Explore the world's literature geographically in Google Earth.

Zooom for Mac gives you additional options for moving and resizing windows, especially by clicking anywhere in the window. I've had multiple occasions where a change in display configuration, such as hooking up a projector, left a window with its top and bottom resize widgets off the screen. As far as I know, there is no solution for resizing the window in this situation, especially with apps that helpfully try to remember and reuse window positions. $19.95 shareware.

August 20, 2007

I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me that the Seattle preview run of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein: The Musical features the full Broadway cast. But of course it does, and I couldn't be happier to have seen it. Roger Bart as Frederick Frankenstein, Megan Mullally (!) as his fiancé Elizabeth, Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor (BroadwayWorld interview), Andrea Martin (!) as Frau Blucher (!!), Shuler Hensley as the Monster, Fred Applegate as both Inspector Kemp and the Hermit (BroadwayWorld interview), and Sutton Foster as Inga.

Sutton Foster! As a West coast wanna-be Broadway fan that doesn't get many opportunities to go East, I never thought I'd get a chance to see Sutton Foster live on stage, and had resigned myself to watching for her in Tony Awards broadcasts. People just don't get more talented than Sutton Foster, and I'm looking forward to her continued success. She's featured well in Young Frankestein, though I'd trade it all in to see her in a starring role.

I was less pessimistic about ever getting to see, but no less delighted to have seen, Megan Mullally live, since she has lots of projects that tour the country, including a recent singing engagement with the Seattle Symphony. Check out Megan's interactive storytelling project and personal web site at Of course, Megan blows the roof off of this show, despite limited stage time.

Andrea Martin is at the top of her game, with her own show-stealing number and ensemble comedy contributions. Most excellent.

As a mere wanna-be Broadway fan and not a true well-informed fan, I wish I could say more about the rest of the cast beyond what's in their bios. I immediately recognized Shuler Hensley from his knock-out performance as Jud in the recent revival of Oklahoma! (which I saw on television), so I think I get points for that. I otherwise can only say that Roger Bart, Chris Fitzgerald and the rest are perfectly cast, and especially enjoyable.

The show itself is quite good, and it'll be as great as The Producers after post-preview tweaking. Mel Brooks' lyrics and music are even better this time around. Big beautiful Broadway-style dance numbers and sets, fun strobe, pyrotechnic and projection effects, the whole bit. There are a few shows left in Seattle before it heads to Broadway, so snap up those tickets while you can.

The extensive promotion for the show, including bus ads, billboards, and people dressed as the Monster hanging out downtown handing out fliers, doesn't mention the cast, and it seems like a little name dropping would fill out the preview pretty easily. I'm guessing the promotion isn't just to fill out the preview seats, but also to promote the show's Broadway premiere.

David Pogue: Apple Takes a Step Back With iMovie '08. iMovie '08 owners can download iMovie '06 from Apple's web site, and it's worth keeping both around.

Pogue's article says Apple says they'll make up the difference in "free software updates, like we always do." (I gather Pogue is paraphrasing.) I have a very hard time believing that they'll add a timeline view, audio editing and filtering, and chapter markers to iMovie '08 via Software Update, even if they are embarrassed. New features are for new major versions, and those take at least a year. I'm guessing iMovie '08 owners will have to buy it a second time next year to get the new features and the old features in one product.

$300 for Final Cut Express is starting to look like a good deal after all.

August 16, 2007

Original source code found for Colossal Cave Adventure, Wil Crowther's 1972 text adventure computer game. the FORTRAN source code accompanies an excellent article celebrating the anniversary of Adventure, which also includes photographs of the actual caves on which Adventure was based.

Adventure spawned dozens of remakes and extensions, but this is the first readily available copy of the original source code, long thought to be lost.

August 9, 2007

YouTube Architecture [Google Video, *snicker*]. Notes from the lecture.

Ask A Ninja Question 47: "Ninja Movie Pitch".

Garrett Murray noticed the unusual changes to the function key layout on the new Apple keyboards. I saw this from the photos, and am equally bewildered. I'm especially curious how backwards compatibility is maintained in default key bindings: Do the new function key assignments of Exposé et al only apply to people using the new Apple keyboards? Is F12 assigned to Dashboard for everyone except the new-boarders, where it's F4?

Garrett wonders why the Bluetooth keyboard is shorter at all. It's not just because it's "more portable," it's because you naturally center a keyboard when you put it in your lap, and centering a full keyboard puts all the keys you normally type off to the left, slowly injuring your wrists. It's difficult to align a full keyboard correctly even on a desk surface, because the stuff off to the right gets in the way of comfortable mousing for right-handers. There aren't enough mini keyboards in the world.

The only thing I'd miss is all the fancy new function keys (F19!), which presumably would never be bound by default (because not everyone has 'em), but would be bindable in System Preferences.

August 8, 2007

Yesterday, Apple released:

Full multimedia funness at Apple's web site. As with the iPhone, they've produced some iWork help materials that also serve as feature demos. Also an iLife guided tour video. I love Apple's newfound commitment to multimedia on their web site.

YUI 2.3.0: Six New Components and a Prettier Face.

Lisp Interpreter in JavaScript. Mostly interesting to me for its technique of including Lisp code in a web page using <script> tags, which are parsed by other JavaScript. (Does that work in all of the main browsers?)

August 7, 2007

Amazon Web Services Flexible Payment Service, now in limited beta. Makes it super-easy to transfer money using your application, especially if your customers already have accounts.

A List Apart: Articles: Reviving Anorexic Web Writing. Yup!

defective yeti: Transcript: CNN / Youtube Democratic Debate.

August 6, 2007

Macworld: First Look: iPhone fixes we want to see.

It seems like there are counterarguments to many of these popular wishlist items for the iPhone, though I suppose some of them are as speculative as the items themselves. Nevertheless:

  • 3G. Apple says "battery life." If it were a choice, I'd pick battery. EDGE/3G hybrid with network selection would be a different story, especially with a modem feature, but I still need to be able to go a whole day of heavy use without charging.
  • Selectable text. Strongly desired, but how would the interface work? Apple can probably figure it out, but it's not obvious.
  • Plain text email. Yeah, but real estate for preferences is hard to come by. On the other hand, suppressing image downloads is a key security feature of Mac Mail and other readers, so yes please.
  • Sync notes. To where? Everyone is saying this is inevitable because Leopard Mail will have a notes feature—but that notes feature stores notes on mail servers. Is that how iPhone Notes should work? Even if my only mail account is a Gmail account? Even if I don't want to set up a mail account on my phone? Would iPhone notes sync to Mail then propagate to my mail server on sync? If they sync to iTunes, does iTunes need its own built-in notes feature? I'd take syncing to a directory of plaintext files any day, but that doesn't sound like an Apple feature.
  • Disk mode. Unlike the iPod, you can pull the iPhone out of its cradle at a moment's notice, such as to answer a phone call. If the iPhone were mounted as a disk, you couldn't do this safely. Disk mode is like continuous sync'ing, and is a process that has to be stopped by unmounting the disk, which takes a painful 10 seconds or so with an iPod (painful when you're running to catch a bus, anyway). Disk mode is essential for the iPod, especially since I don't want to mirror all 80 GB of music and video data on my laptop's hard drive all the time. It's also a nice Notes solution. But it seems like not being able to answer calls quickly is a deal breaker.
  • Adobe Flash support in Safari. Again, battery and implementation quality might be the issue, and if I had to choose, I'd pick battery. So far, I haven't missed Flash at all on the iPhone, and I'm starting to think I should disable it on my main computer.

I mean, a magic device similar to the iPhone with all of those features would be great, but if Apple is going to work on anything for its next release, it should be fixing all the damned bugs.

I'm surprised Macworld didn't mention spam filtering for mail. They mostly focused on the ability to delete lots of messages fast, which is sorely needed even with spam filtering. But I'm back to Gmail just for its spam filter, with the consequence of having all mailing list mail sent to my phone.

iPhone bug I just gotta vent about: On-the-Go playlists used to work for me, but something changed on my phone and now it's completely broken. The first track in the playlist repeats itself, and manually selecting tracks from the list after this mistaken repeat causes it to jump to other tracks not on the list according to some kind of pattern I haven't fully investigated. I loved OtG playlists, and I'm desperate for a fix.

Alas, this has nothing to do with the 1.01 iPhone update Apple just deployed. The bug existed before the update, and persists afterward. Rebooting doesn't fully resolve the problem.

Belfry SciCalc, a scientific calculator for the iPhone. Nice looking with decent features, but very slow to respond on my iPhone, too slow to use. Is it as fast as it could be? Does this mean that the built-in calculator will always have an advantage by being a built-in app?