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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

October 2007 Archives

October 30, 2007

Two more Leopard reviews, if you enjoy reading about operating systems as much as using them: Andy Ihnatko: What's Leopard really worth? And for much, much more detail, John Siracusa's Ars Technica review.

I won't bother with a full Leopard review of my own, but I will say this after 20 minutes of playing with it: Holy crap it's fast! It's like everything happens instantaneously. Damn.

I had been updating this weblog with the Movable Type 4 betas, all the way up through the final release, MT 4.01. Even in the latest version, I was consistently getting an error message whenever I tried to update an entry that had already been published:

Error On Line 1030: Can't call method "date_based" on unblessed reference

If you're re-publishing a single entry, the entry publishes anyway. If you're re-publishing multiple entries, however, it stops after publishing one entry. So it's annoying.

It looks like this problem is related to "ExtensibleArchives," a set of plugins that were once included with Movable Type by default. Removing the mt/plugins/ExtensibleArchives directory causes the problem to go away.

The ExtensibleArchives plugins are not present in the latest MT 4.01, so I'm guessing only people that followed along with the betas have these files and are affected. I don't have time to look into it further.

Another quick pen update: I got a Platinum Double 3 Action 2 Color Multi Pen + Pencil from It's not as heavy or as robust as it looks, and it rattles a bit. At $22.50, I was hoping for a real metal barrel, something with weight to it. But it works as advertised: It's a very good black/red/pencil multi-pen, and it's got a clever switching mechanism. It's clear that all the good multi-pens are expensive imports, and I won't be able to do better at this price.

With that, I should probably stop for now. I'd love to step up and try a rare, expensive Rotring 600 just so I can blog about it, but at this rate I won't have anything left to get my kids Christmas presents. Well, Christmas presents other than pens, that is.

October 29, 2007

David Pogue's review of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. See also his follow-up article where he lists out some nice unadvertised new features in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Menu search! Spotlight app launcher! Spotlight calculator! Spotlight dictionary!

October 26, 2007

Ctrl-left and Ctrl-right for Mac OS X Terminal and Emacs

In Emacs, holding Control and pressing the left or right arrow keys moves the cursor backward or forward by one word. It's a very useful way to speed up editing pretty much anything.

If you're using Emacs inside a Mac OS X Terminal window, this might not work for you. By default, Terminal is configured to send ANSI terminal escape sequences in place of C-left and C-right, namely "M-[ 5 d" and "M-[ 5 c", respectively. And by default, Emacs does not recognize these key sequences.

One technique to fix this is to reconfigure Terminal to send different character sequences when you press these keys. For example, by default Emacs also recognizes "ESC b" and "ESC f" as backward-word and forward-word. To reconfigure Terminal to send "M-b" when you press Control-left and "M-f" when you press Control-right:

  1. From the Terminal menu, select Window Settings..., then select "Keyboard" from the dropdown menu.
  2. Click on "control cursor left" from the menu, then click the Edit button.
  3. Click the little "delete" button until the text box is empty. Now press ESC, then "b"; the box should now contain "\033b". Click OK.
  4. Do the same for "control cursor right," using ESC then "f" as the character sequence.

From now on, pressing C-left and C-right in Terminal will actually send M-b and M-f, which are bound by default in Emacs to mean backward-word and forward-word. Click "Use Settings as Defaults" to make these changes permanent.

Configuring these keys in Terminal has the added advantage that these keys do the same thing in other applications that support M-b and M-f, including ZSH. But you might not want to reconfigure Terminal's behavior; maybe other apps you use work only with Terminal's default behavior. In that case, you probably just want to reconfigure Emacs.

To configure Emacs to recognize the default Terminal behavior "M-[ 5 d" and "M-[ 5 c" as backward-word and forward-word, add the following to your .emacs file:

(global-set-key (kbd "M-[ 5 d") 'backward-word)
(global-set-key (kbd "M-[ 5 c") 'forward-word)

Why can't Terminal just send "C-left" and "C-right" to the application on the other end of the line? Actually, it's trying: The default behavior ("M-[ 5 d" and "M-[ 5 c") represents a standard way—one of many—of representing those actions in a terminal protocol. Unfortunately, these sequences don't necessarily get converted back to "C-left" and "C-right" on the other end. The actual behavior depends on the terminal emulator (Terminal), how the emulator declares its "terminal capabilities," or "termcap," (such as "vt100," "xterm", "xterm-color", "ansi"), and how well the thing on the other end supports the specified termcap.

From that, I assume a better solution is to get Terminal, its termcap declaration and the termcap support of the thing Terminal is communicating with to agree on a standard and use it. If anyone has better advice for this than the per-key work-around above, I'd love to hear it.

October 25, 2007

FlexCar just sent email notifying its members that they were unable to convince the Washington State Department of Revenue that the new rental car tax ought not apply to car sharing programs, at least for the time being. FlexCar will be collecting the 9.7% tax starting with charges made in November.

October 24, 2007

Gmail begins rolling out IMAP. IMAP means better support for other mail clients, including Outlook, Mac Mail, and the iPhone mail client. Specifically, it means you can switch between mail clients on a regular basis (Mac Mail, iPhone, Gmail's web interface) and always have an up-to-date view of your mail.

This comes just in time for the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard release, which has a new version of Mac Mail that might have tempted me away from Gmail. Now it doesn't have to: With IMAP, I can use Mac Mail with Gmail and get the best of both worlds. has extended set-up instructions for the iPhone, including steps for setting up the server-side Drafts and Sent Mail folders.

October 22, 2007

A quick follow-up from last Friday's pen discussion:

  • My order arrived much quicker than I expected, shipped from Mountain View, CA. I placed the order on Thursday, it arrived on Saturday, and I used their free shipping option.
  • I'm pleased to say that my hopes for finer point gel pens have been fulfilled. The 0.38mm Pilot G-2s ( link) are fantastic. They eliminate all of my concerns based on past experiences with gel pens. Rands preferred the 0.7mm model over other pens half that size, but I soaked a dozen notebook pages with those and can barely read the result. My kids like the 0.7mm because they draw like markers. They can have 'em now that I have the 0.38's.
  • The Pilot Hi-Tec-C black/red multi-pen writes very well with a satisfying ultra-fine tip, and feels robust with stout ink cartridges and a metal barrel. However, it's too small for my hand, in both diameter (0.25") and length (4.75"). I wonder if I could get used to it with proper pen holding technique. My wife likes it, so it'll probably become a $30 stocking stuffer.
  • I ordered a Uniball Signo Bit because it appeared in Rands' review and I was interested in trying a very fine point gel pen. However, I accidentally ordered the 0.18mm model, not the 0.37mm model Rands tested. I'm glad I did, because now I know that no pen should have a tip smaller than the head of a pin. This pen is friggin' ridiculous. Useful for drawing blood, and not much else.

Seattle theater fans should not miss The Women at ACT, playing through December 2. 16 actresses playing 44 parts in over 100 costumes.

All others should try to see the 1939 film of the play before the remake comes out next year. The 2001 Broadway revival was televised once, and it's worth it if you can get ahold of a tape.

October 19, 2007

Rands tests and reviews 6 gel pens. Rands clearly prefers gel pens to other kinds of pens. I'm still on the fence: It's clear gel pens have benefits over traditional ball point pens in terms of consistency and reliability, but I haven't met a gel pen that didn't slather the page too much. Every time I use a gel pen I feel like I'm making a mess. Rands disqualifies the fine point gel early in his trials, but I'm eager to try one after his review, because a fine point might win me over.

Via John, who also noted online Japanese-imported pen store as one of few places to get an ultra-fine point (0.38mm) Pilot G-2, though he later discovered you can now get them at Rands declared the 0.7mm G-2 the winner of his trials, though he didn't like it as much as his old pen.

While browsing, I noticed there is such a thing as a Pilot Dr. Grip 4-color multi-pen! U.S. office supply stores don't tend to carry multi-pens except for the occasional classic blue-barrel fine-point Bic 4-color multi-pen (readily available at from various sellers), and I thought I struck gold when I found the rare orange-barrel ultra-fine variety at once (which I can no longer find). JetPens has a multi-pen category with 9 varieties, none of which are Bic and all of which look like substantial serious-use pens. JP also has a couple of 6-color multi-pens for kids.

Sadly, the Pilot Dr. Grip 4-color is out of stock for the time being. I ordered a Pilot Hi-Tec-C black/red multi-pen to tide me over. I'll try not to get my hopes up on either pen: Twist-style multi-pens tend to feel flimsy because of how the swap mechanism works. I associate the Pilot Dr. Grip with a robust feel (though not everybody likes the wide barrel or the squishy grip), so I'm wondering if a Dr. Grip 4-color has the best of both worlds. A 2-color multi-pen seems like a better candidate.

Someone on Everything2 likes multi-pens, and recommends the Rotring 600 Trio, which includes two colors (blue and red only?) of pen and a mechanical pencil. claims to have the Trio, as well as other Rotring products. appears to have a selection of Rotring pens for sale, including multi-function pens, including a couple of black-pen/pencil/highlighter combos, though none of them are the Rotring 600 Trio specifically. An eBay search for 'rotring multipen' brings up a few listings from this store, though their actual site doesn't have anything under the Rotring name; they have other multipens that look like they might fit the bill of a sturdy multipen, though I don't recognize any of the names. Joon Pens has refills for the Rotring multi-function pens (Rotring 600 Trio, Quatro and Esprit) but not the pens themselves, as far as I can tell. I gather these things may be sold under different names, so they may be more available than I can find after 30 minutes of web searching.

Speaking of the classic blue-barrel Bic 4-color, if you have a kid who likes to draw, I recommend pairing Doodlers Doodling by by Rita Golden Gelman and Paul O. Zelinsky with a Bic 4-color and a pad of graph paper. If you have multiple kids, you'll need multiple pens and pads., a simple ad-supported vocabulary game that donates rice through an international aid agency for every question you get right. Well, 10 grains per question, but it adds up.

October 18, 2007

The iTunes Wi-fi Store In Starbucks feature is now live in some Seattle Starbuckses, and presumably New York as well. It works as advertised. I notice it takes a moment for the phone to smell the special Starbucks-brand wireless access, and you have to reject the other wi-fi access points in the area first (including "tmobile," which may or may not be Starbucks' own for-pay T-Mobile hotspot). But then the iTunes Wi-fi Store has the Starbucks icon, and you can browse the last dozen songs played over the coffee shop's sound system, or other Starbucks-promoted albums, and purchase individual tracks or full albums and download them while you drink.

I notice that downloads and previews of Starbucks-featured music are surprisingly fast. I'm wondering if the data is coming straight off a server in the back room in those cases. I neglected to try other non-Starbucks parts of the iTunes Store, but that ought to work according to Apple's official description of the service.

I had to run and catch a bus in the middle of a download, and the phone did the right thing and paused the download. When I walked past another Starbucks, I had the opportunity to finish the download, though I had to re-enter my iTunes password to do it—which allays a privacy concern, since they could effectively know my whereabouts every time I walk past a Starbucks. When I got home, the songs copied back to my computer's iTunes library, and iTunes immediately did a follow-up download of the digital liner notes for the album.

The Starbucks home page says they're giving away a song a day via the iTWFS to promote the feature. I guess I was in too much of a hurry to notice.

Of course, Starbucks plays from their Hear Music label, which apparently specializes in super-safe established mega-artists, with tame new releases and re-releases from the back catalog: Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, and so forth. I guess there's some stuff there I might be interested in, but for the past few months I haven't been in a Starbucks that wasn't playing Ella Fitzgerald the entire time I was there. Fine to drink hot chocolate to, but not necessarily stuff I need to buy.

SVN time lapse viewer, an interactive visual representation on changes to a file.

October 17, 2007

David Pogue reviews the XO Laptop, aka One Laptop Per Child's humanitarian "$100 laptop," which will actually cost about $188 per unit. David's video review gives a great overview with live demos.

The XO laptop won't typically be available to the public—it's meant to be purchased in large quantities and distributed to children in developing nations—but you can get one for a limited time starting November 12 with their Give 1 Get 1 program. For $399, you get one, and another one is donated to the aforementioned children. I'm half-considering getting one for my kids—though for real fun, I'll need two...

Mac OS X Leopard: 300+ New Features. Listed out like this, it can seem like most of the new stuff is insignificant, but there are some great game-changers in here. AutoFS and Kerberized NFS will be big where I work. Safari 3.0 may win me away from Firefox (I've enjoyed the beta). Screen sharing and presentations over the Internet in iChat. Screen sharing (VNC-like?) from Finder. Remote file access over the Internet built into Finder (not sure if this was built in before, other than FTP). The Dock Stacks feature. The AppleScript scripting bridge for Python, Ruby and others. UI recording in Automator. Major new features in Mail, iCal, Preview, DVD Player, and Spotlight. Possibly sufficient improvements to the Finder (?).

From past press releases, I had thought Time Machine was being spun as a layperson's version control system built into the OS. This feature list puts much more emphasis on Time Machine as a backup mechanism. Before, I didn't even know Time Machine could keep its data on an external hard drive. From this, I can't even tell if Time Machine can store data on the same disk.

Leopard ships October 26. If you bought a new Mac in the month of October, you can get a free (+ shipping) upgrade to Leopard via Apple's Up-to-Date program. I ordered my new iMac on September 29th, but it didn't ship until October 3rd. My request for the free upgrade appears to have succeeded anyway.

October 11, 2007

A Localization Horror Story: It Could Happen To You. A great article that leads into a description of a clever library for localizing text.

Fulfillment by Amazon. Now not only can Amazon take orders for your handmade coin purses, it can stock them in its warehouses and ship them to your customers when they're ordered.

October 5, 2007

I'm selling my computer on eBay, and I'd be remiss if I didn't promote it on my blog. :)

October 4, 2007

Wired article on David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.

October 3, 2007

Shining [YouTube]. (Thanks The Talk Show.)

October 2, 2007

No new taxes yet for FlexCar. The Washington State Department of Revenue has agreed to temporarily defer applying the new 9.7% tax intended for rental cars to car-share company FlexCar while it considers a permanent exemption.