Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Strike a pose. An evil pose.

Having received Star Wars : Episode II - Attack of the Clones on DVD for Christmas, my wife and I decided to go on a Star Wars fest. We watched I and II, and just now finished Episode IV, the first of the old-style films. As you'd expect, it's quaint and dated, particularly when viewed immediately after the modern installments. Still, it's worth viewing the old familiars again, because a lot of the vague historical references now make sense in the larger context.

As an added bonus, I noticed something I'd never seen before. This is significant, because I've watched Episodes IV, V, and VI dozens of times each. Like, lots of dozens.

On the Death Star, soon after destroying Alderaan, Vader is talking to Governon Tarkin. Tarkin is cheesed because Leia lied about Dantooine. And Vader says

I told you she would never consciously betray the Rebellion.

As he says this, Vader is just standing with his hands on the back of a chair. But soon after he finishes speaking, he raises one arm in a gesture of conviction. The gesture might have make sense while he was talking, but in the silence it just looks awkward.

Yay, editing mistake. That's the risk you run when you dub the voice of someone mellifluous over the body of someone tall.

Merry Christmas

[Posted by Kevin:]

Just thought I'd wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Legally aquired alternate endings and outtakes.

LawMeme has submitted an excellent DMCA exemption proposal to the Librarian of Congress. (For those who haven't heard: a provision of the DMCA says that exemptions must be considered every three years. The current comment period ends in February.)

LawMeme's comment is particularly excellent because it focuses on ancillary DVD features (outtakes, commentary), which are generally not available in other formats. This is clever because the court has been reluctant to consider Fair Use arguments where alternate formats are available. (In the 2600 case, the court held that Fair Use doesn't have to be possible in the "most convenient" format--just in some format.)

Sadly, the DMCA's
comment provision only applies to section 1201(a) (the "use clause"), not 1201(b) (the "trafficking clause"). So even with this exemption, it would be illegal to circumvent CSS with acquired tools. You'd have to create your own tools from scratch. Hardly practical.

Still, it would be progress. It would be absurd if it were legal to break CSS for DVD extras but not for the DVD movie itself, but this exemption would achieve just that. The more absurdity and inconsistency surrounding the DMCA, the better off we'll be.

I totally really mean it. Lots. Seriously.

The Bush Administration says that Saddam has missed his last chance to disarm. And also that they hope Saddam will disarm.

So what does the phrase "last chance" mean, then? Nothing, apparently. It'd be nice if all of the statements in a given press conference made sense simultaneously, but I guess that's too much to ask.

I <i>knew</i> the Second Amendment was there for a reason.

Wow. Via Flutterby, an incredibly well-written series of arguments against gun control, compiled from one man's blog comments on piquant rants and sassy impudence.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

They violated it, but, like, out of love.

Like many, I was pleased to hear that ElcomSoft has been acquitted of DMCA violation. Also, like many, I was confused by the reason: ElcomSoft violated the DMCA, says the jury, but it wasn't willful. No intended harm, no foul.

We've all heard the phrase "ignorance of the law is no excuse." So what's with the "willful" stuff?

Luckily, Orin Kerr has an explanation (via CopyFight).

Monday, December 16, 2002

Build Your Own License.

The Creative Commons launched today. For those who don't know, the Commons provides a legal framework for releasing works with (as they call it) "some rights reserved". Really, it's a way to build your own GPL-like license out of component permissions. And since they're lawyers and you're not, there's a decent chance the license will hold up in court (as opposed to one you rolled yourself).

As an added bonus, they provide a standard snippet of RSS metadata for each license, so that search engines may eventually restrict searches to content with particular permissions.

I'd known about the modular license thing for a while, but today their site mentions a second project: Founders' Copyright. Recognizing that copyright terms are ridiculously long, this project allows authors to commit to a much shorter term of 14 years, after which (by contract with Creative Commons) the work reverts to the public domain. This allows authors to select the term chosen by the Founders, rather than the one purchased over the years by rich people trying to get richer.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

He's dead, Jim. I think. It's hard to tell.

I'd love to get hold of a copy of Turkish Star Trek, linked on memepool today. Er, if it's real, that is. It's hard to tell, from the article, if they're making it up or not. The review is entertaining either way.

Monday, December 9, 2002

Dwelling On Things

[Posted by Noah:]

For those that haven't heard, I'm a homeowner as of very recently. I completed moving in at about 3:00 this morning (December 9th). Things are still a mess but I plan to have it in shape to receive guests by Friday. That's important, because that's the housewarming party!

If any of you are interested and will be in Fremont, CA on Friday, December 13th, email me (angelbob at this domain) for the party URL! That goes for friends, acquaintances and general internet stalkers.

No pictures yet, but I'll post a link to some later on. Basic stats: 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 2-car garage, ~5200 sq ft lot, hot tub in the back. My housemate is Brian Kidder. Some of you CMU folks may remember him.

Sunday, December 8, 2002

Proof: Baby by induction

[Posted by Roberto:]

Well, not exactly but almost. I became a godfather and uncle on Friday when my sister Michelle gave birth to Dominick Michael! She had gone to the hospital Friday morning for a planned induction as the doctor was becoming worried that the baby was growing too large. Wanting to avoid any complications, and to prevent the baby from growing to over 10 pounds (Yes, 10 pounds), the doctor planned an inducement. Just prior to inducing they measured the baby's vitals and immediately decided to perform a Caesarian section as the baby's heartrate was much higher than normal. So at 10:03am on Friday, Dominick Michael was born, coming in at 9 lbs. 12 ozs!

Both baby and mother are doing well and the rest of us are overjoyed. My parents are ecstatic as this is their first grandchild. Anyway, the link I included above has some photos of Dominick when he was just a few hours old.

Thursday, November 21, 2002


My wife Melissa and I had our first baby on Tuesday, Nov 19 at 2:18 pm. It's a girl, Emma Grace Lokovic. She weighed in at 7lb 12 oz, and is 20in long. 24 hours later,
mom and baby were given clean bills of health, and so we're all at home now.

Incredibly, after only one sleepless night in the hospital and one evening at home of semi-inconsolable crying, things have settled down nicely. Now that we all know one another, Emma is amazingly well-mannered. (She knows what she wants, and now we do too, and as long as we go along with it, everyone stays happy.)

I'm taking three weeks off from everything other than the baby (including work). I expect to be incognito for most of that time. Wish us luck!

3 min after birth

1st bath, 1.5 hours later

At home next day

Friday, November 15, 2002

In his film debut, Mule-Drawn-Cart Willie.

From Copyfight, it seems Mickey Mouse is actually 700 years old.

I'm willing to buy the coincidence theory (it doesn't look much like Mickey, really), and the copyright claims in the article are just wrong, but it makes me happy when it's hard to tell the difference between real life and The Onion.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I... I got charts.

I've had my laptop (Sony Vaio FX-220) for about a year now, and have run it almost exclusively on AC power. This is mainly because Linux support for power management is sketchy, and so (until recently) I couldn't throttle the CPU back or dim the LCD (both vital for reducing power consumption). Windows does these automatically, of course, but I excised Windows from my life, remember?

Anyway, recent kernel upgrades mean I can now throttle performance to make the laptop's mediocre battery life slightly more useful. Faced with the prospect of actual mobile use, it occured to me to make some graphs of battery charge, so I can get a sense of how various features affect battery life.

One graph, which I thought would be very straightforward, turned out to be quite surprising. The graph on the right is one complete charge cycle: the battery starts out nearly empty, is charged to full, then is unplugged and discharges almost completely. (The vertical axis is fraction of full charge, and the horizontal axis is minutes. Yes, the battery life sucks.)

The first thing you might notice is the little upward and downward spikes. Those are measurement error, not sudden changes in charge. I don't know if the Linux driver has a bug, or if the Sony hardware that reports battery level is really that unstable. Either way, ignore those errors for now.

The real surprise, of course, is the kink in the graph that makes the graph look like Half Dome in Yosemite. Around 0.6, as it charges, the slope of the graph changes suddenly. As it discharges, there's a kink at 0.6 as well.

My first theory was that the battery might have multiple cells, and might switch from one to the other at some point.
Based on his experience with handheld devices, though, Noah thinks it's more likely that Sony is artificially fiddling the how-charged-is-the-battery function as reported in the BIOS. They might do this, he says, to make the function look more linear with respect to time. The irony is that the discharging function, which it seems would otherwise be perfectly linear, suffers significantly in the process.
I, for one, am much more interested in battery status when the laptop is discharging than when it's charging, so it seems strange that they'd screw with things in this way.

I'll run more tests if I get a chance, but does this behavior look familiar to anyone? Anybody know why you might want charge functions to be distorted like this?

Monday, November 4, 2002

Good to know some of it is still unpaved.

Via LawMeme, an environmental project seeks to photograph the entire California coast by helicopter, to serve as "before" pictures in cases of illegal and controversial land usage. Very cool.

Whatever you do, don't surf for internet porn on <i>that</i> machine.

My favorite thing in the world, this morning, is local cable channels that broadcast Windows error dialogs on top of their regularly scheduled text slideshows. This happens, presumably, because they broadcast their Windows displays directly, and so when their slideshow software crashes,
the error dialog is there for all to see.

I know this is nothing new, but this morning (as I channel-surfed for mainstream pseudo-news to accompany my mainstream pseudo-breakfast), I saw one in which the error dialog itself seemed to have crashed. The dialog was blank gray, with no distinguishing features except the telltale Windows border.

Someday, I'd like to get a license to broadcast and provide the world with a "It is now safe to turn off the computer" video feed, twenty-four hours a day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

It was the best of times, it was the worst of novels.

Noah pointed me to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Participants begin writing novels on November 1st, and all who cross the 50k word boundary by November 30th are pronounced "winners". As you might quess, the goal is "quantity, not quality".

I'm so very tempted, but since our first baby will be arriving sometime in November, now is probably not the
right time. Damn.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002


After lunch today I hopped over to CompUsa (two blocks away) to buy Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, both released today. I figured I'd beat the rush of kids stuck in school. (Suckers!)

Like its predecessor, Vice City centers on criminal activity, and so features violence and foul language. Since kids don't know about violence and foul language, it's important to make sure they don't get exposed to it accidentally. (Who knows what chaos would ensue if the cat got out of the bag. It's amazing we've kept the secret as long as we have.) Thus, I was only mildly surprised when they asked for my ID. I always enjoy being carded (makes me feel young and old at the same time), so I didn't really mind.

What surprised me, though, was the girl at the register. She seemed really embarassed to be selling me the game. I don't know what they told their employees, but I think she thought she was selling me porn.

"You want to play this game?" she asked me, incredulously. I nodded. "I can't want to play this game," she added.

In my mind, I ran through the scenario of me trying to explain to her the merits of the game. Imagine the most rich, detailed virtual city environment in the history of computer games. Imagine cars, boats, planes, helicopters, bridges, motorcycles, buildings, alleys, all open for exploration. Imagine the freedom to experience a complex, busy city in a way you never have before--unconstrained by etiquette, tradition, laws, and propriety.

Sure, the game lets you do horrible things. You can shoot people. You can hit them with cars. You can cause huge car accidents which, in real life, would cause horrific injury or death. All terrible things.

Imagine, though, what the game would be like without those things. Imagine if, in the game, you had to follow all the rules that make you a decent person in the real world. What fun would that be? It would be like a DMV driving test, but much longer and with cutscenes. Who wants that?

In my mind, as I explained this to her, all I got was a suspicious blank stare. I was buying adult material, after all, so everything I said was suspect. So I said nothing, smiled politely and walked out with my purchase.

I've had such fun with the game, and I haven't even broken the shrinkwrap yet.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Click Here for Savings! Click Here, Dammit! CLICK HERE!

Flutterby links a Wired article about
spam in blog referral logs. I ranted about this over a month ago. At the time, I snooped and found at least one of the culprits, though (since referrals are money to these people) I still refuse to link to them. And since then, the problem has gotten worse. I've pretty much stopped reading my referrer logs.

Another medium of useful information ruined by the scourge of advertising.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Wadda mean it's on fire?

[Posted by Kevin:]

Two weeks ago I was tweaking my home computer a bit. See, I derive a perverse pleasure from streamlining my desktop, os, and machine settings as it is one of the very few things in my life I have total control over. Well, I was having some rebooting issues, so I downloaded a new Bios update, which, when installed, gave me the ability to change the speed of my processor.

Kids, that's called overclocking.... and should only be tried by trained professionals.

Since I was new to the practice of overclocking (I understood the concept very well, just not the actual implementation), I thought I'd just change that little setting, and tell my AMD 1200(1.2ghz) that it was running at 1.8ghz. Well, it didn't like being told what to do and promptly (on the order of milliseconds) fried itself.

Swearing aside, and with great admonishment from my disgruntled wife..."no honey, I don't know why I can't just leave things alone, no I don't know why I have to keep playing with stuff that’s working well enough"...I decided I had to replace my machines processor.

Kevin, I said...I call myself that...Kevin, if you are going to get a new processor, why not just get a faster one when you order it. Hey, if you are going to get a faster CPU, you'll need a new mother board, and, well, that new mother board will need faster ram. You know, all those components are going to make a lot of heat, maybe we should get a new heatsink, and fans, and case...ohh and you'll need a new power supply to drive it all. Hey, what about that 200 gig hd you've wanted....

So, for about 1100 dollars, I got an AMD Athlon XP 2200+, ASUS A7V8X MB, Corsair XMS 3200 DDR (1gb), a 431watt Enermax power supply, an Ahanix case with an external temperature monitor/fan control, and a 200gig Western Digital HD. The rest of the bits I pulled from my old machine.

Performance wise the machine lives up to its specifications with the glaring exception of the memory bandwidth. I didn't learn until after that AMD motherboards are limited to 2.1 Gb/s memory throughput, and I was expecting to get at least 2.9gb which is the rate the 3200 DDR would run at 400mhz. Having said that, I did overclock the machine (successfully) to a 185/370 MHZ FSB (from 133/which is actually 266 since AMD places data on both the leading and trailing edge of the pulse) and a 11 multiplier on the CPU which put it to 2024mhz (from 1.8ghz). I also aggressively tweaked the memory timings, and the total system speed jumped by about 1/3.

So for about $1100 dollars worth of parts (the 200gig hd was around $389, and actual machine stuff was around $750), it was a relatively cheap way to get a machine that is very close to the extremes of speed, albeit with a bit of overclocking. Which, by the way, is what got me a new machine in the first place. :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Yeah, well, I choose to call it Tom's Sendy Technology Thingy.

About a year ago, I bought a spiffy Sony Vaio laptop. Among the various ports on the side is a "Sony iLink" jack. I paid no attention to this, since I assumed it was some ill-fated non-standard Sony-thing, useful only with other Sony devices.

It wasn't until today that I found out that iLink is Sony's branding of FireWire. (Just like Creative's branding, SB1394.) So all this time I've been fiddling with crappy USB devices, I could have been enjoying the speed (and elitist Macintosh chic) of FireWire instead. Sigh.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Down with Turing!

Ed Felton reports a disturbing characterization of current Washington attitudes:

"The political dialog today is that the general purpose computer is a threat, not only to copyright but to our entire future."

By extension, I suppose, the entire field of mathematics is a threat to National Security. After all, only creepy, smelly, hard-to-understand people know how to wield its power. Who knows what they're up to? Nothing good will come of it, I tell you!

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Lessig Speaks.

Larry Lessig, the man who argued Eldred v. Ashcroft last week, has at last posted his take on how things went.

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Intimidating robes and powdered wigs.

First-hand accounts of oral arguments in Eldred v. Ashcroft are starting to show up. Several can be seen at
LawMeme and CopyFight. (Transcripts won't be made available for quite a while.)

The basic consensus is that the Justices asked hard questions of both sides, and that there's no way to know what they'll decide. No surprise there. Still, I'm looking forwarding to hearing more detail about the questions and responses.

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The laptop battery industry must love these.

Silly gadget purchase of the day: a USB-powered light and a USB-powered fan. I don't know why, but using a data port only to draw power seems silly to me. I bought them mostly as novelties, but both have proved useful already. So that shows how much I know.

Tastes like chicken slime.

If you're squeamish, don't read about hagfish slime scones.

Monday, October 7, 2002

Jump up onto the thing, then duck under the swinging thing.

Tonight I bought Sly Cooper and the Thevius Raccoonus, the latest, greatest 3-D platformer for the PS2. It's gorgeous, gameplay is excellent, and the voice acting is even decent. It's not quite at the level of Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, which set the bar unusually high for jump-around-and-collect-things games. It's not far off, though, and it's taking all my will power not to keep playing through the night.

It shouldn't take long to finish--after three hours, I'm already a fifth of the way through--but perhaps it will tide me over until Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 come out.

Watch commercials. It's your duty.

From LawMeme, the MPAA have asked the judge in the ReplayTV case to name the Electronic Frontier Foundation a competitor, so that the EFF lawyers can be barred from sensitive movie industry documents in the case.

Silly MPAA. The EFF is a political organization. They're not participating in your industry--they're trying to raise awareness of the way its members behave.

For those who have lost count, the ReplayTV case is the one wherein broadcast companies say you're stealing when you skip commercials, because that violates an implicit contract with the broadcaster.

An analogy occured to me today. When I pay my credit card balance in full each month, and thus pay no interest, the credit card company makes no money from me. Does that make me a thief, or just shrewd? Am I morally obliged to let charges accrue?

Much gnashing of slide-rules.

Rough Science: a Survivor-like show where the contestants are scientists, and where the tasks involve creating machines, devices, and substances from indigenous materials.

I'll watch it, as long as there's no voting-off-the-island crap.

Thursday, October 3, 2002

I negate your serif by flagrantly flipping this bit.

Noah pointed me to Typophile: The smaller picture, a collaborative effort to build up a typeface, one random pixel at a time. (Also linked on memepool today.)

It really is an excellent project. In addition to observing the current state of letters and contributing to the final form, you can watch animations of how the letters have progessed. It seems most letters converged quickly to recognizable forms, but have diverged since, possibly due to Web Moron Sabotage. Statistical analysis reveals impressively clear characters, with the only significant variance involving optional serif locations.

I love projects like this.

Monday, September 30, 2002

This robot is drunk.

I recently ran across ODE, an open source rigid body dynamics library. In addition to standard joint/hinge constraints (which even I can do), ODE supports collision and contact with friction (which I've never worked through).
It works pretty well, though colliding objects tend to interpenetrate noticeably (even though the docs say it uses "hard" contact constraints), and resting contact for stacked objects isn't very stable. Those are the hard problems, though, so I'm not really complaining.

Over the weekend, Anton and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning playing around with ODE. One of its test programs has a little wheeled buggy that you can drive around, with a ramp you can drive over. Anton and I spent several hours hacking on that program--adding Anton's extensible scheme interpreter (to make it easy to build new environments), camera tracking, multiple buggies, and better driving controls. It's so much fun playing around with physically based systems. (Anton did most of the coding. I did most of the building and test driving.)

On the same website, we ran across animations from the Ph.D thesis of ODE's author. The thesis involves motion control training, and the animations show simulated robots learning to walk. I imagine we were just 3-in-the-morning-giddy, but Anton and I laughed ourselves sick watching the robots flail and twitch. 'Course, we also laughed ourselves sick whenever the buggy in the test program flipped onto its roof, so I think our sense of humor is suspect.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Mobile Couch Potato

[Posted by Kevin:]

I am very, very lazy. I'm sitting here on my couch reading MonkeySpeak and posting a message using my Ipaq.

I bought a Belkin USB Bluetooth transceiver last week and after several days of struggling I finally managed to get it to work with my satellite internet connection. This means that as long as I'm within 30 meters of my computer I can browse the web, check email, and stream Fat Boy Slim's video of Christopher Walken dancing - over a satellite, over Bluetooth, to my couch - on my IPAQ... albeit on a tiny screen.

By the way, tdl deserves a huge congratulations because MonkeySpeak is one of the very few pages that work perfectly on a tiny screen.

Disclaimer: While the above actually took place, I was unable to actually submit the above written text. When I hit submit on my IPAQ, nothing happened. I tried several times with several variations on the "press the submit button", but each time the button pressed, and sprung back up with no result. In the end I had to copy/paste the text and submit it using a workstation version of IE. So while this post was written on Monkeyspeak on my Ipaq, it was not submitted there.

Addendum: I felt compelled to explain why this is important. Bluetooth can in many ways be seen as the little brother to Wi-Fi when it comes to networking. More correctly it is essentially wireless USB. Seeing as I was previously ranting about not having any bluetooth devices to connect my Ipaq to, I am very happy to see the forest grow more trees.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

My DSL is going to be sore in the morning.

Today's Slashdot article on pay-for-download music sites prompted me to check out emusic for the first time in a while. (Yes, I know the article was probably written specifically to dupe suckers like me. I'm comfortable with that.) I was surprised to find that, as the article suggests, emusic really does have a non-trivial inventory, unlimited downloads, and completely DRM-unencumbered mp3 files.

They do lack the major pop artists, though I'm willing to consider that a feature. Their techno selection isn't great, but their jazz and classical inventories make up for it (if you're into that sort of thing). In general, there's a lot of potential for exploration, if you're not hoping to stock up on specific bands you already know.

I tend to agree with the anti-DRM mantra, "Music companies are dinosaurs, and instead of fighting the Internet with legislation, they should embrace it with new business models." Even so, I haven't really taken part in any "new business models." Most of my music dollars go to the CD section of Borders, of all places.

Thus, today, I decided to Walk the proverbial Walk, and subscribed to emusic. My decision was clinched when I realized they carry a decent subset of the works of They Might Be Giants. Sure, I already own all their music, so it doesn't do me much good. But that's not the point. If the site carries the best Awkward Geek Rock band in all of Brooklyn, it's gotta be good, right?

Saturday, September 21, 2002

The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!

After much hemming and hawing, I finally broke down and bought a cell phone. It works great, and the calling plan (through AT&T) is decent. At last, I have an excuse to mutter into my palm in public!

Like many mobile phone models, it has a removable faceplate which can be replaced with even more gaudy faceplates. On a whim, today I checked out several sites that sell compatible faceplates. Among the many questionable styles I was surprised to find scented faceplates.


Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Smear the world.

Please allow me to state the obvious. Advertising is
monkey butts.

You know what I'm talking about. Baboon butts. In estrus, the females' colorful behinds swell grotesquely to attract the attention of the dim-witted males. Up to certain practical limits, bigger and more grotesque is better, if one hopes to stand out among all the other grotesquely swollen behinds a prospective male may be faced with.

Forgive the unpleasant analogy. (Well, I find it unpleasant. I don't know about you. You sicko.) My point is that advertising is a survival trait, a sexual mechanism with which companies compete against their peers. It is not, ultimately, for the benefit of consumers--though consumers sometimes benefit in the process (much like the aforementioned dim-witted males). Notably, though, if a consumer benefits in the process, that is the means, and not the end, of advertising. When advertising succeeds without ever benefitting a consumer, it's still successful advertising.

So what is spam? Allow me to delve into appropriately uglier metaphor. Spam is what you get when a dung beetle suddenly has the ability to smear the world with poo, in the hopes in attracting one or two interested mates, somewhere out there. From the beetle's point of view, this gets the job done, which is really all that matters. (Remember, if you're not a potential mate, the dung beetle doesn't care what you think of him. True for dung beetles, true for spammers.)

Why am I taking uninspired cheap shots at spammers? Because I recently discovered a new kind of spam. Well, I don't know if it's actually new, and maybe it's well-known in the right circles, but I've never heard anyone mention it.

To describe this form of spam, I first have to confess: I check my web page's access logs. Well, not the logs themselves. I run Webalizer, which chews up access logs and spits out little ego-serving charts and histograms. The most interesting bit is the list of referrers: pages which link to my page.

To be fair, I'm not alone in this. It's quite common for webmasters to watch their referrer logs closely. It's so common, in fact, that enterprising spammers have apparently turned this into a "targeted advertising" opportunity.

You see, the silly thing about referrer logs is that they can be faked. When a client (such as a web browser) connects to a web server, the client tells the server "how it got here", and the server stores that in its access logs. But the server just takes the client's word for it. Why would the client lie, after all?

Well, one reason to lie: if the webmaster is likely to visit "referring" pages out of curiosity, this gives you an opportunity to generate traffic to any site you want.
All you need to do is write a custom web crawler that always lies about "how it got here", mentioning in every case some special page of webmaster-targeted advertising. If you set the crawler loose on the web, you'll soon have thousands of webmasters visiting your site, expecting to see links to their pages, and instead finding your annoying ads.

I've seen at least one instance of this in my referrer logs. It's a site that offers to direct "active webmasters" to your website using a "proprietary technique" with "categorically no spam involved". It's clear that they're marketing (as well as using) the technique that I described above. (They also say it's patent pending. Heh.)

The interesting thing is how emphatic they are that they're not spamming, and that they're on the up-and-up. 'Course, they don't mention that their technique generates traffic by deceiving webmasters, or that it requires widespread violation of the HTTP spec.

It seems imprudent to post
the specific link here, since that would generate the very traffic that the spammers are seeking. But I felt compelled to mention the phenomenon. Has anybody else seen this? Is this a well-known thing? Is there a cool derogatory term for people who do this?

Friday, September 13, 2002

It's not that I don't <i>want</i> my kids to have superpowers...

A basic irrational fear of excess radiation has kept me from buying all sorts of cool devices, including mobile phones and wireless networking devices for my home. The fact that no adverse effects have been found in years of study doesn't help my fear much. It is an irrational fear, after all.

My friend Tom Duff says that, in that band that wireless devices operate, the wavelength is so large that the signal doesn't carry enough energy to cause chemical state changes in cells. Thus, it can't break chemical bonds or otherwise fiddle with any cellular state that matters. Thus, no danger to whatever body parts I might be paranoid about. (Phones spend their time in pants pockets, shirt pockets, and next to the head. All the vital organs! Yay!)

His logic makes sense to me, though I'm mostly taking his word for it. Just as I stopped glaring suspiciously at my microwave several years ago, I'm beginning to warm up to the idea of a mobile phone. Travelling last weekend reminded me how useful they are, and with a baby on the way, it would help for me to be more accessible in an emergency.

So today I was actually shopping around the web for mobile phones, checking out the various carriers, trying to make sense of the endless sea of calling plans. I'm this close to buying one, and I pause for a moment to read Slashdot, as I often do. Lo and behold, an article on wearable technology offhandedly mentions Levi's new anti-radiation pants for mobile phone users.

Rrrgh. Irrational fear returns. Dammit. I might as well just sprinkle goat's blood around all the electrical outlets in my apartment to keep the electricity demons out.

They're there, you know. In the walls. Watching.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Fine... I'll just take my OS and go Home

[Posted by Kevin:]

Ok, I was going ask this question specifically to tdl, but I figured the folks reading this log are intelligent people too, so I'll ask everyone. Also, as far as I know, this is the first question posted to MonkeySpeak (other than the sign question) so I'm being a pioneer.

Here's the deal, I run the graphics production department in a smallish (~35) company that makes theater equipment. We are strictly a Windows production house. Despite our size, we have very beefy system requirements. We focus on making scientific visualizations for our flag ship product - a full dome (think planetarium) hi-definition digital theater (think digital Omnimax). We use 3dsmax for 3d work, Digital Fusion for compositing and Photoshop for still image work. We have 6 terabytes of imagery and content that has to be accessible at all times, render on 30+ dedicated systems, and develop content on 5 dedicated workstations.

I'm getting more and more concerned about vanishing privacy and rights under MS and have always been looking to jump ship. However, until recently there has not been enough application support for film level modeling, compositing, and imaging, that could be had on non MS systems without gobs of cash or dedicated programmers.

The question is, if I want to switch to Linux / derivative (read non-MS), and want to do film compositing, high res 3d and high color depth imagery on Linux based systems, which platform/window interface is best? Should I have one flavor for the serving of our massive amounts of content and another for the production machines? What "big 3" apps can replace the MS based Photoshop, Digital Fusion, and 3ds max? Our rendering plates are 4k x 4k and a typical shot will have 10-30 layers.

Now remember, we cannot afford Shake (whose future is questionable on Linux anyway), nor can we hire a dedicated programmer to port tools for us to Linux. Film Gimp is obvious, possibly Maya, but where else? I’ve considered emulators, but quickly discounted those. More of a concern is the flavor of Linux and window manager. I want to have all the same functionality as a Win machine, without big brother. We can handle reasonable system maintenance, and the stations are pretty up to date with no exotic hardware. I will be trying the setup on my own studio machine to evaluate, so experimentation is acceptable.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

I have to count the meat. In color.

Woo Hoo! The Cheapass Games website says that a color version of Give Me the Brain should be released by the end of the year!

They say that a color version of Lord of the Fries is due out much sooner: this month, in fact. I'm not a big fan of that game, but I may end up buying the color version out of mindless Zombie-card-game enthusiasm.

¡Viva Santa Ana!

While in San Antonio for SIGGRAPH this year, Julian picked up a most excellent t-shirt. I am jealous.

It's alive! <i>Alive!</i> Well, sort of.

This seems to have been widely reported in July, but I didn't hear about it until this weekend. Earlier this year, scientists synthesized poliovirus "from scratch", using mail-order RNA base sequences and the poliovirus genome, which is available on the web. It behaves just like poliovirus, and can infect human cells, though not as effectively as the "natural" virus.

Awe and horror duke it out in my brain.

Bottle of ages.

Over the weekend, waiting for a connecting flight in Houston, I bought a bottle of Dasani mineral water. Later, on the plane, I noticed the expiration date printed on the bottle: "Jul 2103". A shelf life of 101 years! Up to now, the longest shelf life I'd seen on water was between three and five years; was this a typo, or did some huge advance in bottling occur recently?

Impressed, I showed the bottle to the passenger next to me. "Look when this water expires," I said.

She seemed unimpressed. "July 21, 2003. So what?"


Dangerous thingy ahead.

Near my house is a plain, yellow diamond street sign. It seems to be warning of something ahead, but in a vague, open-ended sort of way.

Anybody have any idea what this sign means?

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Well, there's no backing out now.

[Posted by roberto:]

That's it. There's nothing I can do now, no time for anything else. It took quite some time to get here and during that time I've managed to hold together. I've eyed the competition and finally settled on something practical: a commitment has been made.

That's right, I bought a mp3 player.

An iPod to be exact, the 10GB model. I leave for my honeymoon on Monday and I needed a mp3 player to provide me with enough music for the two week trip. This narrowed the field greatly and, coupled with my size requirements, ruled out CD based players. I also took into consideration the various helpful reviews I found on the web. In the end I decided on an iPod. They come in the 5, 10 and 20GB models and my budget fell right in the middle. Well, sort of. They now make a newer 10GB model which comes with a remote control on the headphone cable, a carrying case and the scroll wheel is now touch sensitive (so it's not really much of a "wheel" now, but whatever). And oh, it's 1.5mm thinner. I, wanting to save $50, puchased the older model. Plus, I didn't realize what I ordered until it arrived.

So far my experience has been good. The player is so damned small and seems very well built. The screen is crisp and easy to read and the back-light is very bright. The firewire port is amazing - VERY quick. (The Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced album transferred in about 15-20 seconds.) The iPod automatically sorts your mp3s based on the information stored in the ID3 tags which means if everything has been encoded correctly you will be able to navigate your mp3s by Album, Artist and Genre. If your mp3s aren't encoded correctly they'll just be listed in the Songs folder making them impossible to find. To fix the ID3 tags in my current mp3s I'm using Tag&Rename which will take a directory of mp3s and search through for their correct tag info. Damn spiffy, I will be registering this software.

Navigation is easy and quick and they throw in a Breakout game for kicks. (Maybe they'll release an API so we can write our own games?) The support for the iPod is fantastic with numerous addict sites showing you the latest and greatest things you can do with your player.

All in all I think I made the right choice but the real test is how it fares on my upcoming vacation...

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Meat Locker Chic.

Last night we met some old college friends in North Beach for
dinner. Our intended venue couldn't accomodate our numbers, so one friend ran to an even fancier restaurant across the street. He asked if they had a table for nine, slipping the host a twenty in the process.

We were told they could seat us immediately, which was significant since all the restaurants in the neighborhood (including that one) had lines into the streets. Chuckling at the efficacy of the greased palm, we followed our host to the rear of the restaurant. However, our smugness turned to suspicion as we were led down one flight of stairs, then another. After the third flight, we joked about what dire fate must await us in the darkness below.

We arrived in a private room, almost two stories below street level. The walls were tile, like you'd find in a kitchen or shower, and the low ceiling was crisscrossed with pipes. A long, twisted iron candle holder lay on the table, and another lay on a brushed metal cabinet that ran the length of one wall. The candle holders were set in thick layers of old wax, like something out of a horror film.
One end of the room was partitioned off by hinged wrought iron screens, obscuring some source of mechanized hums and rattles.

All these details were lost on us at first, though, because of what hang from the ceiling. In a dense ring surrounding the table, on hooks along the overhead pipes, were maybe a hundred large cured pigs' legs. We had to duck slightly to get to the table, and once there, the legs filled our view.
Knobs of bone protruded from the torn ends, and cryptic stamps (encoding dates?) adorned wrinkled-gummy-brown-translucent skins. The air smelled musty and sour, like death in unholy chemical suspension.

This is their Prosciutto Room, and apparently they think of it as a feature. There's even a little picture on their website.

Now, I'm the first to admit I'm a mouth-breathing cretin when it comes to fine dining. But since when is meat-locker-chic-with-formaldehyde a desired theme for a meal?

I'm not complaining, really. We had a great time, and the food was good. I'm just wondering, now, what untold horrors would have greeted us if our friend had slipped the host a fifty instead of a twenty.

Friday, August 30, 2002

But the mug says "World's Greatest Dad". That's not official?

Last night we watched part of the MTV Video Music Awards. I didn't expect to enjoy it, and I wasn't disappointed.
Today, however, I found out that there was something to enjoy--I just didn't notice it when it happened.

In presenting Michael Jackson with a cake and trophy for his 44th birthday, Britney Spears glowingly referred to Jackson as the "artist of the millenium". The birthday boy thought he was getting an award by that name, and proceeded to give a heartfelt thank-you speech. I was too busy watching his nose ("He's more machine now, than man. Twisted and evil."), and didn't realize what was happening at the time. Alas.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Sit and listen.

I make it a rule not to commit Slashdot link propagation without additional commentary, but I can't help it here.
Lawrence Lessig's
OSCON speech
is by far the clearest, most coherent summary of information freedom issues I've ever heard.

Public Domain == Pervert Domain?

Oral argument in the Supreme Court for href="">Eldred v. Ashcroft is scheduled for
October 9. For those who have forgotten,
Eldred v. Ashcroft is the case that seeks to overturn the href="">Sonny Bono
Copyright Extension Act. Since the href="">last time I
checked, several more href="">amicus briefs have
been filed for both sides, so I spent part of last night reading through

The primary argument of the Petitioners--those against the copyright
extension--has been that the Constitution's Copyright Clause defines a
specific goal ("to promote the progress of science and the useful
arts") and a specific limitation ("for limited Times"), and that the
copyright extension violates the limitation while also failing to promote
the goal. These failures are most obvious in the Act's retroactive
term extension, which (Petitioners argue) can't possibly promote the
creation of new works, since it applies to works which already exist.

Opponents (those in favor of the term extension--Congress, Disney, and friends) claim that retroactive extensions can promote creation of new works, because Congress's tendency to extend copyrights may itself be incentive for creators. That's a bit of a circular argument, and questionable besides: would the prospect of a longer term, fifty or seventy years from now, affect your decision to create content today? Of course not.

Unfortunately, it's hard to prove that, and it's
hard to know just how limited "limited Times" should be. Opponents know
this, and so their arguments attempt to muddle the issue with definitional
quibbles and suggestions that previous term extensions provide sufficient
precedent for the current one. ("We got away with it before, why
shouldn't we now?" is an underlying theme in Opponents' arguments.)

The thing that bugs me most about Opponents' arguments, though, is that
they don't spend much effort trying to justify the Act on the basis of its merits; instead,
they justify it on the basis of Congress's authority to have passed
it. In other words, they don't offer compelling reasons why the
the term extension is a good thing, they just argue that it's
within Congress's power to pass. (It's obvious why they're doing
this: the only real benefit of the Act is its value to the wealthy
copyright holders who lobbied for it in the first place. Opponents
understandably downplay this aspect, since it suggests corruption on
their part.)

Last night, though, I read an argument in favor of retroactive extensions that actually seems, on the face of it, compelling. That argument came in an href="">amicus
brief filed by the estates of Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, and Ludwig
Bemelmans--all authors of famous childrens' books. Their brief provides several concrete examples of works that (they claim) would not have been created if it weren't for long copyright terms. They cite movies, plays, multimedia CD-Roms, and other works which they (the copyright holders) have adapted from their own earlier works. (Think Jim Carrey as The Grinch or Michael J. Fox as Stuart Little.) These works have artistic, technical, and educational merit (in theory), and so they justify continued copyright protection as incentive for their creation.

It's hard not to sympathize with their claim,
particularly when you have fond memories of the works in question. Their arguments are misleading, though. Original authors aren't the only ones capable of creating worthy adapatations--Disney didn't originally create Snow White and Cinderella, after all. Further, there's reason to believe that
the exclusivity of copyright promotes regurgitation rather than adaptation. (Another re-release of Pinocchio? How many times can they re-release the same movie?)

Seuss and friends want us to believe that adaptation should be the permanent exclusive right of original authors. To convince us, they point out that some authors use public domain
characters "to glorify drugs or create pornography". They mention this as part of their argument against the importance of the public domain, apparently trying to portray the public domain as a realm of debauchery--as opposed to the basis of our heritage and the primary source of our creative inspiration that it is.

It's ridiculous that these companies have exploited the public domain that existed prior to their works, but (now that they're established) want the public
domain after their works to be suppressed. It's even more depressing that Congress doesn't seem to understand (or chooses to ignore) that hypocrisy.

To underscore the lack of perspective that characterizes the Opposition, consider a quote from Sonny Bono's widow (who finished his term when he died, and who originally presented the bill):

Actually, Sonny wanted copyright to last forever.
I am informed by staff that such a change would violate
the Constitution. I invite all of you to work with me
to strengthen our copyright laws in all ways available to
us. As you know, there is also Jack Valenti's proposal
to last forever less one day. Perhaps the committee may
look at that next Congress.

Ah, yes. Good trick. Infinity minus one. Clever.

Tell me what to think, Oh Anchorperson.

I'm home sick today, and so have been watching a lot of news. This experience reminds me how silly the Fox News Channel is.
Right now, they're covering a chemical leak in Missouri. The chemical was initially reported to be ammonia, which the Fox News anchorman keeps calling "pneumonia."

It's not quite as entertaining as their coverage of the
Pledge of Allegiance controversy in June. After covering the story, in their inter-story banter, the anchorpeople criticized the Ninth Circuit Court's decision as "obviously a bad thing."
"Let's hope it's overturned, right?" one of them said to the other.

They then cut to commercial, and in the process recited the Fox News Channel slogan, which involves how balanced and fair their news coverage is.

Thursday, August 8, 2002

Is that a <i>real</i> baby? Wake it up so I can confirm that.

In April, a mother passing through heightened security at JFK was forced to drink from bottles of her own breast milk to demonstrate that the bottles were not dangerous. Apparently this demand conformed to federal guidelines at the time.

Priceless quote from a civil rights attorney in the article:

The number of middle-aged, lactating white women who passed through al-Qaida training is probably negligible.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Damn! He could be anywhere!

[Posted by Noah:]

If you're a determined assassin of celebrities with a high-powered rifle, you may already be familiar with Ibis Tek's Instantaneous Personal Protection System, a set of bulletproof barriers that pop up within 40ms when an incoming bullet is detected. Luckily, they tell you how close you'll need to get to defeat their system (500ft) right on their web site.

The same company sells a variety of other products and services like military training -- and SUVs with a pop-up turret bearing a .50 caliber machine gun.

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

It's not about popularity--it's about principle.

Bruce Sterling's OSCON speech (mentioned on Slashdot) is a good read, though it's mostly cute metaphor and a lot of whining. The basic message (corporations are evil and Open Source is hard to use) is true enough, but hardly news. It's also not the problem, as far as I'm concerned.

Too much emphasis is put on how accessible the Open Source world is to the average user. But Open Source isn't about being accessible, or being successful, or taking over the world. It's about freedom to do what you want with your data. And while it's important for the average user to have that freedom, it's even more critical that we--the developers, the researchers, the innovators--have that freedom.

Of course, freedom is relative. For example, I don't feel that it's my God-given right to access the source of all the software I use. If you want to offer me software without the source, go ahead. If I don't need the source for that particular product, then maybe I'll give you my money. If I do need the source, I'll go somewhere else.

Hell, if you want to licence your software to me instead of selling it, then go for it. I'll read the terms, do my best to understand them, and decide if I can live with your restrictions. If they're reasonble, then maybe I'll give you my money. If they're too draconian, then I'll go somewhere else.

It is unfortunate that most users don't understand the rights they're forfeiting when they click "I Agree", but hey: they're the ones clicking. It's sleazy that some companies attach license
revisions to security updates, but hey: caveat emptor. Under U.S. contract law, it doesn't matter what rights the consumer thinks he has--it only matters what the contract says. So as long as customers put up with your ridiculous terms (or are too lazy to read them), I say "exploit away!"

We still, today, live in a country where consumers have a choice. If ubiquity and polish are more important to you than flexibility, then use Windows or OS X. If freedom is more important to you than convenience, then use Linux or FreeBSD. You get to choose.

The problem is not that Linux hasn't captivated the nation's grandmothers. The problem is that we--the people who care about freedom, the people who refuse to give up our rights in exchange for convenience--may soon lose our ability to choose at all.

The CBDTPA--being considered in the U.S. Congress now--will make it illegal to develop hardware or software that doesn't make provisions for copy protection. This doesn't just mean that their hardware and software will behave the way they want. This means that if your hardware and software don't behave the way they want, you will go to jail. Even if your hardware never touches their data. Even if all you ever use it for is to manage your own data, that you create in your own home.

This is a very real threat, not just to the success of Open Source, but to the existence of Open Source. It's hard to imagine how the Open Source world could incorporate such measures. And even if it's possible, there's no reason to believe that the proponents of this bill will choose a version which could be compatible with Open Source. After all, they're not pushing this stuff because they think it's right--they're pushing it because they think it will protect their profits.

If you use Windows or OS X, then the fate of Open Source might not seem very relevant to you. But surely you've noticed how your rights are dwindling, with every new release and security patch. Licence agreements are becoming more restrictive, not less. Their programs are getting more powerful, but your freedom in how you use them is weakening. Perhaps you can sleep at night thinking "These terms are bad, but they're not unbearable. I can still live with them, and if they ever get really bad, then I'll look for an alternative."

Well, any minute now, there may be no alternative.

Monday, August 5, 2002

The altruism of profit.

I still only sort of understand what .NET is. When I first started hearing about it, it was portrayed as a way to phase out software licensing in favor of pay-per-use web services. This sounded sufficiently evil and ill-concieved that I stopped paying attention. (I do that a lot with Microsoft technologies. I still understand ActiveX mainly as a feature that I should disable if I want to keep my computer safe.)

The current Microsoft spin on .NET says nothing about pay-per-use. It's all about "services" and "experiences" and "interoperability". I'm curious, now: was the pay-per-use aspect of .NET ever emphasized by Microsoft, or was that just ruckus raised
by Microsoft detractors?

Investigating this issue, I ran across a priceless quote in one of many Microsoft hype articles:

.NET matters for two reasons, one "selfish," one tied to the profit motive.

Uh. How are those two different reasons?

Friday, August 2, 2002

Thursday, August 1, 2002

Didn't the prophesy say the Antichrist would have this problem?

I bought some new bud earphones
to go with my mp3 player (which came with larger, less portable headphones). The earpiece labeled "L" feels more comfortable in my right ear, and the one labeled "R" feels more comfortable in my left ear. I'm worried by what this means about me.

Yes, OJ Simpson jokes would be in poor taste.

As I drove to work this morning, the marquee-light-board sign on the side of the road (which sometimes mentions accidents or road work) said




LICENSE xxxxxxxx

My first thought was that "amber" referred to a terrorism Threat Condition, which was unsettling. When I got to work, though, I googled "amber alert" and it appears to be a kidnapping response system. Yikes.

After I saw the sign, I couldn't help noticing (and checking) every white SUV I saw. I wonder if accident rates go up while alerts are in progress, because of all the people craning their necks around, reading each others' license plates.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Is that in dog units or human units?

CNN says dogs can count. They claim this because dogs can "tell when one pile of objects is bigger than another." Hmmm. Can you tell which of these shapes is bigger? Yes? Wow, you can compute the exact area of irregular shapes in your head!

Sorry, I'm just a cranky cat person. Ignore me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Nothing says religion like a little copyright infringement.

This morning I saw a car window sticker with Calvin praying in front of a cross. It was like this one, only it actually looked like Calvin. Apparently these have been around for a while, but up to now I'd only seen the Calvin-peeing ones. 'Course, Watterson never allowed Calvin and Hobbes to be merchandised, so they're all bootlegs. Yes, even the moronic anti-environmentalist ones.

I hadn't realized how many variants
were floating around. One guy has even tried to catalog them in the wild. This doesn't come without risks, though. He says

Some people have no problem with wanting everyone to know that they don’t like Fords, but they get really bent out of shape when you try and take a picture.

Good to know. I'll be more careful.

Monday, July 29, 2002

I feel faint from blowing the Legos for so long.

Mark was kind enough to point me to Lego Steam Engines. Sites like this make me feel inadequate, but they also make me feel normal by comparison, so it all works out.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Now my crappy music can go with me <i>everywhere</i>!

This morning I stopped by CompUSA and bought an Archos Jukebox Studio 20GB MP3 player. I've been craving an MP3 player for my car, but since the discontinuation of Rio's car MP3 stereo, I haven't been sure which way to go. In the end, I decided that a portable player (and a cassette adaptor for the car) made the most sense.

The Archos player is a 20GB USB drive, which makes it one of the first portables that's big enough to hold my entire music collection. The thing that sold me on it, though, is that the controller chipset works in Linux as of kernel 2.4.8. Just plug the drive into your USB port, mount /dev/sda1, and go nuts. No crappy custom software--it's just an external drive!

The interface on the unit is dirt simple: you navigate the filesystem with four buttons, and hit play when you get to the desired song. Only one filename is shown at a time, and you can't skip past several at a time, which makes large linear searches a pain. Luckily, the player understands .m3u files, so you can populate the drive with pre-made playlists as you see fit.

The player contains rechargable NiMH batteries, and claims between 7 and 10 hours of continuous play, though I haven't confirmed that myself. Physically, the device is a bit big for "pocket sized", but it comes with a belt-friendly carrying case to compensate.

I'm not sure if the player supports USB 2.0, but since none of my machines are bleeding edge, I'm stuck with the really slow transfer speeds of USB 1.0. It's taking all day for my 12GB music collection to transfer.

Other than the slowness of USB, my only complaint so far is the filesystem's apparent hard-coded file permisssions. Everything is writable only by the owner, and the owner is root, which means you have to be root to write to the device. Maybe mount can do some uid remapping magic. I should look into that.

All in all, I'm impressed. I shoud make frivolous gadget purchases more often.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Everybody loves a sedentary pet.

Tired of feisty, playful feline shenanigans? Wish your cat was more obese and dim-witted? You're in luck!
According to CNN, Meow Mix wants to produce a television show for cats. It would feature "squirrels, bouncing balls, birds and all the things cats love to watch." Plus, presumably, endless advertising aimed at cat owners.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002


Physics is cool. Physics can do things that you and I can't do. If you doubt this, then that's because you
haven't seen this picture.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Like the lottery, only more so.

Okay, this is about the best thing ever. Memepool linked The Time Travel Fund.

You send them $10 now. Your money enters the fund, and earns interest earmarked for you. In 500 years, or however long it takes for time travel to be invented, the money will have earned enough interest to pay someone to travel back in time to retrieve you now. Pow! You're in the future!

The site denies that it's a joke or a scam, but it hardly matters--the idea is hilarious. It gets distasteful around where they offer to bring back your dead relatives, but what do you expect for $10?

Monday, July 15, 2002

Trust this.

Tom Duff ran across a FAQ
that describes the evils of Intel's TCPA and Microsoft's Palladium.
If you still think Digital Rights Management is in your best interest, take the time to read this FAQ.

Friday, July 12, 2002

What so proudly we hailed.

I saw this bumper sticker today. Yes, there's a very faded American Flag to the left of the text.

I'm not trying to make a political statement. I just think it's funny.

Are you paying attention?

Memepool links to a bizarre Japanese comic that blames facial changes on plate tectonics. The rest of the comics on the page make even less sense, if you can imagine.

Good thing those handholds are there.

According to CNN, China and Russia are planning joint wargames for next month. Nearby countries are concerned that the wargames are aimed at them, but I'm more worried about the anti-gravity ray that China seems to have developed. (See the image.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Stop crying wolf, I'm trying to cry wolf!

In late May, I
a letter objecting to the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, and sent it to my representative and senators. One of my senators is Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor of the bill, and so I expected her response to be the least useful of the three. Still, on principle, I sent it to her, respectfully asking her to reconsider.

Interestingly, the only response I've received so far has been from Feinstein. (Well, her organization. You know what I mean.) It was a polite form email explaining that she can only reply to emails that are submitted through her web page. If I want a response, it says, I should go through the web page.

But I had gone through the web page. So I called up her office and asked what was going on. A staffer explained that the bounce email is sent not only for incorrect submissions, but also for form letters. That is, the staff rejects emails that appear to be form letters, and mine was apparently flagged as such.

I was told to try again, and so I did. Several weeks later, I received the same bounce email. Again, I called her office, and again I was told that my email must have been flagged as a form letter.

Their claim is that form letters, such as those offered by,
are "too easy" to send, and so aren't representative of constituents' opinions. That's ridiculous in itself, but it hardly matters, because mine wasn't a form letter.

Now, I don't expect a lengthy personal response. I don't even expect the Senator to read it herself. But a response from the legislative staff is customary--a brief position statement, or even just an acknowledgement. At the very least, my opinion should be tallied. The point, after all, is for my opinion to count, in some tiny way.

What's going on instead is disturbing. My opinion happens to coincide with that of other organizations who are providing form letters. While the wording of my letter is different from those form letters, the sentiment is apparently similar enough to confuse her staffers, who
dismiss my opinion as a result.

It's well known that legislators take individual opinions with a grain of salt, and take form letters with an even smaller grain of salt. Form letters aren't effective. But it never occured to me that form letters may actually reduce the effectiveness of non-form letters on the same subject.

Monday, July 8, 2002

Second-hand smoke, as seen from space.

Friends and relatives on the east coast reported noticeable haze starting Sunday, coming from wildfires in Quebec. Today, NASA has released
an incredible satellite image of the smoke plume.

Um, it's not that thick in person, is it?

How come it flips left-and-right, but not up-and-down?

Memepool mentions the
Google Mirror. Very nice.

Sadly, when you click on a search result, the linked page is not itself reversed. Too bad.

This CARP tastes funny.

Slashdot points out that Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) is introducing
legislation to prohibit CD copy protection. The bill would have several other effects, most of which appear to strengthen fair use rights (!).

It's funny--as stupid and counterproductive as music copy
protection is, the Libertarian in me wonders if it should really be illegal. After all, if enough consumers object to the constraints of copy protection, won't market forces keep it in check? And if you don't like the constraints a company puts on their product, don't buy their product. Why should the government intervene? Let the market decide!

It took me longer than I'd like to admit (several minutes) before I snapped out of that. Having grown up in a world dominated by intellectual property, it's easy to forget
that companies aren't completely free to do what they want with information. (They certainly act as if they are.)

When a company chooses to sell information as a product, they are exercising the privilege of copyright. The grant of copyright comes with limitations, and so the method of sale and delivery must conform to those limitations. When a company cripples your fair use rights, they aren't choosing a valid marketing strategy--they're breaking the law.

It sure would be nice if the above argument were applied, in legislation, to region encoding of DVDs.

In any case, there's a good chance the Boucher legislation won't get far, but it's refreshing to see copyright legislation that focuses on use rights rather than enforcement measures.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Not as cool as Google, but updated more often.

I've set up a local search engine to
index all of MonkeySpeak,
based on ht://dig. I navigate to older articles often enough that a search feature is actually useful for me. Your mileage may vary.

ht://dig is pretty cool, though the way it pluralizes (and adds other suffixes to) search terms is a bit inconsistent. For example, if you search for "thing", it will match against "thing," "things", and even "thingness" (for some reason), but if you search for "lego", it won't match against "legos". I'll look into that when I get a chance.

Hey, I know someone like that.

[Posted by Kevin:]

I saw an interesting article on Slashdot - well, actually it was pretty dull - about a guy who made mathematical shapes out of legos. I thought that was pretty cool... when Tom did it a long time ago.

Anyway, his page is: mathlego.

Now I'm not saying that tdl is the first to do this, but I sort of feel like the groupy that knew the garage band before someone else got famous for doing the same thing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Was it something I said?

The Sun is so pretty when she's angry.

Nobody reads EULAs anyway.

I'm a Unix guy. For the past ten years, I've spent the vast majority of my computing time in variants of Unix--Irix, Solaris, Linux, FreeBSD, and others. Like any good Unix guy, it takes effort for me to suppress my anti-Microsoft feelings, and most of the time I don't even try. However,
for various reasons, I've usually kept at least one Windows installation handy.

The reason used to be games, but nowadays the important ones either href="">work on Linux or href="">live on the PS2.

It used to be web content, but recent versions of href="">Mozilla can access anything I want
to--and the things it can't access are generally not worth it.

Lately, the thing keeping Windows in my life has been my laptop. When I first bought it, I installed Linux on it, and found that the hardware just wasn't supported very well. Windows ME, as shipped with the laptop, worked much better,
and so I've been grumpily using that. To be fair, it's served well as a dumb terminal--running an X server, I've been able to do useful work remotely on my FreeBSD machine. But still, I've had to deal with IE, Media Player, and all the baggage that comes with those.

In other words, I've become used to Windows as a necessary evil in my life. But on Saturday, I was reminded that "necessary" is relative, and that "evil" is not to be taken lightly.
On that day, Slashdot reported Microsoft's latest shenanigan. In a security update for Media Player, they slipped a change into the EULA which gives Microsoft permission to "upgrade" OS components that enforce digital rights, and to disable software which doesn't (in their view) enforce digital rights.

Now, when it comes to copyright, licensing agreements, and other IP issues, I'm more obsessive than anybody I know. I don't pirate music. I don't pirate software. I've even paid for every copy of every Microsoft product that I use.
I do everything by the letter of the law--so what do I have to fear from Microsoft's enforcement of digital rights?

If digital rights management were really about catching the bad guys, then I would have nothing to fear. But the trend in digital rights management--established by ridiculous legislation and happily embraced by mega-corporations--is to make it harder to do things that might be illegal.
That established rights and useful capabilities are lost in the process doesn't seem to be a concern.

The wording in the new Media Player EULA clearly places it in this sinister category. What's worse, they've attached the new clause to a security update, which means you either a) grant them this new power or b) knowingly use a product with a security hole.

I choose c). I have once and for all wiped Windows from my laptop. By lucky coincidence, recent versions of Linux have come to support all the hardware I own--not just the laptop, but my USB mouse, flatbed scanner, and even my digital camera.

The Microsoft Tumor is almost completely excised. Our desktop machine still has Windows 98, because my wife and I need a word processor. I'm currently evaluating word processor choices on Linux. The choices aren't impressive, but we don't need much from a word processor, so one of them should suffice.

Any minute now, I may be free again. I'm giddy.

Friday, June 28, 2002

That's not a pecan, it's a LoJack transmitter.

I'm an ice cream purist. I believe ice cream should be smooth, simple, and elegant, like Häagen-Dazs--not complicated and heterogeneous like Ben & Jerry's.
Give me coffee over Chunky Monkey ® any day.
However, Ben & Jerry's do have one thing going for them: a combination lock for pints of their ice cream.

'Course, a determined thief can just cut through the cardboard.
The only true safety is to eat the whole pint in one sitting. It's always worked for me.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Lose six to eight inches of real money fast!

[Posted by Noah:]

The SpamDemic Map traces the connections between various spamming companies and domains, including who does what for whom, who owns whom, and how mailing
lists are exchanged. Available in viewable .GIF and printable .EPS format.

Houston, this is Discovery. You're not going to believe this.

I can't imagine this is true. It can't be. Right? Four women in Portugal were supposedly tricked into exposing themselves out the window in order to receive mammograms
by satellite.

In Objectivity we Trust.

Wow, this just shows how out of touch I am. When the Pledge of Allegiance was ruled unconstitutional yesterday, I was surprised--not because I disagree with the ruling, but because I thought it already was ruled unconstitutional. I guess I just assumed it was, since it's clear to me that it should be.

Thus, even though it's foolish, I'm even more surprised by the
widespread outrage
at the ruling today. I realize that the majority of Americans, including those in government, believe in God and thus have no direct objection to God references. But in my youthful ignorance I thought that lawmakers understood why the government isn't supposed to endorse specific religious beliefs, even those beliefs that the lawmakers happen to hold. Especially those.

An analyst points out (correctly) that the word "God" already permeates government, but goes on to say

If any of those nine justices, having heard "God save this honorable court" every single day, if something was wrong with it, someone might have said something.

Ah, the old "it's how things currently are, how can it be wrong?" argument. Very nice.

It gets even better. This morning on the news, Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) exclaimed on the Senate Floor

I, for one, will not stand to see this country ruled by a bunch of atheists. If they're not happy with it, they can leave!

(Quoted from memory--if I can find the exact quote, I'll update it. See Comments.)

If that doesn't show a frightening lack of objectivity, I don't know what does.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

I just... I just don't <i>belong</i>.

They screened Lilo & Stitch at work today. Based on the previews, I had no interest in seeing the movie--the message conveyed by the previews was "Hey, he's wacky, you won't believe how wacky he is, come see the movie to find out how wacky he is!" I wasn't sure I could handle all the wackiness.

Plus, I'm generally lukewarm on the Disney Formula: angst-ridden youth, understood by nobody, just doesn't fit in until a zany sidekick accompanies him/her on an adventure which ultimately earns the youth acclaim and self-esteem. (See Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan.)
Out of the blue, The Emperor's New Groove strayed from this formula, and was a fantastic movie. (Notably, it was on track to be a standard musical pseudo-epic, but mid-production was handed over to new writers, who twisted it up and made it great. That's the story I hear, anyway.)

I couldn't tell from the previews how formulaic Lilo & Stitch would be. On a whim, I attended the screening today, and was amazed--it's really good. The Disney Formula is present, but largely subdued, and otherwise the movie is original, funny, and very pretty. (Even more so since the screening was digital.) CG is used sparingly, and works well where it's used. There are even two uses of photographic media (a movie clip and a photo)
integrated with the line art, which I don't recall seeing in any other Disney feature.

Against all odds, Stitch himself (the rabid four-armed blue guy) isn't even annoying. Really.

Oh, sure, if <i>I</i> had a satellite, I could take pictures like these too.

NASA's Earth Observatory has annotated satellite imagery of climatic and environmental interest. In addition to images of current wildfires, there are
ice floes,
and even aircraft contrails.

NASA's Visible Earth is a searchable index of more general satellite imagery, all in the public domain. If you live in Sydney, Australia, you can probably see your house in this one.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Nothin' but the best.

Siggraph 2001 was in Los Angeles, the city with the worst traffic in the nation. Siggraph 2002 is in San Antonio, the sweatiest city in the nation. What distinctions put San Diego (2003) and Atlanta (2004) in the sequence?

Friday, June 21, 2002

Search them for ammonia-based condiments

[Posted by Noah:]

The one, the only, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile was recently
pulled over
in a restricted no-trucks area near the pentagon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Horror stories in the House of God.

On July 2, Neil Gaiman will be reading his soon-to-be-released book Coraline aloud in a church in Berkeley. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids.

Of Coraline, Terry Pratchett says "This book will send a shiver down your spine, out through your shoes, and into a taxi to the airport," though that probably says more about Pratchett than the book.

Monday, June 17, 2002

I will comply. You don't have to.

I've finally taken the time to migrate MonkeySpeak to
XHTML 1.0 Transitional. If you don't know why this is a good thing, take a look at the XHTML Guide I've whipped up.

As far as I know, all of my own content is compliant, and I've converted all existing articles and comments to be
compliant. However, the site currently doesn't check
new comments or articles for compliance. Thus, it's
inevitable that new comments will make the site
uncompliant again.

Until I add a system for validation, I won't hold others
to the XHTML standard. However, sometime soon I may add XHTML validation to the compose process. Since I don't want to make composing difficult, I may also provide an automatic clean-up feature for those who don't want to
change their ways.

Heil Hasbro.

Pointless Conspiracy Theory of the Week: The Offical Word List that comes with our copy of Scrabble contains the word "Nazi" but not the word "Jew". Both are proper nouns, and "Nazi" is an abbreviation to boot, so it's kinda strange.

This CAT scan shows that your mojo is workin' double time.

A study has found significant correlation between a person's musical ability and the amount of grey matter in their auditory cortex. The researchers admit they're not sure which is cause and which is effect, but it's still cool. And hey, before long, musical auditions will just require a little exploratory brain surgery instead of pesky performance evaluations.

Friday, June 14, 2002

I wasn't clumsy, that was foreshadowing!

[Posted by Noah:]

There's this guy building New York City out of legos. I don't think this is quite as impressive as the version of NYC in Legoland, CA, but this one appears to be done by a random private individual which always adds cachet.

Be sure to check out his Empire State Building and his single tower of the World Trade Center.

Ghetto math

[Posted by Roberto:]

"Rufus is a pimp for three girls. If the price is $65 per trick, how many tricks per day must each girl turn to support Rufus' $800 per day crack habit?"

A teacher in Winnipeg was suspended for asking such a question on a recent math test. Finally, math problems with real world examples and the parents cry in outrage. Sheesh.

That's a <i>mean</i> cup o' joe!

Last week I saw a documentary on Africanized ("killer") bees, the raving psychopaths of the insect kingdom. Apparently, not only will they chase you for up to a half mile, but if you dive underwater to escape, they'll wait at the surface until you come up for air.

If you're into coffee, it turns out killer bees are good for something. But I don't drink coffee these days, so I'll continue to think of them as pure evil.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Electric brains.

A month or two ago, They Might Be Giants appeared on Conan O'Brien. They performed a freaky song called "Robot Parade", in which John Flansburgh's voice was altered to sound robotic. The audience did not get it, and halfway through the song, Flans just started rambling in the weird voice to Linnell about how the audience couldn't understand him.

Two days ago, the album with that song came out. It's called "No", and it's a kid's album. (It said this on the outside, but I didn't believe it.)While a couple songs are palatable, and most are cute, the whole thing is a bit much. There's even a disturbingly sincere song about not crossing the street "In the Middle" of the block.

The bad news is that this won't enter my regular listening rotation. The good news is that I've officially bought the first album of children's music for our unborn baby. Yay! Unintentional good parent points!

Everything's a file, including the leak protection layer.

MarkV pointed me to a site that lists products around the world that are sold under the brand name "Unix". It includes diapers, fire extinguishers, and a product that fights fungal diseases of wheat and barley.

I'm not a <i>real</i> carjacker. You're on Candid Camera!

MTV, unsatisfied with the levels of public intrusion and annoyance achieved by Jackass, has apparently been working on a Candid-Camera-like series, "Harassment". One prank in their (as yet unreleased) pilot episode features a fake bloody corpse in the hotel room of some unsuspecting travelers. The travelers, who were trapped in the room temporarily by fake security guards, are suing.

When people are offended by what they see on TV, I say "change the channel". When people are bothered by morons injuring themselves intentionally on TV, I say "lighten up". But when television crews scare the living crap out of random strangers for no reason, I'm happy to see them sued.

Should that be "farce or subversion"?

The San Francisco Gateway has an
on an Indian restaurant owner who has daily, for eight years, parodied the marquee on the seafood restaurant next door with his own marquee. For instance, on the day that their sign said "Every Day is Fat Tuesday", his said "Praise the Lard!" I love it.

Is this like VGA?

NVIDIA has realeased "C for graphics" ("Cg" for short), a language that can compile to their vertex and pixel shaders. News coverage is predictably incompetent. One article compares it to "[Microsoft's] series of C languages". Even NVIDIA's intro page has an inspirational graph with meaningless axes.

That's okay. Shading in hardware is cool anyway, and having an official (if not standard) high-level language is probably progress.