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.