ajeeb has a pretty amazing looking English / Arabic machine translation system. Alas, I don't read Arabic, and the Arabic → English translation requires a paid subscription. But English → Arabic looks great, nice layout adjustment.
Every fantasy or sci-fi movie ever made has an Internet fan page, even Krull. Plenty of stills to stir fond memories of the film, info on tie-in games, romz for the Atari 2600 game I spent part of an 11 year old summer playing.
Geocities is not your only Krull infostop, either. You can find cheats for the game, an online RPG, someone who has made a replica of the Glaive, a loving review, and even a video clip. Amazon will ship Krull on DVD to you in 24 hours for $18, but alas Liam Neeson didn't choose to participate in the special features.
The "weapons of mass destruction" justification for invading Iraq is crumbling faster than expected.
The British government was caught plagiarising 12 year old student papers to justify the war in February. Downing Street defended the report anyway, but now Blair can't escape charges the report was hyped.
The story is also falling apart in the US. The Marine commander in Iraq says intelligence about chemical weapons on the battlefield was "simply wrong". CIA insiders are breaking ranks, shifting blame from analysts to policy makers. Colin Powell himself reportedly thought the weapons argument was "bullshit". Wolfowitz admits that the weapons issue was used because it was bureaucratically expedient.
And the story of Jessica Lynch, rescued POW, has been overblown, probably deliberately. Her family is forbidden to talk about it. So far Jessica is keeping her head down, but reports that she has amnesia are false.
The political situation in the US is so bad that my friends (pro and anti-Bush) have an unspoken agreement just not to talk about it. Silence = Death.
The Bush tax cut would have saved me 0.6% of last year's gross income. I'm creating new jobs already.
San Francisco lets its lazy residents throw all recyclables into a single bin; they sort it later. Jon Carroll explains how it works.
What you have is sort of like a conveyor belt except, for reasons not fully understood by this correspondent, it separates the trash, with the lighter paper crawling upward and eventually off the top of the screen, while the heavier cans and bottles and whatnot slide downward onto another conveyor belt.
I used my BitTorrent dumper to survey what was out there. What I learned is that BitTorrent isn't a file sharing network, it's a transport. Discovery and download initiation are still highly centralized. Every shared file is managed by a single tracker host that plays an active role helping find peers to download from. I fear most .torrent files are short-lived.
I did a survey from three sites of dubious legality: torrentfiles.com, animetorrents.com, and torrents.co.uk. In 870 .torrent files I found 32 different trackers. The top 4 trackers accounted for 75% of all the files. Not a lot of diversity. Of course, my sample is biased.
I was also interested in how folks use the BitTorrent metainfo. About 80% of all files use a piece length of 256k, followed in popularity by 512k and 1024k. I also found a bunch of unofficial tags: path.utf-8, creation date, comment, and md5sum.
I'd like to do a more formal survey with a wider sample; this torrent search engine claims 8200+ files.
I was experimenting with BitTorrent, so I wrote a little file dumper to see what was in the mysterious .torrent files. The code doesn't just parse the protocol; it'll dump whatever the decoder can find. Sample output:
info length 41470132 piece length 262144 name Halo2_E3.wmv pieces [159 SHA-1 values] announce http://news.gametab.com:6969/announce
But it's easy to criticize; BitTorrent is still awfully cool.
Python deals with time in three formats: a float (seconds since epoch), a struct_time tuple, or a string. This is all well documented but the conversions confuse me. Here's another way to look at it:
float -> tuple gmtime,localtime float -> string ctime tuple -> float mktime tuple -> string strftime,asctime string -> tuple strptime
OK, I'm impressed that DivX is small enough for people to ship around movies and TV shows on the Internet. But the output is so ugly! It's not like MP3, where the perceived quality is good enough that you don't feel like you're losing much in the translation. DivX is just ugly.
I'm trying to watch Red vs. Blue. So I download the DivX (encoded to 84 kbytes/sec), set it up to watch full screen, then sit back from the monitor. Ugh! Blurry, blocky, smeared. I'm watching the watery reflection of a movie. It looks better if I don't play full screen, but what's the point?
I'm beginning to think MPEG-2 set the right limits on encoding. My experiments with DVD ripping left me thinking the 5:1 disk space savings of DivX wasn't worth the quality loss.
As seen on BoingBoing
My favourite music these days is glitch, spare electronica between the wimpyness of ambient and the aggro of industrial. Glitch has an electronic sheen but manages to avoid techno's soullessness.
My favourite glitch group is Autechre. Their Tri Repetae++ is brilliant, but it was Chiastic Slide I first noticed. I picked it up cold at a record store because of the beauty of the Designer's Republic cover art.
I finally tried out BitTorrent, Bram's P2P file sharing app. The clever innovation in BitTorrent is that it separates the search for files from the download of files. Unlike KaZaA or Gnutella or whatever, BitTorrent only supports file download, not search. You just use the web to find the .torrent locator file you need for download, for instance for the Half Life 2 trailer.
BitTorrent is pregnant hackerware - it works great but is still poorly documented. And the apps aren't well integrated. Someone could build a killer tech company out of it. Some extra info is available in Brian's BitTorrent FAQ and the BitTorrent Wiki.
Me, I started downloading by doing
apt-get install bittorrent
The trailer for Half Life 2 from E3 is so beautiful it's humbling. The download is 500 megs of Quicktime, but worth it.
Facial muscle modelling allows them to do dynamic expressions and lip-sync, in-game and in realtime. Physics modelling not only gives each object mass and inertia, but also complex surfaces to tumble against and flexible shapes to bend. It's harder to judge the AI, but if what they say in the voiceover is true it's pretty amazing. It's like cutting edge movie CGI five years ago, but realtime on your PC.
All this technology will make for a beautifully immersive experience. I hope the story will match - not much in the trailer, but the modelling of the locations was so beautiful I'm willing to bet they've got a good backstory.
Between Half Life 2, Doom 3, and Deus Ex: Invisible War it's going to be a good year for first person shooters.
My tiny little weblog has now been targeted for referer spam. That'll teach me to publish referers in the sidebar.
What I don't understand is the diversity of source IP addresses. Are they really users of www.gevasys.de, www.mod.gov.sk, and cair.res.in? Do they 0wnz0r those systems? Can they spoof source IP? Update: Todd, who was hit too, says that the hosts that accessed us were running open HTTP proxies.
I found a pattern to detect the spam, so for now I'm ok. Won't last though.
Wow, what a shock that Kim got safely to CTU, only to be killed by Nina in the last few minutes while waiting in a holding cell. Now she'll never be back on the show.
Nevermind, that was last season. Wrong annoying character.
SpaceMonger is good software. It tells you where your disk space is going using a two dimensional TreeMap layout. MarketMap is another interesting use of this visualization technique. (Java, caveat browsor).
I serve my blog via my dinky 128kbps upstream DSL link, so bandwidth is precious. Fixing the fiasco of mod_gzip triggering an MSIE bug helps a lot. Now I'm supporting If-Modified-Since and ETags headers on my blog contents, too. The magic is Bob Schumaker's lastmodified plugin, which pretty much Just Works. Thanks, Bob!
Please tell me if you see any caching weirdness.
Today I learned that Internet Explorer isn't caching any images from my blog at all. Why? A nasty bug in MSIE that mod_gzip triggers. Gory details and a partial fix below.
The issue is that mod_gzip includes the following header in all responses:
Vary: Accept-EncodingThis helps prevent caches from serving gzip data to browsers that can't support it.
Unfortunately it also triggers a bug in MSIE - the browser won't cache any document with that header! So with mod_gzip 95% of the world's browsers won't cache any pages from the server. Some bandwidth savings.
It'd be nice if mod_gzip was smart enough not to add the Vary: header if it didn't compress the file, but it's not. A partial workaround is to turn mod_gzip off for files it won't be compressing anyway, like images.
<FilesMatch "\.(gif|jpe?g|png)$">This fix is only partial; other files (say, HTML) still won't be cached. Three choices - stop using gzip, lose caching in IE, or drop the Vary: header and break caches.
Poor Microsoft. After the recent collapse in Passport security the Gartner Group is recommending that all Passport partners leave the program or else provide an "additional, more secure form of authentication". The FTC is on Microsoft's case, too.
Part of the problem with the most recent flaw is that it had been there for months and Microsoft has no way of telling how many accounts were compromised. Nice.
Centralized authority is dangerous.
I wanted to record an Internet radio show to MP3 so I could listen to it the way I want to. You'd think this would be easy, just like taping a song off the radio only without the hiss. No. The software is all designed to bottle things up. Here's how I took the cork out.
First I need to get the bits. RealAudio streams are deliberately difficult to copy. Thanks to a friend I found Streambox VCR, outlaw software that is able to download a stream to a local .rm file. Don't miss Flying Raichu's story_of_crack.txt where he splices code from an old beta into this version to make it work again.
Now to convert the RealMedia bits to MP3. A search for rm mp3 convert is heavily spammed. The best option seems to be to play the audio through RealPlayer and capture the waveform at the audio driver level. There are zillions of Windows programs that capture audio. I settled on Total Recorder because it was the most popular on KaZaA. (No, I didn't steal it - $12). It creates a fake sound driver in front of the real one to capture the sound. It also does a cool thing where it tricks Real into playing faster than realtime so the conversion doesn't take so long.
The resulting MP3 is too quiet; MP3Gain fixes it.
This is a lot of work to tape a song off the radio. DRM doesn't stop you if you're persistent, but it's enough to stop most people. And just like the way Macrovision prevents you from plugging your DVD in through your VCR, the restrictions on Internet audio and video prevent you from replaying them the way you want.
With Palladium what I did will be impossible. I won't be able to install Streambox or Total Recorder on my own computer, or if I do I will be locked out of using RealMedia.
GTA3: Vice City on the PC lets you build your own MP3 soundtrack for the radio. I'd loaded up the latest 50 Cent album and realized it sounded all wrong playing 2003 gangsta rap in a 1980s game. But I stumbled into the perfect sound track: a BBC radio retrospective on 80s Electronica.
I have a big smile on my face now remembering the song "Warm Leatherette".
A tear of petrol is in your eyeThe Grace Jones version is my favourite.
The handbrake penetrates your thigh
Quick, let's make love
Before you die
On warm leatherette
As seen on MetaFilter
According to ThePlatoon.com, the new Raven Shield patch deliberately breaks the game, preventing it from working with Alcohol 120%.
Jen from UbiSoft tech support tells me that this "error" was intentional, as one of the goals of the patch was to prevent people from using these mock rom drives.This is too bad, I really like this form of fair use.
Why do I have to have a $50 program just to use the $50 game I bought? At this rate I'm tempted to steal the games off of a P2P network: at least those versions don't have copy protection.
There is good news on the copy protection front: according to ExtremeTech Intuit was so burned by the fiasco of the copy protection in Turbotax 2002 that they swear off copy protection from now on.
"We're dropping (DRM) in all prepaid products - that means any copy you purchase at a retail store or direct from us," the spokesman said ...I'm sympathetic to software companies, particularly game companies, who try to stop people from stealing their software. But copy protection is a usability nightmare as has been shown time and again over the past 20 years.
"That means no Macrovision DRM software, no DRM software from anyone," Gulbransen said.
I believe that Microsoft's Palladium is going to make all this a moot point as we lose control over the very software running on our computers. We are doomed to DRM hell.
I saw the new Matrix movie today. Text below is white-on-white to avoid contamination, highlight with your mouse to read it. No major spoilers.
Sure, it was OK, in a Jurassic Park kind of way. Fun special effects, some nice production design, some good fight choreography.
But they need to fire whomever was the music director. The music, particularly during the fight choreography, was awful. And the writing. The writing. Who told the Wachowski Brothers they could take themselves seriously? The movie plays like a serious of disconnected fight sequences interspersed with horrible high school philosophizing.
A lot has been made about the "deep story" in The Matrix and how it invokes Plato, modern philosophy of mind, etc. I never thought it was much more than a 16 year old's solipsism but at least it made the movie entertaining. I'm sad to say the expansion of the mythology in the new film is just ridiculous.
Overall it was fun and I don't regret the time spent, but basically it was as disappointing as we all feared.
PS - who owns the long underwear concession in Zion?
PPS - the review in Slate is awesome. "Lucasoid". Nasty reviews are the most fun.
From way back in July 2000, Matt Pritchard writes in Gamasutra about online game cheating from his experience with Age of Empires. The article is a helpful summary but something about it seems incomplete. Maybe it's that most of his proposed remedies are really just variants of security through obscurity, yet he himself says Rule #5: Obscurity is not security.
The only real fix is his Rule #8: Trust in the server is everything in a client-server game. He left out the corollary: only build client/server games and make sure the server is a trusted computer.
Even then it's not going to be perfect, as noted here with the cheats in Diablo II. Unless the server is perfect the hackers will find server bugs to make bad things happen. The whole problem is fascinating. It reduces to the same problem of distributed systems consistency in the face of Byzantine failure. Or copy protection, or DRM. This is what Microsoft's Palladium is all about.
"You'll never be my mommy.This week on a very special 24, Kim meets Kate Warner and grapples with feelings of family loyalty. Will she shoot Kate, too? Find out tonight!
My real mommy is dead."
I just bought Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the PC, first day of release. Even more fun than GTA3, excellent production design. Great use of pink and green. Some of the fonts are anachronistic but I'll look the other way. The 80s are a brilliant foil for this kind of game. I'm ashamed to find myself singing along to the radio. "Shoot that poison arrow".
The game works pretty well so far, much better than the mess that was GTA3 on the PC. Some annoyances: it installed DirectX 9 without asking my permission, there's a silly off-by-one display glitch in the cutframe letterboxing, and I can't get Alcohol 120% to emulate their crappy copy protection. But the framerates are good and the graphics are beautiful. Even the intro is cool, retro C64 load screen.
Lots of laugh out loud moments. My favourite so far, the little putt-putt moped called the "Faggio".
Thanks to Todd for setting me on the right path to fixing my codepage problem. With his hint I found an O'Reilly chapter that contains docs to get Samba to translate between Windows codepages and something sensible. (As long as by "sensible" you don't mean UTF-8). The magic is in the smb.conf:
[global]Props to O'Reilly for putting the whole book online.
client code page = 437
character set = ISO8859-1
Who knew that Microsoft Windows had so many different encodings?
There's CP1252, the almost-but-not-quite ISO-Latin-1 that is responsible for the evil breakage of "smart quotes" by encouraging web publishers to act like 0x93 is a valid way to represent a left double quote. At least it encodes É in a sensible place, 0xc9.
But why stop at one codepage? There's also CP437, an ancient DOS codepage that is nothing like Latin-1 but contains Latin-1 characters like É at 0x90. Yes, that's a different place than CP1252.
Apparently both of these evil 19th century codepages are still coexisting on my 21st century Windows XP system. I just dumped a bunch of MP3 files from my WinXP box to Linux and found the filenames hopelessly garbled. I finally guessed they're in CP437. I'm a bit surprised Samba didn't take care of it for me.
Python to the rescue:
return unicode(s, 'cp437').encode('latin-1')
Employees get no time off when Bush visits their factory.
Airlite president and CEO Brad Crosby said workers will be given one of four options during the visit: work their regular shift in an adjacent plant not visited by the president, take the day off and make up the work on Saturday, use one of their vacation days, or take an unpaid day off.From AP, Workers Won't Get Paid During Bush Visit.
"Right from the beginning, we didn't want to see anyone take a cut in pay. We're just trying to be completely fair," Crosby said
I picked up playing Diablo II again. Great game, pleasure of virtual acquisition.
Online games have always been victim to hacks, made even worse by the real world market on eBay for characters, items, and cheats. Blizzard was clever and went to a server based model to prevent hacks. Apparently it's not good enough, because the game is awash with superpowerful obviously hacked items.
I found a good article analyzing the motivation and sources for these cheats. The motive is tens of thousands of dollars (real dollars). The source? Harder to say, because software and virtual property gets passed from hand to hand before it hits eBay. The author of the article above fingers a student at Tsinghua University.
From Beijing to the Bay Area, mediated by a virtual world.
The final Animatrix short was released, The Second Renaissance Part 2. It's in the same style as the first one I liked so much. Incredibly beautiful animation, the technique is fantastic. I want to learn more about the director, Mahiro Maeda.
The marketing strategy with Animatrix is great. Build excitement for The Matrix: Reloaded by giving away related content, then sell the giveaway too. You can preorder it on Amazon now, but it doesn't ship until June 3.
May there be mercy on man and machine for their sins.
Why can't white people
just leave the house?
Another serious hack of Microsoft Passport.
The flaw allowed a single Web address--or URL--to be used to request a password reset from the Passport servers. The URL contains the e-mail address of the account to be changed and the address where the attacker would like to have the reset message sent. By entering the single line into a Web browser an attacker can cause the Passport servers to return a link that allows an account's password to be reset. By following the link returned in the message, the attacker can change the password for the victim's account.
Bugs like this are incredibly common, usually not worth reporting. But Passport is different. Passport wants to be the single trusted repository of personal data, all your eggs in one basket. I worry they don't have a fundamental systems security model to make that safe.
This isn't the first time Passport has been hacked, either.
The protocol design is very clever. It's as low level as it gets. The hardware device accepts commands like "write this MP3 data into memory" or "stick this byte on the I2C bus". All the hard work is done in the server.
That means functionality can be added without hacking the device. Streaming Internet audio, Ogg Vorbis files? Have the server do the hard work and send MP3 to the device. Menus work by sending IR codes to the server, so you can add new functions. Some nut has added a calculator.
The server may be the barrier to the SLIMP3 becoming common. Anyone into MP3s has a PC in their house and may even have a network. But do they have a stable server machine? It'd suck if mom's relaxing music in the parlour is interrupted because junior is playing SimCity.
Someone broke into my car last night. Well, let themselves in; no sign of forced entry. At least they didn't wreck too much havoc. They took $15 in change and my old MP3 player but left the rest of the car pretty much alone.
I live in a quiet suburban neighbourhood of San Francisco, not the kind of place where you'd expect this kind of petty crime. And I always lock my car door. Did I forget?
Now I know why my cat likes these little mouse toys so much:
Fur Cat ToysAs with everything, there is controversy about this product on the Internet:
The rabbit fur which is used in producing these toys comes from scrap pieces of fur which are a by-product of rabbit meat and would normally be discarded.
Vo-Toys, Inc. would never purchase the hides of animals killed solely for their pelts. This is totally contrary to our business principles which dictate the love and good care of pets.
There is a STRONG possibility that these products are made from domestic dog or cat fur. In any event, Vo-Toys cannot categorically deny this, since much fur from China is mislabelled.I should just buy Ejnar the whole rabbit and be done with it.
I watched Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? last night, one in a series of ugly movies from the 50s/60s along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Suddenly, Last Summer.
I love movies like this, they remind me of my melodramatic Texas heritage. Baby Jane was difficult to watch again. 134 minutes is too long and the performances aren't as good as I remembered. The most surprising thing on second viewing was the strong role of Elvira, the loyal maid, played by Maidie Norman. Complicated class and race relations.
The most astonishing thing for me about Baby Jane is that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would agree to make the film. They are both so sad and Bette Davis is so hideously ugly. It comes across now as camp rather than horror.
I hadn't realized there was a series of older actress exploitation films.
I was really hoping to find a wireless MP3 component. There are a couple, but none seem as good as the SLIMP3 with a wireless/ethernet bridge. The cd3o has a voice interface that sounds like a terrible idea. The Exstreamer sounds cool but doesn't have any interface at all. Gloolabs' Homepod is still vapourware.
I imagine SLIMP3 will be acquired by someone. I wonder if they can remain hacker-friendly while producing a product simple enough for the average consumer?
CCD sensors used in digital cameras can't sense colour, only brightness. So how do you get a colour image? Typically by putting little red, green, and blue filters in front of the sensors on the CCD like the GRGB Bayer pattern depicted here. The camera software then has to do some funky tricks to compose a proper colour image.
Foveon has a sensor technology called X3 that works around this problem by stacking several translucent sensors in a single pixel. In theory this should give sharper pictures. So far the Sigma SD9 is the only camera out there with the Foveon sensor ($1500). Alas, the reviews suggest this first camera isn't quite up to the sensor.
Insight into the creation of Bush's stage for Thursday's speech from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
Commanders gauged the wind and glided along at precisely that speed so that sea breezes would not blow across the ship during Bush's speech.
The camera angle also was arranged by the White House to ensure it did not show the nearby coastline.
The Navy sent all but a couple of fighter jets off the plane Wednesday and Thursday. Those left behind were left on the flight deck as props for Bush's speech.
I've had an Archos MP3 Player for awhile. Very simple - USB harddrive with a DSP bolted on to play MP3. No proprietary music software, no digital restrictions management, just an MP3 hard drive.
But the UI in the firmware is crummy. Enter RockBox, an open source firmware that was built by hacking the Archos. Works great: better UI, better music buffering for skip protection and battery life, and I think it even sounds better. iPod owners - it may be great design, but you'll never be able to hack it.
Hardware companies should encourage this kind of thing.
She's been hanging out with this cop for three hours. What has she been doing?
And she's going to move out of her boyfriend's house at 5am? The boyfriend who lost his legs because of her? Cold.
SpamAssassin defines a spam rule called "Bang Oprah".
body BANG_OPRAH /\boprah!/iI don't know what's funniest - that there's a lot of spam featuring Oprah!, that some spamassassin programmer realized that and wrote a rule, or that they named it "Bang Oprah".
Talks about Oprah with an exclamation!
score BANG_OPRAH 4.300