I hate car stereos. They refuse to have a standard line-in jack, so plugging in your MP3 player is a terrible hassle. I use a tape adapter and it boils my blood to hear tape hiss and rattling wheels. FM adapters are worse.

I'm shopping for a new car and figured I should make having a reasonable MP3 solution part of the choice. I don't want to buy an aftermarket head unit; I live in San Francisco, things get stolen. I found several trunk mounted hard drive players that integrate in various ways. Do you know of something better?

PhatNoise. 20 gig: ~$850
Goes through great lengths to emulate the CD changer protocol so you can control the MP3 collection from your head unit. They also make the Kenwood Music Keg, an RF system.
UI: head unit's CD changer. Interface: CD changer.
MuzicVault. 20 gig: $350
Hooks in via FM or patched into stereo.
UI: Palm Pilot (wacky!). Interface: FM or patch in.
Neo Car Jukebox. 20 gig: $300
Looks like the Fast Eddie edition.
UI: wired remote. Interface: FM or patch in.
Omnifi DMP-1: 20 gig: $600
Big feature is a wireless adapter ($70) which lets you load music on it when the car is in your garage. I have a feeling this doesn't work as well as you'd hope.
UI: wired remote. Installation: patch in, scanty details.
What's most important is the UI and the way it hooks into the stereo. The PhatNoise is unique in its emulation of the CD changer protocol, that seems like a significant advantage.
  2004-05-31 16:10 Z
Deep geek post here just for the search engines. If you're playing Knights of the Old Republic and you're on Tatooine and you try to enter the Sand People Enclave and you're told "your entire party has been killed" with no explanation, you've hit a bug. Explanation below.

More inside ...

  2004-05-31 16:08 Z
One of the hidden gems of E3 was the demo of Unreal Engine 3. Unreal is a series of first person shooters that have beautiful graphics but not particularly subtle gameplay. They license their engine to other companies that make interesting games.
Sorry for the blurry picture above, but hopefully it gives you a sense of the lighting. They have some crazy normal mapping going on with the monster, then a dynamic lighting model that includes occlusion and transluceny. Result? Stained glass zombie, in real time.

If you're into this sort of technology make a point of seeing the video. It's a 160 meg download.

Thanks to Ryan for pointing this out
  2004-05-30 21:14 Z
The thing I like best about computer role playing games is the story. Alas, most CRPG writing is awful. But Bioware does well. They're the spiritual successor to Infocom.

CRPGs have another theme: the acquisition of stuff. You start out wimpy with a tiny little dagger and a loincloth. By the end of the game you're a bad-ass with +7 glowing long swords and titanium power armour. RPG-like games like Diablo make the acquisition of stuff the primary gameplay experience, like clothes shopping with more killing.

Which brings me to my idea: how about a game where the goal is not to acquire stuff, but to get rid of it? You start out super powerful with all the geegaws and skullsplitters you could want. In your process of saving the world you learn these things have no power and you have to simplify to find true meaning and technique.

It'd require a tricky game mechanic to make work. Maybe in getting rid of things you focus and customize your remaining stuff until you are left with one simple elegant possession which is the focus of your power.

  2004-05-28 16:00 Z
The end of 24 this season was sucky.

More inside ...

  2004-05-27 16:27 Z
Hey! Ho! Downward spiral in Iraq? Presidential speech failed to reassure voters? US military officers torturing prisoners? Executive branch morally bankrupt? Ignore all that, just BOLO. What, you don't know BOLO? All the cool kids know: just ask the FBI:
"BOLO"--that's BuSpeak for "Be On the Look Out."
Well, there's not really any new information about attacks. We don't really know where, when, what, or how. But as Grand Moff Ashcroft says
Asked about the timing of his new warnings about the suspects, Mr. Ashcroft said, "We believe the public, like all of us, needs a reminder."
I truly fear for US democracy.
  2004-05-27 15:40 Z
The Newspaper of Record in the US has issued a broad retraction of many stories leading up to the Iraqi war.
[The problematic articles] depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq ... Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations in particular, this one.
They take broad editorial responsibility for this failure of reporting and cite several articles based on faulty information. Examples online.

This admission is astonishing. Usually it's a single reporter to blame; here the NYT as a whole is saying they got it wrong. This article is an important milestone in the US coming to terms with the fact that the war on Iraq was based on false pretenses.

  2004-05-26 14:53 Z
Why do most programmers still work with 80 column wide screens? Long variable names are a virtue; most of my Java code really wants to be 120 columns wide.

Why don't programming languages let me put spaces in variable names? whyDoIHaveToDoThis or_this_crud, why can't I just put spaces in things?

for user id in user ids {
  if is valid user (user id) and
       is authorized user (user id) {
    show report(user id)
    user(user id).bill for report(one dollar)
I think it's possible to define unambiguous syntax like the above. Not allowing spaces in identifiers may make the compiler's job easier. But the days of worrying about compiler overhead are long long gone.

Update 2004-05-26: Bill Tozier emailed to say that AppleScript does have spaces in some things, although he warns of usability problems. Here's an example:
tell application "Finder"
    set windowName to name of front window
    close front window
end tell 
front window appears to be a single identifier with a space in it. But then again, windowName is camelCase.
  2004-05-22 23:10 Z
From: "Gerardo Weir" <jyyiarimnwzroj@aol.com>
To: neil@REDACTED.com, nelson@REDACTED.com
Subject: Fuck YOU
Date: Sat, 22 May 2004 18:23:38 -0500

The spam worked, I opened the URL. They claim to be an investment site, just click on the site and transfer over some e-gold and poof, you get 121% return in 5 weeks.

I know there's a sucker born every minute, but who would fall for this stuff? The particularly remarkable thing is you have to have an e-gold account to even play. Wouldn't you think the few people who have e-gold accounts are likely smarter than to fall for this? Maybe their marks are scammers too and this is all about money laundering.

Update 2004-05-26: some suckers.
  2004-05-22 22:36 Z
Since switching to use an aggregator to read blogs my information gathering life has improved. I can read more quickly, read more things, and enjoy easily low-volume sites that have the occasional high-value post.

But there's one problem with my aggregator lifestyle: it feels like work. Blog reading used to be fun goofing off, nipping off to BoingBoing for a few minutes. Now all my blog reading is compressed into 45 minutes in the morning before I drive to work. It's a morning chore.

Worse, my aggregator keeps track of unread items. And that list gets bigger if I don't get around to it for a few days. Suddenly I have a giant backlog of random blog entries I have to read. Another workqueue.

  2004-05-22 16:20 Z
The story of Brandon Mayfield is very bizarre. A Portland, Oregon lawyer and a convert to Islam, he was arrested as a "material witness" and then released. It's possible he was arrested solely on the basis of a fingerprint match that later turned out to be faulty. This is not the way justice is supposed to work in the US.
  2004-05-22 15:49 Z
I've been both horrified and fascinated by the conspiracy theories surrounding the Berg beheading video. Kuro5hin has a reasonably level-headed roundup of discrepancies, found via jwz. See also this MetaFilter thread. I'm gonna go all meta, but what I find interesting is what the speculation says about ourselves.

More inside ...

  2004-05-17 15:21 Z
Today's NYT, a story about fraud in online job listings.
Ms. Haloulos would accept payment for the software company's domestic sales, then take that cash out of her PayPal account and wire it, via Western Union, to the software company's contacts in Ukraine. Ms. Haloulos would keep 5 percent to 20 percent of the payment as commission.
Unfortunately for the poor Ms. Haloulos, those payments turned out to be fraudulent. "I feel like an idiot", she's quoted as saying.

Forgive me for being harsh, but, um, yeah. Your "job" consists of accepting credit card payments in a PayPal account, skimming 20%, and then wiring the cash to Ukraine? What did you think you were doing?

Here's a hint: payment processing jobs do not involve an individual's private account. And another hint: Ukraine is essentially jurisdiction-free when it comes to the Internet.

  2004-05-17 14:13 Z
I've been grooving on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It's a single player RPG set way back in the Jedi past. And unlike other Star Wars games this one doesn't suck: they make great use of the franchise with fun aliens, worlds, lightsabers, lots of use of the Force.
The best thing is that being evil is a full-fledged option. You can play to the Light Side or the Dark Side. And it's so much fun being evil. My favourite moment so far was lying to the Jedi masters on Dantooine. Fools, they thought I was believing their namby-pamby balance and harmony crap. I'm just waiting for the Sith to hook me up with a double-ended lightsaber.
  2004-05-15 22:54 Z
I finally watched Kill Bill vol. 1. What a tedious movie! I generally love obsessive geekishness and formalism in making art, particularly movies. But it's important that the movie also actually be about something. That it have a point.

That's why I liked Jackie Brown so much: Tarantino could indulge his obsession to homage while actually telling a meaningful human story. You know what would be brilliant? A Dogme 95 Quentin Tarantino film. Have the filmgeek boy make a movie without all the lighting and editing tricks. Restriction is freedom.

  2004-05-15 20:51 Z
This may not have been the best idea, but I found the video of Nicholas Berg on ogrish.com and watched it. I suggest you think carefully before watching it yourself, it is more disturbing than you might think.

The difference between the actual video and the limited images in today's papers is astonishing. The newspapers pictures look calm, quiet. The video is swift and horribly brutal. The most disturbing thing is hearing the murderers shout "Allahu Akbar" over and over again.

I watched it because I think it's important to view the truth of things. I hate modesty censorship of news. But there are some things you may prefer not to see.

Update: this BBC article is about the news media's attempts to explain the video without actually showing it.
  2004-05-12 16:38 Z
When I was in high school the really cool outcast kids all smoked, drove old VWs, and listened to Sonic Youth. I was mostly a nerd, but sometime around my junior year I got a bit cooler and started listening to KTRU and hanging out at The Axiom.

But I never quite felt cool enough to listen to Sonic Youth. It was just a bit too raw and punk for my nerdishness. Now I'm an adult and my music doesn't identify me and I'm glad to say Sonic Youth still rocks. Sister, Evol, Dirty, even Washing Machine are all just great. I feel both alienated and hip.

I continue to look for a copy of their first album. At this point I'm almost ready to rip an 18 year old cassette tape.

The advertisement said the pleasure's everlasting.

  2004-05-12 15:48 Z
The day the Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US memo was launched, I looked at the redacted original and wondered how good the redaction really was. You can see the size and even the shape of some of the words.
Well, someone figured it out: the missing word above is "Egyptian". John Markoff has the story. David Naccache and Claire Whelan did some basic image analysis to figure out what font the document was in and exactly how wide the missing word was. Then they did a search over all possible words that would fit and narrowed the list down from 1530 words to 7 based on context. Simple, and according to the report almost entirely automated.

The demonstration was at Eurocrypt. Le Monde seems to have the first news report (translation). More: Nicolas, Kos, Slashdot, an earlier deredacting attempt.

  2004-05-10 15:10 Z
If you've bought a PC video card in the last year you owe it to yourself to get Far Cry, at least the demo. This is the first game to take real advantage of pixel shaders and insane polygon counts to deliver fantastic graphics.
The gameplay is great too. The AI gives a good challenge, flanking and cooperating to give you a hard time. And the level design is terrific, really taking advantage of the huge render distances. Lots of fun running to a high spot on an island and sniping folks half a kilometre away.

Two glitches to be aware of. The copy protection is user-hostile. And on my GeForce Ti4200 the game crashes regularly unless I underclock the video card 5%. Weird thing is it doesn't seem to be heat related.

  2004-05-09 16:27 Z
Negativland's 1987 song "Christianity is Stupid" was influential for me in high school. The overt anti-Jesus message wasn't really the point, but rather the ridiculing and reuse of the blatant propaganda chant "Christianity is stupid / Communism is good".
Now the song has a music video of sorts, The Mashin of the Christ. Just like Negativland made their mark doing sound collage, the Mashin is a video collage of Christ and Communist footage from a variety of movies. It's quite clever and well done, and more than a bit disturbing. Polemic image reuse.

Distribution is via BitTorrent
Shop as usual... and avoid panic buying

As seen on MetaFilter
  2004-05-08 04:08 Z
Super-cool science: vibrated shear thickening fluids. In particular, see the movie.
They take a liquid (cornstarch and water) and vibrate it strongly at 60Hz. Then they make a hole in the liquid (via a puff of air) and the hole stays in the liquid permanently. Even weirder, watch to the end of the movie; the holes grow and writhe. It's like Solaris is real.
  2004-05-07 15:20 Z
This woman in Haiti is making biscuits. They're beautiful, nicely formed with a flourish in the middle. They are simple, made of butter, salt, water, and dirt. Haiti is becoming desperate.
  2004-05-05 15:32 Z
The guys who run the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies have posted a fascinating look at their artificial economy. Graphs showing money flowing in and out, analysis of what it means. Edward Castranova has some excellent comments. MMORPGs are a unique economic laboratory.
  2004-05-04 16:20 Z
I got to play with an eInk display today, fresh from Japan. Not the one pictured at engadget, but the same idea.

It's cool. The most apparent thing is how bright the display is and how it looks good from any angle. Passive lighting is a good thing. The redraw rate is horrible and the algorithm is weird: does some sort of inverting of the screen. This all makes this generation of tech useless for most computing applications. But as an ebook, it's good.

  2004-05-04 03:28 Z
When The Times opts for CD's rather than CDs, it's considered house style. But if a shopkeeper mislays an apostrophe, the kind of people who worry about whether anal-retentive has a hyphen are quick to criticize.
I'm one of those kind of people and I'm also quick to criticize the Grey Lady's "house style". CD's and DVD's are bad enough, but how about the typographic nightmare of G.I.'s and C.E.O.'s? Talk about punctuation proliferation! On the same Op-Ed page as the above article they get it wrong, writing C.E.O's. Inconsistencies left and right, who can keep these rules straight anyway?

I can. The apostrophe rule is simple. An apostrophe never marks a plural. The rule about CEO vs. C.E.O. is less clear. The NYT style guide probably has a list of where you don't use dots. I think it's better to never use dots at all.

  2004-05-03 15:03 Z
Who would have known that Yar's Revenge, one of the best games ever for the Atari 2600, had a backstory?
As seen on MetaFilter
  2004-05-02 22:09 Z
I liked Tim's graph of bloglines readers so I copied him.
I don't think this is so much a proxy for readership as it is a proxy for the growth of Bloglines itself. See below for a graph of my readers over the same time period; my general readership curve is pretty steady, nothing like the knee in the Bloglines graph.
I'm counting unique readers by IP address; not perfect, but close enough.

Python makes doing things like this such a joy. Here's my hack code. Ugly, but simple.

Update: the big jump in February Bloglines seems to be correlated with when I turned on full RSS.
  2004-05-02 01:00 Z
  2004-05-01 16:15 Z