1972–1989grew up in Houston, TX and couldn't wait to leave.
1993one of the founders of Queer Nation Portland.
1993–1995wrote a popular emacs mode for HTML.
1990–1994an active participant in soc.motss.
1989–1994hair to my waist, went around barefoot, and scrounged leftover food from other Reedies.
1987–1996was vegetarian, but got better.
1994–1996worked at the Santa Fe Institute.
1996drove 11,000 miles around the US.
1996–1999graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and bailed on my PhD after three and a half years.
2000–2001founded a failed startup.
2001spent a month driving around France, Italy, and Switzerland.
2001–nowwork at Google.
  2005-02-27 22:57 Z
I just quit playing World of Warcraft. I really enjoyed the game the two months I played it, it's a nicely put together MMOG. But I get bored of games once I learn how they work, and I have other things to do with the time, so it was time to quit.

I went out in style. I gave away all my herbs to the first nice person who offered to help me and all my money to my guild. Then I went home, to Thunder Bluff, launched a bunch of fireworks, and jumped off the highest cliff with nothing but my guild tabbard to clothe me.

Two things interested me in WoW. One was the auction system. I like virtual economics, so I cooked up a bunch of code to dump auction prices from the game, put prices in a database and analyzed them. Lots of interesting inefficiencies in the marketplace, but I don't have the time to conduct a really proper economic analysis.

The other interesting thing is player vs. player combat. WoW was designed from the start to really feature PvP. Alas, the game as launched today doesn't really do it right. If they get the battlegrounds and honor system right it could be a truly new thing.

  2005-02-26 03:06 Z
The trailer for the film of A Scanner Darkly is online. Looks good on Yahoo, or try this direct download.
Everyone's talking about the rotoscope visual effect, which is definitely cool and appropriate to the story. But what's most exciting is that a new Philip K. Dick story is being made into a film. And unlike other films there's no way to paper over the schizophrenic horror of this story, so we should finally get the unmedicated creepiness that makes PK Dick novels so great. A Scanner Darkly is the most disturbing and depressing of all his novels, particularly when you ignore the scifi trappings. If they stick to the story, it's gonna be a hell of a film.

I worry about the cast. Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder. If they just add Christian Slater they'd have the Asstastic Five. But it could work.

  2005-02-25 15:50 Z
I didn't think it was possible, but the Michelin Guide Rouge is coming to the US! Reviewing 500 restaurants in New York, starting 2006. Finally some serious restaurant ratings, the perfect antidote for the tiresome populism of Zagat's. Sounds like they might dumb down the Guide a bit for the US market. I can't imagine photos adding anything and I sure hope they don't try to disguise being French. Still, good news.
  2005-02-23 15:33 Z
Photocopiers don't let you photocopy money. Modern scanning and printing computer tools don't work with money either. How do they know it's money you're scanning? It's the EURion constellation, a magic pattern of five dots that says "do not copy me". Details in Markus Kuhn's analysis and these images.

It's like a talisman, a symbol with mystical powers that is feared but not understood. The fear is built into copiers and scanners. Adobe went along too so you can't work with currency images in Photoshop, although the feature it detects is not EURion.

  2005-02-21 18:23 Z
I bought a cheap toner cartridge for an old printer. Look at the lovely packaging!
We can never forget the tragedy of September 11, 2001, with the terrorist attacks upon the nation. We were all affected by what transpired that day, and as we remember, our hearts and souls will stand forever frozen in time. We as a nation will never stop being who we are, for even through our toughest adveristy, we will be strong, and we will be free!

Through the design of this box, we honor the men & women of the Armed Forces, Police Departments, Fire Departments, Rescue Workers and all the people volunteering to keep this country safe. We will donate a portion of the sales from this product to the American Red Cross. We thank you with all our hearts.

Keep America's Spirit thriving!

Nothing says "honor those killed on 9/11" quite like an unauthorized HP Laserjet 4P cartridge named American Spirit. I wonder if the toner contains actual ashes from Ground Zero?

This is even tackier than Liberty Goldfish.

  2005-02-20 23:50 Z
Ellen Ullman has a great opinion piece in today's NYT, The Boss in the Machine:
Distraction is built into the fabric of today's electronic world. Icons on the PC toolbar flash; ads on Web pages shimmer and dazzle; software companies send e-mail messages to say your software is out of date; word processors interrupt to correct your spelling; Web pages refuse to show themselves until you update a plug-in; lights on laptops blink at you every time the hard drive whirs into motion
We need to do more work designing calm user interfaces. Desktop appliations should take a hint from computer games, which in general have learned to replace the clutter of 15 toolbars and status displays with a more immersive, simple interface.
  2005-02-19 17:27 Z
Open Office is good software. At least the 2.0 previews I've been using.

I used to openly mock StarOffice: ugly, clunky, Java where you don't need it, incompatible, slow. Then again I used to make fun of Firefox, too, and look how wrong I was about that. I've been using OpenOffice 2 exclusively on my new computer, particularly the spreadsheet. And it's quite good! Basically, well, it works exactly like Excel. No better, but just as well and it's free. If anything, it seems even faster than MS Office.

I've only run into one problem importing from Excel. Some of my own spreadsheets have some funky formula that work in MS Office and not OpenOffice. On import they get replaced with #NAME with no hint what the broken formula was, so I can't fix it. But that seems unique to my crappy spreadsheets, documents from others have worked fine.

It'd be nice if I could say OpenOffice were better than Excel, but it's not. At least for the simplistic things I do. Well, there's one improvement: the UI doesn't jump around confusingly when I type a space in a formula, trying to let me pick cells by the keyboard. It just lets me type. Nice.

  2005-02-16 02:04 Z
After bragging about hacking my new router I learned that World of Warcraft doesn't work with the WRT54GS v1.1. It only fails in WoW, and only on v1.1 routers. I got as far as analyzing a packet trace and finding some corrupted data packets, then gave up and exchanged the wrt54gs for a wrt54g. Almost the same thing but without the WoW problem. Coming on the heels of being offline entirely (my Netgear RT314 flaked out), I'm sick of routers.

These little routers are amazing: $80 for RAM, CPU, wireless radio, ethernet, power supply, case, and software. But if it breaks or flakes out even a bit, no one's going to help you. It's particularly bad with a problem like "I think the router is corrupting packets from this one application, but only after an hour". Your only hope is to exchange it for something different and hope for the best.

  2005-02-13 21:21 Z
I just bought a new router, a Linksys WRT54GS, solely because the thing is so hackable. Linksys based their firmware off Linux and politely followed the GPL, making the firmware source available. A bunch of smart hackers then made custom firmware that lets you log into the router, tweak wireless power settings, install network tools, etc. You basically get a little solid state Linux box with lots of network ports for $80. Great deal, and smart of Linksys.

The tweaked firmware that got things going is sveasoft. But those guys are assholes, trying to sell the GPL code for money. So I installed the brand new HyperWRT 2.0. It's a very lean tweak of the core firmware that gives you more control over the radio, more routing and QoS options, and a shell with a basic BusyBox setup. You can install batbox on top of HyperWRT for more features.

I love tinkering. I'm the kind of guy who spends half a day tweaking his video card settings for max framerate, then resets it to factory default because overclocking is stupid. I probably won't do much with my custom firmware except boost the radio and maybe install some monitoring on the router. But it's important to me to be able to tweak things.

Update: the WRT54GS v1.1 may corrupt packets.
  2005-02-12 18:49 Z
I buy absolutely everything I can from Amazon. Books, music, gifts, software, hardware, cooking supplies, everything. It's not just because Jeff Bezos is a nice guy. Amazon's service is truly fantastic. Good prices, reliable, and I don't have to drive somewhere in San Francisco to buy something. Lazy consumer.

The inflection point for me was when Amazon started offering free shipping for orders over $25. I stopped worrying about the friction of buying things, just ordered what I needed and waited. And thanks to Amazon Prime, I don't even have to wait that long. Now that I'm in the club I get everything I want sent to me in two days.

It's a brilliant move on Amazon's part. I was surprised at first you can share your $79 membership with family members, then realized that's the viral part. Now my whole household will buy everything on Amazon. I wonder how many more sales they made when they started the free shipping option? Prime can only increase their business.

  2005-02-10 16:27 Z
Sorry about the blog outage; my DSL at home has been out for 36 hours. It's amazing how awful this feels. A whole Sunday with no Internet? How do I get my email? How do I check in at work? Do we have to shudder use dialup?

I remarked how silly it felt that we were already so dependent on Internet access that its absence seemed a crisis. Ken's retort: "yeah, they used to feel that way about electric lights, too".

A big raspberry to SBCGlobal, who took my initial query about 40% packet loss and turned it into four hours of level 1 outsourced tech support hell asking me time after time "which operating system do you have"? (Uh: Windows XP, Linux, MacOS, and a Netgear router). On Sunday they killed my link entirely, and when I finally got a knowledgable tech I learned why; they changed my gateway from to Why? How? Beats me. I'm now looking into alternatives: sonic.net and speakeasy.net.

  2005-02-08 03:22 Z
1up has written an amazing piece, the essential 50 video games. Excellent catalog of the significant milestones in video game history. The individual game articles are well written, good combination of history and critique.

Video games are our culture's newest medium, as significant as the development of film. We're in the 1930 stage right now; a lot of the craft has been defined, but we're still trying to figure out the narrative form. But movies are easy to see, even eighty years later. By contrast video games require complex and idiosyncratic machines. I think only half of the games on this list are playable today unless you have the original hardware lying around.

Here, go play the original spacewar on a Java applet PDP-1 emulator. Brian actually typed in the code listing from a printout.

As seen on Joystiq
  2005-02-06 16:29 Z
OK, OK, I finally switched to Firefox at home. I've liked MSIE ever since 4.0, but I like Firefox for one simple reason: tabs. Ctrl-click is my friend. The fact that Ken and I spent nine hours exorcising CoolWebSearch that came in through an MSIE security hole also colours my thinking.

Firefox has a brilliant extension architecture. Here are the extensions I find essential.

Clone Window
Makes it so that Ctrl-N and Ctrl-T make a copy of the current page rather than sending you to a blank page. This is absolutely essential.
Tweak Network
Lets you turn on HTTP pipelining.
TabBrowser Preferences
Lots of options for configuring tabs. Almost none of them are useful, but a couple are handy.
Download Manager Tweak
Improves Firefox's weird download manager UI.
Records every web page you ever visited. Annoying for the popup errors when it can't save a page, but useful. Also a nice workaround for the lack of Firefox cache support in Google desktop search.
Not just for starting searches, but so that you have the quick find option on your keywords. Shame it can't live next to other toolbar buttons.
Bypass stupid site registrations.
Many of these tweaks should be in the default install, or else rolled into a "large install".
  2005-02-03 17:01 Z
I've really been enjoying the new Binary Zoo game Mono. It's frenzied Robotron-style gameplay with some beautiful æsthetic and gameplay twists. The graphics are amazingly hypnagogic, lots of tracers and bright colours. Simple, free, and quite fun.
The shooter genre is pretty much dead in the commercial world (poor Rez), it's just not the kind of game that lends itself to $20M budgets and fifty hours of gameplay. But the homebrew shooter scene is making some awesome games. See also the BulletML games at ABA games, or ZUN's games.
More on MetaFilter
  2005-02-03 16:14 Z