As much as I love Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I stopped playing as soon as I unlocked Vegas. The environments were just too beautiful to tolerate the crappy PS2 graphics. Happily, the PC version is due out June 6 and is looking good. The screenshots are hot.

The one thing missing in GTA: SA is a Latino soundtrack. You're cruising the barrio in Los Santos and all you can find on the radio is is gangsta rap, crappy house, and power metal. Where's my mariachi? Where's my slow soulful Mexican ballads? Corazon, corazon.

The PC version lets you create custom radio channels with your own music. There's even a new feature where they'll loop in the game's hysterical chatter inbetween your songs. All I need now is the perfect Latino mix tape.

  2005-04-21 15:41 Z
photo by Spigoo Remember when a tank of gas cost $20? Between gas costing me $2.75/gallon now and a new 21 gallon gas tank, a fillup for me is over $55. Je suis Californien.

But the two gas stations I go to in the Bay Area have $48 limits on credit card charges. They won't let me buy a full tank of gas. I asked the guy at Valero about this, he said the limit was set back when gas was $1.30 a gallon. Clever.

  2005-04-20 14:42 Z
One of the beautiful things about the Flickr API is it enables interesting things without the Flickr team having to do the work.

Flickr has no "most popular photos" page, but there's a whole "most favorites" user group. For instance, there's a recent list of the top 60 photos. The #1 photo on Flickr is a technically amazing motion shot, with 394 favourites votes since Nov 2004. It's picked up 115 favorites in five weeks. The problem with favorites lists is they're self-reinforcing. More people see the photo, mark it favorite too, and before you know it you have a boring ol' power law. "New favorites" would be more interesting.

GustavoG has done some serious social network analysis. His FOAF plot shows two major clusters that are only sparsely connected; another view shows distinct clusters that seem consistent with the history of Flickr. He's also drawn the social center of Flickr, a scatterplot of who has lots of mutual contacts, and an interesting graph that shows the imbalance of incoming vs. outgoing links. That last graph shows lots of aspirational linking to Caterina and Stewart, the Flickr founders, and points out popular people I should know about like lightpainter.

There's a wealth of data in Flickr. The API enables all sorts of volunteer analysis.

  2005-04-17 15:47 Z
Hey, something I did made the Google Blog! It's a picture of where people were drawing maps for a day. I love doing little visualizations like this, and Google Maps is particularly cool.
  2005-04-16 15:08 Z
I'm just getting into Knights of the Old Republic 2, and boy is it great. A Star Wars RPG, sequel to the great KotOR of last year. Playing it is like being part of a really great, if long, movie.

You don't sit back and read the story, you are part of it, you influence it. Do you want to save the fledgling government of Dantooine, or do you want to overthrow it? Do you want to follow the light side and restore the Jedi order, or relish in the evil powers of the dark side and smash the Jedi forever? Given that the game really has a fixed, linear narrative, this feeling of choice is quite an acomplishment. It's a shame this narrative experience is missing from online games.

The big innovation in KotOR 2 is not only do you control your own destiny, but you can influence the fates of your companions, too. I find myself playing the dialog with my party members very carefully, trying to make them my friends while turning them to the dark side. The writing is good enough to make this quite compelling.

The best RPGs for the last few years have all been written by Bioware and Obsidian / Black Isle. Alas, even they fall prey to game industry demands. It's widely believed that content was cut from KotOR 2 to meet their very aggressive release schedule.

  2005-04-13 15:21 Z
Firefox's Tools / Page Info dialog is good software. It has tabs to show you lots of data about the page, particularly what it links to and what media it has embedded in it. Very handy!
  2005-04-10 17:45 Z
My friend Peter's new book just came out: Practical Common Lisp. I haven't seen the hard copy yet, but the online version looks great. Lisp is an important language to understand, from the core abstraction to the elegant things it can do. It's great to see a modern book describing using Lisp for practical things like web applications and managing MP3.
  2005-04-09 20:42 Z
I love the (?P<foo>) named regexp groups in Python. They make the code so much more readable! But are they slower? Not much. -r 50
  -s 'import re; r = re.compile("foo (?P<x>bar)")'
  'm = r.match("foo bar"); g ="x")'
100000 loops, best of 50: 3.34 usec per loop -r 50
  -s 'import re; r = re.compile("foo (bar)")'
  'm = r.match("foo bar"); g ='
100000 loops, best of 50: 3.14 usec per loop
The named groups version is about 6% slower. Consistent, but not very significant.
  2005-04-09 19:58 Z
I live in the unhip part of San Francisco, the vast residential southwest that's full of middle aged people, single family houses, abundant parking, and practically no restaurants. I love it for its sanity and comfort.

Nothing captures the frumpiness of my neighbourhood better than the local newspapers published four times a year, full of columns from nervous women advising having the water department test your pipes for lead and crotchety men rambling about how they hate being retired. This restaurant review from the West of Twin Peaks Observer (no website, of course) is a great example:

One of our newest advertisers is the recently opened Taylor's Taqueria and Breakfast in the Diamond Heights Shopping Center. It has taken over the spot formerly occupied by Burger King, but it still serves great and varied burgers. I had one of their American-style breakfasts that the new restaurant features, and I have to tell you, it was terrific. Food is prepared exactly the way you order it, portions are large enough to satisfy any appetite and the prices are moderate. In addition to the breakfast menu (which is availalbe all day) Taylor's, named after owner Thong Le's young daughter, also serves traditional Mexican fare such as Tacos, Burritos, Nachos, and Quesadillas, and they even have gourmet teriyaki plates, along with salads for those who are seeking lighter dishes.
Burgers as good as Burger King, large portions for little money, and a bafflingly syncretic menu of American, Mexican, and Japanese food cooked for you by a Vietnamese family. What's not to love?
  2005-04-07 15:49 Z
My camera doesn't have raw output, but it does have three JPG quality settings. I just tested empirically to see how they correspond to the JPEG Q parameter:
SettingSizejpg Q
Superfine 1824k 98
Given that quality of 75 is considered adequate in most JPEG software, there's some comfortable headroom here. Fine's 94 quality seems plenty for the photos to me and saves almost half the space. Then again with 1 gig of Compactflash for $83, there's not much need to economize storage. Bandwidth is still expensive, I'll have to remember to recompress the images before uploading to Flickr.
  2005-04-03 21:14 Z
The Battlestar Galactica remake finished on the SciFi channel, and I have to say it was great. I loved the original show as a little kid, but it's unwatchably cheesy now. The new show somehow is also cheesy, yet somehow uses that cheesiness without being obnoxiously hipster ironic. Instead it's gritty, sexy, clever, and fun.

My favourite part of the show is the grimy sexiness of it all, overlayed with the anachronism. Everytime Starbuck lights up a cigar on the hangar deck next to the fuel depots I smile. It's absurd and yet so TV-realistic. But then that's all tempered with the religious stuff, which seems both hokey and moving at the same time.

The best improvement over the original show is Gaius Baltar, who manages to be evil, batshit crazy, and sympathetic all at once. He's a center of the sexy, too.

  2005-04-03 17:58 Z