I accept that games have copy protection. I do not accept invasive copy protection that damages my system. Starforce works by installing a driver in your operating system, way down with kernel-level privileges. No way.

What troubles me is how squirrely the process is for removing Starforce. Their user page explains how to remove it, but the solution is to send you to a scary looking third party which has been "granted a sole right to distribute the StarForce Removal Tool utility". Their page then proceeds to try to upsell you into some never-heard-of-it anti-spyware program. Fake anti-spyware is a #1 way to get actual spyware on your computer, so the whole thing smells suspicious. I think it's actually legitimate, but how could I be sure? Why would a company contract out distribution of their uninstall tool?

I don't think Starforce means badly here, I don't think they're criminal. Just dumb. I was reminded of all this by Starforce's ham-handed attempt to legally strong-arm Cory into removing some criticism from his blog. What jerks. Time to join the movement to boycott Starforce. Fortunately, not many games use Starforce, mostly some crappy second tier titles. I got it installed thanks to Sniper Elite, a lousy game anyway.

  2006-01-31 17:46 Z
Usually high tech gizmos are a failure in the kitchen, but the Thermapen is an exception. It's a true instant read thermometer: stick it in the food, wait two seconds, and you know the temperature to within one degree. The display is easy to read and it folds for storage.

It's expensive at $85, but it's so much better than conventional cooking thermometers it's worth it. The difference is it uses a scientific quality thermocouple instead of a cheapo thermistor.

  2006-01-30 19:05 Z
The Nintendo DS has a host of creative and innovative games. One standout so far is Nintendogs, the Tamagotchi-like puppy simulator. My 9 year old nephew dearly wanted it for Christmas, so I got myself one too.

The first ten minutes of the game are terrific. The graphics are super-cute. The animations and sounds are perfect, I was giggling and smiling and had puppy love. But, after a few days it gets old, and now I hate my virtual dog. He's disobedient, can't learn tricks, and has fleas.

The problem is the gameplay is terrible. The contest minigames are mindless. Training your dog is frustrating; it feels more like the game is training you to speak to its poor microphone. You can go for walks in the overworld, but the major play there is picking up puppy poop. And you have to play the game every day or your puppy starves and you feel guilty. I don't need the responsibility.

It may be that I'm just too old and cynical to love my virtual puppy; I'll ask my nephew how he likes the game in a few weeks. I just wish it were a better game!

  2006-01-29 19:43 Z
We cannot expect corporations to safeguard civil liberties. A corporation's job is primarily to make money; it's government's job to protect liberty.

Three recent issues support this view. First is Bush's illegal use of NSA against US citizens. It hasn't been reported in the press yet, but we have to assume that US telecom companies are complicit in implementing the wiretaps. It's standard industry practice going back to the telegraphy days. Second is the DoJ's blanket request for search logs. Three of four search engines turned data over without argument; only Google has resisted. Finally, there's Google's decision to implement Chinese censorship. Google's doing the best it can in an awkward situation, but ultimately China is too large a market to stay out of entirely.

In all three cases companies were placed in the position of having to defend their users' privacy and civil rights against government intrusion. And in each case, there's disappointment. While companies and their employees sincerely try to do the right thing, you don't see a lot of outright corporate civil disobedience. Companies have too much to lose to defy government orders entirely.

The real battle is one level up, in the legal system. We can't expect companies to disobey laws, even unjust ones. Instead we need to change the bad laws and enforce the good ones. And since so much US law is written by corporate lobbyists, as consumers we need to create market conditions so that companies have an incentive to make laws that protect civil liberties. It's awfully indirect, but that's the way a capitalist civil society works.

Support the EFF and the ACLU!

As always, my views are my own and do not reflect my employer.

  2006-01-25 22:44 Z
Thanks to the Internet you no longer need a dictionary or encyclopedia in your home. Web sites like Wikipedia are often better, and versions of traditional dictionaries and encyclopedias are usable online.

But you still need a good atlas. There's no substitute for large pages with high resolution printing. And while programs like Google Earth do things no print atlas can do, a paper atlas comes with a wealth of interpretive content.

Interpretation is what makes the DK Great World Atlas so terrific. It's got maps, sure. But it's also got satellite photos, and images at night, and bits of text highlighting how a place fits together both geologically and sociologically. The editorial content is excellent and the printing is beautiful. It's expensive at $63, but well worth it.

If you're atlas-happy a good supplement is the DK World History Atlas. This book is like those flip charts you had in grade school showing migrations across Europe, only global, detailed, and not condescending. It's more a book you read than a collection of maps, and interesting for that.

  2006-01-24 18:10 Z
The best thing about taking a break is having the freedom to do things I want at whim. Like go to Australia. So I just got plane tickets to go from March 1 to March 21. Any suggestions for what to do? Please email me.

We're arriving in time for Sydney Mardi Gras, so that's the first main activity. I'm excited to go to Kangaroo Island and maybe Uluru / Ayer's Rock. We love wine country. I love deserts; Ken not so much. I'd like to learn more about Aboriginal culture and language. We're OK driving on the left. We're not big beach people.

So what should we do? Planning a trip is hard work. My mother used to be a luxury travel agent, I regret the death of that business. I'll summarize the suggestions that work out well. Advance payment: the Great Australian Novel.

  2006-01-24 02:02 Z
I'd thought this was entirely obvious, but today the New York Times reports:
With a campaign of high-profile national security events set for the next three days, following Karl Rove's blistering speech to Republicans on Friday, the White House has effectively declared that it views its controversial secret surveillance program not as a political liability but as an asset, a way to attack Democrats and re-establish President Bush's standing after a difficult year.
So let's say it simply. The US government should not spy on Americans without warrants. There needs to be some sort of judicial oversight, at least something as toothless as FISA. The Bush Administration's unilateral decision to use NSA to spy on American citizens is illegal and a frightening extension of executive power.

I suspect no one reading this weblog entry will be surprised I feel this way, and I hope most of you agree with me. But when someone keeps saying 2+2=5 or that Iraq and Al Qaeda were linked you have to remind yourself that it's 4.

  2006-01-23 19:43 Z
One of my favourite cities in France is Strasbourg, in Alsace where the French speak German. Or formerly, where the Germans spoke French. Alsace is really its own thing, and a great place for it.

The most picturesque part of Strasbourg is La Petite France, the former tanneur quarter that has preserved its canals, locks, and half-timbered houses. I could spend days just lazing away in the little streets. In the rest of town, the cathedral is incredibly impressive. As a bonus it features one of the finest working medieval computers, the Astronomical Clock (details). Worth a special trip. And the Musée Alsacien is one of the best folk culture museums I've been to.

Strasbourg is a great food town. Au Crocodile is the famous Temple of Food there; very good, but a bit shallow for my tastes. The Bierstub Ami Schutz is great if you want cozy Germanic fare prepared with French finesse. Couldn't be a more comfortable place for a good dinner.

But the real food revelation for me was Flammeküeche; pizza if pizza were made with German ingredients and French skill. An impossibly thin cracker crust cooked in a super hot oven, a creamy sauce with bacon for flavouring, and just a bit of onions and sharp cheese. My favourite was at the Académie del la Bière, served with a selection of hundreds of beers (and free WiFi).

I have photos online, mostly of the charming houses and canals. And one of this crazy plaque in Place Gutenberg commemorating the printing press.

  2006-01-22 22:36 Z
I don't know how I stumbled into it, but I'm really glad to have found the comic book Transmetropolitan. It's a hysterically cynical post-cyberpunk comic featuring the gonzo exploits of Spider Jerusalem writing his newspaper column "I Hate it Here". And his filthy assistants, his two faced chainsmoking cat, The City, its transgenic inhabitants, and the collision between cybertopia and the grim meathook future.

The writing by Warren Ellis is great, profane and hysterical and incredibly creative. Darick Robertson's art is beautiful, fantastically colourful and insane. Comic books rule.

Terrible goddamn place. Some days it's like some bastard nailed a ticket for the bus tour down to fucking Hell to the front of my brain. For every wild everything depends on it first week of being madly in love kiss on a streetcorner, for every beautiful woman stopping to feel the sun on her face and every child dancing in clean rain, there's a kid living in its own shit in a dumpster somewhere while Daddy sells his ass for milk money, tanks breaking down unwanted houses just to stop homeless people squatting there ... Time was this place didn't make sense and I could live with it. Either it's changed, or I have.

There's all the good things on this ticket, and pure fucking evil too. And all the same, I'm going down with you.

I wasn't cool enough to buy the actual comic books, but happily Vertigo has published everything as graphic novels. Amazon has them for about $10 a volume, each containing about 6 issues.
  2006-01-21 18:55 Z
In a Christmas-related mishap I ended up with a Nintendo DS with Mario Kart. Which is a fun game, but what really suprised me is the little thing does Wi-Fi! It took just a minute or two to set up and suddenly I was racing against a stranger from Japan over the Internet. Amazing.

Looks like only a few games support it so far. And the TCP/IP software isn't in the system, but rather in the game; that explains why support is limited. But it works! Total surprise to me.

  2006-01-19 17:03 Z
I'm on leave of absence from Google. I've mostly been not working since Christmas and will decide in the next couple of months whether I want to return to work at Google or do something new.

I've really enjoyed working at Google. There's no other company that comes close to Google in its ability to do big things on the Internet and I think the company has an exciting and powerful future. But lately I've been frustrated by things that I can sum up as "it's a big company now". I've been there awhile and it's time for me to take a break.

My immediate plan is to relax a bit. I already took one short trip to the California gold country and another to Vegas; I may go check out Slab City soon. And maybe go to Sydney for Mardi Gras. Basically, I intend to enjoy the first long stretch of time without responsibility since 1996.

Longer term I don't know what I'll do. I really admired Bloglines and Flickr as smart startups, doing something on that scale is appealing. Then again, Google offers an amazing platform from which to change the Internet. For the next few weeks I'm just going to chill about it, reset.

  2006-01-18 01:56 Z
Normally the Debian software distribution and upgrade process is fantastic. An occasional aptitude update; aptitude dist-upgrade and my systems are all up to date. But Debian updates keys once a year and their key distribution process is not entirely smooth. The end result is an error like one of these
aptitude — debian WARNING: untrusted versions of the following packages will be installed
apt-get — The following packages cannot be authenticated
You can just ignore these errors, upgrade anyway, and hope for the best. But a better solution is to manually install the 2006 key first, then re-run the update.
wget http://ftp-master.debian.org/ziyi_key_2006.asc
apt-key add ziyi_key_2006.asc
aptitude update
aptitude dist-upgrade
I'm still not sure how to verify you really got the right 2006 key, I decided to chance it. Now would be the perfect time to h4x0r ftp-master.debian.org. shudder.

There's background info on the Debian Wiki.
  2006-01-11 01:56 Z
Check out these beautiful ads from Motorola, featuring Motorola products situated nicely in 1960s houses.
I love how beautiful the future seemed then; modern houses are gorgeous and spacious, the family is small and happy, and everyone has uncluttered modern appliances from Motorola. Lots more like this in the excellent Taschen All-American Ads collections.
via FJ!!
  2006-01-08 17:10 Z
A short trip is one where you charge all your gadgets' batteries before you leave, but you don't pack the chargers.
  2006-01-05 18:59 Z