The Sony/BMG CD rootkit fiasco last year may go down in history as the first time consumers overthrew DRM. Enough people were angry enough (and there was enough liability) that Sony gave in. If you want an in depth look at how the story played out, this month's Technology Review piece by Wade Roush is excellent.
  2006-05-31 19:40 Z
There's a brand of premium chocolate called Dagoba. Coming next: Alderaan Pop Rocks.
  2006-05-30 19:39 Z
And the radioman says
it is a beautiful night out there
in Los Angeles

you live in Los Angeles
and you are going to Reseda;
we are all in some way or another going to Reseda
to die

and the radioman laughs because
the radioman fucks a model too

  2006-05-28 20:00 Z
Most contemporary gameplay design is about complete control. Designers, level builders, and testers spend hundreds of hours making sure that their game plays exactly the way they intend. When players figure out something unintended it's usually a glitch or an exploit. Eve Online is great at giving players a lot more freedom than that, both on purpose and by accident. Buddy lists and instajumps are two kinds of accidents.

More inside ...

  2006-05-23 15:45 Z
I switched to Firefox awhile back and despite genuinely liking IE, don't miss it. I'm using a laptop with IE on it right now though and realizing how awful some of the bugs are.

When downloading a large file (500 megs), it downloads it to some random spot in a cache somewhere and then when it's done, copies the file to its actual destination. On this screwed up laptop the copy is taking longer than the download. Why copy at all?

When the on-disk cache gets too big it bugs out in weird ways. The most notable symptom is intra-page links (via #foo in the href) fail. You click them, you go to the top of the page, not the anchor. Doesn't this bother anyone else?

A similar bug; if you have too many URLs in your browser history IE stops colouring the ones you've visited differently. Only fix is to flush the browser history.

Most of these bugs have been in IE for at least three years. Where the hell is the fix? Oh yeah, Microsoft achieved a monopoly in browser share and abandoned development for two years. Good thing someone came up with a real alternative.

  2006-05-22 14:32 Z
It's JavaOne week, there's a new guy in charge of Sun, and the big announcement is "the company was working toward making its Java programming language available free as open-source software". Yes: there's still no open source license. "Working on it".

Poor Sun. It's been painful to watch the company's seven year slide into irrelevance. But their mishandling of Java is the worst story of all. Yes, they built a fine programming platform that created a few profitable server businesses (you know: IBM, BEA.) But their open source strategy has been a fiasco. I still shudder at the memory of the 1988 SCSL 1.0, Sun's first attempt at open source licensing. It was so complicated that it managed to tie up lawyers and developers for years arguing about what it meant.

There's a chance that if Sun had embraced open source back then the Java platform would have been adopted and loved by the open source geeks. Instead they fled to create newer technologies: Python, Ruby and Rails, PHP. Now Java seems increasingly irrelevant; a necessity sometimes, but a frustrating middleground between C++ and a nice scripting language like Python or Ruby. I wonder if anyone will care about Java's future by the time Sun figures out a workable open source license?

PS: please don't email me to say "Sun had to restrict Java licensing because Microsoft was going to corrupt the platform OMG suxx0rs!". That threat ended years ago, and if Sun really hamstrung their own technology out of fear of Microsoft then they're dumber than they look. Anyway, it's really all about Sun vs. IBM.

  2006-05-17 14:11 Z
Another shoe drops: USA Today breaks the story that NSA has been getting call records for every phone call placed in the US on AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth networks. Only Qwest has refused to go along with this massive illegal invasion of citizen (and customer) privacy.

Traffic analysis is a very powerful technique. All you need to know are when calls are made, from whom, and to whom. Apply a little statistical analysis and out comes an amazing picture of social networks. Want to know which hookers Cunningham has been using? NSA knows. Want to catch the White House jamming phones during an election? All you need are call records.

NSA used to be limited to foreign surveillance only. It was a necessary balance on a secret organization with so much leeway. It's clear now that restriction is gone. So, apparently, is any sort of judicial oversight via the FISA court. In addition to this traffic analysis revelation, we also have the warrantless domestic wiretaps (with low yield) and the EFF lawsuit against AT&T's cooperation with NSA (which will presumably be killed because it's "a state secret"). Where does this stop?

You should assume all your Internet traffic patterns are also being analyzed; it's even easier to do than phone calls. Please support the ACLU and the EFF.

  2006-05-11 15:12 Z
My favourite food writing right now is The Art of Eating, a marvellously and unabashedly detailed quarterly magazine talking about the best of fine food. The issue I'm reading now, for instance, has ten pages on Gruyère de Comté. Last issue the feature article was on Olympia Oysters, the smallest and most flavourful oysters from Puget Sound.

The Gruyère issue also has a fantastic article on tropical fruits in Homestead, Florida, the southernmost big town in Florida short of Key West. While all commercial US fruit suffers greatly from the industrial farming process, tropical fruit is the worst off since the stuff is practically rotting before it's really ripe. But in Homestead they grow the stuff and if you're there you can eat it truly ripe and fresh.

The article goes into detail about two establishments. First is Robert is Here, an overgrown roadside fruit stand that specializes in a huge variety of unusual and well grown fruits. Even more exciting is the Fruit and Spice Park, a sort of all-you-can-eat arboretum. 35 acres of well tended trees, most with edible fruit. Visitors are welcome to eat anything on the ground. Both places sound like a great way to try out a variety of exotic fruits. And a welcome change from industrial mangoes that taste like nothing.

  2006-05-10 19:55 Z
I love non-dance electronic music, glitchy groups like Autechre and Pole and mellow stuff like Vladislav Delay and Boards of Canada. Electronic music is notoriously difficult to categorize, so it's often hard to find new things.

And I really like the new thing I just found, music published by Thinner, a German electronic music label that's put out 80 releases over the last 5 years. The catalog currently totals 60 hours and 5.5 gigs of MP3. I've never heard of most of their artists, but I stumbled into them because of their Vladislav Delay release. They characterize themselves as "dub inspired electronic music". No idea what the hell that means; there sure isn't any Scratch Perry going on, but it's mostly mellow and noodly electronica that's interesting and without an annoying 120 bpm pulse. The online album covers have some great animated graphic design, too.

The best thing? It's all free! CC licensed. As I write this I'm listening to track 1 from Digitalverein. It's easiest to download the entire zip for a release. You may note the release naming is consistent for easy download scripting.

  2006-05-09 20:18 Z
Today's paper brings an obituary for Henriette Avram, a pioneer in computing and informatics. She led the development of MARC, the standard electronic library card catalog system used in the US.

MARC is an amazing accomplishment, 35 years of being the primary repository of library catalog information. The main technologies are a simple tagged data format, an encoding, and a variety of communications channels. The social system is very effective, a Wikipedia-like collaborative network of people creating and sharing MARC entries for new materials.

By modern standards MARC is pretty clumsy. Three digit tags? Come on! And where are <all> the < pointy brackets/> </all>? But none of that matters; MARC is an information system that was basically designed right and continues to have longevity thanks to its social capital.

  2006-05-04 15:09 Z
Today's SF Chronicle has several articles on immigration, including a historical piece with a fantastic infographic showing the origin of immigrants to California sine 1850.
Click through for a full image. The #1 effect visible is the decline in immigration in 1960s and 1970s; I assume this is partly the dilution of so many Americans moving west. The relative shift from European to Mexican immigrants is readily visible. I was astonished to learn that in the 1860s 10% of Californians (or 25% of all immigrants) were Asian; that proportion is just now returning.
  2006-05-03 15:07 Z
FeedDemon 2.0, the RSS reader, is somewhat bad software. The upgrade to 2.0 went well enough, but there are so many irritating usability quirks that I dislike it. It's no worse than 1.5 was, but no better.

Well, one thing is worse: it frequently guesses wrong on character encodings. So I'm reading garbage like "don’t". I know enough about the dog's breakfast of feed encodings to know this is a nasty problem. I don't care. The browser's going to have to guess to get it right. Here's a hint: the € and ™ characters never belong in the middle of a word. Turns out this only shows up if you use Mozilla as the HTML widget; IE doesn't have the problem. FeedDemon is clear that Mozilla is experimental only, so my bad.

But the main problem is the keyboard control. It's a three pane reader, but each pane has different keyboard controls. There's no visual indicator of where focus is and it seems to move around even without me clicking the mouse. So you never know what pressing a key will do. Is PageDown going to scroll the browser view? Or do something mysterious in the list of feeds? Is there any way to make the "spacebar moves to next unread item" work reliably? I can't do it.

The default keystrokes for "mark feed read" and "mark group read" are the contorted "Ctrl-Shift-A" and "Ctrl-R". Yeah, that's convenient to press frequently. I thought I'd be clever and reassign those to "A" and "R" but I'm not allowed to. I guess the theory is I may want to be typing text into a form while reading blogs? Um, no.

More than most software, a feed reader needs to have really good ergonomics. FeedDemon fails that test. Time to look for something new for Windows.

  2006-05-02 16:02 Z