I've only recently appreciated how much Twitter is a part of my life. A lot of folks I explain Twitter to say "huh? that seems frivolous". That was my reaction, too. But now that Twitter is a daily part of my life I really like it. Here's some ways Twitter has enhanced my life recently:
  1. My old friend Richard was in SF recently. I didn't know until he twittered that he was at his dentist, so I twittered him back "you're a mile away from me. come for a glass of wine". Great casual reunion.
  2. I needed to get rid of some old computer gear. I twittered a request for suggestions and my friend Ned responded wtih good advice.
  3. Twitter search was a great way to keep up with chatter at the Start08 conference.
  4. I use Twitter frequently as a replacement for SMS. Much easier to remember usernames than phone numbers.
  5. Twitter in the background on my computer gives me a casual way to stay connected with friends.
One thing that surprises me about my use of Twitter is that it's almost exclusively a way for me to stay in contact with people I already know. I don't really have new Twitter friends. I do have one friend who meets new people via Twitter. The key thing there is the iPhone app Twinkle shows him tweets from other people near him; he's trying to meet people in a new country so English tweets near him get his attention.

Also I almost never use Twitter as a mobile app. It's all computer desktop for me (with Twhirl). I do get SMS notification for direct tweets but I quickly found it irritating to see all my friends' updates on my phone. OTOH I frequently load my Twitter home page on my iPhone's web browser.

My favourite thing about Twitter is it's low obligation. Small updates free me from the need to be eloquent, and the ephemeral nature of tweets means missing some is no big thing. It enhances my social life without being complex.

I'm an advisor to Twitter but this post is my sincere, personal thoughts
  2008-08-31 01:39 Z
So Comcast finally went public with a bandwidth cap: 250 gigabytes / month. That's about 50 DVDs or 100 hours of high def XviD per month. It's no accident that Comcast, a cable company with government-granted monopolies on video distribution, is taking actions that limit the use of the Internet for distributing video.
  2008-08-29 21:59 Z
Back in 1995 when I was an impoverished college student I bought myself a Koh-I-Noor Rapidomatic 5635. It was fantastically expensive for a pencil, about $10. A crazy impulse purchase for someone who literally ate other student's garbage to save money.
I used that pencil all through college, wrote up 3+ years of math papers in impossibly tiny, precise handwriting. I'd use one page per assignment when most students used five or more. And ever thrifty, always on the back of some discarded printout. They're beautiful old papers. I was so terribly focussed studying homographies, complex analysis, and the axioms of logic.

I still have the pencil. It works great.

  2008-08-27 17:09 Z
Every network port on your computer has a MAC address, a unique 48 bit identifier. It's a bit like an IP address but lower level; your wireless or ethernet delivers Internet packets to you by knowing your MAC address.

It's very important that every computer on a network has a unique MAC address. So important, that all network hardware has a unique ID burned into its firmware (one of only two sources of standard unique bits on a typical PC). However, it's common for routers to support "MAC address cloning", where your router impersonates your computer when talking to your ISP. That feature was placed there to work around inflexible ISP networks and network policies, and it's mostly useful.

But MAC address cloning can be quite harmful, as I learned today. See, I cloned my laptop's MAC address to my router. Then two years ltaer I cloned my laptop's MAC address to my new router, too, in my new house three miles away. Miraculously this worked fine for a year, until this morning. When my network connection would go down at random intervals. I'm guessing the layer 2 stuff wasn't broken by the duplicate MAC address but rather it confused some DHCP housekeeping in my ISP's network management back office.

Three cheers to my wonderful ISP, sonic.net, for helping me figure out this bizarre problem. I love that when I call them I get a tech who will happily discuss DHCP leases, MAC addresses, and non-standard router firmware wtih me. They were as mystified as I was at first, but talking it over at the phone we figured out something was going bad with address assignment. No way either of us could have figured this out without working together.

  2008-08-26 20:04 Z
  1. A mechanism for delivering Internet service to a home.
  2. A medium for human speech wherein sounds are encoded electrically and carried via wires. archaic
  2008-08-20 22:40 Z
The indie / intelligent game world is very excited about Braid, Jonathan Blow's new platform puzzle game for Xbox 360 (and soon, PC). Some of the conversation is getting a little overblown, so let me explain simply why Braid is such a fantastic game.

Half the reason Braid is brilliant is the gameplay. It starts off looking like another boring Mario clone. But then you find the ability to rewind time to let you undo mistakes, then you find the bits of the world that are immune to time rewind so you can run causality backwards for everything but the crucial bit to solve the puzzle. Then you keep playing and find more and more complex puzzles requiring time manipulation. It's a fresh game mechanic and the puzzles are very satisfying to solve. I'm usually impatient with games and bust out the walkthrough pretty quick, but the reward vs. difficulty of this game was tuned so well I only used a walkthrough hint for the last piece (and then felt like I cheated myself).

The other half the reason Braid is brilliant is the art. The basic look of the game is watercolour paintings, restful and beautiful. The music is great. The story is compelling and adult, full of ambiguity (beware spoilers) and subtlety. And it's refreshing that the story is told obliquely; as much as I liked Bioshock it's about as subtle as a Hollywood action flick. Braid is more of a David Lynch movie.

The third half of why Braid is brilliant is that the gameplay and the art work together. The time manipulations of the gameplay are direct echoes of the story. The story echoes the gameplay, too, and in fact both story and gameplay are woven together in a complex braid of emotion and ambiguity. There's not many games that have pulled that off, my hat is off to Jonathan Blow.

  2008-08-18 21:56 Z
There's a bit of superstitious lore amongst old Unix hands. When shutting down a computer you run sync twice, to make sure all bits are flushed to disk.
sync; sync; halt
Why twice? When I learned this bit of lore at Bill's knee in 1990, he shrugged and say "I dunno". Then Kent chimed in to suggest that the first sync exited before the kernel had truly flushed the bits to disk, but the second sync invocation would block until the write was finished. Being 18 and in awe of my Unix gods I took that at face value.

Of course syncing twice is ludicrous; halt itself syncs the disks. And modern filesystems deal pretty well with abrupt shutoffs, say during power failures, so the risk of completely destroying a filesystem is pretty low. But I still run sync twice when I'm concerned about my disks. Silly, but harmless.

I was reminded of this when sitting next to Merlin at the Start conference. He was having trouble with the Wifi and when I looked over he had a full screen console up running fsck. He said this was his superstitious way to fix insolvable computer problems. It's like we belong to opposing factions in the same cargo cult.

  2008-08-16 18:24 Z
Now that we're about to move we're fixing up the little things in our old house. You know, the little things that take 30 minutes each but make life more pleasant. Like replacing the awkward deadbolt to the garage door with a convenient lockset with a real doorknob, so you can shut the door without a key and keep the cat out of the garage.

I'm totally kicking myself for being so lazy over the past five years and not doing this stuff before. It all seemed so complicated; how do you find a locksmith? What lockset? Now we're rushing to do about twenty little things like this so the house sells well. At least the new owners will enjoy the work, even if we don't.

The big thing we didn't do when we moved in was repaint the house. The hideous, amateur paint job. (Seriously: painting is a professional craft. You can't do it yourself. Don't do a sponge decorative finish because you read an article in Sunset; it will look like measles. And don't be lazy about surface prep; that flat latex you painted directly on old oil paint will chip off in weeks and those hinges are now forevermore half-painted.) We've been apologizing to guests for the ugly walls in this house for years. We're finally fixing it, right after we leave the house forever.

  2008-08-15 17:40 Z

Synchronized diving
For when regular diving isn't homoerotic enough

  2008-08-12 15:26 Z
A bunch of friends keep asking me, so here's the scoop. No, I haven't moved to my new house in Noe Valley yet. Yes, we bought in a long time ago, and it sure is about time to move isn't it? It's close to done now, I hope to be moving in about a month.

Everyone says remodelling costs more and takes longer than you'd think. And yup, it does. In our case I'd say about half the time we've spent remodelling could have been avoided with better project management. We lost a month having to do a second round of contractor bids, another month or so not making up our minds on what we were going to do, another month in disorganization towards the end of the project, etc. #1 rule if I ever do a house project of this size again: I'm going to hire a project manager. A boring, nerdy GANTT chart and spreadsheet guy or gal.

The good news is the house is coming together and looks great. Particularly the tile work. We'll be moving in before it's entirely done; a few light fixtures on order, missing furniture, etc. At some point you just have to say it's done.

  2008-08-11 20:46 Z
It's been 24 hours since the Olympics opening ceremony. NBC started the broadcast early and I missed the fancy drums. So I went online to watch the part I missed. You know, go to Youtube and watch a crappy FLV version of the opening ceremony, broken up into easily sharable, easily linkable three minute segments.

Nope! Near as I can tell, there's no legitimate way to share a video experience of the Olympics online. Google's got Youtube locked down quite tightly, even if you fiddle your cookies. The NBC and Olympics sites seem to not have the video, although the sites are so awful I could have just not found it. I even checked Hulu, which apparently thinks Jimmy Carter's boycott in 1980 is the most relevant result for a search on "Olympics".

Of course there are torrents available; 5 gigs for a 720p copy, probably blissfully free of the American announcer stupidly bleating colour commentary. But that's a lot of effort to watch three minutes of video. And it's not really sharable with your friends.

So great job, Olympics copyright holders! You've made your production irrelevant to the Internet.

Update: ok, I ranted a bit too soon. NBC does have a lot of Olympics video online, including the opening spectacle. It requires Silverlight, and it's awfully hard to find things on the video site, but once you start watching something it's pretty good.
  2008-08-09 16:51 Z
I was at the fantastic Start Conference yesterday. I noticed something; for the first time, as many people were using iPhones when ignoring talks as were using laptops.

At tech conferences the geeks have their laptops open and are paying more attention to web surfing than to the speakers. At Start08, half those geeks (me included) were looking at their iPhones instead. In part that's because the Wifi didn't work very well. But also the iPhone is capable and more convenient than a big ol' computer.

One of the best uses of a laptop at a conference is participating in the IRC backchannel chat. iPhones don't do IRC (or do they now?) but we have an alternative: Twitter. Specifically, a Twitter search for a conference specific tag. I really enjoyed refreshing that page on my phone during a talk and seeing the commentary. It's also nice that the Twitter backchannel is persistent, non-anonymous, and archived.

I've always hated how many people at conferences (or in meetings) ignore the speaker and focus on their computers. Isn't the whole point to be together in person, to communicate face to face? But I get bored during talks too. The iPhone is a nice compromise; small enough to be discreet, limited enough capability to capture a bit of partial attention without drawing you in entirely.

  2008-08-08 16:33 Z