I was really excited to play SimCity 4 I love games with complex dynamics and beautiful graphics. SimCity 4 does have beautiful graphics, I really like the isometric view. But I've quickly gotten tired of it and don't play anymore.

The game is very complex. The problem is it lacks any tools to help you understand what's going on in the simulation. My cities get stuck at some low population level and I can't find out why. It's frustrating, not fun.

The documentation is awful; you have to buy the $20 strategy guide to even make the game playable. Even the folks who play obsessively can't figure out how to get all the big buildings.

  2003-02-28 16:30 Z
Otl Aicher's designs for the 1972 Munich Olympics are one of the high points of iconic graphic design. Beautiful spare figures on a simple grid that depict human activity with amazing dynamism. The height of Olympic graphics.

The recent much-lampooned Homeland Security graphics echo these designs and are beautiful in their own right. The images are more personalized, with clothes and hair. And yet they seem even more inhuman. And while they attempt to depict more dynamism, with arrows and cartoon vignettes, they seem more static than the Aicher designs.

  2003-02-27 06:36 Z
After the Bomb goes off, Kim Bauer will flee back to the bomb shelter and found the New America with her pristine blonde genes.
  2003-02-27 06:06 Z
I have a new wireless setup in my house. LinkSys 802.11g access point with a LinkSys 802.11b ethernet bridge in another room with a small LAN in it. But it's really unreliable. I measured by doing pings once a second; in the past 12 hours I've had a total of 960 failed pings spanning 120 discrete outages.

I wouldn't mind the occasional lost packet but this kind of network lossage is playing hell with some connection-oriented Windows applications we use. Very annoying to have your terminal session terminated. And web page loads fail a surprising amount.

Is this typical?

Ken noticed that all the outages are either 6 seconds or 11 seconds. Is that some sort of connection reestablish timeout?

  2003-02-26 03:50 Z
I finally finished Cory's Book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom this weekend. I enjoyed the read, made me wish I had a big ol' stack of thoughtful science fiction to enjoy. I had a hard time at first; the prose seemed a bit too jargony, the characters hard to grasp. But I got brought around right in the middle with a vignette about Zed, a woman our protagonist had been in love with in the past. It was very touching and personal and did a great job of framing the character and offsetting the narrative.
  2003-02-25 05:16 Z
Todd was kind enough to patch my imagesizer Blosxom plugin so that it now handles stories with multiple images. If you're using it, try the update.
  2003-02-25 05:01 Z
  2003-02-24 03:42 Z
file is a Blosxom plugin that makes it easier to include dynamic content in your Blosxom blog. File loads the contents of files into variables. You can then use these variables in your Blosxom flavour templates. For example, the head.html for the sidebar on the left refers to a variable $file::quicktopic; the file quicktopic is rewritten every 15 minutes by a cron job to include the latest QuickTopic messages for my blog.
  2003-02-23 23:00 Z
Spencer Schaffner has something to say about how hard it is for him to actually read blogs.
If I were writing the entry for "blog" for a CD Rom encyclopedia or something, I'd want the entry to include mention of how bloggers make the world both small and their own.

His comments are insightful, but what he casts as problems with blogging are exactly why I like blogs. My blog is my own small world. It's my one place to indulge the desire to talk only about what interests me. He finds the use of dates in blogs distracting. I like it; emphasizing the ephemeral nature of blogging frees me from the burden of writing for the ages.

Mostly I'm blogging this to highlight the painful irony of blogging about a non-blogger who doesn't like blogs but wrote a blog entry to say so. I had a hard time wanting to read his whole page, too. I do like his found art.

  2003-02-23 18:27 Z
Even the Maori are pissed about Tyson.
The tattoo was "definitely Maori, but stylized," Sharples told The Associated Press. "I just wish it was on somebody else."
Ta moko is a beautiful cultural heritage; finding it on a US pop culture thug must be jarring. Some see this kind of appropriation as a form of identity theft.
  2003-02-23 17:28 Z
I hate having to specify the size of an image by hand in my HTML. Now I don't. imagesizer is a Blosxom plugin that will add width and height tags to your story images. It still has bugs, read the comments.

Perl gives me a rash.

  2003-02-23 02:30 Z
Usually I ignore the crap that spamassassin filters out for me. But today I learned with sadness that my long lost relative ADAM MINAR died while travelling along the Port Louis-Reduit express in Mauritius.

Well, sadness tinged with greed, for it seems if I just cooperate in some bank matters with my new friend JAMES EDWARD then I stand to gain access to a lot of money! I'm a bit confused as to why a long lost Czech relative would be in Mauritius, but it sounds safer than Nauru.

Back in the 90s Internet fantasy era I read a bunch of stuff about how the Internet would allow the third world to be entrepreneurs on equal footing. I find it sort of charming that folks in Nigeria and Mauritius are running the Spanish Prisoner. The best story on this stuff is Wendy Willcox, who manouevered a Nigerian spammer to appear in front of an Amsterdam webcam.

  2003-02-23 00:51 Z
Why do people specify data with fixed width fields? I've been playing with DoSomething, a WinAmp plugin. It does one very simple thing - an HTTP GET on a configurable URL with the name of the song I'm playing, artist, etc. Sounds great! I wrote a CGI to keep track of the songs I'm playing.

DoSomething only works with ID3v1 tags, not ID3v2. And the Einstein who defined ID3v1 decided that 31 characters was plenty for the title of every song written. So my CGI sees truncated titles.

I spent 20 minutes trying to find another Winamp plugin that would do HTTP messages with ID3v2 tags. No. The closest I found was What's Playing, which looks nice but requires WinAmp 3 and doesn't do HTTP.

I'm wasting my time.

  2003-02-22 02:59 Z
There's a terrific article in today's SFChron about counting the crowd at last week's peace protest, including a detailed description of the counting method and links to download 10 megs of high resolution photos.
Air Flight Service, a company that specializes in high-resolution aerial photography, produced 9-by-9-inch black and white negatives ... [they] then applied a grid pattern to the prints to provide units in which the marchers could be counted.
What I love about this is how simple and low-tech the method is. They took pictures. They counted the people in the pictures. We've been doing this kind of thing since at least World War II. Why has it been so difficult to do this for political actions?
  2003-02-21 16:48 Z
I had a lively discussion with Cory about using typographic quotes in reaction to Rael's post about a SmartyPants plugin for Blosxom. I want to use fancy Unicode characters like U+201C and U+201D (“smart quotes”) in my blog. Cory hates that idea because non-ASCII characters behave badly when you paste them into your email or text editor and that they don't work well in RSS.

The underlying problem is an impedence mismatch between new Unicode oriented tech like the Web and XML and old ASCII oriented tech like email and text editors. Browsers and RSS readers should mediate between the two but software often gets it wrong. For instance on a cut and paste MSIE translates U+201C into the byte 0x93, which I guess means something in some proprietary Microsoft encoding but is not valid ASCII. If it just turned it into a proper ASCII 0x22 quote life would be so much better. So because of buggy software we're left with poor typography.

This may all seem a bit pedantic for a design nicety, but handling non-ASCII correctly really matters if you write in almost any language other than English. Unicode and UTF-8 really are the right things.

The ironic thing is that in this blog's preferred font (Arial 12pt) smart quotes don't really look any better than normal quotes. So for now I can ignore the whole issue.

  2003-02-20 19:09 Z
Good article about tannins in wine in the SFChron.
(Micro-oxygenation) can make a young sample taste better, but is that a good thing? I don't think so. Many prominent (Bordeaux) estates that receive high (Robert W.) Parker scores use micro-oxygenation, and they're proud of it. But the jury's out about whether it will shorten (the wines' life).
Today's fashion in wine is to make wines that are enjoyable right when they're released. Among other things, that means winemakers are cutting back on the tannin in wines. All well and good, but we risk losing the joy of aged wines. I've had some 20 year old California zinfandels that were simply fantastic, very different from a young zin. I'd hate to lose that opportunity.
  2003-02-20 16:28 Z
I can't believe she fell for the old "a nuclear bomb just went off and you have to hide with me in my bomb shelter" trick.
  2003-02-20 16:23 Z
I'm proud to see my friend Raffi getting a bunch of exposure for his attempt to send the Super Bowl to his friends via broadband. His writeup for the FCC gives the lie to Valenti's claim that HDTV will result in unfettered copyright violation. Best case, Raffi found it would take five days to send a copy of the Super Bowl to someone from his house. It's a stunningly straighforward demonstration of how the copyright hoarders either don't have a clue or are willfully misleading policy makers.
  2003-02-20 04:00 Z
"Floyd," I wrote, "do you really exist?"
A few minutes passed. Then came the reply: "Yes, I am a person like you."
Was it just me, or did that sound eerily like something Hal might have said in "2001"?
"So this is really a live session?" I asked. "I'm not talking to a machine?"
"Yes, you are talking to a live person," Floyd wrote back after another lengthy interval.
David Lazarus goes up against SBC customer support and can't tell whether it's a human or a robot.

In 1996 I wrote a P2P AI named Floyd. He lived in ccr, a research virtual world built by David Ackley. It deeply shaped my thinking about distributed systems. Floyd was the first P2P system I ever built.

  2003-02-19 16:24 Z
I've been a happy user of Trillian, the instant messenger client, for about six months. I finally sprung the $25 for the Pro version. Trillian Pro has an RSS plug-in that delivers blog content to your IM client. The way it works is a bit funky and it's not as configurable as I'd like, but it seems pretty nifty.

Trillian is fantastic software. Clean and simple instant messaging, no ads or annoying crap. And it interoperates cleanly with all the major IM networks. The free version 0.74 skin stuff is silly, but Trillian Pro has a good no-nonsense default look. Lots of usability points are high: it imports your contacts from other IM networks with no fuss, autopatches nicely, etc. Excellent piece of software.

  2003-02-17 19:41 Z
Male honeybees, on the other hand, sacrifice themselves on the altar of love. Upon climax with the queen, he explodes, and his genitals rip from his body, leaving the mutilated member as a kind of chastity belt.

If you look closely, you'll see that each male honeybee sports, on the tip of his phallus, a hairy structure that can dislodge the severed genitalia of his predecessor.

It must be fun to be a science journalist.
  2003-02-17 18:26 Z
Michael was kind enough to write me and comment on my mod_gzip notes. He suggests not specifying
mod_gzip_item_exclude reqheader "User-agent: Mozilla/4.0[678]"
because it results in a
Vary: User-Agent
header which makes life hard on proxy servers and only protects the miniscule few people who run old Netscape 4.0 versions. Isn't technology fun? He also says that Apache 2.0's mod_deflate does indeed make HTTP compression easier; Apache 2 was designed for plugins to filter traffic as it is served.
  2003-02-17 17:48 Z
I'm a big fan of Ethereal, the packet sniffer. Excellent diagnostic tool for figuring out what's going on in a network. Snapshot at the right is me demonstrating to myself that my RSS feed data fits into a single packet.
  2003-02-16 21:14 Z
In the spirit of saving bits I set up mod_gzip on my Apache 1.3 server. Now HTTP stuff is compressed in transit. Fetching my weblog went from 20384 bytes to 9717 bytes; even better, it went from 38 packets to 21 packets. This may seem silly but on an ADSL line upstream bandwidth is hugely limited; anything I can do to save bandwidth is welcome.

Usability on mod_gzip is fairly low. Original site is offline, docs are awful. Fortunately someone has taken on the task of making a decent support site. Even then the details of how it works are magic and opaque; honestly, this kind of server configuration should be much easier or automatic. Maybe it is in Apache 2.0.

Here's the magic I'm using:

LoadModule gzip_module /usr/lib/apache/1.3/mod_gzip.so
<IfModule mod_gzip.c>
mod_gzip_on yes
mod_gzip_dechunk yes
mod_gzip_item_exclude reqheader "User-agent: Mozilla/4.0[678]"
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^cgi-script$
mod_gzip_item_include mime text/
  2003-02-16 20:55 Z
I've added a QuickTopic discussion topic for my weblog. I don't expect much in the way of traffic, so I just made a single one for the whole blog.
  2003-02-15 22:20 Z
Blosxom's amazing flavour support makes it easy to render blog data in a variety of formats. I've built a little Blosxom Flavour for RSS 0.91. Just unpack it in your Blosxom entries folder, then access it like any other flavour with
  ?flav=rss091 or /weblog/index.rss091

Blosxom has a built-in RSS mode already; the difference here is you have control over it via flavours. I took the opportunity to make the output smaller and to remove the <description> content. See for yourself.

  2003-02-15 22:06 Z
Save bits! The standard XML gif folks use is 429 bytes. My 32 colour version is only 307 bytes, but looks the same. The images on the right show the original, mine, and the differences. Probably all a wash given HTTP overhead, but why not avoid wasting bits?

Props to Jef Poskanzer for the pbmplus tools: 13 year old command line tools, still the best way to edit images.

pnmarith -difference xml-orig.ppm xml32.ppm | pnminvert | pnmscale 3 | ppmtogif > difference-big.gif

32 Colours


  2003-02-15 19:54 Z
I've been listening to Crazy, the Demo Sessions, a new Willie Nelson release. It's an extraordinary album of Willie alone, usually just with his guitar. The songs were recorded in a studio but not for release; just as demos to help sell his songs to other musicians to record. Less is more.
  2003-02-15 18:12 Z
Back in 1994 I was the world's biggest HTML expert. But I haven't learned anything since then. With my blog I'm trying to do more with CSS. My friend Susanne pointed me to Sizzling HTML Jalfrezi, an excellent web design guide that among other things has a very clear CSS tutorial. I'm still looking for a cookbook for various layouts. But now I know how to do all sorts of annoying tricks.
  2003-02-13 17:18 Z
Somebody on a mailing list I wrote a message to is on SpamArrest, some sort of spam stopping system that involves senders of emails having to go to a web page to authorize the email. Fine, whatever. But today I get this in my inbox:
You may remember recently sending an email to a Spam Arrest customer, and receiving a response asking you to visit our website and type in a word that was shown to you in a picture.
We are so confident you'll like our product, that we'd like to offer you a 30-Day free trial.
I'm flabbergasted.
  2003-02-13 15:21 Z
She didn't even have to gnaw her leg off!
  2003-02-12 16:06 Z
I decided to breathe new life into my weblog and switched it to Rael's excellent Blosxom blog engine. Blosxom is lean and simple; 10k Perl, blog entries are simple files. May be a bit too lean; I'm having to roll the calendar archive by hand and some things like relative links don't work quite right. And I still can't get Apache to cooperate on URLs, I think I have to resort to mod_rewrite. Still, it's better than a hand-edited HTML file!
  2003-02-10 04:35 Z
Wow, the Animatrix video is beautiful. I'm with Raffi, though - the Quicktime viewer sucks. On Windows I can't even get it to view full screen, so I have to watch this hypnotically beaufiful animation with my prosaic Windows desktop littered around it.
  2003-02-08 21:01 Z
I sure hope the mountain lion eats her.
  2003-02-06 16:29 Z
I've always felt guilty putting "low grade" gas in my car. But then, I had a sneaking suspicion that this three grade stuff is just a case of gas companies trying to make a buck by trying to differentiate their commodity product. Anyway, I'm not the only cheap gas buyer - the Valero station I'm at just got new pumps, and they have an odometer that shows lifetime gallons pumped. So far - 23000 gallons of 87 octane, 7000 gallons of 89 octane, 4000 gallons of 91 octane.
  2003-02-05 19:00 Z