Domain names are currently ASCII-only. Which means unless your language is American English you probably can't have a web site with a name that's written properly. There's a long standing effort to create International Domain Names, led by the IETF IDN working group. Now it's about to become a reality with ICANN's endorsement.

The technology problem is fascinating. The right solution is to fix DNS to use UTF-8. But no one thinks we can update the zillions of programs that assume DNS is ASCII. So the recommendation is to encode Unicode in ASCII via Punycode. Slap xn-- in front of the encoded name and poof you have an IDN. crèmebrûlé becomes Try yourself!

How are users going to see these names? The plan is to augment web browsers, email clients, etc. with software to handle Punycode. Internet Explorer is already halfway there, thanks to Microsoft's interception of broken URLs. Verisign released a preliminary browser helper that augments IE for IDNs (with a now-obsolete encoding). Expect many more to follow. I'm not convinced it will work.

The political problem is also fascinating. Domain registrars stand to make a fortune registering new names. They're impatient. Verisign has been selling IDNs for a year with the now-obsolete RACE encoding; there's a debate whether to grandfather them in. Verisign even threatened to violate the DNS standard. And a lot of people still disagree with the Punycode approach. It essentially dooms non-American languages to second class status for a very long time. But it might be the expedient way to support IDNs. We'll see.

  2003-04-30 16:09 Z
In-N-Out Burger, the amazing fast food franchise with actual good food, quotes Bible verses on their packaging. My sandwich came wrapped in Rev 3:20 -
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
I guess they liked this better than Rev 3:16 -
So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
  2003-04-29 02:04 Z
Canon's photo software loses data. Their tool autorotates images and renames files sensibly. But it blows away a bunch of the metadata from the photo! Better to copy via Windows. If their software rotates an image for you, you lose at least the following EXIF tags:
Maximum Lens Aperture, Metering Mode, Sensing Method, File Source, Firmware Version, Image Compression Mode, Flash (fired or not), Subject Distance

I wrote my own tool to read the EXIF data in the image and rename and timestamp files appropriately. What a pain in the neck. EXIF isn't a good standard; I decided exiftags does the best job of reading EXIF files, including Canon's extensions. Converting timezones is a pain.

I was going to autorotate the images but as I note below the software that claims to do this losslessly doesn't.

Maybe I'm obsessive? Well, now I have a Python library.

  2003-04-28 02:39 Z
jpegtran claims to losslessly rotate and crop JPG images. Neat trick - instead of modifying and recompressing the image, jpegtran just fiddles the vectors.

Only it doesn't work, at least according to the Gimp. Above is the difference between the original image and the one passed through jpegtran. I've boosted the gain a lot - the difference histogram is the image on the upper right. The differences had pixels as much as 17/255 white! It should be all black.

Is this a flaw inherent in jpegtran? Is it an artifact of the Gimp's jpeg decoder? It's not just jpegtran; Canon's own software has the same artifacts. And I don't think it's just the Gimp; I get the same results with djpeg and pbmplus.

Update: I got a great response from Guido explaining what's going on. JpegTran is lossless, in the sense it is reversible - re-rotate the image with jpegtran and you get the identical pixels. The differences above are because of jpeg decoding. For example, camera jpeg images are often 2x1 chroma subsampled. When you rotate them that becomes 1x2 and the decoder acts a bit differently.

  2003-04-28 02:27 Z
Blogs, the zines of the new century.
  2003-04-27 20:37 Z
Compliance with the USA PATRIOT Act has never been easier, thanks to Sybase's PATRIOTcompliance Solution. It integrates your existing customer and transaction information systems into a consolidated compliance system that detects unusual activity and automates its investigation and resolution in a timely, secure and meticulously documented manner.
The John Ashcroft police state, brought to you by Sybase. I love the part about automation and detection. Erosion of civil liberties encoded in SQL.

I couldn't tell if this is a spoof or not. The domain is registered to Evolution Bureau, a high-concept advertising firm that specializes in websites and software to go along with ad campaigns. All of the examples there are similarly on the edge between creepy and corporate, but there's too much work there to be someone just playing around. The clincher is the page on itself.

High farce that it's not clear if "Compliance or Consequences" is a parody or the real thing.

As seen on MetaFilter
  2003-04-27 16:39 Z
I've been using ofoto for printing images from my camera. They do an OK job but they overprocess - I see unsharp mask damage. I'm ready to try another printer.

I haven't found a good review site, but looking around I did find Their prices are better than ofoto, you can tell them not to do any enhancements, they have a FAQ for pro photographers, and they even provide an ICC profile if you want to colour match yourself. Worth a shot.

Unfortunately WinGimp doesn't have any ICC support. Raph has a good page explaining why: it's hard and there are patents in the way.

  2003-04-26 20:09 Z
Anza Balboa Cabrillo
Irving Judah Kirkham Lawton
Moraga Noriega Ortega
Pacheco Quintara Rivera
Santiago Taraval Ulloa
Vicente Wawona
  2003-04-26 17:48 Z
Like my graph of Usenet posts, I've graphed the amount of email I've sent over the past ten years.

What surprises me is how steady the email stream is. There's a gap for a vacations I took summer of 1996 and spring 2001. And a drop-off after I started working at Google in 2002 (I'm not indexing my Google email). But basically my email sent has been roughly the same for the last ten years. Weird.

  2003-04-26 02:36 Z
  2003-04-25 15:38 Z
Last night I finally got around to watching Dancer in the Dark. Almost regretted it, the movie is so heartbreaking. And beautiful in that Lars von Trier way. Only he could make Catherine Deneuve look so homely.

Björk did a fantastic job, being both very Björky and Norma Rae. She's like the anti-Madonna; equally creative and aggressive, but with talent.

If you like von Trier and the Dogme 95 thing make sure to see The Celebration (Festen) by Thomas Vinterburg.

  2003-04-24 14:59 Z
"I am a serious actress. I am prettier than that bitch. I demand screen time!"
  2003-04-24 03:35 Z
Did you know SpamAssassin sends data offsite? I only noticed while debugging why spamassassin sometimes takes a full minute to classify a message.

I'm having a hard time finding a full human-readable list of what it does, but if you have the source I think grep 'tflags.*net' rules/* gives you a dump. It at least does a bunch of DNS lookups and checks against Vipul's Razor, DCC, and Pyzor.

I don't think SpamAssassin is evil. I am surprised that it does network checks by default. There's the obvious privacy issue. And network overhead can be high, particularly with 60 second timeouts. It seems like spamassassin installations are vulnerable to denial of service; if an attacker can cause all spamassassin installations to wait 60 seconds to classify every email, it could cause chaos in mail delivery.

But network-based checks can be really useful. The DNS heuristics look great and the collaborative spam databases are a real solution to the spam problem. There's an obvious commercial opportunity here.

For now I'm leaving network checks on. If you want, you can turn network checks off with the flag --local.

  2003-04-23 16:26 Z
Citing "well-informed Canberra sources close to U.S. thinking," The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan said the U.S. has produced a blueprint to bomb Yongbyon if the plant went ahead with reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods to make atom bombs.
Reuters, 2003-04-22

Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, has restored the nation's ability to make triggers for nuclear weapons for the first time in nearly 14 years.
Associated Press, 2003-04-22
  2003-04-23 14:59 Z
Zoom+ by GipsySoft is good software. Simple clean Windows screen zoomer. Very useful for looking at per-pixel positioning, sampling colours from a page, measuring the size of icons, and generally seeing the detail of things on screen. Flawlessly executed, simple and intuitive interface. Even supports fun digital video feedback tricks.

GipsySoft also makes Winspector, a handy replacement for Spy++ for digging into how Windows apps work.

  2003-04-22 03:09 Z
Today's project was to index my 100,000 email and Usenet messages into a MySQL full text index so I can search things I've written. Not bad: 15 minutes to parse and load the messages, 5 minutes to build the index. Queries take a tenth of a second or two. MySQL supports a rich boolean query language.

What I like best is how easy this was. I spent weeks building Funes, a Java mail search program that never was useful. With Python and MySQL it took me just a few hours and the result is better! Goodbye, grepmail.

I'm not the only MySQL fulltext enthusiast: Jeremy Zawodny's blog has a great entry with comments and Mitchell Harper has a useful introduction article. There's also some performance discussion on a PHP forum.

One trick - for speed, run myisamchk -a on the table after building the full text index. And do your big load before creating the index; afterwards, inserts are slow.

  2003-04-21 03:16 Z
One of the great things about Blosxom is the plugin architecture. Easy to snap together tools to make your blog spleftier. I find the following plugins essential:

  • clicktrack: Clickthrough tracking
  • imagesizer: Size tags for images
  • autocorrect: Move posts without breaking links
  • categories: Breadcrumbs at bottom of page
  • foreshortened: Truncate posts in RSS feed
  • asin: Macro for Amazon links
  • file: Include file data; my QuickTopic, Referers, etc.
  • rimg: Macro for my right-side images
  • colour: Cute colour hacks
  2003-04-20 23:23 Z
There is a world of wonderful cheese. All you need to start learning is a decent cheesemonger and two books: Cheese Primer by Steve Jenkins, and French Cheeses by Eyewitness Handbooks. Frencheese is a good online resource; the glossary list is where all the data is hidden.

The image at right is one of my favourite cheeses, Epoisses de Bourgogne. It can be.. difficult when properly aged.

  2003-04-20 22:00 Z
I finally acquired a copy of all my Usenet posts for all time; such fun finding my first post! But the graph of my posting activity is sad:

Most posts are before summer 1994, when I graduated from college. Usenet was a hugely important thing for me, both a technical touchpoint as I was learning Unix and the Internet and a social touchpoint as I was coming out. Now mailing lists, the Web, and blogs have replaced Usenet as the primary online social medium. I miss the exclusive club we used to have.

-- ogicse!reed!minar
  2003-04-20 00:25 Z
If you're hardcore about evaluating digital cameras check out the ISO 12233 Standard Test Image, produced by I3A TC42 WG18. A finely detailed monochrome test image with features as small as .1mm. Take a snapshot of the $150 ISO image, measure your spatial frequency response, and you know how good your camera is.

I learned about ISO 12233 on Imaging Resource, as part of their fanatically detailed page about camera testing. The review of the S400 has the 2272x1704 WG18 ISO 12233 image if you need. Also, the viewfinder test confirms I'm not crazy - the optical viewfinder really is way off center.

  2003-04-19 22:47 Z
Jim Waldo has a weblog. So does Ken Arnold, Guido van Rossum, and a bunch of other interesting systems designers. They're collected at Artima, a community set up by Bill Venners centered on his consulting business.

Waldo is one of the authors on the best paper I've ever read on distributed system design, A Short Note on Distributed Computing. Essential reading.

  2003-04-19 22:09 Z
For the past three weeks my work email box has been deluged with spam bounces. Not spam, but bounces of spam allegedly sent by me. It's obnoxious to filter. And I worry that someone thinks my company is actually sending out these solicitations for Brazilian penis enlargement pills. I'd guess a few thousand have been sent so far; interestingly, I haven't gotten a single reply from a human. I guess everyone ignores spam.

This spambounce storm reminds me of when I was sendsys bombed back in 1993. Back then, a couple thousand unwelcome emails was a real problem. Now it's a typical week.

  2003-04-18 14:37 Z
It's awfully easy to do without her, isn't it?
  2003-04-17 15:07 Z
I've joined the class of people who use accountants to do their taxes. I've stubbornly done my own taxes every year, dreading the complexity and nuisance of understanding federal tax code. No more! A few hundred bucks and I can trust someone else to do it for me. Heartily recommended.
  2003-04-15 15:28 Z
Alcohol 120% is good Windows software. It does three things:
  • Rip CDs and DVDs
  • Burn CDs and DVDs
  • Emulate a DVD drive
The kicker is it does this well, including out-of-spec data.

Got some SafeDisc bad blocks on your CD? No problem. Got some funky SecureROM 4.8 spiral tracks? No problem. Rip the disc to your hard drive, then either mount it with their emulator or burn it to CD-R.

Mostly I use Alcohol 120% to rip the games I buy so I don't have to have the physical disc in the drive to play. No more downloading scary cracks. I also rip all discs before I ever mount them; the virtual device is much faster than the physical.

Obviously Alcohol 120% enables piracy. I haven't seen their MDS files (ISOs with the out-of-spec data) turn up on file sharing networks, but that can't be far away. But I hope they're not tarred with the piracy brush; the software is great for legitimate use, too. Fair use has a posse.

Daemon Tools is a free hackerware predecessor. Alcohol 120% is a polished commercial product.

  2003-04-13 17:07 Z

Wired, which in the past has breathlessly promoted the Media Lab, has a sober article titled The Lab that Fell to Earth, an update on the Media Lab that's too long but well researched.

The Lab is sensitive about the cream puff stereotype and tries to gloss over projects that are ripe for lampooning. On my first tour, I'm hustled past the mock kitchen where the Counterintelligence group plays around with smart dishwashers.

I was a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab 1996-1999. I have mixed feeling about my experience there. I learned a lot but ultimately got so frustrated I bailed on the PhD and have never regretted it. The master's program was great, but the place lacks the academic foundation to be a good PhD program. And some of the stuff that went on there vis-a-vis students seemed borderline unethical.

Still, it was a fun place and I'm thankful for the opportunity to have done so much fun work there. And I'm proud to see friends continue doing great work there, like Cameron's Blogdex or Raffi's embedded networking work. The place was special, maybe it won't be forever.

  2003-04-12 15:39 Z

Property is Freedom
Property is Theft

  2003-04-11 16:59 Z
We came this close to 24 turning into a Women in Prison film. Kim would make a great little chickie.

PS: Marc? Phblllt.

  2003-04-10 15:44 Z
I've had my new digital camera, a Canon Elph S400, for a week or so now. I'm really impressed with it, particularly the quality of the colour even on full automatic settings.

I've had a lot of fun with the macro setting. Cliche flower photos, but they're fun to do.

  2003-04-10 02:47 Z
There's a new edition of Get Your War On, the best reflection of the surreality of contemporary US war politics. Odd that something so crude is so effective. The writing in number twenty-two was excellent, my favourite bit:
All I have to say is, Once this is over, the Iraqi people better be the freest fucking people on the face of the earth. They better be freer than me. They better be so fucking free they can fly.
  2003-04-10 02:33 Z
I just saw Phone Booth, the delayed Joel Schumacher psychothriller. Fun movie, by turns clever and tense. Well paced, too. I don't much care for Colin Farrell, but Kiefer Sutherland is great and Forest Whitaker does just fine.

I continue to be disturbed by being entertained by depravity. "Psycho with a sniper rifle threatens people on a street in Manhattan" - bring on the popcorn!

I keep coming back to something from The Republic, section 377b:

And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
Plato identifies stories as having great power in the moral upbringing of children and argues for strong censorship of arts. I have problems with the larger argument (particularly its basis in a criticism of fiction), but I continue to consider the moral effect of modern entertainment on our society.
  2003-04-06 23:15 Z
Hungry Jack
They gobble them down
  and the plate comes back
Oh Hungry Jack
  2003-04-06 15:57 Z
According to the New York Times:
In a move sure to complicate the efforts of Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network, to get its English-language Web site running, Akamai Technologies abruptly canceled a contract on Wednesday to provide Web services for the site.
"Basically this was our answer to the hacking that has been nonstop and pretty aggressive," [Al Jazeera's online English editor] said. "We had a done-and-dusted deal on March 28. Then yesterday, we get a letter from them terminating the contract."

Al Jazeera has been struggling to stay online in the face of persistent attacks from hackers intent on silencing them. Now Akamai abandons their customer right when they are most needed. Craven.

  2003-04-04 14:59 Z
Three corpses in one day and her hair is still bouncy; what's her secret?
  2003-04-03 05:05 Z
I just devoured William Gibson's new book Pattern Recognition over the weekend. Gibson is back! The lovely stylist of Neuromancer and Burning Chrome is back again, with a new brand-oriented Zeitgeist to capture. He's apparently been to writer school; this new book doesn't have the story development problems his previous novels have. I think he read some J.G. Ballard along the way - echoes of Crash, particularly in the emotional distance of the descriptions of the world. Overall a lovely book, well worth a read.
  2003-04-02 03:22 Z

Mayor Daley unfurled his own version of shock and awe overnight: Without notice, he sent heavy equipment into Meigs Field under police guard to begin demolishing the lakefront airport.
More in the Sun Times, the Friends of Meigs Field, and MetaFilter. Make sure you see the picture.

Old fans of Microsoft Flight Simulator know it as the startup airport. GA pilots know it as one of the nicest urban GA airports around. The mayor has been trying to shut the airport for awhile but wasn't able to build the necessary consensus. Now he's got what he wants by sneaking in at 11pm and unilaterally destroying the airport. Under the guise of "homeland security". Lovely.

  2003-04-01 16:13 Z

I just got back from a small road trip through northern California and was surprise to see how much anti-war sentiment was visible. The first photo is around noon on Saturday in Petaluma, CA (pop: 55000). The second is around 1pm on Sunday in Fort Bragg, CA (pop: 7000). In both cases you have protestors standing out in the hot sun in a small town, opposing the war.

Granted, Northern California is fairly liberal. But not too liberal - these are pretty small towns. About three minutes after I took the photo in Fort Bragg someone yelled "queer" at me from their pickup (I've still got it!).

I did see some pro-war or pro-Bush signs, too. Overall I was just surprised to see so much political sentiment out there in small town California. People think!

  2003-04-01 03:09 Z