I switched from Linux to Windows as my desktop shell back in 1999 because Netscape was awful and MSIE was good. Now it's 2004 and Mozilla has gotten really good and MSIE is still, well, good. Here are some persistent MSIE bugs that I really hate:
Page title
If you try to load a page and get an error, the window title says "Cannot find server". All well and good. But if you press reload in that window and it succeeds in loading the page, the window title still says "Cannot find server". They don't reset the title.
Cache too big
I set my browser cache high, like half a gig. Disk is cheap, bandwidth isn't. But there's some weird bug in MSIE where when the cache gets too big things start misbehaving. External programs like WinZip or Acrobat have a hard time reading things out of the cache. The only solution seems to be to flush.
favicon.ico inconsistency
MSIE randomly loses the little icons associated with URLs. Related to the "cache too big" bug above?
Most of these bugs are at least three years old. Maybe I should just switch to Firefox on my Windows boxes.
  2004-08-30 14:53 Z
Python has a fancy CSV module. But near as I can tell, despite all its support for formats and headers and DictReaders it doesn't have a simple way to say "give me my data in a list of dictionaries with headers as keys". Here's the best I could do:
# Grab the headers first
headerReader = csv.reader(fp)
headers = headerReader.next()

# Now construct a second reader on the same 
# file stream to get the actual data
dataReader = csv.DictReader(fp, headers)
for d in dataReader:
  print d
That feels spooky, but it works.
  2004-08-29 23:20 Z
OK, I take back most of what I said about City of Heroes. A few of my blog readers wrote me to say I should stick with the game, it gets better. And I did, and it did, and now they've charged me $15 for the second month and it seems OK.

CoH still suffers from the same level treadmill that all online games seem to. And the storytelling isn't that great. But it's really a pretty fun game. This is the first online game I've seen where playing together with strangers is actually entertaining. The game got more fun for me when I created a pure healer character, where the only way I can even play is to find other folks to play with. It's good amusement.

I still wish the game had better support for story. The whole point of being a superhero is you're saving the world from bad guys. But in this game the bad guy supply is inexhaustible. Any time day or night if I walk down a street in Galaxy City I'm going to see a group of bad guys. And if I "arrest" them, walk away past the clipping region and walk back, there will be another group right there. Nothing changes. This is a difficult gameplay mechanic to avoid in MMOGs, but it's still dumb.

  2004-08-29 18:34 Z
Why does San Francisco always smell like urine?
  2004-08-29 15:44 Z
  2004-08-26 03:18 Z
Dylan found a music video that combines simple techno music with images of oiled women in bikinis operating power tools. Somehow that reminded me of one of my favourite movies of all time, Liquid Sky.

The film is ostensibly about space aliens that come to New York to kill heroin users at the moment of orgasm to capture opiates in their brain. Or something. But really the movie is a beautiful and lyrical exposition of the New Wave scene, with amazing costumes, makeup, and soundtrack. Anne Carlisle makes an amazing dual appearance as both Margaret, the Connecticut girl turned bisexual punk model, and Jimmy, the nasty little queer boy model. It's kind of like the Warhol scene, only much cooler.

So I came to New York, where I learned to be beautiful was to be androgynous. So I became androgynous, no less than David Bowie himself.
I'm not saying it's a good movie. But it's great.
  2004-08-23 14:56 Z
You must watch the Brini Maxwell show on the Style network. It's an absolutely fabulous home style and cooking show, in the genre of poor Martha Stewart's show only much, much more fun.
Miss Maxwell started on New York Public Access in 1998 but vaulted to cable recently. Her advice show is witty but practical, harkening back to the comforting homemaking style of the 1960s.

See a video sample or enjoy her tips on making art with pills. For yet more, see her LiveJournal fan community.

Thanks to FJ!! for pointing me to this show
  2004-08-22 16:23 Z
I give the Bush campaign credit for their evil powers. There's a debate about the war record of Bush and Kerry. Whose service are we questioning? Are we talking about the Texas Air National Guardsman who flitted off to Alabama where no one can tell if he he really showed up for duty and he even lost his pilot qualification before leaving early to go back to school? No, we're debating the record of the the man who went to Vietnam and was awarded many medals for his leadership and service.

To win an election, the first thing you have to do is control the terms of the debate.

  2004-08-22 16:00 Z
The giant new Indian casino for the Bay Area that was approved by the Governor who claimed to be anti-casino? Seems like the fix was in:
Maloof Sports and Entertainment — the management team hired to run the new, Costco-size San Pablo Casino for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians — hosted a party back in February that raised more than $1 million for Schwarzenegger's political coffers.

The governor's office claims Schwarzenegger didn't know the Maloof family was going to manage the casino until after the agreement had been reached.

We're supposed to believe that he approved a giant new casino without knowing who would run it and that by happy coincidence the managing company just happened to be a major campaign contributer.
  2004-08-22 15:36 Z
One nice thing about Python is triple-quotes and string substitution make writing templates really simple

page = '''
The time is %(time)s.

print page % { 'title': "Time of day",
               'time': time.asctime() }

The HTML is all by itself with only the simplest Python in the middle of it. And the substitutions are named, not positional, so it's self-documenting. You can substitute the same text more than once. And if you want to be clever, you can use locals() in place of the hand-crafted dictionary to directly substitute Python symbols.

  2004-08-21 16:38 Z
People often complain they don't want to learn Python because it uses whitespace instead of braces to express program structure. I used to whine about this too, used it as a lazy excuse not to learn the language. Then I got over it and tried Python and found I loved it. Even the whitespace thing. Less line noise makes code easier to read. And relying on whitespace eliminates a whole class of C and Java bugs where the code doesn't do what it looks like it does because the indentation doesn't match the brace structure.

So if the whitespace is scaring you off Python, put that issue aside for a week and try it out. If you use emacs, python-mode helps and is part of the default install.

  2004-08-21 15:37 Z
My post about the iPod and Real got lots of response. Some followup.

First, a big raspberry to Real, who posted the full text of my blog post to their marketing site without permission or proper attribution. It's still there, although they've trimmed to a fair-use-sized quote.

Second, a thank you to Aaron, who in email pointed out a flaw in my logic. I called the iPod a "jail for music" because Apple makes it hard to copy music out of the iPod. However, I also said "Real has succeeded in unlocking the door". That's not right; Real didn't make the iPod less of a jail. They just enabled another DRM format on the iPod. Not so exciting, really, although I still don't see it as a bad thing.

Finally, a theory. I was truly puzzled why people were beating up Real and defending Apple when both parties seem enamoured of DRM technology. Then I got it. Basically, people like Apple more than Real. Even if iTunes has some DRM they've done it in a way that mostly doesn't annoy users (with some exceptions). By contrast Real has a long history history of annoying users with hostile software and proprietary awkward formats. Now their captive users are issuing some payback.

  2004-08-21 15:06 Z
I'm puzzled by the backlash against RealNetworks for figuring out how to get music onto the iPod. Sure, I think Real makes crummy products too. But they've opened up Apple's proprietary platform, increasing choice for consumers and lowering prices. How does the user lose?

My digital hipster friends have a bit of a double standard around the iPod. The same folks who decry RIAA strongarm tactics and make fun of proprietary music platforms are happy to pay an extra $100 for a fancy Walkman that doesn't let you use the software you want to copy music to it and doesn't let you copy music back out at all (without unauthorized hacks).

The iPod is a beautiful piece of design. But it's a jail for music. Real has succeeded in unlocking the door. Why are people beating them up?

Jeremy Zawodny picked up my post; his blog has an interesting thread of comments about the issue.

  2004-08-18 13:54 Z
VideoLAN is good software. A free media player that can play pretty much any format, without all the nonsense, bad UI, and codec difficulties of Quicktime player and Windows Media Player. Cross platform, too.
  2004-08-17 16:20 Z
Neverwinter Nights, released in 2002, got a lot of excitement from RPG fans. But did you know the original game was released in 1991? Same concept: online RPG play. Only on the then-private network America Online. 500 players at once! The 2002 game even looks like the 1991 game, similar perspective.
I found this game in the hysterical anti-piracy video Don't Copy That Floppy!. Ironically, online games like they feature are exactly the kind of game that's nearly impossible to pirate.
  2004-08-17 16:12 Z

Synchronized diving
For when regular diving isn't homoerotic enough

  2004-08-15 18:57 Z
I TiVoed the rest of the Olympics opening ceremony today. I was following along just fine, even through the dreary Björk performance, when suddenly a man in white underwear jogged up the steps and lit up a giant spliff. Didn't see that coming.
  2004-08-14 21:21 Z
I hate InstallShield. It's big: last I checked it added a meg to the install package. That may be OK for a CD-ROM but it's unacceptable online. It's slow: it literally takes minutes to install and uninstall a 100 meg program. How hard is it to copy and delete files?! And it's funky: do you really want to use an installer technology that has a freakin training program? WISE isn't much better.

Installers should be simple. SuperPimp is good. Windows MSI Installer is OK too, but it requires the user already have the 1.7 meg environment installed. And Install Maker has gotten some traction by being simple and free.

  2004-08-14 17:49 Z
I love the Olympic spectacle. But what is with the US uniforms? Brazil had beautiful green jackets, Estonia had smart white suits, Palau had cool sarongs. And the US had? Ugly gangster track suits. And they're not even made in the US: they're from Roots, aka Brand Canada.
  2004-08-14 16:02 Z
I love the idea of remote islands. Particularly those inhabited by Westerners like Ascension Island or Christmas Island. Or Pitcairn Island, a 1.75 square mile island with fewer than 50 people on it. No airstrip, no reliable communcations, not even a place to easily land a boat. But it has a website! Lots of them.

I just finished reading Serpent in Paradise, the narrative of an Englishwoman who went to Pitcairn pursuing her fantasies of island paradise only to find cold loneliness as an outsider in a complex, tiny, isolated society. Everything she describes about the island — the gossip, the newspaper, the work, the language, the religion — all seems so alien. Good book. For a taste, read this short article by the same author.

Pitcairn is in the news a lot now, the result of child rape charges against most of the adult men on the island. Lots of complications: arguments about British sovereignty, arguments about where the trial will be held, and of course the question of what punishment means in such a tiny community. The effect on the island could be horrible, and the prosecuters have their own issues. The islanders were just told they have to hand in their guns for safety.

I'm going to New Zealand in November and am vaguely thinking of visiting Norfolk Island, population 1841. There've been two murders there in the past two years.

  2004-08-13 15:09 Z
This wacky story about a 22 year old SF political hopeful making a fake video of his own decapitation got my attention again after being posted on MetaFilter. What's interesting is that the individual, Benjamin Vanderford, has a (thin) presence on the net. Including: There's a dividing line in the world now, people who have web presence vs. people who don't. And if you do you'll have one forever, there to be found with relatively little digging. It's like going to the newspaper archives to learn something about grandpa, only a thousand times easier.
  2004-08-08 14:27 Z
Both Mark and Phil have the same problem I do: feed aggregators make blog reading seem like a chore.
  2004-08-07 03:07 Z
I just picked up a neat gizmo, a Creative MuVo TX. It's a no-nonsense tiny flash-based MP3 player. 256 megs of music, not much bigger than a lighter, 1.5 ounces (42 grams), $127 at Amazon. See this review for details.

What I like best is how simple it is. The core is a USB flash storage unit. Just plug it into your computer and copy files over, no DRM or software nonsense (screw you, iPod). It doubles as a giant floppy disk. Then plug it into the AAA battery (10-14 hours of life) and the headphones and you've got a tiny music player.

The device UI is nice and usable and the sound quality is good. The hardware does feel a bit flimsy, but what do you want at that weight?

  2004-08-07 02:57 Z
I've played in a lot of betas, but I've never bought a massively multiplayer online game. MMOGs are notorious time sinks, and I don't like the idea of an ongoing subscription for games. But I decided at random to get City of Heroes, a pretty good MMOG. Alas, it's still boring.

There are some good things about CoH. The comic book genre is great: crazy and fun and not taking itself seriously. CoH doesn't license any other comic book IP, so the world is free from past association. And the character costume creation is fantastic, allowing an amazing variety of looks.

But the game is hugely boring. It's the exact same level treadmill of every other MMOG I've seen: you're rewarded for time spent mindlessly clicking, not for any decisions you make. The game makes a bizarre design decision to have no items - no loot to find, no objects to show off, no opportunities to customize your appearance over time. The costume creation that's so wonderful at the game's startup is essentially unavailable after you've started *. The environments are boring too, no distinctive landscapes.

The worst thing is that CoH totally squanders the chance to have interesting story-telling. The writing is non-existent: as far as I can tell the plot consists of "go here, kill these guys, read a paragraph of boilerplate". Over and over again. Single player RPGs like KoToR or Planescape: Torment tell compelling stories with depth and richness. I understand storytelling is harder in the chaotic genre of MMOGs but please, throw us a bone!

CoH does have the virtues of being pretty and mindlessly amusing. But I don't have 10+ hours a week to commit and I have better uses for my $15 a month. I think we're a long way from a really rich MMOG experience.

  2004-08-01 16:35 Z