World of Warcraft has an interesting feature: customizable UI. Downloadable mods like Cosmos, CTmod, GypsyMod, and Telo's AddOns let you add new UI elements to the screen like extra hotkeys, item databases, buff timers, etc. The WoW client is even scriptable in Lua, allowing some fairly complex things.

I've always been fascinated by the duality of client/server games. The primary user experience is the graphical client but the reality is the protocol underneath. It's like seeing the code beneath the Matrix. Back in the good ol' days of Netrek a popular hack was to show your opponent's position with more precision than intended, even when they were cloaked. The data was there in the client, so why not display it and gain an edge?

The security problems intrinsic to interface hacking have never been fully solved. At least modern games no longer trust the client. A big problem is macros like fishing bots; leave your character online with a script running and come back a day later to lots of ill-gotten wealth. You can even auction off the results for real money on eBay, except that Blizzard is trying to stop that.

  2004-12-26 22:39 Z
I'll be damned; I actually hit a copy protected CD. Blue Train, by John Coltrane. I can't rip it to MP3. Why copy protect this particular jazz classic? Beats the hell out of me, but since I can't rip it to MP3 back it goes to Amazon. It's insane that it'd be easier for me to steal this album then buy it legitimately.
  2004-12-19 22:30 Z
While setting up my new machine I made a list of all the software I installed. I did this awhile back for the Mac, too.

More inside ...

  2004-12-19 00:38 Z
This is dumb, a message from dmesg:
Warning only 896MB will be used.
Use a HIGHMEM enabled kernel.
896MB LOWMEM available.
Yes, in addition to the old 64M limit and the awkward 4G limit, Linux also has a 896M limit. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but the solution is to rebuild your kernel with the magic CONFIG_NOHIGHMEM parameter where you have three choices: less than 1G, 1-4G, or more than 4G.

I'm sure this has something to do with some hideous aspect of the PC architecture. I really don't care. Couldn't the kernel just figure this out for itself? Ah, but then we wouldn't be l33t linux haqrs.

  2004-12-18 23:57 Z
bah humbug
  1. 9am is a fine time to go shopping. Under no circumstances should you enter the mall after 11am.
  2. A 3.5' tall Christmas tree on a tabletop looks almost good as a 7' full standing tree, but is 1/3 the work to decorate. It's also cheaper and fits in the back of your car.
  3. It only takes 10 minutes to pick a tree if you go by yourself.
  2004-12-18 20:16 Z
For the first time in five years I bought a whole new PC. I've always cobbled together machines from parts. But I've been increasingly dissatisfied with what I could do; the machine always ended up loud and hot.

This time around I bought a gaming machine from, an online retailer specializing in quiet PC components. And this machine is sweet. High end ATI X800 video card, excellent disk and CPU, etc. And it's so quiet I thought it wasn't working when I first turned it on. The server locked in my closet 10 feet away from me is louder than the new machine sitting next to me.

More inside ...

  2004-12-18 16:29 Z
There's an excellent article in today's NYT about Slab City, a lawless place deep in the California desert where retired people have set up their own TAZ. It's like Burning Man only more depressing.
Slab City is not so sinister as it is a strange, forlorn quarter of America. It is a town that is not really a town, a former training grounds with nothing left but the concrete slabs where the barracks stood. Gen. George S. Patton trained troops here. Pilots of the Enola Gay practiced their atomic mission, dropping dummy bombs into the sea.

The land belongs to the state, but the state, like the law, does not bother, and so the Slabs have become a place to park free. More than 3,000 elderly people settle in for the winter, in a pattern that dates back at least 20 years. They are mostly single, divorced or widowed - a whole generation on the road, independent, alone. In this place, to be 55 years old is to be young.

  2004-12-17 16:28 Z
Ken and I are food tourists, and so one of our goals in New Zealand was to go to the best restaurants we could find. We did quite well, too. The bigger cities have a surprisingly sophisticated cuisine, borrowing heavily from European traditions but adapting it a bit, in particular highlighting seafood in simple preparation. We had excellent dinners in Wellington and Queenstown. Particularly Queenstown, where the tourist industry supports world class restaurants like Wai and The Bunker.

I complained earlier about restaurants in New Zealand. That's not really fair; we had a lot of great dinners. Alas, NZ lacks a long tradition of upscale dining, so sometimes you find good food with poor service, or mediocre food masquerading as a fine restaurant.

I love ordinary food, too, just eating at fine restaurants would be tiresome. The Kiwi take on the hamburger is good. A serious sandwich where the meat is secondary to the stacks of crisp tomatoes, lettuce, salad dressing, and a surprisingly good addition: beets. I also really appreciated the humble meat pie, a simple snack turned into something special with good pastry and flavourful gravy. And NZ has my new favourite coffee drink, the flat white, sort of like a cappucino but with rich cream instead of milk foam.

Finally, New Zealand's serious farm business means that local ingredients are excellent. Terrific fish, of course, although not a lot of variety. Nice tiny Nelson bay scallops, served with the roe. Local specialties like golden kumara, a mild flavourful sweet potato; feijoa, a funky fruit; manuka honey, tasty as well as medicinal; and muttonbird (titi), an oily fishy bird no one seems to actually eat. But the most impressive foodstuff was the best lamb I've ever had. Tasty juicy baby sheep.

  2004-12-13 16:52 Z
One of my favourite bands, Pink Martini, just released their second album. Hang on Little Tomato comes seven years after their fantastic debut album Sympathique, neatly extending their cool lounge style beyond the standards to new material they've written themselves.

I cringe to call the music "lounge", since that implies a sort of faux-clever cynical hipster sound. Nothing against the US Esquivel set, but part of what's lovely about Pink Martini is they play their music with sincerity, and are enjoyed straight ahead, without irony. They're calling themselves a little orchestra, that seems about right. They're also first class musicians playing a lovely style of music that's mostly abandoned.

But listen for yourself. Click the Pink Martini radio link on this page. On Sympathique I recommend "Amado Mio" or "Andalucia" for a quick flavour.

  2004-12-12 19:16 Z
I have a friend who uses for spam filtering and mail forwarding. I have a lot of respect for pobox; they're one of the oldest commercial services on the net (1995) and they didn't do anything stupid during the Internet boom. Alas, my friend stopped getting email from me.
X-Pobox-Antispam: Looks like broadband returned DENY: looks like a consumer broadband machine (contains
And as their online docs say:
Looks for signs that a message came from a DSL or cable modem user, directly. Most DSL or cable modem users should send mail through their ISPs' outgoing mail servers. This is by far our most effective condition, catching upwards of 20%% of all the mail caught by Spam Protection. To make sure it is active on your account, go set up Spam Protection, and set "I correspond with people who run their own MXes on broadband lines." to "NO".

However, if you know Unix/Linux users who run their own mail servers on their broadband lines, you probably do not want to activate this blacklist. You should set that question to "Yes".

Alas, my friend's account was defaulted to "No" without notification a few weeks back and he stopped getting my mail. No bounces, just silently dropped.

This filter is an example of the end of SMTP. Internet email was designed so that any one computer could send mail to any other computer. Compared to centralized mail systems (think Compuserve) this is a radical design. Alas, in the era of spam zombie machines it's not working any more. Pretty soon we're all going to have to route our email through ISP-approved mail servers.

Pobox seems to be doing a simple whitelist of their own. The real switch will be wide deployment of a system like DomainKeys, where ISPs use DNS and digital signatures to indicate "this IP address is a legitimate mail sender". Every other IP address (like mine) will then be suspect.

  2004-12-12 17:51 Z
Matt says he doesn't like the self-service checkouts in grocery stores. I don't like them either. Partly for the reason he states: I miss the human interaction with the clerk. But mostly I found the experience intimidating.

I couldn't figure out how to get the machine to scan my groceries right. And the checkout stand had some nonobvious thing where it was weighing items, so when I rested something I hadn't checked out yet on the bagging platform The Voice told me I was wrong, "please clear the bagging area". The Voice was quite intimidating, loud and forceful, an unfriendly schoolmarm. And all the while I was checking out I was afraid I'd do something wrong and be considered a shoplifter.

It seems like the technology was all about preventing people from stealing items rather than helping them check out. Buying groceries shouldn't be an intimidating experience. I'm sure I could get used to self-service checkout, but I don't want to.

  2004-12-11 16:24 Z
Thanks to Ask MetaFilter I finally reread a story that made a big impression on me twenty years ago, Catacomb by Henry Melton. It appeared in 1985 in issue 97 of Dragon Magazine and was the first time I ever read about the idea of an online multiplayer game. It describes the adventures of a young woman in a virtual world where she seeks fabulous treasure, falls victim to a thief, and ends up making a friend.
$     0.78 FOR TODAY 
$    12.40 FOR THE GAME 
Some of the story details are interesting. Our hero types her commands in like an old text adventure, but the world she experiences is rich detail: sounds, images, even smells. And the story does a great job of presaging some of the nuances that later arose in online games: player vs player combat, morality in-game vs the real world, the power of social connections online, what happens to your character when you're offline. (For context: MUDs started in 1978, True Names dates from 1981).

But the most fun part of the story is the link between treasure in-game and real world money. The idea you could make a living playing the game, either as a heroic adventurer or a thief who preyed on heroic adventurers. We're not quite there with online games yet, but we're close. There's the unofficial economies in MMORPGs, mostly realized via eBay, and a few niche games like Project Entropia. I think players making money in online games will inevitably hit the mainstream.

Ah, thanks to Majcher I now know that Cory is way ahead of me with his story Anda's Game.

  2004-12-11 02:47 Z
One thing I really like about my 12" Apple Powerbook is the beautiful hardware design. Clean, simple, works the way you want. I'm particularly impressed with the latch that holds the lid closed. When the laptop is open the latch is not visible; just two smooth slots. But when you close the laptop it shuts quickly and securely. And it opens cleanly too.
The way it works is pretty impressive. There's a little metal hook hidden in the screen. When you are about 1cm away from shutting the lid, a magnet on the other side pulls the hook out. When you open the lid again a spring retracts it.

Some industrial designer must have spent six months getting this exactly right. Balancing the spring force against the magnet just so. Choosing a spring that wouldn't wear out over time. Figuring out what manufacturing tolerances were necessary to do this reliably, then figuring out how to build it on an assembly line. Expensive design, but the result is worth it.

  2004-12-04 18:14 Z
What would you expect this code to print?
Calendar c = new GregorianCalendar(2004, 12, 30);
Well of course, it prints
Sun Jan 30 00:00:00 PST 2005
Because as everyone knows, we number days starting at 1 but months starting at 0. And because 12 isn't a valid month if you count from 0, clearly you want Java to silently round up to the next year rather than, say, throw an exception. Yes, in Java 2004-12-30 means 2005-01-30.

And don't go looking for some obvious method, say Calendar.getMonth(). No, what you really meant was Calendar.get(Calendar.MONTH).

  2004-12-03 22:17 Z
This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. Please be sure you know what you are doing. Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this? [y / n]
  2004-12-02 01:51 Z
My poor little Windows machine died. It was fine, then one morning it was dead. Turn it off and back on, power comes on, fans spin, but nothing; no beeps from the BIOS, no video, no keyboard lights. Dead.

I was about ready to get a new computer anyway, but I was hoping to do it in a more gentle fashion. Like get some of the files off the old machine. But I can't just plug the old drives into another computer. I used RAID 0 striping with the Promise 20276 RAID controller on my A7V333 motherboard. So the data on the drive isn't in a standard format, it's in some weirdo proprietary layout.

Short of finding a working motherboard with this RAID controller on it, do I have any hope of getting the data off the drive? Email me if you know! I'd be willing to buy a $30 PCI card just to get the data off, but I don't really want to set up a whole new motherboard. I wonder if someone's written a software emulator of the Promise RAID layout?

I'll never use hardware RAID again for a home computer.

  2004-12-01 18:02 Z