Canon has a yearly amazing rebate program; if you buy three qualifying items you get a 10-30% rebate on all of them. Rebates cover many things (including camera bodies), but you have to buy things by January 15. Here's a list of all the prime lenses that are covered by the program. Prices listed are the cheapest at Amazon, rebate is the maximum 3x rebate.


All lenses have ring USM autofocus except the 50 which is micro USM. The 300mm is also image stabilized. More data on the Canon lens chart PDF.

  2005-12-31 19:49 Z
I'm learning how to effectively give to charities. This year I did a fair amount of research to find efficient organizations on GuideStar and Charity Navigator. I also asked Mefi for some ideas for specific charities. Then I made donations via American Express: it's convenient, has good research, and has a reasonably low transaction fee.

I hope it's not tacky to talk about this, but in trying to figure out what and where to give I had a hard time. Most of my friends don't talk about this kind of thing, so I thought maybe this blog post would help the conversation. Here's the charities I came up with:

Services for those in need
Homeward Bound of Marin: homeless services
San Francisco Food Bank
St. Anthony Foundation: homeless services microcharity
My Two Front Teeth: Christmas toys
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Save the Children: international aid
American Red Cross: Hurricane Katrina
Services I use
Wikimedia Foundation
KQED: public radio
Reed College: my alma mater
Social causes
Human Rights Watch
ACLU Foundation
The Point Foundation: gay student scholarships
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Google has a great employee gift matching program, which is part of my impetus to put this all together. Mostly it feels good to do. I wonder whom I've forgotten.
  2005-12-26 20:43 Z
photo by James Duncan Davidson
Christmas, the magical time of year when jolly ol' Santa Bezos and his elves in brown sleighs come from the Amazon and deliver presents to all the good children.
  2005-12-25 20:09 Z
The Dell 2405FPW is good hardware. Dell continues to make excellent LCDs at reasonable prices. The 2405 is much like the 2001, only 24" wide and 1920x1200. It has a good "scale but preserve aspect ratio" option for 4x3 video sources.

My only complaint is that it's really bright with a gamma of about 2.0 Photos look a bit washed out. I still haven't figured out which of three different calibration techniques I should use to get this under control, but I'm about to do some serious photo editing so I need to figure it out.

If you're thinking about buying a new LCD you may want to hold off a couple of weeks. Dell's about to introduce the 2407FPW. It's major feature is the evil HDCP, but the new model may make the 2405FPW cheaper. They're also going to inrtoduce the 3007WFP, a 30" LCD at 2560x1600. That sounds really cool but honestly the 24" is already too big. The viewing angles mean that the screen doesn't appear to be constant brightness.

One practical nuisance with widescreen LCDs; many full screen games don't use the extra width. At worse you just play with black bars on each side, for more info see widescreen gaming forum. I've compounded the problem by hooking my other LCD up as a second monitor, 1200x1600. Everything I've run still works, but some programs get a bit confused.

  2005-12-22 16:27 Z
Webmasters get anxious when they move a website for fear they'll lose visibility in search engines. I'm glad to say that in my move the three major search engines all did a great job following my blog to the new URL.

The key thing that made this move work was getting the 301 redirects right. When you move a web page the old URL should still work, but instead of serving content it should return a 301 Moved Permanently pointing at the new URL. I did this with Apache mod_rewrite, specifying the flag [R=301]. It took a bit of fiddling to redirect both hostname and path in a single response.

With the redirect in place everyone quickly started indexing the new URL. The first search engine to find the new host was Yahoo, which had 47 pages for my new hostname in less than 15 hours. Google had the new site in about 24 hours. MSN got it in about 48 hours. Now, 2 weeks later, all three engines have a fairly good collection of my pages at the new URL. Google and MSN now favour the new hostname but Yahoo still has the majority of pages from the old name.

I'm also curious about when the search engines start forgetting the old host. Google decided my canonical URL was the new host in about 36 hours. MSN switched in about 3 days, although it took awhile for the new URL to float to the top of the search results. Yahoo took about 12 days to switch. Of course with my redirect in place, people find my blog either way.

So what's the bottom line? 301 redirects worked for me and all the major search engines did a good job of following mine. Search engines are complicated; it's possible something I haven't thought to check didn't work. But folks can find my blog at the new URL, so I'm happy. And it's pretty amazing how fast this update happens. My blog is only one of billions of web pages out there; search engines are able to track changes like mine across the entire web in just a few days.

PS: while I work for Google, these notes are something I did on my own time out of curiousity and do not reflect the work or views of my employer. And no, I don't get special treatment by Googlebot. I wish!
  2005-12-21 01:22 Z
Showtime's got great shows this year; first Weeds and now Sleeper Cell. On the surface it's a spinning-plates anti-terrorist drama in the vein of 24. Which makes for fun TV. But Sleeper Cell has more depth than that, particularly in the subtlety of the characterizations.

The script borrows from recent history to build a motley crew of terrorists intent on carrying jihad to America. Blake Shields is great as the unfortunate John Walker Lindh type. Alex Nesic is fun as the French Islamic radical who enjoys hookers and strippers. Both good guys and bad are drawn with complexities and imperfections that make the story compelling.

But the real standout is Michael Ealy. Mild spoiler, highlight to read: He does a great job as the conflicted undercover agent. By making our hero himself be a Muslim the show gives a much more nuanced story than the usual "kill the Muslim terrorists" shtick. He's also a fantastic actor, and quite handsome, so it all makes for good entertainment.

The show just finished its 10 hour miniseries run, but Showtime promises a rebroadcast January 10. And it looks like a DVD release is planned, too.

  2005-12-20 16:54 Z
When I was nine I wanted an Atari 2600 more than anything. I pestered my mom all fall for an Atari at Christmas, but I knew this was a bit expensive for our family. My mom just kept saying no, we can't afford that, I'll get you something nice and you can play with your friends' Ataris.

But my mom found a way and bought the Atari mid-December and hid it in the house. I know this because my sister hinted just a little bit and I figured it out and prowled around the scary garage closet until I found it. I was so excited that I couldn't wait until Christmas, so I told my Mom I'd found it. In my nine year old logic that meant she'd give it to me early.

My Mom was devastated that her surprise was ruined. She took Christmas seriously, doubly so with such an expensive gift. I remember her crying. I remember her getting mad and telling me she was going to take the Atari back to the store since I'd ruined the gift. And she did. I went sneaking around the house and couldn't find it. Christmas Eve all my presents were under the tree, but no box big enough for an Atari.

I was sad, but I was well enough behaved not to sulk at Christmastime. Santa had come and there was candy in the stockings, and mom made a special breakfast, and all was fine. Then I opened my smallest present, and it was an Atari 2600 joystick. My second smallest present was an Atari cartridge. And so on. My mom had broken the Atari up into lots of little boxes and wrapped each one individually. I was the happiest kid ever.

  2005-12-17 17:50 Z
I just went to myspace for the first time. I've still never been to facebook. I don't know anyone who has pages on either site. I normally pride myself on being hip to Internet culture, but I think the lowest on the age curve I go is LiveJournal. I wonder what the natural generational groupings on the Internet are? I naïvely thought there wouldn't be any, but of course the net is all about community and culture and, therefore, generation.
  2005-12-11 15:50 Z
The Xbox 360 is a dry run for "Trusted Computing". The new console has a slew of anti-modder technology to make it impossible to run unauthorized software. Who authorizes Xbox 360 software? Microsoft.

Intel, Microsoft, IBM, etc are colluding to bring the same sort of technology to PCs to prevent you from using unauthorized software. Who authorizes software? Not you.

It's a sure bet "Trusted Computing" is going to bring us a new level of digital rights management hell. Sony won't have to do something stupid to stop you from legally copying music; the operating system and processor will do it for them. Your monitor will collaborate. Dell is about to ship LCDs with HDCP so that your screen won't display unauthorized video. Who authorizes video? Not you.

If all this byzantine technology just made it harder for people to steal music and movies I wouldn't mind. But the collateral damage is too great. The new wave of hardware-assisted DRM means that your PC is going to be a jail full of complex interior locks that prevent you from doing anything that some pointy-headed copyright holder doesn't think you should do. I should have the right to authorize the software that runs on my computers. I won't.

The old Xbox tried to stop modders too, but they got it wrong. It remains to be seen how hard it will be to mod the Xbox 360 or the new PC systems. I fear once the restrictions are in the hardware it will be very hard to fix.

  2005-12-07 17:03 Z
I finally settled on a domain name for myself. I've set up a bunch of redirects to move my blog to its new official home, The old ~nelson was all nice and Web 0.9, but it's time to move on. Please update your links so Googlebot has no trouble finding me! The linkblog moved, too.

If you notice any problems, please mail me.

This seems like a good time to give a tip of the hat to Drrt, Dugsong, and the other good folks of whose name I've been using for so long. They're a neat geek collective coming originally from University of Michigan and number among them some of the best Unix security hackers out there. I'll continue to do various things over there, but it's nice to have a name of my own too.

  2005-12-06 03:05 Z
Between being in Switzerland for three months and all the new games out for the Christmas season I have a giant backlog of interesting computer games to play. Should last me for six months! If you're thinking of a gift for the gamer geek in your life, maybe this list will help you.
Shadow of the Colossus (PS/2)
Poetic and innovative platform game for the PS/2. I've played a bit and it's really beautiful.
Civilization IV (PC)
Empire building and wargames, many hours time sink.
Burnout: Revenge (Xbox)
Arcade racer; not clear it add much to last year's standout Takedown, but it's fun.
Battlefield 2: Special Forces (PC)
BF2 is the only online FPS worth playing. This expansion pack is getting mixed reviews, but it's sort of unavoidable.
The Warriors (Xbox)
Cheesy 70s gang movie made into a Rockstar ultraviolence game. On a quick play it's pretty damn silly, but amusing.
Puzzle Pirates (PC, Mac)
I actually got into this while still in Zürich. It's a very innovative game, a cross between an MMOG and a bunch of Tetris-like puzzle games. Pleasant diversion.
Sniper Elite (PC, Xbox, PS/2)
Sniper simulation. The reviews are pretty poor, but I'm a sucker for this kind of gameplay.
Rag Doll Kung Fu (PC)
Indie game excitement of the year, distributed online via Steam. I haven't seen a review yet, not sure if it's worth my time.
What's missing from this list is a good story based RPG. I haven't seen one this Christmas season. It's a shame Oblivion got delayed.
  2005-12-04 04:26 Z
I wish today's MMOGs lived up to the promise of player created content that was in the earliest online games. LambdaMOO set the pace. Pavel Curtis had a fanatical devotion to player-generated content. The whole world was player created. Players could build rooms and program new behaviours in MOO. Players even came up with their own government.

The first commercial MMOGs continued to let players shape the world. Ultima Online in particular had a significant amount of effort devoted to a player created economy and players building their own houses. But contemporary games like World of Warcraft and City of Heroes are essentially stateless worlds. Players can't make permanent changes. Players can't create a building, or modify a sign, or even leave a hat in the middle of the desert. And there's nothing at all like being able to write code to run in-game.

The one shining example of player created content in the commercial world now is Second Life. While not quite a mainstream MMOG, it's interesting for its devoted player-creators, impressive authoring tools, and successful player created games. Even the problems are interesting. Let's hope the business works out.

Player created content is hard. The gameplay and quality issues significant, it's hard to build server technology that scales when you don't know what the content will be, and it's hard to build good creation tools. But player created content is the interesting thing possible for an MMOG, both for the creators and the consumers.

  2005-12-01 17:38 Z