My favourite geeky blog, BoingBoing, just launched a redesign. It's good, a clean two column layout with lots of whitespace. And not so many goofy graphical badges.

But it still has way too many ads on it. Three graphical ad units (two animated) and two text ad units. The FMpub text ads unit blends in so well with the Google text ads unit that at first I thought they were all "Ads by Google".

I think it's great that the BoingBoing folks can make a living selling advertising on their blog. It's just there's so many of them. It's tacky and a bad experience for their users. But as always AdBlock Plus keeps my pages clean, although it's not blocking the FMpub text ads yet.

  2007-08-28 22:52 Z
Yet another Republican senator has a gay sex scandal; Larry Craig of Idaho has pled guilty to disorderly conduct for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. It's your usual gay scandal; months of rumours, denials in the press, heck, he even figures in the 1982 congressional page scandal. And now, busted for cruising a tearoom. He's a defence-of-marriage anti-gay-rights Republican bastard, so there's some pleasure in his fall.

But I've known men like Larry Craig and so I have some sympathy for him.

I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!" — Larry Craig

More inside ...

  2007-08-28 15:44 Z
There are rumours that Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage servers have failed. XP and Vista users are reporting their operating systems are being incorrectly marked as pirated and then rebooting in a crippled state. This problem may continue for days.

I can think of problems with activiation servers going back at least fifteen years to the bad old days of Unix site licenses. Somehow the site license server was always the brittle component. But for Microsoft to accidentally break millions of customer's computers, well, that's astounding. Hopefully the problem isn't as bad as it sounds.

See also: Google Video breaking the right for its users to watch the videos they bought. DRM is consumer hostile.

  2007-08-25 18:21 Z
I like how my iPhone downloads voicemail for local playback. Instead of talking to some horrible AT&T phone robot to get my messages the audio files are right on the phone to play with a nice UI. There's a slider for going forward or back, you can store messages, and you can undelete them. All very easy to use.

There are drawbacks. It takes about 60 seconds for the message to download, so if I just miss a call I have to wait a bit to listen to the message. Not a big deal. And I think I've lost the ability to play back my messages from a normal land line; I can't figure out how to get to the AT&T voicemail robot for my account.

I wonder what it took to get this feature built? I've never heard of a cell phone doing this before; did AT&T build a custom voicemail system just for the iPhone launch?

Update: Thanks to my loyal readers I now know this feature is called visual voicemail. And yes, AT&T built it custom for the iPhone. The voicemail robot access is still available; call your phone and press * while listening to your greeting. It even syncs your message deletion, etc with the phone's versions. Nicely done.
  2007-08-20 18:41 Z
Should Wikipedia play a role in making things notable?

Overworld Zero is a minigame inside the classic PC game System Shock 2. It's basically an elaborate easter egg, a clever one with some remix and game within a game relevance. It's obscure, but interesting. The best online reference for Overworld Zero has been its Wikipedia article. That article is about to be deleted on the grounds that the minigame is not notable.

I'm not a member of the Wikipedia editing community, so I've never quite understood the editorial policy for when something is too irrelevant to merit a Wikipedia article. There's an infinite amount of paper on the Web so why not accept everything? Editorial quality, that's why. And Wikipedia has a thoughtful definition of notability.

A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject.

Overworld Zero isn't notable by this definition. But it should be. And because the reliable sources of the gaming world have overlooked it, I was happy that the Wikipedia article existed to establish the game's notability. But Wikipedia explicitly doesn't want to play the role of definining notability, so the article is about to be deleted. And that makes me sad.

  2007-08-14 16:49 Z
A yellow oasis in hell
premeditated stupidity, a phrenological idol.
The sombre dream of the grey-eyed Corsican
A Brain so small that an animacuale went to view it with a compound Microscope. Wrestling of shadows, a square chunk of carrion with two green eyes held by gossamer which floats at midnight in bleak old rural graveyards.
Three million miles beyond the limits of the universe where the angels dare
There flies forever from nihil to nihil the foulest demon of the Cosmos
From Thomas Edison's prose poems.
  2007-08-13 20:30 Z
The Xbox 360 demo came out for Bioshock last night, and oh my goodness is it good. I just slowly played through and savoured every bit. The demo is fantastic. I'm rushing out to preorder the limited edition right now.

The design of the game is beautiful. The setting is Rapture, an 1940s underwater city built by the eugenicist Ryan as his utopia. It's a sort of Xanadu under the sea, an Ayn Rand fantasy gone terribly wrong. An inspired and novel setting with lots of fun period music and graphic design. And the game design leads you through the scenery in a beautifuly cinematic way. There's lots of visual tricks to draw your eye up to see magnificent details. Great use of spotlighting, too.

The game is very much a System Shock / Deus Ex successor. Most of the same gameplay elements; personal upgrades, turrets and robots, a hacking minigame, booze and cigarettes and a big wrench for bashing zombies (er, splicers). All that's missing is Overworld Zero, and with any luck it's buried in there somewhere. I enjoy gameplay innovation, but there's something to be said for improving on proven gameplay designs.

The other thing that made System Shock and Deus Ex fantastic was the interesting narration that progressed via gameplay. Bioshock looks to be doing a great job of that as well. The demo only shows a little, but it seems like Ryan is being set up to be a new SHODAN for us to battle once we make our way through the splicers and little sisters roaming the halls. I can't wait to find out.

  2007-08-13 18:07 Z
PDFCreator is good software. It's a simple Windows printer driver that prints to a PDF file instead of paper. There are other ways to print to PDF; I like this one because it is free and very easy to use. The underlying Ghostscript engine even produces decent quality PDF.

I create PDFs all the time when I want to give a document to someone. Everyone knows how to open a PDF attachment in email and it always renders the same no matter what software the recipient has. And emailing a PDF is much easier than printing and faxing something. Printing to PDF is also a big help when you don't have a physical printer. Last month in Oregon I checked in to a flight online, created a PDF of the boarding pass from the web page, then faxed it to myself at my hotel with a free email-to-fax gateway. Byzantine, but effective.

  2007-08-12 17:44 Z
I drove down to LA for the weekend with my fancy new iPhone. It makes a pretty good companion on a road trip.

The most amazing change was having a little Internet terminal in my pocket with me. Every driving break I took was a chance to check my email, update my Twitter account, read some RSS feeds, check where I was going on Google Maps. This is a mixed blessing; I love staying connected to the net but the iPhone also isolates you from your local reality. Part of the fun of a road trip is being where you are right there, no matter how odd or dull or uncomfortable or totally cool. I was staring at the Internet so much I was ignoring my surroundings.

It is possible to read email and web pages on the iPhone while driving on a quiet road, but it is not a good idea. Under no circumstances could you reasonably type on the thing while driving.

Connectivity is still a problem.

More inside ...

  2007-08-06 15:27 Z
We've gotten stock pumping spam for years. "Buy this penny stock, it's going to go up!". First it came as text files, then text files with random content at the bottom to avoid Bayesian filters, then images to avoid text detection, then noisy images to evade OCR.

Recently we started getting PDF stock spam. That lasted a week or two, now the new thing is ZIP stock spam. I finally opened one of the 15 ZIPs I get a day to find a 180k text file inside. 2k of stock spam text, 178k of anti-filter random text.

I first assumed all this PDF and ZIP traffic was some sort of worm traffic, an exploit payload. I'd think most users would be trained not to open strange attachments, it's suprising to me that this could be effective stock pumping spam. Maybe it's just a test.

The SEC needs to shut these operations down.

  2007-08-02 15:20 Z