Fairly Symmetrical

Tech Archives

Books (4) Cruise06 (8) Culture (54) Current Fruit (18) Filesharing and DRM (7) Humor (6) Kids (21) Misc (4) Movies and TV (17) Music (10) Old Announcements (2) Other Media (2) Personal (355) Philosophy (3) Politics (25) Reviews (15) Sports (26) Tech (40) Theatre (2) Travel (14) Work (20)
08:31 AM by Eric: I love the smell of sawdust in the evening... Music | Personal | Reviews | Tech

...it smells like... victory. ;)

So Saturday we ripped all the carpet out of the office and bought enough new laminate flooring to replace all the carpet left in the house. Unfortunately the laminate needs to acclimatize to its new environment (you know, sniff around, set up its den, mark the perimeter... oh wait) for 48 hours before installation, which meant that the office was empty all weekend but for stacks of laminate--which meant that the front hall was full of office furniture, and the living room was full of stacks of books. (We have a lot of books. It doesn't seem like nearly so many when they're on the shelves, but we could build fairly substantial forts out of these stacks of books, and still have paperbacks left over for ammunition...)

So last night while Jen was at a New Works (er, sorry, The University Co-op Presents the Cohen New Works Festival) meeting, I spent 3 hours putting the new floor down in the office. I think I've gotten the hang of this flooring, since that was all it took. Tonight I'll do the closet and the bedroom hall, put in the mouldings, and then we can reassemble the office.

I'm really digging my Creative Zen Touch. My first impressions were that it is a bit more substantial than Jenny's iPod, specifically slightly heavier and slightly wider. I'm okay with that; it's still pretty small, and the extra size is due to a larger battery. So far it seems as if the claims of ~24 hours continuous play life are more or less true (it's hard to say because I'm not using 96Kbps WMA or whatever the claim is based on; I have both high bitrate MP3s and some WMAs that were automatically converted). I am a little disappointed with the software integration. The Touch isn't yet 100% compatible with Windows Media Player; you can copy over all the songs on a playlist (or all songs in your library), but you can't copy over the playlist(s) themselves. Supposedly a firmware update due in March will bring it up to full MTP compatibility, after which AutoSync should make life wonderful, but until then I have to use Windows Explorer to create playlists. I didn't bother to install any of the Creative software (except the required drivers), since I've never had a good experience with Creative software. :)

As far as sound quality, I'm very happy. I'm not sure I can hear any difference over Jen's iPod, but it might be the default earbuds; the sound is very clear, though. The player's interface is interesting; it does a very good job of not ripping off the iPod without sucking. It has a touch-sensitive strip used for scrolling; I've read a lot of complaints that scrolling through long lists is painful since you have to repeatedly stroke the strip. Apparently none of these people discovered that if you stop at the end of the strip and hold your finger there, the player will keep scrolling. :-P Anyway, so far I'm really happy with the player itself. The carrying case is annoying, though. It's very protective, but once the player is inside the case the only control you can actually access is the power button; you can kind of get at the volume buttons through the elastic sides, but the play controls are all covered by a stiff protective guard. It's really a shoddy design. The worst part is that nobody makes MP3 accessories for anything but the damned iPod; there's no such thing as a third-party Zen Touch case. Sigh. I'll probably post an update to this once the new firmware comes out.

07:02 PM by Eric: Lego Star Wars? I'm there. Tech

In the immortal words of Eric Cartmann, kick ass! And it even features cooperative play...

Yes, I promise a real update soon.

10:55 PM by Eric: Ain't technology grand? Tech

Things for which I am grateful today:

  1. Windows XP's System Restore: Instead of spending 3 hours reinstalling Windows and a bunch of applications on Jen's laptop, I spent 15 minutes booting into Safe Mode and rolling back to a restore point. What a great idea.
  2. 802.11b: Better yet, I was able to do the above while sitting on the couch watching The Apprentice, rather than sitting in the office staring at a progress bar, thanks to our lovely wireless network.
  3. There was a third thing which I have quite forgotten. Sadly, technology has not yet figured out a way to make my memory foolproof.
  4. Edit: I have remembered what the third thing was: Microsoft's Automatic Crash Analysis, you know, that window that pops up when Windows or an application crashes and asks if you want to Send/Don't Send the crash to Microsoft. Jen's laptop bluescreened while I was trying to restore it, I hit Send when it came back up, and MS came back with a web page saying that it was a bad version of the Synaptics touch pad driver -- and best of all it gave me a link to download the fixed one. Much nicer than trying to troubleshoot a bluescreen and locate updated drivers myself.
04:24 PM by Eric: Two for two Tech

Today I passed the second of my exams for MCSD certification: XML Web Services and Server Components. Considering that this was the material I use least in my day-to-day job, it actually was much easier than I expected it to be. Not that I'm complaining. :)

09:36 PM by Eric: Stuff I can't talk about Tech

So tonight I spent about 2 hours doing a focus group for a product under development. I can't say what product it was, or even who's developing it, because they made me sign an NDA. Still, it was fun, we got to see something new and non-public, got to give actual feedback that I know will at least be heard, and I got paid $75 for chatting about music and the Internet for two hours. (Yes, I can say that much--the product has to do with music and the internet. :-P)

I found the focus group by checking Craig's List for the local area, under "et cetera jobs". It seemed like an easy and reasonably fun way to make a little extra pocket change.

A couple of incidentals about the group: There were eight of us, and I was the only one who didn't have an iPod. Of course, as far as I could tell there was only one (maybe two) other person(s) who even downloaded music before buying said iPod; when I mentioned having downloaded the first version of Napster people seemed oddly impressed. Sometimes I forget I'm such an early adopter. :)

As for the product, it seems like a decent idea, something I would actually use, if the company pulls it off well--which I am not completely confident of, but then that's why the focus groups. :)

01:03 AM by Eric: Goin through the motions Personal | Tech | Work

5 more days, plus a bit, until Jenny is back in town and life is back to normal. Been working so hard that I don't have the energy to do much by the time I get home (my current mantra is "just survive until July 17th"), but the imp of the perverse has seated himself firmly on my shoulders -- I can't sleep. I'm just all kinds of out of sorts right now. I guess having work scheduled out until October 11 for a hard July 12th deadline will do that to you, though.

I am at least proud of the work I'm doing. I was running our major application on my laptop today (just a Pentium M with 512 MB of RAM), and it handles at least 500 simultanous clients, each sending commands at random intervals between 0 and 1000 ms. Considering it's all code I wrote myself (in about 3 weeks), I don't know if that's more a tribute to my mad skillz or the ease of developing in C# -- the truth probably being, as it so often is, somewhere in the middle. (I'm so humble it hurts to be me sometimes... ;) ) The only reason the app starts to have issues at 500 clients is that it appears that the Winsock buffers start to fill up (probably due to the fact that 512MB - VS.Net - SQL Server - Outlook 2003 - misc other stuff does not leave massive amounts of memory lying around free) and the socket starts throwing WSAEWOULDBLOCK exceptions.

Anyway, I'll be interested to get the app onto our real server and see if/how far that extends the client limit.

And now back to your regularly scheduled non-programming post. ;)

Actually, I am toying with the idea of starting up another blog just for programming etc, to kind of segregate the content. Of course, it would mean that if I start posting to that more often than this blog Jen would beat me up, but maybe we can reach some kind of compromise. ;)

Okay, brain too fuzzy to write more. Going to try to sleep now.

02:05 PM by Eric: Video game news from E3 Tech

Some exciting news out of E3 (the big video game conference)... I haven't been watching the XBox or PS2 information, but I noticed some very cool news re: the Gamecube.

05:16 PM by Eric: Austin Dot Net User's Group (ADNUG) Meeting, 4/12/04 Tech

Today's ADNUG meeting is on the use of Virtual PC (VPC) as a development tool, and the speaker is Michael Kennedy, a consultant with the Microsoft Technology Center here.

04:28 PM by Eric: DevDays 2004 - Austin Tech | Work

So I'm here at DevDays 2004 in Austin. I probably would be enjoying myself more if I weren't sick, but oh well.

The rest of this post is in the Extended portion, so those of you who don't care can skip it. :)

01:44 PM by Eric: Handwriting on the computer Personal | Tech | Work

Jenny showed me this nifty site called Fontifier, which takes your handwriting and turns it into a TrueType font for use on your computer. It's not perfect (it's missing a lot of glyphs), but it's pretty cool. I've actually set up an alternate skin for the website so you can read it in my own handwriting, if you like. You'll need to download and install this file (on Windows, drag it into the Fonts folder in your Control Panel), then click here.

Just got back from another trip to Phoenix. This one went really well, we got everything done early for a change, and the owners were apparently very happy with us. Our last few clients have been really happy, which is great news; we're really starting to get this thing down. It's going to be a good year for us, I think.

Riley got his staples out Friday, and Cara's ears have cleared up, so hopefully we can avoid the vet for a few months. It would be nice to be able to pay to replace the garage doors and redo the yard and garden.

This site is turning into just a personal journal; I haven't seen anything worth writing about in a while, I guess. Sigh.

Edit: I forgot to upload the font file to the webserver. I'll do that tonight. Meanwhile, laugh at me for making such a rookie mistake. :-P

Edit 2: Okay, the file is uploaded now.

08:50 PM by Eric: Yeah, yeah, I never post. Culture | Movies and TV | Personal | Tech

Okay, so the Kokai-Means family has returned from Winter Break and I'm sure you're all dying to hear about it. :)

Christmas this year was really good. I got some very cool gifts (such as a gift certificate for classes at the Texas Culinary Academy, a nice table saw, and a Tivo). We spent a good day at my Grandma's house. Ryan was unexpectedly really nice, which made me actually feel a little bad about not giving him a really nice gift. For the first time in a while I actually have a little hope that he'll turn out to be a decent person.

Jenny just got back from a jaunt to Florida; she hung out with her grandma, ate a bunch of bad food for no discernible reason, and rode the new Mission to Mars ride at Epcot (I am so jealous.)

The Tivo fascinates me. It reminds me of the way the Internet felt when I first discovered that, and even the old phone BBSes before that; in some ways it's a little primitive (for god's sake, stop recording BET) but, in a similar fashion to the way the Internet brought information, entertainment, and communication to my fingertips, any time I wanted it, the Tivo brings me whatever I want to watch, when I want to watch it. It's fantastic. I don't have to miss the (rare in Austin) Blues games, I don't have to go out and buy the Family Guy DVD set (though I probably will anyway, at some point), I don't have to remember to scan the TV listings for Band of Brothers reruns. I just tell Tivo to do it for me. Now I just need to triple the capacity and wait for the new service that lets you burn shows from the Tivo to DVD via a PC, and we'll be set.

07:57 AM by Eric: Are the record companies hiring chimps to do their programming? Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Tech

I can't decide whether the record companies are hiring morons to design their protection schemes, or whether the people they are hiring are so ashamed of their employers they just can't bring themselves to do good work. Ed Felten has a post up about the latest CD "protection" scheme:

This technology is going to end up in the hall of fame beside the previous Sony technology that was famously defeated by drawing on the CD with a felt-tipped pen. This time, the technology can be defeated completely by holding down the computer's Shift key while inserting the CD.

All right, I suppose it's possible that most people will be using Windows, and that most people won't think to disable autorun (temporarily or otherwise) before putting in these CDs, but you can bet that a simple Google search will tell them how to copy those tracks once they realize something is interfering. Making the copy protection this easy to crack is ridiculous. I realize real protection is very difficult (read: impossible, at least as long as DRM isn't built into every layer of every CD-playing box on the planet), but if this is the best the record companies have, they might as well just quit trying.

02:39 PM by Eric: How to make a software engineer cry for joy Tech

Build him the perfect office:

Most software managers know what good office space would be like, and they know they don't have it, and can't have it. Office space seems to be the one thing that nobody can get right and nobody can do anything about. There's a ten year lease, and whenever the company moves the last person anybody asks about how to design the space is the manager of the software team, who finds out what his new veal-fattening pens, uh, cubicle farm is going to be like for the first time on the Monday after the move-in.

Well, it's my own damn company and I can do something about it, so I did.

09:09 PM by Eric: Shooting trouble Tech

So I encountered one of the software engineer's primary enemies yesterday: a non-deterministic bug. What I mean by that is that the bug's behavior is apparently random. Sometimes the bug will appear, sometimes it will not, and there is no way to reliably reproduce the bug. These are possibly the most difficult class of bugs to fix; if you tell any software developer that you've found a problem with his software, his first question is almost certainly going to be "How do I reproduce it?". This particular bug was due to a race condition; two files were being created at about the same time. If one was created first, the code worked perfectly; if the other was, it exposed a heretofore unknown problem in the code.

I spent eight hours yesterday and four hours today hunting this bug through four layers of software, at least 7 different software modules, and two different configurations. And in the end, I nailed it to the wall.

It's surprising, really, how much pure satisfaction I derive from that; from proving that I understand how the software and the computer work, being able to explain the exact problem to my team lead and my manager, and being able to fix the problem in six lines of code.

It's funny; yesterday I worked late, and the last 12 work hours were high-pressure and high-stress, and they were not at all glamorous, but they sure as hell reminded me why I love what I do.

02:31 PM by Eric: Herbert's Golden Path and the future of terrorism Tech

Randall Parker is considering what will happen when a single terrorist will be able to kill enormous numbers of people. His conclusion states that:

If we are going to be faced with growing threats from terrorism due to technological advances that make it easier to launch terrorist attacks of enormous lethality is there anything we can do about it? As I see it there are only about two major counters that can be used to sustain a defense in the long run:

  • A massive worldwide surveillance society. Sensors would be deployed throughout the world to watch for dangerous actions by individuals.
  • Reengineer human minds to make humans less dangerous.

One of his commenters says, "Another 'counter' is to build a less fragile civilization." Perhaps it's because I've been reading Frank Herbert lately again, but I'm reminded of the concept of the "Golden Path" in the Dune books (the original ones, not the horrid ones infected by Kevin J. Anderson).

11:40 AM by Eric: RIAA: BS, Take 27, Action! Filesharing and DRM | Tech

There's a good article in Slate called An Offer You Can Refuse which discusses the current state of P2P and the RIAA's utterly BS amnesty. Among other interesting factoids is that even if you take their deal, any other copyright owner can then subpoena the RIAA and use the amnesty information to sue you themselves. Charming, yes?

The really interesting point the author makes is to point out that activity is starting to move off of the current major P2P nets. He mentions EarthStation 5, a Palestine (as in the Middle East) based network that uses anonymization etc to try to hide who's downloading and sharing what. Another trend I've noticed is a move to "semi-private" nets, where a community (online or offline) will provide a secret, password-protected P2P net for its own use. While this does slow down the diffusion of new material, it doesn't do so by a whole lot because of the six-degrees-of-separation problem; many people will belong to multiple nets, and will thus help move material across community boundaries. Several colleges and universities have these kind of nets (both official and unofficial), as do numerous online forums.

There are a couple of decent articles on anonymous filesharing here and here.

A wise man once said that "The Internet views censorship as damage, and routes around it." So far he's right. First noticed this via Instapundit.

There. I posted. Happy? :)

10:49 AM by Eric: Cost-benefit analysis? What's that? Tech

So apparently the author of the SoBig worm is performing some kind of experiment—ostensibly to find out what the ideal conditions for a worm release are. (Details in the Star Tribune.) Exciting times ahead for the internet, no doubt; maybe people will slowly figure out why firewalls are good things. (I note that Microsoft is starting to ship XP with the built-in firewall enabled by default, which is something they really ought to have been doing before.)

Anyway, this quote really irritates me:

"NASA has virtually defect-free software," said Paul Saffo, director at the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. "Why doesn't Microsoft achieve that same level of software? Because they think they don't have to and because everyone is rushing to introduce the shiniest bell and loudest whistle."

08:57 AM by Eric: You think? Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Tech

p2pnet.net | news | RIAA sue 'em war results in sales losses:

The RIAA's sue 'em all campaign has resulted in a 22% drop in file sharing, but at the same time, CD sales have plummeted by 9.4% and, "Specifically, curtailing file trading may not improve CD sales, but instead may accelerate their decline."

Golly, who'd have thunk that suing your own customers would actually have negative repercussions?

09:43 AM by Eric: Who are these people kidding? Personal | Tech

Seen on a job posting today, under "Required Qualifications":

4-6 years .Net experience

Never mind that .Net wasn't even formally available before early 2002, and didn't exist at all 4-6 years ago…

10:08 AM by Eric: Professional Bootlegging Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Tech

I had a thought today, one which has grown out of previous posts on the Internet Bookmobile and on-demand back catalog production of music CDs.

Last year, we went to a Dar Williams concert here in St. Louis. After the concert I was kicking myself for not taking along some sort of digital recorder—a minidisc recorder or some such—because in the course of the concert, Dar sang a pair of tremendous duets with her opening act. Those versions of the song are lost, unless I miraculously find someone who bootlegged the concert.

It seems to me there's a huge opportunity here. If the artist were to have every concert professionally recorded, and the results were burned to CDs and sold at the end of the concert, you could create an entire new revenue stream with a huge bonus: unauthorized bootlegging would virtually vanish (who wouldn't shell out for a high-quality, authorized recording of the concert rather than deal with the hassle and risk of a lower-quality recording they made themselves?). All it would take is some recording equipment and a couple of towers of CD burners.

09:44 AM by Eric: Why I refuse to purchase from Amazon.com Culture | Politics | Tech

I haven't bought anything from amazon.com in a long time. I don't expect I ever will. I refuse to support an organization which continues to exploit the USPTO in obviously idiotic ways. Today I saw a news report entitled Has Jeff Bezos Patented E-Mail Discussion Groups?:

First he received a patent for 1-Click e-commerce. Now he has one for e-mail discussion groups. Last Tuesday, February, 25, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a new patent to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of online retailer Amazon.com, granting him exclusive rights to "a method and system for conducting an electronic discussion relating to a topic. As was the case when he and three other Amazon executives patented the company's 1-Click ordering system, Bezos has gained control of a technology that may not seem particularly innovative to the everyday Internet user.

Or anyone else, for crying out loud.

09:48 AM by Eric: On-demand back catalog production Culture | Music | Tech

Stumbled across an interesting post at Blogcritics today: Blogcritics: How to Keep Inventory Down but Keep Rare Items in Stock? CD-R's, in which Eric Olsen notes a news story about the Smithsonian Institute's novel* method for keeping inventory down without allowing any items to go out of print:

When the Smithsonian Institution bought Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987, the museum agreed to keep every title in print. Initially, requests for rare, out-of-stock albums were fulfilled with dubbed cassettes.

Now, music fans hankering for "Burmese Folk and Traditional Music" from 1953 can pay $19.95 and receive a CD-R "burned" with the original album, along with a standard cardboard slipcase that includes a folded photocopy of the original liner notes.

This idea is very similar to something I posted about last October, in reference to the Internet Bookmobile. It's also quite similar to an idea I had for a revamp of music sales.

Our Barnes & Noble doesn't have a music section, which annoys me. Ordinarily, today I would stop by on the way home and buy Dar Williams' new CD there, but as they don't have a music section, in order to use our Reader's Advantage discount we had to preorder the disc from the website… which means waiting for it to ship. It seems to me that there's an easy way for B&N to set up a music section in a very small section of the store and yet have a complete inventory—by burning the CDs on demand. (I swear I've posted about this before, but I cannot find the post.)

I hate walking into a music store and finding that they don't have the CD I want; a just-in-time delivery model would make that a thing of the past.

* Okay, not really novel, if they've been doing this since 1996. But it's not mainstream or expected.

10:33 AM by Eric: Programs vs. Data Tech

Ed Felton has an ongoing series of posts about the difference—if any—between "programs" and "data" in modern computing. The distinction, at least in current usage, can be very subtle and not at all intuitive.

01:12 AM by Eric: Charter and movie night Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews | Tech

So since we're losing our DSL, I went down to Charter a few days to pick up a cable modem to tide us over till we move. Picked up the self-install kit after about an hour wait in line, brought it home, forgot about it for a few days. Yesterday I went to open it and start looking at installing it… and there is no cable modem in the box. Geniuses. Better yet, when I went to take the box back and demand an actual cable modem today, one of the bad blinkenlights in the Passat started going off. So now I don't know how I'm going to get to Charlie's class tomorrow (probably, I'm just not), and I get to spend my Monday morning getting towed to the dealer.

So rather than going out tonight, Jen and I rented MIB 2 and Goldmember. MIB 2 was merely a pathetic rehash of the original, with some random plot inversions. Goldmember, on the other hand, was actually painful to watch. I'm serious, this one goes on the Movies To Avoid list right below The Velocity Of Gary. :shudder:

Today's only upside is that the apartment is now squeaky clean, top to bottom, as that's pretty much all we did from 10 this morning to about 7 this evening. Though there is still laundry to be done. :(

11:47 PM by Eric: Some observations… Personal | Tech

I had a pretty good day today… I'm taking a class on VB.Net, and training weeks are always easier than work weeks. I wasn't even supposed to take the class, but all my other teammates were busy. Lucky me, I guess. My observations after the first day: .Net kicks ass. I have never used a software package as polished, as well designed, and as powerfully user friendly as Visual Studio.Net, and that's saying something. VB.Net is everything I spent the last year wishing VB6 were; what I wouldn't have given for structured exception handling, to name just one thing.

We've enrolled Charlie in training. This week was just the owners, no dogs; learning how to teach our dogs, so to speak. Hopefully Charlie will pick up most things quicker than he has housetraining.

On the other hand, Saturday was the grand opening of the small dogs part of the University City Dog Park. The "small dogs" area is larger than most complete dog parks; the "large dog" area will be pleasantly huge, the kind of place where you can launch a frisbee for your Great Dane and not feel hemmed in. We took the dogs, of course, as well as my mom and dad, Conner, and Jen's Grandma. It was a romping good time, we even got on the evening news (briefly), and we may have discovered the secret to housebreaking Charlie (may, I say).

As noted, my parents and Conner were up this weekend to see Jen's play. It was, all in all, a very full but quite fun weekend. I realized this weekend that one of the things I love about my dad is that he's always ready to play. It's most noticeable when he sees a very young child—he gets this mischevious look on his face, he makes funny noises (some of which I have learned to duplicate), he's just a very fun guy to be around. I realized this because he was making a very strange sound this weekend because it seemed to totally captivate the dogs, Charlie especially. I think my dad's willingness to play has been a major influence in my own life; at least, I hope so.

Sunday morning—the morning of my birthday—we went out for a fantastic brunch buffet at the Millenium Hotel with my great-uncle Jim Cholmondelay (a.k.a. "Jim Who?") and his wife Jean. I have to say, it was one of the better starts to a birthday I've ever had. It's hard to go wrong when you start the morning with valet parking, champagne and St. Louis-style potatoes and finish it with chocolate-covered strawberries and more champagne.

Jen's play is (finally) over, so we can all relax a bit. It was a really good play, and despite the occasional hellish moment, I'm glad to have been a part of it. I met a couple of cool people, I learned a lot about how (not) to build a set, and I got to see a great production.

Jen reminds me that I should perhaps list what I got for my birthday. Her wish, my command:

  • Monsters, Inc DVD, and a Monsters, Inc. flashlight. (I love this movie.)
  • Three stuffed Stitch dolls (Elvis, a Hawaiian, and what appears to be a Vampire). Elvis is currently gracing my desk at work, because he's just too cool. Thanks, Laurie (who also sent me a very nice card…).
  • A black wrought-iron stand in which to display the octagonal UofL paving stone my mother gave me for some previous birthday. It actually seems to make quite a nice end table.
  • The Official Iron Chef Book from Lindsay. So far it's really cool. Really, really cool.
  • A long card (or short letter) from my Grandma Phyllis, and another from my Grandma Nancy. With any luck I'll see the latter at Thanksgiving.
  • Money from Jen's Grandma, and I have yet to decide how to spend it—one of life's nicer problems, fortunately.
  • A book called The Thousand Orcs from Conner.

It was a really good birthday, actually <inside_joke>(even if I did have to bake and ice my own cake. ;)</inside_joke>.

Oh golly, how could I have forgotten? Tangerine is incredible. Vegetarian comfort food indeed. Chicken fried portobella mushroom is super fantastic.

12:24 PM by Eric: Tearless onions? Tech

Apparently a team of researchers in Japan has isolated the gene in the onion which produces the chemical that causes tears when the onion is cut. (Tearless Onions May Be on the Way (washingtonpost.com)) They're hoping they can engineer a new onion which lacks the gene, so that onions can be tear-free without any taste changes. My favorite quote from the article:

In fact, stopping the tears might mean altering the flavor in unpredictable ways, said Eric Block, an expert in the chemistry of onions at the State University of New York at Albany.

What I love about this is the idea that somewhere out there, there are people who are experts in "the chemistry of onions". I mean, is modern science great or what?

07:11 PM by Eric: Close call Personal | Tech

I had a close call which ultimately turned out to be good news this week: the RAM in my personal computer died, and thus so did my PC. This is not normally considered Good News, but the RAM happens to be Crucial brand RAM, it's backed by a lifetime guarantee. I called them up, they shipped me a new stick, and I ship the dead one back to them. The only cost to me is shipping of the old stick to Crucial. Fantastic company, great customer service; don't buy RAM anywhere else.

06:01 PM by Eric: Analogizing General Purpose Computers Tech

I ran across this article in LawMeme: Turing Universal Machine Threat to All Mankind. That article references this blog by Edward Felton. A quote from Felton's post:

If you're designing a computer, you have two choices. Either you make a general-purpose computer that can do everything that every other computer can do; or you make a special-purpose device that can do only an infinitesimally small fraction of all the interesting computations one might want to do. There's no in-between…If anybody has a hint about how to [give a simple, non-technical explanation for this], please, please let me know.

The first comment on the LawMeme page tries to fulfill the request with this analogy:

A single purpose computer ist to a gerneral purpose computer as an instrument which can play only one note is to an orchestra. With a limited instrument, you can't play much in the way of music. There are some rhythmic avenues to explore, but the creativity of the player is severely limited by the device.

That doesn't really analogize the situation very well, in my opinion. Below I'll try to address the problems in this analogy, and propose one of my own.

02:28 PM by Eric: Can Verisign get any worse? Tech

Every time I read another story about Verisign, I think that surely this time the company has hit rock bottom. Turns out the tiny, uber-cynical portion of me is actually still correct: they haven't. Now they're demanding that a professor at the UCLA Law School send them a copy of a utility bill to prove that the Law School's mailing address is valid, even though Volokh sent them a copy of the listing in the American Association of Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers.

Oh, in a similar vein I forgot to post last week that, in another wonderful display of their technological savvy, it appears Network Solutions/Verisign forgot to reregister their own (UK) domain name in August, and someone sniped it out from under them. As of this writing, there's a mildly humorous Flash audio bit attached, so stay a moment and listen.

09:21 AM by Eric: Some more good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Politics | Tech

There's a couple of encouraging developments in the War on Fair Use. Two bills have been introduced to Congress (though they will almost certainly sit still until the next session) which would return significant Fair Use rights to consumers of digital media, mostly removed by the DMCA. The first is the Digital Choice and Freedom Act. The DCFA would explicitly provide consumers with the same Fair Use rights with digital media they enjoy with analog media (such as cassettes and VCR tapes), among them the right to make personal copies and compilations.

The second act in question is the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act. This act would counteract the portions of the DMCA which make circumventing copy-protection schemes illegal even for uses previously covered under Fair Use. Essentially the act would make it legal to bypass the copy protection on a DVD in order to make a backup copy or to extract clips from the film for use in a personal compilation. (Currently even attempting to bypass such protections is illegal.) This has very, very important consequences for digital research—there have been a number of important cases where legitimate academic researchers have had their research shut down (or chilled, which amounts to the same thing proactively) by the threat of prosecution. The bill also would extend some pretty strong protection to devices which merely are "capable of enabling significant non-infringing use of a copyrighted work", in stark contrast to the DMCA's inverse requirement.

As noted, the bad news is that neither of these bills will go anywhere until next session—and in fact, probably neither will be passed. The hope is that by introducing two such bills, Congress will be forced to address the issue somehow—preferably by repealing or significantly reworking the DMCA itself.

This provides a unique opportunity, since there is an election coming up, after all (nice timing by the bills' supporters). Send the candidates in your area letters or e-mails requesting that they clarify their stance on the two bills in question, and vote your conscience. It's time the consumers had a say in the Rape of Copyright.

Saw this via Ars Technica.

01:23 PM by Eric: Why I love Google, reason #237 Tech

At the very bottom of the new Google News:

This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors.
No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.

03:41 PM by Eric: Robot Photography Tech

Huh… I didn't know there was any significant AI/robotic work here in St. Louis… Wash U seems to be better known for its medical school (and perhaps bio and law) than its computer science department. Evidently researchers here have developed a robot which can wander around and take photographs unassisted. Sounds like it would be a very interesting project to work on. The robot even knows (and uses) the Rule of Thirds.

08:56 AM by Eric: More good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Politics | Tech

I stumbled across this interview with general counsel for Verizon about peer to peer, and found it somewhat reassuring. The RIAA/MPAA have pushed so hard for the laws and protections they want (in order to maintain their stranglehold on music and video respectively) that they've started to irritate the big boys of telecom.

02:54 PM by Eric: Google x2 Tech

I found this post about Googlebots via this post about the Google Dance… which I found by randomly surfing DMOZ's Sci/Tech Weblogs directory. The post about googlebots is very funny.

09:01 AM by Eric: The RIAA's new tech Filesharing and DRM | Tech

This has me laughing out loud.

Think of it. Every musical experience will be like the first time. Every track will be exciting and new. And you'll never have a song stuck in your head again.


Addendum: Just saw (via Instapundit) this article on LawMeme regarding cheaper, downloadable music. I have to agree with Miller: I think it's inevitable that the music will include some sort of nonportability tech, and that using Liquid is a very obvious tip-off of this. The industry seems to have wised up a hair (if they do in fact sell entire CDs for $9.99, and new CDs instead of just old stock), but them getting entirely clueful all at once is a bit hard to swallow. I hope they surprise me, though.

01:34 PM by Eric: Arrrr, matey! Tech

I don't know whether this is incredibly funny or incredibly sad, but I read some of pirated-sites.com over lunch today. It's amazing how blatant these ripoffs can be. Someone on the Evolt mailing list today pointed out the following URLS:
http://www.web-designers.co.uk/design.htm and


Check the second heading specifically.

Update: It appears ezewebdesign has found out about being found out. You can still see the page in Google's cache, though I don't think it's the same version I saw earlier today. IIRC, earlier today the web page actually still had "Web Designers Limited" in at least one place.

Update: Even better, this site not only ripped off a website quite well-known among web designers, they did so in such an inept fashion that they left intact the HTML tag that identifies the copyright holder:

<META content="© 1999-2001 evolt.org and its members" name=copyright>

!! Well done, guys. All that and a bouncing marquee, too…

05:12 PM by Eric: Oh, yeah: Verisign sucks. Something Tech

Oh, yeah: Verisign sucks.

Something really needs to be done about the administration of the Net. We're at a point where an autocratic entity with no real right to the power it has levies unconscionable taxes and fines upon its "citizenry", said citizenry has no real say in what happens or even recourse after the fact, and the few powers-that-be who could effect change seem happier ignoring the problem. Well, fine. Speaking as an American, we've been here before. Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, after all; perhaps it's time the Net had a Tea Party.

09:41 AM by Eric: Really interesting article over at Tech

Really interesting article over at O'Reilly Net about automatic backlinking in blogs. The example at Disenchanted is rather neat. I can't imagine what Google will make of this, but there's something fascinating about a medium which can make even blog conversations both transparent and traversable. Very cool stuff.

01:19 PM by Eric: And here I thought the Tech

And here I thought the idiotic debate about "deep linking" was over. Apparently The Dallas News feels otherwise. (Uh-oh, that's a deep link… hope Wired doesn't come after me… :rolls eyes:)

It's already been determined by a federal court that deep links do not violate copyright laws and are not deceitful (by their nature, anyway -- theoretically it's possible to create a situation in which this is not true). Therefore TDN's only real complaint is that it's costing them the ad revenue from people failing to hit their front page.

I have two responses to this: 1. So what? Do you expect other webmasters to do your webmasters' jobs for them? If your webmasters can't figure out a way to make ad revenue from actual article pages, then they ought to be fired on the spot. 2. Can you imagine a Web without deep linking? Where either every link has to be followed by a paragraph of explanation on how to get to the actual resource the writer wanted to reference (e.g. "Go to the Washington Post home page, click on Science, look for articles from 4/23/02, it's the one titled "Hamster writes sequel to War and Peace."), or else is completely useless (e.g. This article is really interesting. Which article??)? What kind of a worthless, unnavigable Web would that be?

12:00 AM by Eric: Evil computer games vs good fantasy books Culture | Tech

Interesting article over at the NYTimes… talks about "evil" computer games and
"good" fantasy books, and the differences between them that don't
get noted much by the media.

Wow, two news items in one day. I better be careful or I'll turn into one of those weirdos who updates every five minutes. :) Anyway… I'm
still not into this whole Office.NET and Windows.NET and CoffeeMachine.NET
(sad thing is I'm not even sure that last bit is a joke), but I'm getting
more intrigued by this whole C# thing… this
kind of piqued my interest. Sounds like some really slick
stuff under the covers.

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This page was last updated Sun 23 September 2007 at 08:46 AM CDT