brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell


Update: It’s officially over!

I'm personally declaring that the whole "more cowbell" thing is officially over. It was funny when Walken did it. It was perhaps amusing the next million times it was repeated. But the next day, it was already stale, and it's only gotten worse. Why not just go back to saying "You are the weakest link!" or "Aye Carumba" or "Where's the beef?!"

Have some comedic mercy.

Addendum: Google reports ::google("more cowbell", "729,000 hits for 'more cowbell'")::.


The Cinnamon Bear

Last year, I wrote a script to eek out one episode of the classic radio serial The Cinnamon Bear each day leading up to Christmas Eve. I had a few subscribers, but just a few. Still, I think it's a fun holiday serial, and I was gonna set it up to do the same this year. Unfortunately, I seem to have mislaid the little python script that I used to generate the feeds and the webpage, so instead, I've wimped out and just stuck them all on a special page dedicated to The Cinnamon Bear. Go ahead, slaughter my bandwidth, slurp up all 74 megabytes of classic radio and enjoy it.

Happy Holidays!


Where is Patty O’ Cinnamon?

Each of the last two years, I've made mp3 files of the classic radio serial The Cinnamon Bear available here. This serial ran from November 29th through Christmas Eve, and I realized today that I haven't got it queued up yet for this year. Expect it (and a more worthy introduction) by the end of today.


Pong is 34 years old today! Happy Birthday Pong!

According to digg, pong is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Feh. I'm older than that.


Bonus links: Wikipedia has some nice info, including a link to William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two game developed at Brookhaven National Labs.

Oh, and the animated gif on the right? Screendumps from the CHIP-8 emulator I wrote a few years back.


Sorry for the lack of updates..

I've been pretty quiet on the blog since before Thanksgiving, mainly because I've been doped up on expectorants in some attempt to shake this nasty bug. I've still got some sinus congestion, and every time I exhale I can feel fluid squishing around in my lungs, but at least the chills have stopped and with the assistance of some ibuprofren, the muscle pain seems to be manageable.

I advise against getting this one, folks.

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Gutenberg Gem: Little Wars by H. G. Wells

Earlier in life, I was quite a wargame fan: I had dozens of games by Avalon Hill, and even experimented a bit with miniature wargaming. I still have a few interesting old rulebooks for games, like Fletcher Pratt's Naval Wargame. I recall reading back then that H.G. Wells had published a set of rules called Little Wars which I just discovered is available via (you guessed it) Project Gutenberg. Neat!


Re: Why IP owners should worry

Slashdot recently linked to this rather strange article by Melanie Wyne against the OpenDocument standard. She's apparently executive director of the The Initiative for Software Choice, a group funded by many large and small companies, seemingly to combat recent moves by governments to specify open source solutions as part of their procurement processes.

Her article is puzzling, as is the website for the Initiative for Software Choice. She said:

But there's also something bigger going on. It points to a perfect storm that can't be good for those who depend on intellectual property, or IP, to prosper.

Yes, it does, doesn't it? The problem is that the oncoming storm is unavoidable. If you are a company who is dependent on intellectual property to prosper, I might suggest that you start worrying about your business model.

What's puzzling is Wyne's stand on the OpenDocument standard. After all, one of the main thrusts of the Initiative for Software Choice is to promote open standards for document interchange. Microsoft could just adopt this standard in the line of Office products and could conceivably battle it out in the market place on the basis of having one of the most widely used office suites on the planet. But they don't want to do that. Curious. One can only imagine that it is because whatever their stated purposes are, the real purpose behind them is to protect the markets of their member companies against intrusion by new competitors.

Wyne continues:

It reflects the currently fashionable idea that confiscatory government policy must be used to even the score (whatever that means), thrusting highly demanded, privately risked IP out of the hands of legitimate property owners and into the hands of other, favored actors to further "develop" it.

It seems odd to me that she's complaining about the confiscatory nature of government regulation that would suck the IP of companies back into the public domain when, in fact, it was a confiscatory policy of government to grant intellectual property rights at all. The underlying philosophy of this group seems to be "if it helps our members it's a virtue, otherwise, it's a vice." That's not a philosophy that has paid benefits to society as a whole.

Secondly, the OpenDocuments standard doesn't reassign any intellectual property rights. It is an attempt by the government to ensure that the citizenry will have good access to the documents produced by them in the course of their governmental duties by establishing a highly interoperable format for the exchange of office information. Nothing about this really falls under the kind of "innovation" that intellectual property law really was meant to cover. The precise format the Word uses to save documents really isn't very important, unless of course, you have to use it. Then, the secret of how Word files are organized has to be worth at least $200 to you (the going rate for Word disks on amazon). Microsoft is gambling that it will be worth it to you because they already have a huge lead in this market. I think they are betting unwisely. Office suites like OpenOffice may not be quite as nice, but they are capable, and are likely to undercut Microsoft significantly in terms of price.

If you are an IP holder, stop your whining. Protect your rights that you have under the law, that's fine. But many of you are like the buggy whip manufacturers of old. Open source software and standards are helping to accelerate the downward trend of costs for computation and communication, and you better have some idea about how you are going to survive in the world when you begin to get clamped out of these traditionally lucrative but suddenly marginal markets.


Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to take a moment to thank all of my readers and listeners and to wish them all the very best on this Thanksgiving Day. There are lots of things that I'm thankful for this year, including my beautiful wife and my son, the health of my entire family, and my serious attempts to improve my health and longevity through better diet and exercise. Somewhere down on the list I'd also have to include my experience with blogging and podcasting: the availability of inexpensive Internet access gives all of us a stage upon which we can share as much or as little of our thoughts and experiences as we desire. I guess that means I'm thankful for Moore's Law. 🙂

Health update: Yesterday sucked. Let me add some emphasis to that. Yesterday SUCKED! I normally just plow through and ignore cold symptoms, but I literally was off my feet for 23 hours yesterday. Today, I'm feeling like I am on the mend but still sick , so my wife has banished me from the kitchen, proclaiming me contagious. Probably a good thing too, but I will miss cooking. I like it almost as much as eating.

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It never fails…

I always seem to get sick around the holidays. Starting yesterday afternoon, my throat started getting sore, by the time I was home I had the chills, bodyaches and general lassitude (annoying, given that there is lots of cleaning and cooking to do). It's now 5:11AM, and I'm up with a dry cough, slurping back a couple of liters of water, taking some ibuprofen, and hoping that I begin to feel good enough so that I don't keep waking my poor wife up. I'm now working on paring back my holiday plans to levels that won't kill me. 🙂

Two rooms to clean, I'll let Roomba vacuum (that doesn't suck), I need to mix up the turkey brine, and get the sweet potatoes cooked and peeled. Then, I will sleep. A lot.

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I hate CSI: Miami!

Oh, dear, lord.

Could the episode I watched have been any more ridiculous?

In the episode Urban Hellraisers, the plotline featured a gang of young college hoodlums who decide to play a live action version of Grand Theft Auto Urban Hellraisers. It featured the following incredible plot points (I'd normally fear spoiling the plot or someone, but the writers beat me to it):

  • About fifty beauty shots of the Hummer H3, interspersed with ten minutes of Hummer H3 commercials, and followed up by a plea to go to to watch a special ending, featuring even more Hummer commercials.
  • The usual plot device of having an "infinite resolution camera" which happens to allow them to read the sticker in the window of a car from hundreds of feet away.
  • Cliché about gamers gone crazy, who are playing the game for real.
  • Cliché about gamer playing himself to death and dying of renal failure.
  • The "winner" of the game turns out to be a nerdy girl who was "just trying to fit in."
  • The mastermind behind the entire crime spree was an unscrupulous game developer who planned the whole thing to please his stockholders by driving up interest in the game, who comically asserts that "I'll never do a day behind bars!"

Could this show be any more stupid? Honestly, I'm beginning to look back at Three's Company for instances of plot sophistication. If you are a writer for this show, send your paycheck back: you are ripping of the company you work for.

100% Crap.


Gutenberg Gems: Watch and Clock Escapements, by Anonymous

A Watch EscapementIf you aspire to be an horologist, you don't have to done fishnet stockings and hot pants, you merely need to study up on the design and manufacture of escapements. Luckily, there is a nifty illustrated book on the Project Gutenberg website that details some of what you'll need to know: Watch and Clock Escapements, by Anonymous. If you haven't thought of it before (and why would you, in this soul-less age of digital watches), how do you think that mechanical watches actually worked? Well, they use a gadget called an escapement, the design of which is the core function of traditional clockmaking. From the book:

The problem to be solved by means of the escapement has always been to govern, within limits precise and perfectly regular, if it be possible, the flow of the motive force; that means the procession of the wheel-work and, as a consequence, of the hands thereto attached. At first blush it seems as if a continually-moving governor, such as is in use on steam engines, for example, ought to fulfil the conditions, and attempts have accordingly been made upon this line with results which have proven entirely unsatisfactory.

Having thoroughly sifted the many varieties at hand, it has been finally determined that the only means known to provide the most regular flow of power consists in intermittently interrupting the procession of the wheel-work, and thereby gaining a periodically uniform movement. Whatever may be the system or kind of escapement employed, the functioning of the mechanism is characterized by the suspension, at regular intervals, of the rotation of the last wheel of the train and in transmitting to a regulator, be it a balance or a pendulum, the power sent into that wheel.

Interesting stuff.

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Visualizing the code of Atari 2600 games

Ben Fry has some cool graphics which visualize the code in several old Atari 2600 video games. Basically, he disassembles code and marks all possible branches with arcs between the lines of code, and changes all data tables to graphical representations of the bit patterns, revealing many sprites and other data tables. I dunno how useful it is, but it's kind of neat.


Anaglyphs, in color!

Stereo Pair of My Desk

Check these out with the red/blue 3D glasses. Kind of cool, huh?

If you followed my tutorial on how to do this with black and white images, you can probably figure out how to do this. The source pair
Basically, the red image is just the red channel of the left image, and the green and blue channels are the green and blue channels of the right image. Combine them using "Add" or "Screen modes". You can get some eyestraining effects when certain objects are strongly green or red, but overall, the effect works rather nicely.

Give it a try.

Addendum: Others are on the same wavelength as me.


Those Geniuses at Apple

I bought Carmen a video iPod a few weeks ago, and she loves it. You can apparently play video on a regular TV, but you need a special Apple video cable to do so. Or do you? According to the guys at MacDevCenter, all you really need to do is realize that the special Mac cable is just an ordinary A/V cable with an eight inch to RCA plugs like you'd use to connect a camcorder to a TV, and remember that they send the video out the red connector instead of out the yellow connector.

How annoying is that? I suppose we should be grateful, they could have done something really annoying and made other cables really incompatible with their own, but sheesh.


Planning a Thanksgiving Meal

I admire those people who cook fifteen different dishes from their cookbook that was handed down for ages. I just don't have the kitchen or frankly the patience to do that. I don't mind doing a turkey (it's really a snap) or things like sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, or green beans with pearl onions and bacon (three items on my list this year). People in my house like stuffing, but I hate to make it so (gasp!) it's box stuffing for them. 🙂 Pies? I buy 'em. They are better than mine anyway. I do make a mean pumpkin cheesecake, but I think I'm gonna skip it this year (too unfriendly to my weight loss attempts). But really, with a bit of forethought, we can get most of these things done in a little over an hour of actual work time. They aren't really all that complicated.

Over at Lifehacker, I thought it was amazing that somebody has produced an Excel template for planning your Thanksgiving cooking. Dear Lord, when cooking requires spreadsheets, maybe you should begin planning a potluck. 🙂

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