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


Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Just a fun little sight seeing via Google Maps: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Update: a nasty freak accident sent a piece of a wing sailing up into the crowd 25 rows back. It appears that a fan was struck, but he supposedly left under his own power.

Update2: Wow! What a finish! Sam Hornish Jr. edges out 19 year old rookie Marco Andretti coming out of the final turn to win by the second smallest margin in Indy 500 history. Michael Andretti finished third after leading with just five laps to go. Danicka Patrick finished 8th.

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Bee Picture

The cool thing about digital cameras is that you can just keep snapping pictures until you get one that you like. Check out the following that I snapped with my little point-n-shoot Panasonic:


Not bad for a hand held exposure of a silly insect that just refuses to be photographed.

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Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

To open our Memorial Day weekend, I decided to join some of the Pixar Morlocks and go see the opening of X-Men: The Last Stand, the third in the lucrative X-Men feature franchise. I'd enjoyed the first two installments, so was looking forward to this with some anticipation.

Caveat: My geekiness does not actually extend to comic books in any great degree. While I have some knowledge of the X-Men as a whole, I'm by no means an expert, and so I can't comment on the degree to which the movie follows or diverges from the comic books.

The arching plot line is basically this: that a scientist has uncovered a cure for the mutant gene, that will strip mutants of their powers and make them "just like everyone else". Magneto sees this as a sham, that "immunization" will be mandatory, and that this development means the end of the mutants. Since Magneto has a different view of the future, he engages in a careful strategy of paid political ads, lobbying, and town hall meetings.

Just kidding. He raises an army and starts blowing things up.

In the midst of this, Jean comes back as the Phoenix. She's really powerful. And subject to violent mood swings. And Charles Xavier thinks the appropriate thing to do is to twist her mind around and lock her powers away in a split personality. The ultimate promoter of "you must choose your own path" tosses all that aside for simple expediency. Sigh.

Oh, and Beast makes an appearance. He doesn't do anything significant. Similarly with Archangel. Oh, and who can forget Colossus' memorable "TV carrying scene".

Overall, I found the movie to be weak. Despite an opening scene which called to mind The Terminator scenes where robots are battling to wipe out the human race, the first half of the movie is really slow. There is literally no humor at all. Rogue (who was actually one of the better characters in the first two installments) literally does nothing of any importance at all in this movie, she's simply jealous that Kitty Pryde is hanging out with Bobby Drake. Oh, and Kitty Pryde? She's sad. And she can phase through walls. And... well... that's about it. Mystique? Yeah, she's still bad ass, at least for a while, but in the end, she does nothing of any importance either.

It's not an actually terrible movie, it just lack any of the humor, interest, excitement or soul that the previous incarnations did. I give it a 7/10, but that might be too charitable. Seeing it with lower expectations might help, so if you've made it to the bottom of this review, perhaps you'll enjoy it more than I.

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Scrappy does some light reading…

Scrappy Reads SIGGRAPH Proceedings

Just a picture I snapped this morning of my cat as he was reading. As soon as I got the camera out though, he flopped over and pretended he was napping.

Silly cat.

Addendum: I now have given up all hope of actually rising to the blog A-list. I mean really, blogging about your pets... That's low.

Addendum2: I was at a second-hand store yesterday looking for a particular piece of junk for a project, and saw one of these:

A CueCat

Yep, a CueCat barcode reader. It's a little gadget that you stick between your PS/2 keyboard and your real keyboard, and when you run it over a barcode, it spews out a message like:


A bit of spelunking with Google will reveal that you can do a nearly trivial hardware modification to make your CueCat send barcodes in the clear, but why warm up the soldering iron when you can just write about five lines of Python that "decodes" the output, and produces the ISBN (0805045414 in this case, which you can use to go to<ISBN>). which you can use in whatever sort of application you want, perhaps using Amazon web services.

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Snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Last night, the A's managed to lead the Rangers 7-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, and still managed to collapse sufficiently to register their sixth straight loss. Heavy sigh.

I wonder what the chances are? This is the third largest collapse of the A's in franchise history. I could run my analysis based on Poisson scoring and determine what the odds are in my simplified game. Might be amusing.

More amusing than watching balls sail over the fence.

MLB - Oakland Athletics/Texas Rangers Box Score Thursday May 25, 2006 - Yahoo! Sports

Addendum: For teams averaging 4.5 runs per game, my Poisson model says that a team will overcome a 7 run deficit in 4 innings approximately 0.0148% of the time, or (given 2430 games per season) about once every three years.

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Hacking the Hummer DTV Game

I found this rather nifty website detailing how you can hack a Hummer DTV Game that you can buy from Radio Shack for $18.00. Why would you want to do this? Because it contains an improved version of the Commodore 64 that Jeri Ellsworth originally created for the C64 DTV, a wackly little joystick that plugs into the TV and plays a bunch of old video games. Jeri did an excellent job, and the hardware can easily be converted to be a fully functional C64, including hooking to an old disk drive.

The Hummer DTV even includes some flash that can be reprogrammed to hold your own programs! I'm beginning to ponder a project based upon it.

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Be a hoopy frood! Celebrate Towel Day!

Carry a towel tomorrow.

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Liam’s Pictures from Old Books

Wow! An incredible website of pictures scanned from old books, nearly all of which are in the public domain. There are nice pictures of ruined castles, architecture, all sorts of cool stuff, available in multiple resolutions. Very, very cool.

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Baseball Trivia: Baseball Leap Year Babies!

Don't ask how this subject came up, it won't make any sense, but somebody asked me how many major leaguers were born on Feb 29, the extra day added in leap years. I had a database of such things loaded, so here they are:

Dickey Pearce 1836
Ed Appleton 1892
Roy Parker 1896
Ralph Miller 1896
Pepper Martin 1904
Al Rosen 1924
Paul Giel 1932
Steve Mingori 1944
Al Autry 1952
Jerry Fry 1956
Bill Long 1960
Terrence Long 1976

The most popular birthday in the database? November 18th, held by 67 big leaguers. The least? Why, February 29th, of course, held by the 12 above. The next least popular? November 14th, held by only 23 big leaguers.

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Finished Me and My Katamari!

I really enjoyed the Katamari Damacy game for the PS2, so when I heard that there was a Katamari game for the PSP, I knew that I had to have it. I've been playing Me and My Katamari for a couple of weeks, and just yesterday managed to complete the King of the Cosmos level which marked the end of the game (although there is some replay value in trying to advance my scores on previously completed levels) and I haven't actually done any online multiplayer gaming.

The PrinceFirst, the bad. I can only play this game in short 20 minute bursts. My left hand completely cramps up, and my right isn't all that great either. I've experienced mild discomfort after prolonged sessions on the PSP before, but this game is definitely worse than most. So take frequent breaks.

Now, the good: it's a fun game, with lots of cute, imaginative graphics, plenty of action, plenty of things to explore, and a great sound track. For those of you who haven't seen Katamari games, you play the Prince (or one of his cousins), a diminutive little costumed guy, who is the son of the King of the Cosmos. You push a small ball around (the Katamari) and it's sticky: if an object is small enough, it will stick to the ball. If the object is too big, you'll bonk against it, and maybe it will knock objects off. As the ball gets bigger, bigger and bigger objects will stick to it. You begin by picking up little tacks, dice, and matches. You end up (at the very end) picking up supertankers, mountains, and the Eiffel Tower. It's amazingly addicting for such a simple game, which really is due to its imaginativity and unique character.

Oh, one interesting bonus: when you complete all the levels, it enables an "8-bit" version of the game, with 2D side scrolling graphics, that is just hilarious.

I enjoyed it a lot. It's the first game that I actually wholeheartedly recommend for the PSP. 9/10!

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Video-game from 1952 – OXO, a tic-tac-toe

From Boing Boing, a link to, a site dedicated to the first stored-program computer to operate a regular computing service. It was constructed in 1949 at Cambridge University. Apparently, in 1952 someone by the name of A. Douglas wrote a version of Tic-Tac-Toe for it (I didn't see the code anywhere, but I'm in a rush this morning) back in 1952. Neat! has a nice emulator, which includes a telephone dial! Apparently, to place your X or O, you simply dialed the corresponding number.

Too cool.

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Happy Birthday Sir Arthur!

If you have a peek at the Google Search page, you'll see that it features a Sherlock Holmes motif. That's because May 22nd is the birthday of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As I've mentioned before, you can download excellent human-read versions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from Project Gutenberg, as well as the normal text versions. Download them and enjoy!

Oh, if you want to download a bunch of them quickly, try using curl:

curl -O '[01-25].mp3'

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Bay to Breakers!

Well, it's 6:39AM, and I'm just about ready to head off to the Bay To Breakers, a 12K race (which I will be walking the entire way, thank you) from the San Francisco bayside to the ocean beach near Golden Gate Park. I'll have pictures with the new camera and hopefully a GPS track illustrating the path and my pace later today.

Hopefully I'll be back home in time to watch the deciding game in the series between Giants and the Athletics. Both games have been exciting, and today is the rubber match.

Now, time to pop some Advil and get going. Talk to you all later in the day.

Addendum: Here is my gallery of pictures.

You can check out the route via Google Maps created via the GPS Visualizer. It makes JPEG's too!

Bay To Breakers Map

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San Francisco Arts on Fire

Last night, Carmen and I trudged off to see the San Franscisco Arts on Fire show at Candlestick Park. All sorts of artists which use flame were on hand: tumblers, sculptors, musicians, and just plain crazy people. They even had a finale which featured a mini Burning Man. It plays through the weekend, drop in and check it out.

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A New Podcast! With Reviews of XM Radio and the Panasonic DMC-TZ1

What can I say? I was bored on the way home yesterday, and decided to record a 23 minute podcast, reviewing two of my moderately recent gadget purchases:

I also gave a brief report about my trip down to the Computer History Museum to see their recently restored PDP-1 and play Spacewar!

And I shamelessly plug Pixar's upcoming summer release of  Cars.

I still get pinged by lots of podcast aggregators, here is hoping that somebody is listening.