Archive for July, 2006

Win 98 beats Linux.

Monday, July 31st, 2006

I spent quite a while in the mid-90s with Linux as my primary desktop. Why? Because it got the job done — it worked well on the rather odd i386 based machine I had and it did everything I needed in the internet oriented business I was in. Linux always seemed to be able to take an otherwise throwaway box and turn it into something useful.

I fired up an old IBM thinkpad for the first time this evening. Windows 98 refused to do that network thing (though it did the last time it was powered up). Fine. Whatever. Wrestling ancient MSFT operating systems is not something I have the patience for.

Might as well grab a Linux Live CD and try to make this thing useful.

First, I tried Ubuntu. It seems popular and the last time I tried it on this machine, it worked.

Not so much anymore. “Your system has too little RAM, entering low memory mode.”. Yeah — it only has 64MB. Nothing compared to modern systems, but Linux used to be really good at taking even more comparatively ancient systems and making ’em useful. Ubuntu basically dropped me at a terminal prompt with no clues as to what to to do next.

OK. Fine. A google search for a Live CD list revealed FrozenTech’s Live CD List.

Sure — I grabbed the first one. SLAX, killbill edition. KillBill includes stuff that might run some of the ancient windows crap still on the laptop.

Yeah — that god awful yellow screenshot is actually what the desktop looks like! Why, exactly, does the Linux community feel it necessary to bitch about the Windows UI while simultaneous copying the look and feel and then turning around and slapping a bright yellow coat of paint on top?

I mean — sure — I get the movie reference. It is actually quite well done for what it is. But a SCREAMINGLY BRIGHT YELLOW BACKGROUND is not pleasant to stare at.

As soon as I touched the mouse (well, the angry red knobby thing in the middle of the keyboard), the CD drive started chugging away. I can’t actually tell if the OS is going to launch something. Maybe so, maybe not.

At this point, Win98 is still more functional and useful on this laptop. The local install of Ubuntu doesn’t do any kind of windows in an obvious fashion and SLAX seems to be highly focused on exercising the system’s drive(s).

While none of ’em can communicate with the network — though, sadly, both Ubuntu and Win98 could the last time I booted them — at least Win98 actually pretends to interact with the user.

Update: Woot! 30 minutes after writing this, SLAX has presented me with “Soundserver — the KDE Crash Handler”. Of course, the system is thrashing so badly that interaction is impossible, but I’m happy to see that the system can draw a window on screen more than a half hour after first boot.

Sigh. And this is supposed to be a relatively minimalistic Linux, at that.

Maybe I should go find a distro from 8 years ago.

French Law Redux Redux

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Update & Corrected: The New York Times is reporting that parts of the French DRM Law have been struck down. Sadly, the Times labels it “the iPod law”. The real impact of the law is much greater than just impacting the iPod.

In particular, the constitutional council has ruled it unconstitutional to force a company to disclose intellectual property, including DRM specification(s) without that company receiving compensation. As well, the reduced fine structure for “file sharing violations” has also been eliminated.

In other words, the law is no longer relevant to any discussions of making content cross-device compatible.

Why? Because it would be impossible to come up with a “just compensation” figure that all parties would agree to. Such compensation would have to be based upon projected revenues, but — of course — the act of “opening the DRM” [really: communicating the DRM spec through supposedly confidential channels via the central controlling agency] would change the revenue in some unknowable fashion, thus rendering the negotiation process unbelievably complicated.

At this point, the law is nothing but negative for the french software industry and french media consumers. They lose. Completely.

BoingBoing finally dug up the goods on the new french law.

Sure enough, it is devastating to both fair use and open source developers.

Unfortunately, I was correct.

  • There is no DRM interoperability requirement. Developers — open source or incorporated entities — must seek prior authorization from a central agency.
  • However, the regulatory agency can demand that a company provide interoperability information to competitors in secrecy.
  • Gone is the structure of fines that effectively made violations into very expensive parking tickets. Instead, violaters will be faced with protracted legal cases that could yield up to 500,000 euro fines and/or up to 5 years of imprisonment.
  • The french equivalent to “fair use” (“Right to Copy”, if I remember correctly) is effectively eliminated.
  • Research or development into P2P or collaborative software technologies is now illegal, regardless of intent. Depending on interpretation, this could span to streaming media and/or standard protocols such as HTTP/FTP (I can’t imagine it going that far).

These were not last minute changes. The media companies got exactly what they wanted.

Why anyone was surprised by this is beyond me. Throughout this last draft, the law was, after all, called the Vivendi Universal Law.

While the final version is even harsher than prior drafts, this particular set of clauses has been present in some form or another ever since the last major rewrite earlier this year. I’m betting this is no longer the “good step” that Cory once claimed.

I know that many companies have programming teams in France. I wonder if this will impact said teams? Certainly, it has some chilling implications for some very popular software (VLC being one of the most visible).

Anyone care to comment as to how this might play out in the french courts? Also, how will the EU respond?

Pre-WWDC Silence.

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

It is the run-up to WWDC. Crunch time. Testing this. Writing slides. Confirming that. Ensuring the other works. Hence the silence.

This WWDC is gonna kick ass.

Though WWDC consumes, life goes on.

On a Saturday a week and a half ago, I ventured off to the local, rather awesome, farmer’s market. One of the vendors sells raw oysters — shucks ’em live in front of you — and my friend, a new father, and I decided to kick back and enjoy a bunch.

Seems I played oyster roulette and lost. Yet, I’m a statistic! There was a bacterial bloom in the west coast oyster crop and it sounds pretty much exactly like my rather unpleasant experience. Yay for me.

At least I lost some weight; about 7 lbs over the course of a week.

The garden continues… I’m now up to my eyeballs in cucumbers. If anyone has a good recommendation for pickle recipes, please let me know. That, and carrots.

Too bad the whole thing’ll get bulldozed this fall.

Ruby And Roger in Sprinkler

Back in February, I mentioned that we had a new puppy. She is considerably bigger now; taller than Janis Joplin (or ten year old puppy in residence).

This evening, Ruby decided to drag a well rotted rat carcass into the living room. Yup. Dead rotting rat. Mmm…. She then proceeded to shred it. Yay!

If ya’ll know what Tommy’s is, I’ll be there on the 5th, the 6th, and the 9th….

Foo camp again

Monday, July 17th, 2006

O’Reilly’s Foo Camp is coming up at the end of August. I went a couple of years ago and learned a tremendous amount, met some incredibly cool people who were all a lot smarter than me, and had an amazing time. I hope to go back, but I know that I’m going to have to actually publicly do or make something that turns enough heads to make it back on the list.

Of course, the “blogosphere’s” reaction is predictably silly.

If you take one quote from Dave Winer and use it completely out of context, he gets it right:

I suggest the secret this year is to not care whether or not you were invited.

Taken in context, it makes you realize how much the tech industry is like being in the typical High School social scene all over again. “Oooh… Cool Chick Becky’s parents are out of town and she is having a party. Did you get an invite? I did. I guess you aren’t cool enough. You can’t eat lunch with me anymore.”

Christ, people. Grow up. If someone throws a party on their time/dime, they get to make the rules. Period.

If you don’t like their rules, don’t complain. Just throw your own party.

Open sourcing is not easy

Saturday, July 15th, 2006

Recently, John Gruber (DaringFireball) and Tim Bray have been conjecturing on why or why not Apple doesn’t open source its apps.

For many reasons, I’m not going to commit on the political or business side of the decision. I don’t have any knowledge of why Apple — or any other company — has chosen to close or open what they have.

Instead, I’m going to point out a fact that Bray seems to largely ignore and Gruber only touches on in passing.

Open sourcing a large body of source that has always been closed is really damned hard.

It takes a monumental amount of effort to do so and, once open, it takes a whole bunch of ongoing effort to keep it open in a productive fashion (which Gruber does cover, actually).

At the lowest level, pretty much every line of code has to be reviewed to ensure that it isn’t offensive, doesn’t cross any number of lines (licensing, intellectual property, etc..), is formatted reasonably well, and every file must contain the appropriate header.

For any company that has a suite of products where some build on others — especially when the others are developer tools (think Sun’s JDK or IBM’s libraries or Microsoft’s DLLs) — it is quite likely that any given piece of code is going to contain stuff done “the wrong way”. It may have been “right” or “only way” when written and you may have intended to fix it later, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

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Chuck Jones was a genius; John K. earns WB some $$

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

I grew up on Warner Brothers cartoons; Bugs Bunny and the crew filled my saturday mornings. At the time, I had no idea what genius entertainment I was consuming every Saturday AM, but I’m learning.

In particular, John Kricfalusi — the creator of Ren and Stimpy — has been posting the most amazing in depth observations of the genius of the Warner Brother (and other) cartoon directors, animators and other participants from the “early days”.

I have always been a fan of animation and John K.’s consistently interesting posts re-sparked that interest.

So, I dropped Chuck Jones: Extremes and in Betweens, a Life in Animation into my Netflix queue.

Wow. First, I had no idea that Chuck Jones was behind so many of the cartoons I remember so clearly. Secondly, I had forgotten exactly how good said cartoons were!

End result, I went to Amazon and ordered Looney Tunes: Golden Collection. A three DVD set containing many of Chuck Jones best Looney Tunes work. Awesome stuff. While I’m certain said collection is a sanitized version of that particular era of animation, it is a start.

Now, Warner Brothers is persecuting John K. for his incredible write ups of the evolution of animation. Let me say right here and now: If it weren’t for John K.’ entertaining and highly educational post, I would never have purchased the above DVDs.

Warner Brothers will, of course, be receiving an angry leter.

Clogging the Tubes

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

You know… in some senses… Ted Stevens is actually right in that the Internet is clogged with complete crap data that no legitimate business should have to pay to send, receive or carry. (No, I am not — not for a moment — indicating that I think Stevens has a clue or a valid position)

I have owned the domain name since 1993. It has been used for many purpose over the past 16 years. I have even trademarked as “devoted to bringing families and communities closer together through the use of network based communication technologies”. Which is — I have run many mailing lists, boards and other community gathering services out of the domain.

Of course, I have gotten the random offers for the domain over the years. And the sob stories. One woman called me claiming she had a bazillion dollar business idea but was a single mom and, therefore, I should donate the domain to her so she could make lots of dough and put her kids through school. For some reason, she never got back to me when I mentioned that (at the time) putting companies online was my day job and I would be happy to sign an NDA and help her out….

For the past four years, hasn’t had an MX record. That is, was not a domain through which any email could possibly be delivered. It was an email black hole.

That changed yesterday as I was trying to figure out how to log in somewhere that I had registered 8 years ago and figured would be the only obvious choice given that didn’t work.

But, wait, Bill! You are putting your email address out in the open! Yeah, so what… the rat bastard spammers already have it. Google reveals all…

In any case, I pointed’s MX record to the red-bean server (thanks! brilliant bunch of folks!) with an alias on the server pointed to my gmail account (which, surprisingly, doesn’t show up in google yet).

Boy Howdy is spam a disease on the Internet. Wow. Akismet is deleting upwards of 200 spam/day on my weblog while .mac,, and gmail delete thousands fo spam/day to my various accounts.

But it gets worse. It isn’t just the random broadcast scams and ads that are clogging the tubes, per se…

I set things up so I see all email that dumps into

Not only is the spam just stupid high volume, but it appears that a bunch of people have managed to register for any of a number of random services with email addresses. All kinds of invites, receipts and other random stuff is showing up and I have only been casually perusing for 24 hours.

The worst, though, is a particular MySpace account. It seems that a particular user managed to sign up for a myspace account with a bogus email address. Worse, the publicly available profile and the constant barrage of messages indicate that this user of MySpace is exactly the kind of user that is causing discussion of laws regulating said sites.

I have notified MySpace via the email address that is included with the emails. We shall see if they actually do anything.

Movie Industry: A Business Model That Will Fail….

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

“Biggest Opening Day Ever”

“Biggest Opening Weekend Ever”

These are the typical headlines you see with any given high budge movie opening. The latest is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest which has laid claim to a $55M opening day.

But what does it really mean? Sure, $55M is a lot of money, but does it really equate to more profits or more success than any prior film?


According to Box Office Mojo, Pirates was playing on more movie screens on opening day than any prior movie save for Spider Man 2.

It only beat the #2 movie — Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith — because it played on more screens. Star Wars had a higher per theatre dollar take.

The whole thing is cooked. If you look at the highest dollar value openings over time, not only is the number of theaters critical, but the number of days used to define “opening weekend” has gotten longer!

Opening weekend is now often designed as Wednesday to or through Monday, if there is marketing value in claiming a huge opening weekend.

And, of course, the average ticket price has gone up over time. Average cost in 1986 was $3.71US and now it is somewhere around $6.50.

Eventually, this numbers game will fail. It may take a while as the average movie goer is generally too ignorant to realize how the market is manipulated (Gee! Most popular opening Ever! Must Be A Good Film!).

The market will be saturated with theatres and the movie marketeers will run out of days of the week to include in the “opening weekend”. People are already uncomfortable paying upwards of $25 for a couple to go to a movie (including popcorn). Much higher, and more customers will be driven away.

Turning a Paperclip into a House

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

(From BoingBoing) Kyle MacDonald has managed to turn one red paperclip into a house. Awesome & funny — congratulations to Kyle.

Kyle happens to be a citizen of Canada.

If Kyle were a citizen of the United States, I could not possibly imagine how complex his 2005 and 2006 tax returns would be. The IRS would have had a field day.

Are there any implications as a Canadian citizen?

Update: Mention income taxes and, of course, a comment appears claiming that income taxes are illegal. In this case, a violation of human rights. Read the wikipedia Tax Protester article for background.

Niomi — the tax protester (technical label, not meant as an offense) — succinctly described the situation I implied. Kyle will have to estimate the value of each trade and pay taxes on the monetary value of the resulting profit made.

Unfortunately, modern economics makes participation in a pure barter system illegal unless the valuation of each trade is 100% equivalent in cash value.

I dare anyone to find two horse traders willing to claim that neither party got the better deal…

Two different kinds of stop motion photography….

Friday, July 7th, 2006
Softball Game

Over the long weekend, I took two very different kinds of stop motion photography. The first was during our annual 4th of July neighborhood block party (I smoked nearly 30lbs of ribs for the potluck dinner). In particular, during the softball game.

I find photos like these to be very much like shooting photos of wildlife, only the subject is much closer and not afraid. Like wildlife photography, using a fast shutter speed is key. I shot most of the softball shots at 1/1000 or 1/1250th of a second. Frankly, I should have shot with a faster shutter speed at f/2.8 to narrow the depth of field and block out the noisy/busy background.

Softball Game

I have found that the focus point selection feature of the camera to be more and more useful. In the case of shooting a batter, I observed that batters typically step into the hit. Thus, if I set the camera to use the left most or center left focus point, I could focus on the batter and take a series of frames with the batter swinging through the frame while remaining in focus (as the batter doesn’t move that much).

Perhaps, the most difficult part was to learn to shoot with my left eye while watching the pitcher with my right eye. That way, I could start the shot sequence right after the pitcher threw the ball.

A faster camera — one that can take more frames per second — would definitely have improved the number of “interesting” shots. With only 3 frames/second, the ball is generally only in frame for 1, maybe 2, frames of the 5 or 6 frame sequence. Of that, whether the ball is anywhere near the bat is entirely coincidental.

Party Popper into a Glass of Water

Later on that same day, Ben and I played with a bit of high speed photography. Abbie — Ben’s wife — came up with the rather brilliant idea of playing with some party poppers. They worked rather brilliantly, though my focusing skills did not.

Of all the shots, this is the most interesting because the point of focus — the end of the popper — is so close to where the action happens.

This shot could be improved. Notably, going with a tighter aperture such that the depth of field is increased while also reducing light sensitivity would have improved the quality of the photo.

I think.

Not sure.

I guess I’ll have to pick up a few dozen of these party poppers and experiment.