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Archive August 2003
Saturday 30 August 2003
Ahahaa! I may have blogged a couple of times before on the superiority of Australian free-to-air TV - I've certainly mentioned it to people - and now I have conclusive proof. Dr. Who is being played on the ABC, from start to finish, omitting only lost episodes, they claim. In your face, other-country-living-people! Ha haaa! Dr. Who for us, and not for you! We loves it, preciouss! And you don't! Ss! [03:02] [14 comments]

Friday 29 August 2003
This is the best music video in the universe: Angle Dance. Bottom left of the page. [19:50] [0 comments]
There was a power-cut here, last night; amusing that only a quarter of our computers (ie. one) actually was immediately stopped by this. There was sufficient time to play a game of Tetrinet before the Lunix machine/firewall/wireless-access-point had to be shut down. At that point I realised we weren't even sure it was a powercut - it could have been a fusebox thing - but no, most of the street was out.

Given that it was 1am, I realised the fault might not have been reported, too, so I found their power-outage number in the phonebook (by the light of the gas fire) and gave it a call. I was connected to the best automated menu system I've ever encountered.
To assist us in directing your call, please press zero. (beep)
If there is a life threatening situation, please press one. If you are reporting a power outage, please press two. (beep)
We are aware of power outages in (Suburb We Aren't) and (Suburb We Are). Please select your location. If you are in (Suburb We Aren't) press one. If you are in (Suburb We Are) press two. (beep)
We have a team en-route. This power failure has been caused by (brief static, change of voice) an unknown reason (return to voice). If power is not returned by (change of voice) 2:30am (return to voice) please call again for an update.
Which pretty much covered everything I would have wanted from them; 1. "yes we already know," 2. "we're doing something about it," 3. "the cause if known" and 4. estimated time of recovery. Brilliant. Fifty points for AGL.

We know what the cause was, anyway. It was Terroristes - independent artistic French terrorists. No showy crashing planes into buildings for these guys, no, they take more pride in their work than that. No demands, no act-cheapening reasons, just good clean disruption. Following their piece "power outage in two small suburbs" will be the inimitable "supermarket banana stock unexpected exhaustion". But where? [15:55] [1 comment]

Wednesday 27 August 2003
If I was making a Star Trek genre sci-fi series, this is what I would want for episode four-or-so, for a nice bit of character development, a fun episode, and an unusual take on a very very usual plot.

I'm sure you know that every show of the genre has at some point had an episode where someone gets split into their good and evil sides; the episodes inevitably conclude with the aspects not being able to live apart, and some contrivance being used to bring them back together into a single entity.

That's wishy-washy moralistic claptrap, I say. I want a major character to be split into their good and evil aspects, and the evil aspect to sneak away and split themself into "slightly less evil" and "slightly more evil". These two evil sides can then conspire; one of them (probably "slightly more evil", though I wouldn't bother actually making the two distinguishable) agrees to pretend to be the good one. They then surreptitiously dispose of the good aspect entirely, replacing him with fake-good-evil-aspect. The remaining evil aspect then allows himself to get captured, and the two evil aspects are merged back together. Hooray! The crew has won again! And they all have a big happy party. The split crewmember can now remain evil for the rest of the series.

I'm not talking stupid-evil here, not Star Trek evil; more of a Blake's 7 Avon-evil. The sort that's entirely sustainable in a primary crewmember character. And likeable.

This also leaves an amusing opening for a surprise return of Good Engineer (or whatever role) late in season 3 of the show, when Evil Engineer has proven himself competent and useful, and the crew have grown to like him as he is; cue pleasing drama situation. And that would be an infinitely better Deus Ex Machina possibility than the this mouseover hides a Buffy spoiler.

Take heed sci-fi series producers - and give me moneys. [12:35] [8 comments]

Monday 25 August 2003
Q. What comes from Kansas, and is white and inbred?
A. Flour. [11:40] [0 comments]
Ooh. Dyke to open up BBC archive. Hooray for lesbians, eh? Sounds like a phenomenally ill-considered idea that the BBC internet administrators will be screaming and tearing their eyes out about. Surely the BBC hasn't the bandwidth to support thousands of simultaneous downloads of serieses of Blake's 7, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and many other shows starring quarries? Perhaps they will make them available via Kazaa or BitTorrent rather than via HTTP. Or perhaps, more likely, the whole idea will go the way of the exploding fist. [08:07] [4 comments]

Friday 22 August 2003
A fun bit of grammatical oddness; consider the distinct meanings of the following three sentences:
The man with binoculars looked at the girl.
The man looked, with binoculars, at the girl.
The man looked at the girl with binoculars.
Have you considered them? Good. Now look again at the last one, taking it out of the context of the other two. Would you still have attributed the same meaning to it? [13:34] [10 comments]

Thursday 21 August 2003
An interesting project from Microsoft; reducing newsgroups, and the posters thereon, to statistics, so as to make it possible for a reader to get at the good stuff and easily ignore (or not even encounter) the dross. Quite a sound theory put forward by their pet sociologist, rendered more sound-seeming by being presented as a conclusion reached from pure statistical observation rather than as a hypothesis confirmed that way. Not sure, of course, how true that presentation is.

Unfortunate that newsgroups are a dying breed, since they're vastly superior to mailing lists for doing mailing list things; unintrusive, only getting the messages that interest you, relatively easy to pre-filter users you don't want to hear from. Perhaps this ability to filter posts automatically into a semblance of likely value-order will resurrect the beast.

The thing I really like about this technology though (and even better if it could be applied to mailing lists somehow too; certainly seems feasible for individual servers), is that if people are being rated based on their behaviour, and they know they're being rated on their behaviour - especially if ratings are accessible to all - their behaviour will probably alter, in a delicious feedback loop.

No more people just asking questions of a group and never giving anything back, no more perpetual flame wars between a few people ruining an otherwise perfectly good mailing list - the 'good' side of a flame war will not want to argue because it would ruin their reputation rating, and the 'bad' side will end up getting rated down into invisibility as they keep on arguing with whoever is new to the group. It would also provide a positive 'score' for the helpful people to feel good about themselves with.

Or! It'll result in people whining about their privacy, because people always whine about their privacy even if it's just data being constructed from other, publicly available, data. [03:57] [9 comments]

Wednesday 20 August 2003
NAV detected a virus in a document you authored.
InterScan has detected virus(es) in your e-mail attachment.

The virus in both these cases is stated to be Sobig.F. This description of Sobig.F says:
The Sobig worm spoofs email addresses. This means that the worm is able to retrieve addresses from the address book or from other files residing on an infected computer, and use these addresses to disguise who the real sender is when spreading further. Most anti-virus software alert mechanisms are not able to decide whether the address is spoofed or not, and will therefore alert the address which the worm seems to be sent from. Often this address is not the real sender.
So, the virus detection programs know what the virus is, the virus is known to spoof 'From' addresses, but the virus detection program sends an email out to the 'From' address anyway? Can there be any reason for this other than to advertise the antivirus program?

It certainly looks like unsolicited bulk mail without removal instructions, to me. Is the spammer the antivirus company, or the company running their software? [23:05] [2 comments]

Sunday 17 August 2003
We just watched the movie "Phone Booth". Pretty good, especially considering it's pretty much entirely filmed in a single stretch of street. Carried largely by the lovely evil voice of Kiefer Sutherland (and, presumably, by the writer's nice depiction of the evil of the character). The characters are rendered pleasingly sympathetic through the unlikely mechanism of all being reasonably intelligent; Evil Kiefer most obviously so, Mr Phone Booth trying reasonable ploys in his attempts to rescue self and others, and Mr Cop picking up on relatively subtle cues and coming up with a comprehensible code on the spur of the moment, under pressure.

Successful sympathetic villains are good. Black Serenade follows a similar shape. [14:50] [1 comment]
Annoyedness at Windows Update has struck again, prompting me to rewrite my special caching program, designed specifically to cache the Windows Update downloads that Microsoft don't seem to like people retaining a copy of, preferring, for some reason, to use four times the necessary bandwidth to update someone's network of four machines. I do this through the combined power of a short Perl script, lynx, Apache, virtual machines, and overriding DNS.

Windows update pulls files from, for example, download.windowsupdate.com. So I put in my 'hosts' file, " download.windowsupdate.com". I then configure a virtualhost on Apache to handle requests for "download.microsoft.com", which puts those requests into the Perl script, which uses lynx to download (and save, if it's something worth caching) the file, and returns it, or, if it's downloaded it before, checks the headers of the original to make sure it has the whole thing, then returns it. Ta-da - I can now run Windows Update on any machine that needs it, and no update installer will be downloaded more than once. Irritation significantly reduced. The cache also doesn't interfere with normal browsing on any request it intercepts. [13:15] [0 comments]

Saturday 16 August 2003
I had been led to believe that Visual C++ would only honour __inline on class member functions if the function content was in the header file. This is evidently not the case, as a bit of assembly-code reading and a 15% speed increase will both attest.

I was also under the, apparently mistaken, impression that "if ((*pvalue)&8)" would be a faster operation than "if (yc) {if (*(arraypointer+y*width+x))". The assembly code shows that neither of the two pieces of optimised code has been compiled into anything stupid; indeed, the former becomes simply "test [eax],4; je (address)", and yet that is slower than the latter, which looked more like (from memory) "test eax,eax; je (address); mov ebx,[address]; mov ecx,[address]; imul ebx,ecx; add ebx,[address]; test [eax],[eax]; je (address)"

If I recall correctly, that imul operation alone should take longer than the entirety of the other code block. So how is it that the latter, long piece of code resulted in 350 frames per second, and the former only 250? My best guess is that it's to do with the modern-day processor lookahead/caching things being really inept at guessing correctly in the former case, and good at it in the latter. Hooray for modern processors where such simple things produce such unintuitive results.

Having learned this lesson, I removed more bitwise operations and replaced them with whole bunches of array lookups, resulting in about another 30% speed increase.

This optimising information has been brought to you by the operator &, and by the number 240000. [14:16] [0 comments]
Hooray! ADSL is ours at last. Now I can't think of anything I want to download. [03:27] [10 comments]

Thursday 14 August 2003
It would be brilliant to be bugged by the NSA, CIA, FBI, ASIO, or what have you. They would get to experience the most incomprehensible-to-third-party conversations ever. Witness:
"I have a confession to make."
"What is it?"
"It was me all along."
"What was?"
"The lamp."
"What, since I bought it?"
"So you've been watching me in the shape of a lamp since I was twelve?"
"And you still had the nerve to ask me what I looked like, and pretend not to know?"
"No. That wasn't me."
"Oh. Who was it, then?"
"It was my bee."
"So you stalk me, in the form of a lamp, from the time I'm twelve, and then get your bee to seduce me?"
"Aww. That's cute."
So, if anyone works for any local secret services, I think you should know that we're highly suspicious. [23:22] [4 comments]
Some time ago (nearly a month), I bought a Laserjet III printer from an ebay person. It had to be courier-shipped because the Australian postal service won't ship things as heavy as a Laserjet III. The courier, it turned out, also wouldn't ship things that heavy door-to-door, only dropped off at a depot and picked up at another depot. The shipping person did the drop-off; we got a bus to the depot near us, and a taxi back with the printer.

Lo and behold, the printer didn't work; a "50 SERVICE" error. Looked up on the internet, this suggested one of two parts failing. The seller offered a six month warranty; obviously return-to-base wouldn't be a good idea, since the courier shipping and taxi-ing and so forth had cost nearly as much as the printer itself. The chap was good, shipped us the more likely of the two parts to be the point of failure, and it arrived a week ago.

So began a campaign of printer violence. The main case opening is easy, push-of-a-button. That gives access to the *other* of the two parts that might have broken. That part, it turns out, is in the way of the part that I had, so also had to be removed.

Part one: removing the fuser

It seemed like an easy thing; internet instructions were detailed and simple. Remove the four large screws, one from each corner, and pull the part out. I could even reach one of the screws with the screwdriver I had. Yes. One.

A trip to the supermarket later, I returned with a set of replaceable-head screwdrivers with a sensible handle length, and was able to reach two more of the screws. The fourth had an approach narrow enough that the replaceable-head screwdriver's stem was slightly too wide. A stabbing, smacking motion, however, resolved that difficulty and took out the last of the screws. The fuser was successfully removed.

Part two: getting the fucking case out of the way

Now, the power supply was under quite a lot of case. I have no idea how the case is supposed to open, but my way was to take out the one screw that holds it to the power supply, and horribly bend the fucker until it's not in the way, through the power of pure distilled violence.

Part three: removing the power supply

The power supply was also held in place by four screws. Three of these were easily removed. The fourth, however, was beneath an even narrower space than the fourth screw of the fuser, that the screwdriver couldn't be forced through. Cue a trip to the hardware shop. The hardware shop didn't have any screwdrivers that were both sufficiently long and a #1 Phillips head. I ended up with an insanely long #2 instead. I also got a sensible-length flat-head screwdriver that was magnetic, so that when I lost screws inside the printer I would be able to retrieve them, and tried unsuccessfully to get a pair of needle-nosed pliers so that I'd be able to get the screws in place for reassembly when the time came. Ah, foresight.

The #2 screwdriver was just capable of removing the offending screw, through the power of two people's combined violence, and behold, the power supply removeth.

Part four: putting new parts in

Because I am a smartey man, I didn't want to go through all this hassle again if the other part was the failure, so I just put the parts together, no screws, and turned the printer on. Success! A different error message, one about paper, which was alright since there wasn't any paper in.

Part five: screwing it all back together

Smash smash smash, violence, smash smash. Kaboom! Damn you, printer! Kick kick smash headbutt! And success, with only five spare screws, one of which came with the replacement power supply, one of which was the awkward bastard one that I thought probably best to leave out, one of which was accounted for in some other way, and the remaining two of which are probably vital components of some sort.

The printer now works. Bargain - at a cost of only $80, plus $50 shipping, plus $15 taxi-ing, plus $50 of screwdrivers, an hour and a half of walking back and forth to the hardware shop, and six hours of violence and anguish, we have a nice laser printer! Hooray! [05:17] [7 comments]
Adelaide is fantastically cheap (as am I). Our local pizza place, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, does 16-inch pizzas with any toppings for $11. There's a chinese place near the in-town bus stop we use that has meals for between $5 and $6; the serving size being the amount I eat, which seems to be about twice as much as anyone else will eat.

That seems fairly spectacular already, but now, remember these are *Australian* dollars. That means $11, $5 and $6 translate to, in American, $7.25, $3.30 and $3.95 respectively. No tips or tax added either. And all the foods (that we've tried) being nice. [04:49] [0 comments]

Wednesday 13 August 2003
Hooray for very very bad puns.

"I thought all proper geese were male."
"No, that's just propaganda." [12:47] [4 comments]

Tuesday 12 August 2003
A rather entertaining experiment in community; Gaviotas (via interconnected). I particularly like how the water pumps are powered, though it seems to me that roundabouts would always be a superior power source to see-saws. There's some hefty torque on some of those buggers, as anyone who's ever been dragged along the ground by one, or had their ankle smashed by one, will attest. [01:31] [0 comments]

Sunday 10 August 2003
What's a good multi-player game for SNES or Playstation, except for Dr Mario, Super Mario Kart and Super Bomber Man? Also excluding things First-Person-Shooterly or Street-Fighterly. Or a good multi-player game that'll run under Windows, with the additional exclusion of RTS games? [11:45] [17 comments] If you were sending out a signal intended to reach extraterrestrial intelligence, what would your signal comprise, and why? On a related note, run Seti@Home, and join this group, unless you already have something for your idle processor cycles to do. [03:30] [8 comments]

Wednesday 6 August 2003
It seems that the CIA has let either President Bush or a particularly inept child draw their anti-terrorism logo. [10:39] [3 comments] You may be aware that Larry Flynt, porn magnate of Hustler magazine, is intending to run for governor of California.

He's also called for a National Prayer Day. Unlike other politicians, though, he has a much more entertaining goal in mind; pray for the death of Bill O'Reilly. [09:08] [6 comments]
Rather excellently, one of the final forty Australian Idol contestants auditioned twice; first as themself, then, upon failing, went to a different state's auditions to try again dressed as, and singing as, someone of the opposite gender.

It's now time to play a game! Without clicking on the individual images (since then you get the biography which would give it away), which of these is not of the gender they appear to be? [08:25] [7 comments]
The fifth, and final (of the set) random cheap movie rental: Hana-Bi. Contrary to expectations, it's not about a girl named a stupid spelling of "Hannah" who is bisexual, but rather about a Japanese detective who is bitter because his wife is terminally ill and his partner was shot and is wheelchair-bound. It sounds like a terribly boring story, doesn't it? The back of the box, and the front-page IMDB review would disagree with that impression, but we wouldn't. Even watching it in fast-forward, it was a painfully slow movie. We made it about 20 minutes in at normal speed (playing games at the same time, admittedly), and then perhaps another half hour or so in fast forward (ie. about 5 minutes fast-forwarding, which would be 30 minutes of movie), and then gave up. Even the amusing brain-splatter as someone's head was shot couldn't make up for the extensive tedium. To give an idea of just how boring, the brain-splatter was obviously the high-point of the 50-ish minutes we endured; the second highest point was something vaguely approaching a joke, consisting of one of the characters suggesting that he was considering trying art, and so should buy a beret. Yes. That bad. [08:17] [0 comments]

Monday 4 August 2003
Revisiting an old train of thought: tell me your philosophy of life in five words or less.

Obviously this isn't a very serious question, and I don't expect your entire philosophy of everything to be accurately conveyed in five words. I want the best compression you can do; make it encompass as much as you can within the constraints. Hyphenations count as extra words. No missing out spaces and saying it's one word.

My answer to this question is "Putting Things Under Things". What's YOURS? [01:49] [40 comments]
Random rental of cheap movies from the video shop, number four: Strange Days. The other gem amongst the unfortunate swill we rented. It's a tad long, but entertaining enough that this is acceptable. Fairly thought-provoking with its choice of sci-fi technical advancement; a device endearingly named 'the squid', which sits on your head (ideally beneath a convincing wig) and records your every perception and/or plays back someone else's recorded perception to you. The movie fairly realistically portrays this technology as being originally intended for surveillance purposes, and perverted around to being used for pseudo-interactive pornography and other 'thrill' experiences. Of course. That's what happens to technology.

Throw in the obligatory evil tycoon, a likeable antihero smut-dealer, a few loony murders and a reasonable degree of unclarity as to who's responsible for Bad Things Happening, and you have a quite entertaining movie. At last. Hoorah. [01:42] [3 comments]

Friday 1 August 2003
Random rental of cheap movies from the video shop, number three: THX 1138. George Lucas's first film, it's very much a rip-off of 1984 and Brave New World. It bears slightly more similarity to the setting of the role-playing game Paranoia than anything I've encountered before, with one major difference; Paranoia was fun.

THX 1138 is a very good title for the movie. It's meaningless, resembling a piece of shitty sci-fi jargon. If you want a movie about a bleak, controlled future, go with Brazil. Unless you want a really tedious movie where 'bleak' equates to 'white', and 'controlled' equates to 'white'. The only good thing about the movie is the end credits, which are thoughtfully placed at the very beginning, moving backwards, so you can stop watching right away.

The IMDB review by "M.A. Rogers" - which is on the front page for the movie at time of writing - is an excellent, accurate review. [07:37] [1 comment]