The Bunch of Grapes
A Blog in the Liberty of the Savoy
Friday, October 31, 2003
8:05 AM
I ate a pomegranate last night. I like pomegranates because they're more of a hobby than a fruit. I like to peel them carefully and separate them into big perfect jewel-encrusted chunks, losing as few individual pomegranate seeds as possible. Usually I have to rush the job because I'm sharing with my wife, but last night she had already had a pomegranate earlier in the day so I was free to attack the job as methodically as my obsessive-compulsive little mind could bear. It took me 30 minutes of peeling to get to this:

Thursday, October 30, 2003
1:26 PM
OK, even Michael's blog has been outperforming mine the past couple of days. I need to make amends. But how? I could write some technical stuff about how to do printing in Windows (I forget every time I need to write code that prints, and have to relearn; the key is that the ::PrintDialog() API and/or CPrintDialog MFC classes do way more than you'd expect them to) but that topic might bore my legions of readers. (I have good reason to believe my legions are up to at least two now.) Similarly, I'll avoid a discussion of my adventures with Microsoft's arcane CF_HTML clipboard format. I can't resist mentioning my discovery or the CSharedFile MFC class, which makes producing an HGLOBAL to stick on the clipboard almost suspiciously convenient. I'd never heard of it, but it seemed like something MFC should have, so I searched the MFC source code for "GlobalRealloc" (any Global Memory block masquerading as a Memory File would need to be GlobalRealloc'ed once in a while) and sure enough, there it was. CSharedFile is even documented - don't know how I missed it before.

Monday, October 27, 2003
8:08 AM
I suppose I promised to offer a review of Quicksilver when I finished it. It pretty much sucked. I think I only completed the last few hundred pages because of some misguided stubbornness. That's my review.

Jak II manages to get better and better as it gets harder and harder.
Friday, October 24, 2003
8:44 AM
Amazon's offering an intriguing new feature. They're calling it Search Inside the Book. The upshot of it is that their search mechanism now includes full-text searching of a lot of books. They also have complete image scans of these searchable books, so you can see a picture of the page that includes your search text.

There's a bunch of caveats: They seem to be keeping to themselves how many books they already have indexed, so it's hard to judge how comprehensive this search really might be. You have to have an Amazon account, including providing them credit card data, to use this feature. They'll only let you see a few pages at a time. (To be expected, I suppose...)

Searching through all the world's books would be nice (OK, amazing) but I'm just as excited about the possibilities of using this feature to search through books I already own. A searchable O'Brian or Tolkien is something I've always wanted. (They don't have it, by the way... I get the feeling that their indexing is very lacking in Fiction in general, but it's hard to tell.)
Thursday, October 23, 2003
8:42 AM
Do you think there will ever be one standard format for static RAM memory doo-dads? (SD RAM, Memory Stick, etc?)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
8:26 AM
I am currently:

Reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I want to finish it before I comment on it, but I'll mention one thing: the book would immediately be twice as good without the author's photo on the back of the dustjacket. I immediately had to discard the dustjacket. I wish I could find a copy of this image to link to. It's the worst thing ever.

Playing Jak II, the sequel to Jak and Daxter on the PS2. The first game was a beautiful (graphically) platformer that ultimately left me with a hollow feeling, mostly because it was too easy but partly because it didn't contain much "magic." "Magic" is that stuff which makes a game memorable. "Magic" is the stuff that makes you suspend your disbelief. It's hard to define this "Magic," and maybe I won't try. Anyway, for part II, they've made the game "urban" and "gritty." Which in today's videogame climate means it has carjacking. Also, guns. So far, there's a lot that's very impressive about Jak II, but also a lot that's somewhat wrong. It's yet to be determined whether it has Magic, but if I had to guess now, it doesn't.

Sending in my answer to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday Puzzle every week. I've figured it out five weeks in a row now. Let's see, on a hard week, they get about 500 responses, so if I send in my answers a couple hundred more times, I should have cumulative 50/50 odds of getting chosen for the on-air puzzle. Hmm. Why do people play the lottery?
Friday, October 17, 2003
2:38 PM
I'm setting myself up for a big letdown by getting excited about next month's movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. For those of you living in a hole, this is an Aubrey-Maturin movie. Although from the ads, it's a lot more Aubrey than Maturin. Plus, Maturin is being played by someone entirely innapropriate. Ah, it's all doomed to suck, who am I fooling?

But I hope it doesn't.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
3:28 PM
Nothing could be lamer than a blog linking to a newspaper article just to mock the headline. So brace yourself for Poll Suggests Catholics Admire Pope!
10:47 AM
Time for another sausage cookout, and with it another round of ridicule. Found this on my door this morning.

Monday, October 13, 2003
11:13 AM
Update: SunnComm won't sue the grad student. To quote SunnComm's leader: "It had to do with reviewing a rabbit when we invented the duck and saying the rabbit didn't work right.' " Uhh...
8:54 AM
My big thing this weekend was to attempt to make striped ravioli. I've made fresh pasta quite a few times, but never ravioli. Now I know why - it's exhausting. Although producing the ravioli with stripes certainly contributes to that. How do you make striped ravioli? Here's how I did it.
Three balls of pasta dough, one of them spinach-green. Believe it or not, I use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking. I'm pretty sure that's the only recipe I'm still using from Joy.
Roll the balls into three equal-sized sheets. The smaller ball is rolled thinner. This will be the "backing." The other two sheets are still fairly thick at this point.
Cut the thick sheets into fettucini-width noodles.
Lay the fettucini onto the backing, alternating colors.
Press with a rolling pin to get the layers to adhere. Trim to a rectangle.
(It's starting to be sorta cool now.)
Roll the striped sheet thin in the pasta roller.
The stripes came out really nice.
Fill as desired. (I used Italian sausage, ricotta, and pine nuts.)
Seal and cut. (Sounds simple, can be hard - my problem was I used too much egg wash and instead of sealing like a glue, the pasta became slippery.
But at last it was done.
Into the boiling water...
And on a plate with some butter sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Time to eat.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
3:01 PM
So there's a company called SunnComm (don't bother visiting - it's a crappy Flash-based site) that makes a technology to copy-protect music CDs.

The way they do this is by putting some auto-run program on the CDs. These programs get launched when the disc is inserted into the CD-ROM drives of a machine running one of several flavors of Windows or the Mac OS. Once launched, these programs install some funky device drivers onto the system which attempt to prevent copying the music data.

None of this strikes me as Evil. It may not be great, but they certainly have the right to stick that sort of crap on the CDs they produce. It would be nice if they warned people about it so that they know not to blindly stick the thing in their computer if they don't want to get that sort of trash on their machine, but all-in-all I have no major quarrel with this attempt at a technological solution.

Of course any thinking geek knows that (at least in today's computing environment) this method doesn't actually work. Most easily, you can turn off CD-autorun. In Windows, you can also hold the Shift key to circumvent autorun on a case-by-case basis. And once you are "infected", it isn't impossible to hunt down the device driver and remove it. A Princeton PhD student has published a paper discussing these fairly-obvious facts.

Today's Intellectual Property climate being what it is, publishing such obvious facts immediately gets you slapped with threats of multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Here's a snippet from SunnComm's retaliatory press release:
In addition, SunnComm believes that Halderman has violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by disclosing unpublished MediaMax management files placed on a user's computer after user approval is granted. Once the file is found and deleted according to the instructions given in the Princeton grad student's report, the MediaMax copy management system can be bypassed resulting in the copyright protected music being converted or misappropriated for potentially unauthorized and/or illegal use. SunnComm intends to refer this possible felony to authorities having jurisdiction over these matters because: 1. The author admits that he disabled the driver in order to make an unprotected copy of the disc's contents, and 2. SunnComm believes that the author's report was "disseminated in a manner which facilitates infringement" in violation of the DMCA or other applicable law.

As I understand it, the relevant portions of the DMCA basically say "It doesn't matter how limited, inferior, or obviously flawed any so-called copy-protection algorithm we ship is, if you 'hack around' circumvent it then you are a criminal." God help you if you attempt to describe how something you might end up installing on your computer actually works.

More info at The Register.
9:20 AM
BlogSpot abuse lesson one: Circumvent the fact that BlogSpot doesn't give me storage space for bitmaps by simulating bitmaps with HTML tables. This also may serve adequately as a geek test. If you are in any way amused by this exercise, you are probably a geek. Congratulations.





Wednesday, October 08, 2003
2:03 PM
Remember when I wanted to query a database for rows from a table where the contents of a (text) column contains a certain word? That entry was clearly a cry for help. Nobody helped me, though. Today I present solution 1.1: SELECT * FROM table WHERE ' '+col+' ' LIKE '% cat %'
Works fine for SQL Server... haven't tested Oracle yet.

(Followup): It works in Oracle except they use || as the string concatenation operator instead of +.
8:22 AM
Today Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California. That's OK, I don't live in California. I continue to take great comfort in believing he can't be elected President of the United States.
8:18 AM
Perhaps you recall my recent perplexity at the existence of the "backtick" key. Here's a nice report from The Straight Dope on the meaning and use of various pointless keys on the IBM-style keyboards. It starts off tackling the Scroll Lock key, then hits SysRq, Pause/Break, the backtick, and the vertical bar.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
11:36 AM

Software Patents Will Kill Us All

See here for one article on this story.

So in August, Microsoft lost a patent lawsuit regarding plug-ins within Internet Explorer. They had to pay an "Intellectual Property company", Eolas, $521 million dollars. Normally I would ignore this or be vaguely happy.

But that $521 million isn't the end of the story. In order to get future versions of ie out of infringement, Microsoft is - to use their words - altering the "User Experience for affected Web Pages." They're screwing up all your pages with Java applets or ActiveX controls by making you click "yes" to a meaningless messagebox that says - I am not making this up - "Press OK to continue loading the content of this page."

This messagebox comes with an OK button and nothing else. Elegant, wouldn't you say? Aren't you looking forward to this? I haven't gone and read the patent to the level of detail that would allow me to explain how pestering the user with useless message boxes gets around the patent, but I suppose it must. Perhaps the patent specifically mentions that it covers only "things which don't suck."

If so, that would explain the work-around Microsoft is advocating for the issue. If you want your pages to load without the super-nifty message box, you can construct your <APPLET> or <OBJECT> tags from within Javascript. But not just any old Javascript - no, the javascript has to reside in a file other than the original HTML document. More elegance, huh?

I'm looking forward to implementing this. It's good stuff.

Thursday, October 02, 2003
1:29 PM
There's an awkwardly crafted short story written by Free Software's radical spokesman, Richard Stallman. You should read it now.

It's not great writing, but it makes up for it in brevity and in an impressively accurate foretelling of the loss of computer freedoms that seems to be already underway.

I'm not the first to say that the problem of Intellectual Property in a connected digital world is complex or difficult. But I think a just society would take a step back and apply some new axioms before crafting the meaures needed to protect the rights of authors. My simple proposal for axiom 1:

You own the bits contained within the computers you own.

Corollary:

No action you take to read, manipulate, copy, or otherwise affect those bits can be construed as illegal.

Note carefully that this does NOT say that "no activity you do with your computer can be construed as illegal." The important counter-example is network access. When you use your computer to access a network, you are affecting bits owned by others - and some actions may certainly be illegal there.



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“Striving to be a more perfect geek since 1970”

email:
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