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Monday 08/18/08

I recently got a fancy new Garmin GPS for my automobile jaunts. It comes with a variety of voices with different accents in addition to the male and female American voices. Indulging an urge to feel as though I was being driven around by Jeeves, I tried the British male voice, Daniel, and confirmed that the United States and Great Britain are still two countries divided by a common language. Here are some of the atrocities Daniel committed on a single trip:
  • "Front St. N" was rendered as "Front Saint North"
  • Hilariously, "Issaquah-Fall City Rd." was spoken as "Isaac Waffle City Road"
  • Most inexplicably of all, "Ames Lake Rd." was pronounced "American Englishes Lake Road"
I really like the sound of the British male voice, and these mistakes are good for a laugh, but when I need to get where I'm going, I'll choose Jack, the American voice.

Sunday 07/13/08

DPReview's awful pun news headlines must die. "Canon invests in XS capacity"? "Kodak fits 50MP into dynamic range"? That last one is particularly egregious, because "dynamic range" is a commonly-used technical term in digital photography that is here used to mean something entirely different, and furthermore you'd have to be British to even understand the intended meaning. What Brits refer to as a "range" of products, Americans typically refer to as a "line." Now, the proprietors of DPReview are in fact British, so I can't fault them for it, but it doesn't make it any simpler to decipher.

(The "range" is referred to as "dynamic" because, oh I dunno, Kodak is rolling out new products quickly. Which actually they're not, so I guess they just did it to be cute.)

I'm always in favor of a good pun, but not at the expense of the intended meaning...

Tuesday 05/20/08

The rumor I mentioned nearly a year ago (sigh) in my review of the Doctor Who episode "Blink" is apparently true: Steven Moffat, quite possibly the best writer working in television today, will be chief writer and executive producer of the series starting in 2009 for the 2010 season. It's going to be hard to contain my excitement for the next two years, but I'm absolutely certain that it'll be worth it.

Friday 02/22/08

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably at least heard of lolcats, those inexplicably hilarious photographs of cats with ungrammatical and poorly-spelled catchphrases and pop-culture references superimposed on them.

The conceit of "The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats" is that the Internet meme is actually inspired by a comic strip penned by one Aloysius "Gorilla" Koford in the early years of the twentieth century, the original art for which has recently been uncovered by his great-grandson Adam Koford, alias Ape Lad. I don't think I am spoiling much by revealing that the comic is in reality drawn by the younger Koford, and quite capably too. Now over 250 of these single-panel strips, along with a handful of never-before-seen drawings, have been published in a book titled Meet the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats.

The strip revolves around the adventures of one Meowlin Q. Kitteh, a feline hobo, and the kitten foundling Pip, whom he adopts and who becomes his faithful companion in his journeys. Naturally, much of the humor comes from the anachronism of finding current Internet memes in a cartoon that was ostensibly drawn in 1912. (The style of the art, though, owes more to "Pogo" than to "Krazy Cat" -- Aloysius was thoroughly ahead of his time.) Koford also layers in clever pop culture references related to computer gaming, H. P. Lovecraft, Norse mythology, Star Wars, and (of course) John Hodgman, among others. Although catchphrase humor is often a lazy way to get laughs, Koford demonstrates here that it needn't be.

There is little plot; each strip basically stands alone, especially in this collection, which is a selection of fewer than half of the comics the amazingly prolific Koford has drawn since mid-2007. (Koford also placed two non-cat drawings in a New Yorker cover contest during this time, in addition to doing plenty of other work.) The strip does take the time to develop distinct personality traits for its two main characters -- for example, Kitteh has an irrational fear of ducks, while Pip is a great connoisseur of leaves -- and these are repeatedly returned to and amusingly elaborated upon, like variations upon a classical theme. A few secondary characters also make repeat appearances.

The book itself, a solidly-constructed paperback, is designed to look like it is a 1973 edition that has been circulating in a library for a while, right down to the (fake) cracked spine, and includes a foreword from the fictional publisher, Ernst Turtletaub. There is also commentary by the "creator" and several drawings of leaves identified by species, which one can only assume that Pip somehow managed to sneak in one of the book's several examples of "fourth wall" shenanigans.

This is one of the most "meta" (that is to say, postmodern) works of comic art I have ever seen, yet the various layers somehow seem all of a piece, working together rather than at odds. The sum is gentle, touching, playful, warm, and funny, to choose just a few of the adjectives that spring to mind. It never becomes saccharine or corny, which is a masterful achievement on its own.

There are more wonders here, which I will refrain from revealing so that you can enjoy discovering them for yourself, though my every instinct urges me to share as much of the fun as possible. Suffice it to say that I did in fact laugh out loud several times -- not just at a gag, but in sheer joy -- even though I'd already seen all these comics on Koford's Web site.

Will this book still be funny ten years from now, or is it too much of its time? Who knows. I like to think that a drawing of Pip sitting on a rock, paws held a foot apart in front of adorable face, saying "INVISIBL GINORMOUS CORM" will always be hilarious. Some of the other strips, perhaps, may not hold up so well. Will anyone really remember "don't tase me, bro" in 2018? There are not one but two strips that reference this 2007 catchphrase. But right now, they're hella funny.

Though the book is slim at 192 pages, it is exactly the right length to avoid wearing out its welcome. Every page is packed with win, making "Meet the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats" a thorough delight from beginning to end. The only thing the book truly lacks is an ISBN, without which it cannot be sold on Amazon or in other bookstores. This is a shame. However, you can order it for $14.95 at, and you should.

Wednesday 12/12/07

Farewell, Anita. Thanks for helping to make me feel welcome in the Seattle blogging circle.

Saturday 12/01/07

My good friend Dr. Warren Magnus has started a blog focusing on anti-aging, supplements, diet, and related topics, and he chose the best name ever for a blog: Age Against the Machine. Did you know that Quiznos has finally released nutritional information for all their sandwiches? You would if you read his blog. (It turns out that a small Quiznos tuna sub, at 770 calories, has has only about 60 fewer calories than a Wendy's Baconator, which has 830.) Bookmark Age Against the Machine today.

Saturday 11/03/07

Today's grammar pet peeve: people who say "out of" when they actually mean "in." Example: "John Hancock is an insurance company out of Boston." Which, taken literally, tells you that John Hancock is based somewhere besides Boston, which doesn't narrow it down a lot. Similar: "off of," as in "HTML is based off of SGML." The metaphor being groped for here is that SGML is a structural foundation ("base") upon which HTML sits. If HTML is based "off of" SGML, it's actually built on something besides SGML, isn't it?

Bonus peeve: "centered around." It's either "around" or "centered on." Pick one.

Ranting aside, these appear to be Britishisms which are becoming prevalent even among American writers thanks to the influence of the Internet. I'd expect to see a lot more of this until we're all speaking the same language again in a century or two. Both varieties of English have developed interesting idioms and metaphors during their separation, and reuniting them has the potential to create a far stronger language. I suppose we'll have to accept "off of" and "out of" meaning their literal opposites to get the good stuff.

Sunday 08/26/07

$58! Holy crap. I should see if I still have any of those in one of these boxes I haven't unpacked yet. I could make a killing.

Edit: that's the first edition of that book all right, but only because that's the only edition there ever was. It is not, however, a first printing. The first printing was perfect-bound (not comb-bound) and had a two-color cover (the ball is turquoise in a first printing).

Friday 08/03/07

Today, unexpectedly, this post from 2004 was linked by Slate. (The link text is "a whole new playing field".)

KOMO-4 TV hosted a blog meetup last night. They asked Chris Pirillo to organize it, since he knows literally everybody. I'd link to Chris, except he is already the #1 Google result for his first name, as he pointed out. (He is a good guy, I'm just giving him a hard time.)

I saw people I haven't seen for years, along with a few familiar faces from the meetups at Ralph's, and a whole lot of new people. A group photo was taken on KOMO's "Northwest Afternoon" set. (Sorry, KOMO, there are two other organizations ahead of you for the "NWA" abbreviation.) So far as I can tell, there was no agenda other than meeting each other and enjoying the horse dovers and libations. Apparently they're going to have another one; I'll definitely go. Thanks, KOMO!

Sunday 06/10/07

In every series of the new Doctor Who, there is one episode that makes you go "wow." I mean, they're usually all reasonably fun, especially after years of no Doctor Who at all, but there is always one that rises above the rest, that is really science-fictional in the best ways (sensawunda and all that) and emotionally involving, even touching, without seeming maudlin.

And when you look at the credits, you find it is written by Steven Moffat.

In series one it was the two-parter "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances." In series two, it was "The Girl in the Fireplace." In series three, it is "Blink," which aired this weekend.

At the risk of spoiling this episode a bit, I don't think I've ever been this involved in an episode of Doctor Who in which the titular character has so little screen time and actually plays a supporting role to a previously unknown protagonist. Or been so shocked by monsters that you never actually see moving. As with "The Girl in the Fireplace," a good bit of the episode's cleverness involves time travel, which (despite the fact that the Dcotor travels through time constantly) isn't actually important to the plot as often as you might expect. Like every good time-travel yarn, "Blink" is just confusing enough at the beginning to draw you in, and bit by bit the pieces fall together into a satisfying conclusion. It is also nicely spooky in the classic Whovian behind-the-sofa tradition, and the Eganesque explanation for the bizarre aliens actually makes a good bit more sense than the usual technobabble (a real accomplishment for a throwaway line).

Doing some Googling, I see that this episode is loosely based on a story Moffat wrote for last year's Doctor Who Annual, which the BBC has kindly put online.

It would be kind of cute to see the "other side" of this episode sometime. (It doesn't really need to consume a whole episode, of course.) And dare I say, if they really are planning to replace Martha, as rumors recently claimed, perhaps Sally would be a good choice.

There are undoubtedly perfectly good reasons that Moffat is only writing one or two episodes a season, such as Russell T Davies wanting to write half the eps himself so as to keep the fans from mustering too much enthusiasm for the show (his scripts are generally considered among the least engaging, and that's being kind), but there's really no excuse for the BBC not already having cloned Moffat a dozen times so he can write every episode.

It has been announced that Moffat's writing a two-parter for the next series. There's also a rumor floating around that Davies is leaving after Season 4 -- actually, the rumor claims that Doctor Who itself will come to an end at that point, as if the BBC would let that happen. If they're smart, they'll give the series to Moffat.

Update: I'm hearing buzz that Moffat has indeed got the job, and that he may be bringing his own Doctor with him.

Tuesday 03/20/07

I'm going to be contracting at Microsoft starting next week. I'll be working on developer support materials for the .Net Micro Framework (this is a version of .Net for devices smaller than PDAs, like the smart watches). Developers developers developers!

So, now that I know where I'll be working for the next year or so, and given that I have to move out of my current place by the end of May, I've started looking for a new apartment. A lot of the local places have remodeled recently, which means not just higher rents, but also new kitchens with built-in microwaves. They all have the microwaves over the stove, which is about the most retarded arrangement possible. Reach up into the microwave cavity so you can pull out hot food and spill it all over your head. I would say that fully 50% of the apartments I found online tonight had kitchens with this "feature."

Perhaps I'm just frustrated because I just bought a new microwave (a non-retarded inverter model from Panasonic) a couple of months ago...

Thursday 12/07/06

It's not that I only post on my blog when I want to rant about something. Really, it's not. This is just a funny story.

At the end of September, I bought a refurbed 42" plasma HDTV from the Philips Electronics Outlet. It arrived on my birthday, October 11. There was a serious flaw in the display when I took it out of the box, a line of bright white static down the right side. Since it was a refurb, Philips wouldn't send me another, but rather wanted to repair it under warranty. Fortunately the warranty is in-home, as the TV weighs 100 pounds and the screen is rather fragile.

The TV is still watchable, so I watch it until the local Philips subcontractor comes out to have a look at it. He arrives prepared to jiggle a few wires and be on his way, but unfortunately it looks like I need a whole new plasma tube. He says he has to come out later with a camera and take pictures of it to get Philips to approve it. No problem, say I, I have a camera and will take pictures and e-mail them to him. I do that, and in due time, he calls and says that Philips has approved the new tube and comes out to get the TV.

A week goes by.

It transpires that the necessary part is backordered. I'm 750th in line. Apparently, Philips' "refurbishment" process is not all that and there is heavy demand for tubes. At my prompting, he gets Philips to approve replacement with a newer part used in their current models. So at least I get what is basically a whole new TV out of the deal.

Four more weeks pass.

I don't get to watch the OSU/Michigan game in glorious 720p; instead, I am forced to watch it at 240p (yes, half-VGA) on my computer via Slingbox. Finally, today I get the word that the part has finally arrived and been installed, and the TV guy says he'll deliver the TV this evening.

Now, you have to remember: I hardly ever have company, and I've not invited anyone over tonight. So the only person I expect to be knocking on my door tonight is the TV guy.

5:00 PM. Knock knock. It's UPS, delivering a package I wasn't expecting! (But thank you for the quick turnaround on the defective SD card, Ultra Products.)

5:30 PM. Knock knock. It's a kid trying to sell me a newspaper subscription. He does an excellent job of trying to guilt me into paying less than $2 a week for daily delivery, pointing out that if I just want it on Sunday he can arrange that for the same low price. (No, I didn't get it either.) I manage not to succumb.

6:00 PM. Knock knock. It's a pair of smiling Mormon missionaries trying to tell me about their prophet. I'm afraid I was rather short with them, since I am not at all interested in what they're selling and, more importantly, they didn't have my TV.

6:30 PM. Knock knock. Wonder who it is, and if they have my TV. Update: They do! I think it may actually have been worth the wait; this new tube has visibly better black levels.

Saturday 11/18/06

Thursday night, a crane fell over in downtown Bellevue, pretty much destroying the building next to it and killing one man in an apartment across the street.

I used to work in the City Center building, which is diagonally across from the site where the accident occurred. I could see part of that crane from my desk, in fact. Freaky.

I have to wonder how often this sort of thing happens.

Update: New information (via Girlhacker). Includes fascinating information about tower cranes.

Wednesday 11/15/06

By the way, a couple of weeks ago I was laid off. I received a very generous severance and found some short-term contract work, plus I have some savings and can draw unemployment. So I'm okay financially for quite a while. However, if you have a lead for a good technical writing position in the Seattle area, please let me know. (I've already applied at Google, of course, which has an opening in their Kirkland office.)

Back in 2002, Jeremy Bowers wrote an article asserting that statistical filters for spam were our last line of defense, that they are doomed to eventually fail, and that once they did we would all be buried under an avalanche of unwanted mail. I responded with this post and he responded to me and others with this post.

Four years later, statistical filtering remains a valuable weapon in the war on spam. At my former day job, I turned off the automatic server-side filtering (based on SpamAssassin) and used Thunderbird's statistical filter because it just worked better.

Statistical filtering has turned out not to be the "last stand" for spam filtering, either. Graylisting is one relatively new approach that has become much more prevalent since 2002. (I see dates of 2003-ish on graylisting articles.)

As Bowers correctly pointed out, it's an arms race. But it's not by any means one that spam filters are doomed to lose. Not anymore. What he missed is that statistical filters mean that for the first time, the the arms race is easier for anti-spammers than for the spammers. Because once you've done the hard work of implementing a statistical filter, it becomes trivial to increase the number of characteristics of messages you test.

For example, determining whether a message is very short or whether the subject line contains all caps is a one-liner in most scripting languages. Before statistical filtering, the hard part wasn't writing the rule, but deciding how much weight to give it. With a statistical filter, though, you just add a token for each characteristic you test to the message before it's passed to the statistical classifier (tokens like "MESSAGE_VERY_SHORT" or "SUBJECT_LINE_ALL_CAPS") and let it decide how important each characteristic is. If you're a competent programmer, you can implement dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different message checks in a weekend, based on every characteristic of a message you can think of. You don't even have to worry about whether they are useful, because a modern computer can handle them all without breaking a sweat. In fact, it's likely most of them won't be useful today -- but they may be useful later, as spammers' tactics evolve. In any case, each new rule gives spammers incrementally less wiggle room in crafting their crapulent enticements.

These days I get 1 or 2 spam messages a day on my main mail account using a combination of spamtraps, site-specific addresses, blacklisting, prompt delays, a non-existent secondary MX, and some server-side filters that reject bogus bounces and obvious spam. My main public-facing addresses, which all funnel into that account, have pretty strict rules on message size and MIME type. Most blocked messages are not rejected outright; every potentially legitimate rejected sender gets a message telling them how to get on my whitelist and get their message through. (Much to my surprise, after a couple years of this, I still have no spammers on my whitelist.) The few spams that do get through, mostly from other mail accounts I don't use much, are nailed easily by SpamSieve and a handful of Entourage rules.

I really don't have to take quite such an active role -- I just find it convenient to run my own mail server, and I like tinkering. My mom uses a GMail account, and its spam filtering is quite successful as well -- nearly as good as mine, with none of the work. So while the war against spam rages on, I think the good guys are largely winning.

Saturday 05/20/06

You'd think I would have learned from my experience last year not to buy any more Linksys products, but recently their WRT45GC has been going for under $20 at various retailers, including Office Depot and Fry's, and it looked like a decent, if basic, compact router of the sort I wished I'd had in my bag when I was in San Francisco for Macworld. And I'd been wanting a router to leave at my parents' house next Christmas, too... so I picked up two. I figured I'd pick up one or two more, too, if these worked out all right; the last cheapo wireless routers I bought, the AirLink 101s from Fry's, had some problems doling out DHCP reliably, and I have a friend or two who could stand to have that issue fixed.

So it was with much anticipation that I plugged in the WRT54GC. And indeed, it worked fine, and all the features you'd need seemed to be there. I figured it would be tough for even Linksys to screw up a product category that they'd been building for the past decade or so.

Then I noticed that the router had firmware v1.02.5 installed and wondered if it was the newest. It wasn't, so I downloaded and installed v1.02.8. And the router stopped working immediately.

And then, of course, I upgraded the firmware in my second WRT54GC because I was suffering a bout of intuition, and naturally exactly the same thing happened again. Within twenty minutes I had converted two brand-new Linksys products into bricks merely by installing Linksys-provided firmware using the Linksys-provided instructions. Absolutely stunning.

I'm off to return these, buy a bunch more, turn them all into bricks with new firmware, return those, and continue until all the Linksys WRT54GC routers for sale in the Seattle metro area are non-functional. Bwahahahahahaha!

Tuesday 04/11/06

Holy crap, I've been Crazy Apple Rumors Sited! Because of this, of course.

Tuesday 04/04/06

Wow, an online lens rental place! Their prices are pretty good, too. (Which explains why they're out of stock on so many lenses.)

Monday 04/03/06

Douglas Adams once had a computer problem that I attempted to help him with. Yes, the Douglas Adams, may he rest in peace.

I recall being particularly thrilled to be able to work the phrase "turtles all the way down" into that reply.

Friday 03/24/06

Scott Adams (yes, the Dilbert guy) has an absolutely great story about James Blake's comeback in the Indian Wells tennis tournament. I don't follow tennis so I hadn't heard about this, but it's simply amazing, with an incredibly moving ending.

Thursday 03/23/06

Woo! Comcast has upped my bandwidth! I'w now getting a good solid 10 Mbps down (I remember when that was a typical LAN speed) and over 1 Mbps up. If this site seems a little zippier to you, that's probably why.

The cheaper tier is now about the same speed I used to have, which will come in handy when it's time to renew in a couple months...

Proposed slogan: "Comcast. We've upped our bandwidth, now up yours!"

Wednesday 03/22/06

FlapArt: fake book jackets designed to incite reactions in the people who see you reading.

Tuesday 03/21/06

The Wand: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Don't miss the second ending!

Friday 03/17/06

Mike Whybark's got a great true story you should go read.

Great article by Bill Holland from Billboard magazine on the problems record labels have had archiving old musical recordings. Some of this will make you cry.

Thursday 03/16/06

The good news is, the property owner is renovating the apartments where I live. They do need it badly and the revamped apartments (I saw the model last night) are quite nice.

The bad news is, when my lease is up I've got to move out so they can renovate my apartment. I can then either move into an already-renovated apartment, or put my stuff in storage and live somewhere else for a month, then move back into my current apartment after it's renovated. Or of course I could move somewhere else entirely.

I was really hoping not to move again until I was ready to buy a place. I especially was not planning to pay several hundred dollars and endure two moves to end up in the same place I already live in, and I definitely was not planning for my rent to go up $200 a month (gotta pay for the renovations, you see).

Still thinking about what to do. I like where I live and I'm sure I'd like it even better after the renovation. And it's not like I can't afford the extra money, and it'd probably be worth it too. But we're inching toward house payment territory here. For a couple hundred more a month, I could have a condo.

There were a few people at the renovation open house last night who are on month-to-month leases. Those people are basically boned because they are subject to being immediately kicked out so their apartment can be renovated. At least my lease lasts for more than another year, so I don't have to make a decision right away. Still, if I decide to stay, it might be worthwhile for me to volunteer to move early to get a better choice of renovated apartments.

Friday 03/10/06

This is just to say

I have eaten
the brownies
that you gave me
last night

and which
I should probably
have shared
with my cow-orkers

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so gooey

(apologies to William Carlos Williams)

"Alas, poor Yorick! I ate his skull, Horatio." Chocolate skulls made from a mold of a real human skull, using a special mix of chocolate to mimic the appearance of old bone. Only, er, $143!

Thursday 03/09/06

Vonage sure is a bunch of screw-ups. I got their service when I moved into my current apartment in August 2004. A year later I decided to switch to SunRocket. After SunRocket ported my number, I called up Vonage and canceled. Whereupon Vonage proceeded to continue to bill me for three more months. When I called them on this in January, they refused to give me a refund for the overbilling. Fine, whatever, I'd have my credit card issuer deal with it.

Now a couple weeks ago I started getting calls during the day from someone at Microsoft. The mystery caller didn't leave messages, but this morning I happened to be home and saw an unfamiliar cell phone caller and answered. It turned out to be some guy who has been calling his "new" Vonage number periodically to see if it was working yet. Yes -- Vonage gave my phone number to someone else. Since I'd already ported the number to SunRocket, this means that if a Vonage customer calls the number, they get this other guy, since that number is in their system as belonging to him, but if he calls that number from outside Vonage, he gets me, because the national number database has SunRocket as the number's service provider, and they know it belongs to me.

About 15 minutes after I got off the phone with him I got a call from a Vonage rep and explained the situation to him. Hopefully they'll take care of it now, but given their past displays of incompetence, I am not optimistic.

Pac-Man being chased by a ghost (and other animations) on your bike wheels. It's all thanks to an "easy-to-make electronic kit toy" called SpokePOV.