Wednesday, September 29, 2004

News Flash: Daily Show Viewers Not All Stoned Slackers

Bill O'Reilly recently, in a quote I'm sure he will come to regret, called viewers of The Daily Show a bunch of "stoned slackers."

Comedy Central struck back with a few studies showing that Bill's viewers were the ones more likely to have a sudden case of the munchies. A recent CNN article revealed viewer demographics and poll results showing that Daily Show viewers beat out other late-night show viwers, and all of them beat consumers of prime-time news.

The quiz is on the above link, but you have to take it before you read the article, 'cause two of the answers are in it.

Microsoft Takes Flak At Home

A former Microsoftie lashes out at the software giant for failing to support its home town, although it appears much of the blame lies at the feet of the state legislature for handing out corporate subsidies like they're candy.

One of the most embarassing items is that, while Microsoft performs most of its development in Washington, including development of Windows and Office, it has opened up a small office in Nevada where it books all of its OEM revenue, to avoid paying Washington corporate income tax. And then pays a $75B dividend to shareholders because it's got so much money it doesn't know what to do with it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

View Web Site, Get Virus

Found this article via Google news, about a recently discovered IE exploit in a JPEG file. If IE processes a modified JPEG file, it could allow execution of arbitrary code.

In layman's terms, if you view a web site with an affected JPEG, you get a virus.

I could go on a rant here, but why bother? Microsoft gives better reasons for not using Microsoft than I could ever come up with.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Do Not Test Bike Speed In Front of Cops

Grace sent me this link about a kid who got busted doing 205 MPH on his RC51. Grace pointed out that this is jail time territory, but I see the cracks that a good lawyer could get him off on. The biggest one of which was immediately pointed out by the motorcycle community: A stock RC51 won't go 205 mph, or anywhere close.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone's going to believe he was going 55 mph...

The Politics of Open Source

Caught this article on the politics (or lack thereof) in the open source (or FOSS) movement. Heavy reading -- the author's love of big words and convoluted sentences puts me to shame.

One interesting term that came up halfway through the article is "neoliberal." I've heard of "neoconservatives," but this is a new one to me. From context, these neoliberals apparently support the more aggressive forms of intellectual property law. Funny, I always just called them "greedy bastards," but "neo" seems to be a more politically-hip modifier.

Found this quote in the article, which sums up pretty well how hackers feel about politics:

While programming is considered a transparent, neutral, highly controllable realm for thought and expression where production results in immediate gratification and something useful, politics tend to be seen by programmers as buggy, mediated, and tainted action clouded by ideology that is not productive of much of anything while it insidiously works against true forms of free thought.

The most interesting point the article makes is that the FOSS movement's support of free speech is rooted in pragmatics -- free speech is a neccessary enabler for the spread of ideas and peer communication required for good programming.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sky Captain

Mike and I went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow this afternoon. Saw it on a matinee, which cuts down a bit on the pain. Not sure if this one is going to make its money back, since the crowds looked pretty thin.

The movie itself has a very interesting look -- the director uses a number of post techniques to make the film look like a very early color film, although the color is used to highlight specific characters and elements rather than being washed-out throughout. The background is 30s pulp fiction, and unless you can buy into the pulp science, the movie is a non-starter. Strange devices powered by Electricity and Robots are the order of the day, although some of the computers towards the end look suspiciously modern.

Jude Law and Gweneth Paltrow do a good job of acting to the blue-screen, but in the end the world ends up being rather curiously empty of people, and when other actors show up, it usually feels like an imposition rather than flowing well.

The concept of a set-less movie is interesting, but it may be a technique whose time has not yet come. Although it lets you film big cinematic sequences much more cheaply, overall it's not an inexpensive technique -- at $70 million, it's the most expensive movielisted in current box-office ratings by a large margin. The next most expensive movie listed is Resident Evil 2, at $50M production cost, although a number of movies released this summer had budgets in the $80M-$160M range.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Laura's Party

My friend Laura helped Shawn and Laurent throw a party on Saturday, up at their place in the city. They have a very stylish place in the south of market, and somewhere around a hundred people packed the place. Interesting mix of people -- native English speakers were a distinct minority. The largest segment was Italian, with France, Spain, and India also being well-represented.

Official party start was 9pm, so I tried to be a little bit fashionably late, by leaving my house at a little after nine. Showed up in SF at 9:45, and spent about ten minutes driving around in circles trying to get to their pad. I was having one of those big-city moments where I know where I'm trying to get to, but due to a variety of one-way streets and no-left-turn signs, I can't actually get there.

When I finally find the door and get into the place, I'm the 2nd guest, and Shawn, Laurent, and Laura are standing around waiting for people to show. Note to self: for European parties, fashionably late looks like it's around two hours.

Shawn gives me a quick house tour. Their place appears to be a converted industrial unit, which is spread across three stories. The top and bottom stories are each a single room, and have been converted to two master bedrooms. Neither the top nor bottom floors cover the whole footprint, so about half of the main floor has a 20-foot ceiling, giving it a very open feel. Shawn and Laurent have decorated the place in hip-batchelor-Spartan, which adds to the impression of space. Whoever remodeled the space left the original industrial diamond-plate steps up to the third story, which meshes well with the 50s-vintage sign that Shawn has hung off the side of the third-story bedroom.

The party ramps up quickly from the original two guests to the point where it's difficult to move around the house. The entire main floor is packed except for a little space around the door. Ben shows up and hangs out for a little while, and I run into another half-dozen or so Building F people.

I hang around until a little after 2AM, at which point my tired-warning starts to kick in. In recent years I've found that my stay-awake-while-driving ability has lessened somewhat, so that I have to head out early from SF or run the risk of falling asleep while driving home. While I've picked up Jon's roadside-nap technique, I'd rather just get home and sleep there.

Party was definately a blast. Looking at S&L's place just confirms that I couldn't live in SF: I just have too much stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Why does Hollywood own Congress?

This story in the Economist covers the purchase of MGM studios by Sony, in a consolidation move. One of the most interesting parts of the article is a chart that prints the box office revenue of the top 50 films of 2003.

The interesting part for me is how small the numbers are. I totalled up the revenue on the chart as $5.9B, with the biggest revenue from a single company being $1.2B. For comparison, Apple's 2Q2003 revenue was $1.9B (source), and their annual revenue was $6.2B (Apple's 2003 10-K).

Realized as I was writing this that this is an Apples-to-oranges comparison (if you'll pardon the pun), so I looked up Disney (owner of Buena Vista, with the largest box-office revenues in 2003) to see what their financials are. Yahoo refused to cough up anything useful, so I resorted to Schwab; S&P's report on Disney lists their 2003 revenue as $27.0B from all operations.

So, how much comes from the box office? I'm still looking. Reuter's report breaks down their expenses but doesn't classify their income. Schwab apparently doesn't provide raw data; finally found their 10-K filing with a Google search. In that they break down revenue between Media Networks ($10.9B), Parks and Resorts ($6.4B), Consumer Products ($2.3B), and Studio Entertainment ($7.4B). The Studio Entertainment group contains all of their movie prodution and distribution.

There is no break-down between box-office revenue and home video revenue, so how much of that is box-office is anyone's guess. Several reports from the game industry put total U.S. box office at $20B annually, but since Disney (for 2003) incorporates not only it's own brand but Touchstone, Miramax, Pixar, and Buena Vista, it's probably responsible for a sizable chunk of that.

So the question of how the RIAA and MPAA have so much pull on Congress relative to small box-office revenues is probably that they're drawing on a much larger revenue pool. In Disney alone, both the Studio Entertainment group and Media Networks have a vested interest in IP protection and more DMCA-like laws. Computer companies, on the other hand, tend to be much more laissez-faire, with correspondingly smaller hand-outs to Congress.

Clearly we're not done with this topic.

Roscoe Pecoe Train Comin' Atcha

Looks like a couple of good ol' boys and their faithful Dodge Charger will be returning from the 80s, along with... pretty much everything else from that decade. Saw an article on CNN that Jessica Simpson will be playing Daisy Duke.

Admittedly, Jessica is an authentic southern belle, but I just can't help feeling that she's not quite right for the part. The original Daisy was sassy and independent, whereas Jessica can't seem to manage to do her own laundry. On the other hand, it's quite likely (especially with Seann William Scott playing Bo Duke) that this is a tongue-in-cheek version, a la "Starsky and Hutch", in which case she's probably perfect.

Monday, September 13, 2004

More Than Meets The Eye

Spotted another really cool mod for Unreal Tournament. It seems that if you live long enough, history really does repeat itself. In my case, I remember coming home after school to watch afternoon cartoons - G.I. Joe and the Transformers were my two favorites. Arguably, almost every first-person shooter is a G.I. Joe reenactment, but the Transformers had been conspicuously missing until this mod came out. Since I'm currently (*ahem*) working, I haven't gotten a chance to try it out yet, but this is just another sign:

The 80s are back.

Back-Yard Manufacturing

Read a Wired article about MIT's Fab Lab project, which illustrates one of the ways I think Open Source ideology can help third-world nations.

The Fab Lab is an effort to create a small lab/machine shop which can fabricate just about anything, allowing an area to jump-start its economy by manufacturing the things it needs rather than importing them. Currently the whole lab runs on open-source software, and one of the lab's stated goals is eventually to use all open-source hardware designs -- one of the prerequisites for a self-replicating lab.

I'm interested to see where this project goes. Like many MIT projects, it's pretty long-ranged. I'm most interested to see how they tackle computer chip fab -- while PCBs are relatively easy to make in small quantities, the making computer chips themselves is off-limits to everyone but a fairly small group of companies. Does the lab have some way in mind to do inexpensive low-volume chip production?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Jon got some sort of cheap/promo tickets to Prince, and couldn't go on account of going hiking, so I went with Danielle to the concert on Saturday (surrogate boyfriend -- some things never change).

I was impressed, Prince puts on a good show. I've never been a huge Prince fan, but I grew up in the 80's and knew most of the songs that made him big. The crowd was overwhelmingly female, with the ratio somewhere around 5:1. The line at the girl's bathroom during intermission was absurd; I saw a couple of women who went in and used the stalls in the men's bathroom, and I was surprised that there weren't more.

The concert was broken down into three parts. The first was a medly that ran for a little under an hour, where he worked most of his older songs into it somewhere. After that was an intermission, after which Prince came back on by himself with an acoustic guitar and played a number of songs. He had a humorous little bit where he had a simple blues number about "the rules"; I can't remember all of them, but I'm sure they're on some magnetic thing you can put on the fridge, but it went something like:

  1. My house, my rules

  2. Sunday is sports day.

  3. Shopping is not a sport.

  4. I'll give you my money, my credit cards, anything -- just don't make me go shopping with you

  5. If you have to talk, please, please, please do it during a commercial.

After a few more songs, the rest of the band came on and he transitioned back into his full production. He ended with a cover of Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love", which completely lost the crowd. It didn't help that the female singer he brought on to sing it made Robert Plant sound like a master of precise diction.

After that the lights went out except for a few purple lights sweeping the stage and the Prince symbol (with purple background) on the monitors. The crowd was deafening for about 10 minutes, after which he came back on, having switched the red suit he was wearing for most of the night for a purple one, so he could do -- you guessed it -- an extended "Purple Rain" for an encore.


Getting out of the parking lot looked to be a total madhouse, so Danielle and I walked down Santa Clara street looking for somewhere to hang out. We ended up in a Sharks-themed sports bar next to Speido's because it was about the only place still open. We had a couple drinks and munched on 100-year-old pretzels while waiting for the traffic to die down.

For $15 tickets, it was a damn good show.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Big Brother is Watching You Drive

This CNN article talks about insurance companies installing black boxes on people's cars to monitor their driving habits. Drivers who do so would qualify for a discount on their insurance.

The insurance companies insist that this is fine, because it's completely voluntary, although it doesn't take much of a stretch to see the difference between 'voluntary' and 'mandatory' is all in the size of the discount.

Of course, the weak link in this process is that, according to the article, the device works by plugging into the car's diagnostic port and asking the car for speed information, and works across cars because the diagnostic port is standardized. Which means that a little device that fits between the diag port and the monitoring device could be standardized, too.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Coming in 2nd Place Bites

Last friday, after randomly running into Patrick and one of his co-workers on Santana Row and spending most of the evening bar-crawling, I came back home and cruised through some personal ads. Found one of a girl who seemed like a good match -- looks cute in the photo, reads sci-fi, athletic -- so I fired off a quick response.

This morning I get a response in my inbox. This, in and of itself, is impressive enough -- about 90% of the emails I send go unanswered -- but I even get positive vibe in the email. She says, in summary, that she thought the email was funny, and that she would have been interested in getting drinks if she hadn't met another man this weekend.

This weekend!

This pretty much kills the idea that you can avoid bad things by taking monday off... They just wait until tuesday.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


Warm day in the valley today. My (no-doubt finely calibrated) temperature sensor on my car read 104 degrees coming back home this afternoon; the official weather report puts the temperature at 96 degrees. Toasty either way. I was planning on installing the last of my kitchen improvements today, but now I think I'm just going to try and hide from the heat.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Kick A Man While He's Down

I've been a user of for over a year now, with pretty much no success. I think I've gotten 2 or 3 dates out of it the whole time. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that I'm about as good at picking up women as fish are at breathing air. does provide a bunch of tools to try and do better quality searches rather than just throwing loads of faces at you, but I think sometimes it backfires. I just took their Physical Attraction test, which gathers up some self-reported info about your body type, along with a little survey of who you find attractive, and isolates certain physical features and whether you find them attractive. The little report they mailed to me seemed pretty spot-on for who I like, so I started flipping through the search results and clicking on the "physical attraction" tab (and, for those of you who will quickly point out that beauty is only skin-deep, there is also a "personality" tab, which I have given up on long ago).

My problem with the physical attraction tab isn't the women it picks for me -- it's certainly not 100%, but it does a better job than throwing darts at a wall, so I'll run with that. It's that when I click on the little tab, it gives me a) how attractive they are to me, and b) how attractive I am to them, on a 1-4 scale.

The problem is, in short, my ego. Because on every one of the 20-odd tabs I've clicked on so far, the women find me "not at all" attractive (the lowest of the four). It's a little rough for someone whose dating career is, shall we say, less than entirely successful, to find that most women on the planet would rather date a peniless Mick Jagger than you.

I'm going to go stick a bag on my head. Maybe that will improve my odds.

After searching through over 40 entries (most women have not filled out the physical attraction profile, so there only 2-3 tabs per page of 10 results), I finally found one that found me "somewhat" attractive (2 out of 4). At this point I wisely called it quits and went foraging.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Left My Brain At Home

Took forever to get out of the door this morning. I was going to ride my motorcycle in to work this morning, and every time I got out to the bike I had forgotten something. First I went out and there was a shirt in my tankbag, so I took that back in. Went back out and I had forgotten my 'stitch, so went back inside for that. Got the bike out and my helmet on, but realized my sunglasses were still inside. Went back inside for those.

Tried to start the bike -- click. Not a good sign. Tried again. Nothing. Shove it back inside the garage, turn the key on -- no lights. Must have left the key on last night. So, taking the truck today. Helmet off, gloves off, dump the 'stitch on the bike, go back inside for truck keys, realize that my wallet and badge are still in the tankbag. Back inside the garage for those, get back out, check wallet, check badge, check... no phone.

Go inside house, get phone, see there's a voicemail message. Check the voicemail, it's Jeff saying that we're going to a niners game tonight because he got free tickets, and I should bring something warm. Back inside the house, ponder between sweater and jacket, eventually choose jacket. Back outside (remember that I'm locking up the house and garage for every one of these inside/outside runs, because I swear that this time I've remembered everything and I'm leaving for work), throw jacket in truck, start it up (no problems there, thankfully), and I'm off to work. Finally.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

George P. Bush

Grace IMed me the other day to tell me that George P. Bush is "the hottest guy ever" (with one notable exception, I'm sure). I looked at his pic on Fox News, and... I don't see it. Admittedly I'm not a good judge on whether guys are attractive -- I explained my two category, butt-ugly and not-butt-ugly categorization scheme to Grace -- but I just don't see him as a swarthy Adonis.

However, while searching for a picture of this guy I ran across a few other articles. Found a quote in this article:

Speaking in sometimes halting Spanish mixed with English, he said his uncle was not blame for the gun policy, which has angered Mexicans; instead, he blamed it on "some local INS (Immigration) guy who's trying to be tough, act macho."

The use of the guns is in fact federal policy, and they are in use in several states.

Good to know the fine Bush policies of situational truth and shooting from the hip are alive and well in the next generation.