Thursday, November 27, 2003

Dan Brinklin

I was reading Dan Brinklin's blog today and it reminded me of an encounter I had with him many years ago. I was working for Alpha Software at the time and he was using our Alpha Four (or was it Alpha Three) DOS database product to run his business. I was in my mid twenties and Dan was already a legend in PC software. I think he was working on some tools to enhance DOS batch files or something, I forget the details, but one day my office phone rang and it was Dan calling to ask if I knew some memory addresses where his utilities could stash some data between invocations. That sort of low level details never been my strong suite and I had nothing much to offer, (I believe my only idea was to try and use unused memory on the video card), but the encounter stuck with me. I've always wished I had something more intelligent to offer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

John C Dvorak - Love him and/or hate him

I don't read Dvorak much but I've always got a kick out of him. I found my way to his PCmag column again today via an opinion piece in Extreme Tech and found one recent opinion piece I totally agreed with and another one I didn't.

Where I agree with Dvorak is on the blandness of most computer products. (I even blogged recently defending crazy game machine designs. )

In the piece he relates a funny story about a vendors attempt to introduce amber monochrome monitors back in the late 70's.

They actually did study it there and found that people not only liked the color, but that it was easier on the eyes and more ergonomic. I asked a vendor why we didn't have those terminals. I was told, "We studied it. Nobody wants them." It's flabbergasting. It's almost as though there is some sinister force keeping us from getting the good stuffĂ‚—keeping us dull and conformist.

Then just when you think Mr. Dvorak is a smart dude he goes and writes something about how big media is going to kill blogging. I don't know about you, but I don't expect more than one or two people to even read this. The fact that I don't draw more than a few folks to this blog is a GOOD thing. I don't blog for mass consumption. To me blogging is just passive lunch conversation. We may not know each other and that doesn't matter. Its just digital smalltalk.

A new look for Slashdot

A List Apart has a great article on retooling Slashdot to use CSS. Once they had reworked the Slashdot HTML to remove all the tables and be divified they had some fun with an alternate style.

I want this in Eclipse

Eclipse has always had a lot of nice refactoring tools (and M5 of 3.0 introduces some nice new ones too). But the tool lacks one that I really want - the ability to force style conformance.
Eclipse is pretty good with straight formatting but I'm talking about going one step further with variable renaming.

Like a lot of people I work on a project that strays (for good reason I believe) from the standard Java convention of leaving class and member variables undecorated. We use a leading underscore but I've seen folks that use m_ or i_ too. (I really hate the this. hack, its too optional. Unless there's a namespace conflict the compiler wont help you enforce the policy of using it). What I envision is a refactoring option called 'Force Conformance' that would not only style a document with the correct curly brace layout but also go through and rename all member variables so they adhere to a particular style.

As Ben Poole points out in this post sometimes its better to clip code from another project than it is to build a dependency between projects. Invariably when you take code from another project you need to spend some cycles reworking it to look like part of your system. A refactoring tool like this would make that a lot easier.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Snowflake Dies

The famous albino gorilla Snowflake died today in Spain. I didn't realize how human he had looked. I thought all albinos had pink eyes - I guess that's not the case. The only technical information I could find on snowflakes albinism was from this paper.

If you're interested in other famous monkeys check out's Famous Monkeys Through History

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Random House's list of 100 best novels.

I like 100 best lists. I realize its all subjective crap but they're fun. I think this reader's choice list is particularly funny because it seems to have been taken over by two different philosophies/cults: scientologists and objectivists.

I like to read and still push myself to read the classics. I have to admit though, I haven't read that many from the boards list of 100 best. Only 11 out of 100. I did better from the reader choice list, 26 out of 100.

Of all the books on the lists I was happy to see only two that I've not been able to finish. Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow. I made it most of the way through Ulysses but haven't been able to push through to the end. I think Pynchon is just too verbose for my brain to handle. I didn't make it past the first few chapters on Gravity's Rainbow even though I've given it a couple of tries.

If you compare the lists I've already pointed out with this list from the UK you can see how wide different opinions can range. At least this one mentions Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The books I've read from the board's list are:

Catch-22, Under the Volcano, 1984, Slaughterhouse Five, Animal Farm, The Sun also Rises, The Naked and the Dead, Catcher in the Rye, Heart of Darkness, A Farewell to Arms, and The Call of the Wild.

The books I've read from the reader's list are:

Atlas Shrugged, The Lord of the Rings, 1984, Anthem, Catch-22, Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse Five, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Under the Volcano, Heart of Darkness, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Handmaids Tale, Blood Meridian, On the Beach, Ender's Game, Starship Troopers, The Sun also Rises, The World According to Garp, The Haunting of Hill House, The Call of the Wild, Farenheit 451, The Hunt for Red October and A Farewell to Arms.

more on this topic...

Style Matters

Jason Cross has written an interesting opinion piece for Extreme Tech about the dearth of good design in high tech products. He raises some good issues but misses the mark too. As computer equipment become commoditized it makes sense that there should be some standardization of the colors used so pieces from various vendors can be mixed and matched and still look decent together. Where he goes off the wall, in my opinion is his criticism of trends in high-end game machine design.
Don't get me started on the recent trend in high-end gamer PCs having clear plastic windows, metallic car paints, and glowing lights inside. It's the ugliest, most ridiculous, trend I've ever seen. It's like the opposite of style. It's like Syd Mead threw up -- and that throw-up designed a PC. It reminds me of those guys who buy a Japanese car, modify the body until every last clean line is eradicated, paint it metallic pink and yellow, cover it with stickers, light the underside with neon and throw on an absurd spoiler. I'm absolutely convinced that those that do will look back at pictures of these cars in ten years and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

Doesn't this guy remember being young? The dude with the funky car will probably look back and think that was one bitch'n ride. This style of computer is aimed a specific demographic and I think the targeting is right on. The folks who buy these machines are the same ones who buy funky skateboards, surfboards and snowboards. I don't think anyone has ever looked back at their skateboard and thought that instead of that cool skull design I should have gone with some simple mauve instead.

I wonder how he feels about tattoos.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Who loves Clearcase?

Murray Cumming doesn't and he doesn't mince words about it. To quote him:
Meanwhile I have a crushing and demoralising schedule at work which leaves me without any extra time or energy. I hate ClearCase as much as I can possibly hate any software. It is as crappy as everyone ever said it was. Anyone who thinks it is acceptable does not have experience with anything else that isn't as crappy. It's been a long time since a piece of software has made me wonder whether I would actually feel better if I drove my fist through the screen. This is not good.

I wonder how many other folks feel this way?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Master and Commander - The Far Side of the Universe

I saw the new Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World this weekend. The movie is fantastic and an excellent tribute to the masterful story telling of Patrick O'Brian. This post isn't a review of the movie however. Rather Its about a connection I made between the movie, the original Star Trek series and heroes in general.

In both Start Trek TOS and Master and Commander the heart of the stories are about the same thing. Both are about the relationships between the captain who is charismatic, crafty, duty filled and gregarious, the ship's surgeon who's dedicated to saving lives and who doesn't understand navel service and the ship's science officer who is the captains best friend and generally smarter than everyone else. In Master and Commander the doctor and the science officer are rolled into one character but the similarities remain. Other similarities are there too, both are about exploration of new worlds, sacrifice to service and the demands of command.

I've always considered Star Trek TOS to be far superior to any of the follow on series but could never put my finger on the reason why. All the series examined interesting cultural issues, offered philosophical and speculative stories and showed cool science fiction technology, so that wasn't it. I now believe I know the answer. Subsequent series lacked a hero as a focal point. By using an ensemble cast the stories have failed to elevate any character to a heroic level and so have failed to tap into mythic qualities of the hero.

There's no doubt in my mind that both Kirk and Aubry qualify as mythic style heroes. Both exemplify the same prototypical western male attributes of leadership, self sacrifice, resourcefulness and courage. Both triumph where other would have failed.

Friday, November 14, 2003

JSP 2.0

I've been out of the JSP loop for many versions now (Does anyone remember Garnet?), so I realize there's been a lot of changes made that I'm not aware of. This article on JSP 2.0 by Hans Bergsten on helped bridge some gaps. Its a quick read that gives a nice overview of how the EL expression language fits into JSPs.


As Ned points out LOAF is just too elegant to ignore. Once I saw it I knew I had to be a part of this community. To give back just a little of what LOAF has done for me I've ported the Perl implementation of LOAF to Ruby. I hope people find it useful.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Scarface revisited

I watched the anniversary edition DVD of Scarface last weekend. In the moments before the classic chainsaw scene I was antsy remembering the visceral fear and disgust I had experienced when first seeing it. This time I was prepared for another such reaction but it didn’t come. The scene was still awful but not in the same over the top way I had remembered.

When I think about other movies that desensitized me to this level of violence and gore, the movies that pop into my head are:: Alien (1979) – The dinning hall scene, The Deer Hunter (1978) – The Russian roulette scene. Including Scarface, all of these movies were released in a 5 year period during the late 70s early 80s. I don’t think these movies are more violent than their modern counter parts, rather I think these were all some of the first ultra violent/gory movies I saw. I guess you can’t under estimate the impact something as simple as a movie can have on your psyche.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Blogging Cliche

I was thinking about my difficulties coming up with something to say every few days and the phrase 'to blog or not to blog' came into my mind. Its such an obvious play on words I figured someone must have already used it. I wasn't prepared for the reality. Here are just a few:,

There are many many more out there. To see for yourself do a google search on "to blog or not to blog".

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Groovy and Jiazzi

Groovy and Jiazzi are two languages for the Java VM I had not heard of before. Groovy is a dynamic scripting language in the same vein as Python or Ruby. Jiazzi is harder to give a snapshot on as its different from anything I'm aware of. This is from the doc
Jiazzi enhances Java with support for large-scale software components. Jiazzi components are constructed as units . A unit is conceptually a container of compiled Java classes with support for “typed” connections. There are two types of units: atoms, which are built from Java classes,and compounds, which are built from atoms and other compounds.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Don Box is not a machine

I've always respected Don Box. His articles and insights into MS technology have been a boon to developers for over a decade. So while I've known his serious side for a while, it was fun to find he has a a sense of humor too. While reading his blog this evening I came across these posts that reference a humorous encounter with a fellow conference attendee.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Empire Deluxe Reborn

I've played various versions of Walter Bright's classic war game Empire for ages now (since the early 80s). If you've never played Empire, its a simple resource capture and grow type game very much like Civilization but simpler (Civilization is so much like Empire I imagine Sid Meyer must have used Empire as a model - that's pure speculation however).

Games of Empire are huge time sinks and very addictive. As you build larger and larger collections of units (armies, various ships and planes) and capture more territory you need more and more time to carry out grand invasion maneuvers and resupply operations - but the vision of how it will unfold keeps you glued to the keyboard. In my bachelor days I burned more than a few weekends over this game.

So its with quite a nostalgic grin that I discovered a small company KillerBeeSoftware had purchased the source code and released a new Windows XP compatible version of this classic. For 27 bucks I couldn't resist.

Cool Mozilla Feature

In the latest Mozilla browsers you can now highlight a sub section of a document and select 'View Selection Source' from the right-click menu. It works really well. If the selection overlaps some tags it shows the entire document with the chosen area highlighted.

(via Design Detector)

I'm a Bright

A Bright is an individual whose worldview is naturalistic.
A Bright's worldview is free from supernatural and mystical elements.
The ethics and actions of a Bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.

I'm not a huge fan of the choice of the word 'Bright' as the label but it's nice to finally have a single word to use. I realize a lot of people would think atheist should have sufficed but that word carries too much extra anti-religious baggage. I'm not anti-religious, I just have a naturalistic worldview. There is a web site with more information about being Bright and the Bright Movement at

(via Ole Eichorn's Critical Section blog)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Monkey Simulator

We've all heard the phrase before: "If you have enough moneys banging on typewriters they will eventually type the works of William Shakespeare." Well someone with too much time on their hands (and a nerdy sense of humor) has decided to put this theory to the test with this crazy Java Applet.

UPDATE - I left my home computer running this overnight and I matched the first 9 characters of Timon of Athens. This monkey technology is just so amazing.
After 6.00188e+14 pages in this session, a monkey typed:
Poet. Goo]eQMSuJDX8&EY z I)4k&'wgWYm&,YD... the first
9 letters of which match "Timon of Athens" This
occured after 3.80376e+10 monkey-years in this
session, when there were 3.93515e+8 monkeys.
Verification code = DFAF. Date: Wed Nov 05 07:51:59
EST 2003

Monday, November 03, 2003


I can't figure out these XPaider folks. I think they are a collaboration of designers but I can't tell for sure. My conundrum springs from this - if they are designers, how could they possibly think that their layout of tiny boxes is a nice UI? What even amazes me more is that they are not alone. There's another web design related site called k10k that's nearly as awful. I hope this isn't a trend.

If we just ignore the UI and look at the content however, there's lots of cool stuff. I really enjoyed the simple flash magazine I found linked to from this site. The magazine is called Head (its clean) and contains random art and photography. One pictorial in particular that I found interesting was of late 19th century fruit wrapper labels in issue #3. 'What's so interesting about 19th century fruit wappers' you ask? I can't answer that, I just liked them.

Larry Ellison on Bill Gates

E-Week has published a small portion of Larry Ellison's new book Softwar.
The piece contains quite a few entertaining bits and is well worth a read. The following were two of my favorites

- Larry on Bill's hypocrisy around MS's right to innovate:
I didn't despise Bill for destroying Netscape, which wasn't very nice or legal, for that matter. Bill just calculated he could smash his competitors by breaking the law and get away it. Who knows? Maybe he can. But when Bill defended Microsoft's murderous behavior by saying, 'All I ask is the right to innovate,' that kind of pushed me over the edge. Netscape did the innovation, Bill—that's why you killed them! All you did was copy the innovation and destroy the innovator. To kill the innovator in the name of innovation was such an incredible lie, such a cynical piece of deception, such hyper hypocrisy, I just couldn't stand it. If Bill had said, 'We killed Netscape because they were in our way; they weren't tough enough to survive, so fuck 'em. Hey, Andreessen [Marc Andreessen founded Netscape when he was twenty-one], welcome to the software industry, punk. I've got a little present for you; it's a pine box and a bullet with your name on it. That'll teach little kids to stay the fuck out of my neighborhood. Mess with Microsoft, you die.' Okay, cool. That's still not very nice, but at least it's honest.

- Larry on Bill's sense of humor:

I found spending time with Bill intellectually interesting but emotionally exhausting; he has absolutely no sense of humor. I think he finds humor an utter waste of time an unnecessary distraction from the business at hand

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism