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"Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay."
ó Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" by Arthur Conan Doyle. 

"I like deadlines," cartoonist Scott Adams once said. "I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
"There is nothing like that feeling of spending days and days banging your head against a wall trying to solve a programming problem then suddenly finding that one tiny obscure and seemingly unrelated piece of the puzzle that unlocks the solution. Oh yeah!"

- Chris Maunder, CodeProject Newsletter 28 Jan 2002
"Management at eSnipe, which is me, is also feeling the pain of the 2002 bear market. So rather than pout about it, I bought some stuff on eBay that I really didnít need, but made me feel better."

- Tom Campbell, president of eSnipe



 Friday, August 12, 2005
  11:16:56 AM  

Dust Devil Dance

I don't know how they do it, but the JPL Mars Rover team just keeps getting better at capturing images of dust devils from Spirit's perch high up on Husband Hill. I've created an animation from the original images (Spirit Sol 568 - August 8, 2005). This image is half-sized; Click here for the full-sized animated GIF (800K).

Update: The original photos were taken at roughly 30 second intervals. The animation uses the raw, unprocessed images without any contrast enhancement.

 Saturday, May 14, 2005
  9:29:34 PM  

Opportunity Rover Begins Escape From Sand Trap

[JPL Mars Rovers sol 464, 5/14/2005] Careful Rollout: The Mars Rover Opportunity rotated its wheels on sol 463 for the first time since it dug itself into a sand dune. The wheels made about two and a half rotations. In the loose footing, the rover advanced 1.1 inch forward, 0.19 inch sideways and 0.18 inch downward. The results were a good match for what was expected from tests under simulated Mars conditions on Earth, and the rover team will decide whether to repeat the same careful movement again in two days. Two weeks ago, Opportunity had completed nearly 131 feet of a planned 295-foot drive, when it started slip on a one foot tall by 8 feet wide sand dune. Its wheels kept rotating, but the rover barely inched forward. The rover team spent more than two weeks designing and conducting tests before choosing the best way for Opportunity to drive out of the dune. [Thumbnail links to 1,436K animated GIF]
 Wednesday, May 04, 2005
  9:49:27 AM  

How to make screen capture work with Windows video

Most people know that when you press the Windows Print Screen (PrtSc) key, nothing (apparently) happens. Some people know that Windows actually takes a snapshot of your computer's screen and copies it into the clipboard, so you can paste it into your favorite graphics processing program, or Paint. A few people even know that pressing Alt+PrtSc copies the currently selected window instead of the full screen. Of course, there are all kinds of screen capture programs to give you more control over the process.

In theory, it should be easy to capture stills from video files, whether paused or streaming, by pressing Atl+PrtSc and pasting the result into your graphics program. However, quite often all you get is a beautiful image of the media player's border and controls, with a blank where the picture of the video is supposed to be.

I always thought this was some sort of DRM control "feature", but I was wrong. It's actually caused by your video acceleration setting.


In Fixing a blank display, the screen capture experts at PixelMetrics explain how to turn off the media player's acceleration while recording. They give instructions for Media Player (7,8,9,10), QuickTime Player, RealPlayer, and WinAmp.

If that doesn't work, they also explain how to disable hardware acceleration system-wide.

 Sunday, May 01, 2005
  3:18:22 PM  

An end to those annoying support phone calls ...

"Tired of Supporting Friends' Computers? Migrate Them to GNU/Linux". [NewsForge 4/30/2005 via Linux Today 5/1/2005] This article actually makes a certain amount of sense, at least from the viewpoint of the unpaid support person. As long as you understand it's really talking about locked-down systems, not Linux.
"The result, after six months, is an end to the annoying phone calls ... Yes, they're all still using GNU/Linux. It's what they imagined computing would be in the first place -- no hassles, no threats, no worries. It's like a dream come true, not just for them, but for me too -- no more troubleshooting nightmares and monthly service calls."

Of course, while a static system may be "a dream come true" for support, it may be a different kind of dream for a user who wants to use a new game, camera, or file format ....

"GNU/Linux does not pose the kinds of problems that Windows does. There is no registry to easily corrupt, and the operating system does not fail in generic, catch-all ways. The user has no power to alter the system software, so important files are not accidentally deleted, and potential viruses and spyware programs have no ability to wreck the system."

It's true that Linux currently has fewer installations and fewer attackers, but both of those statistics are changing. As a direct result of Linux's increasing popularity, more and more malware writers are targeting Linux systems -- after all, you're guaranteed that each target system has at least minimal compile/link/load support and scripting, not to mention rootkit support. Security through obscurity is a fool's game.

The point about protecting the system software from the user is an excellent one, though. I wonder if the author has ever heard of Windows XP?

"It takes a knowledgeable, skilled user to keep a Windows system properly maintained. In short, they need an operating system that, for all their trying, they cannot screw up. Windows isn't it."

Mind you, as long as the users are unable to change the operating system, add or remove software, or add or remove hardware, you have an appliance computer. The underlying operating system is almost irrelevant, but in practice it makes much more sense to run a locked down Windows XP installation running in User mode. Windows XP's autoupdate and autorepair mean that with a properly configured antivirus program the system will maintain itself with NO user effort.

Of course, it's not even that simple. I configured a fully locked-down XP system so my mother could use email and browse the web. This worked extremely well for her, but it drove my father nuts. He couldn't change any of the desktop settings, let alone "clean up" the system by moving all the DLLs to the same directory, installing the "right" applications, and deleting "problem" files like kernel32.dll. He finally lost patience, wiped the system, and installed his own highly "optimized" version of Windows 98. He'd probably have done the same thing to Linux. He's happy, she's thrilled any time her email works, and I stopped taking support calls -- so, I guess, that approach works, too.

 Thursday, April 21, 2005
  4:26:40 PM  

Engineering Heroes

Apollo 13 Engineers Honored [AP 4/19/2005] A group of engineers was honored Tuesday for concocting a plan using plastic bags, cardboard and duct tape to save Apollo 13's astronauts after their spacecraft was crippled by an explosion 35 years ago. Engineers on the ground had to figure out a solution, and then tell the astronauts how to make the fix. Ed Smylie, who oversaw NASA's crew systems division in 1970, was glad the engineering side of the mission was being recognized. Smylie and other engineers soon had a proposed solution to retrofit the canisters, but it took a day or two to build a mock-up and get instructions to the crew. Among the biggest concerns was whether the astronauts had duct tape, Smylie said. He later learned duct tape was commonly used on the spacecraft to clean filters and for other tasks. "I felt like we were home free," he said. "One thing a Southern boy will never say is, 'I don't think duct tape will fix it.'"
  11:42:54 AM  

The Red, Red Hills of Mars (updated)

JPL has released a large, false-but-almost-real-color view assembled from frames taken by Spirit's panoramic camera on the rover's 454th martian day, or sol (April 13, 2005).
Next Stop: Methuselah
This view shows a region in the "Columbia Hills" slightly downhill from the rover. The view features two interesting outcrops in the middle distance and "Clark Hill" in the left background. The outcrop on the right, with rover tracks leading from it, is "Larry's Lookout." On the left is the Methuselah outcrop, with apparent layering.

More than 15 months and almost 5 km from its landing on Mars, NASA's Spirit rover is still going strong. This is a perspective view of the steepness of the "Columbia Hills," showing sites nicknamed "Tennessee Valley," "Larry's Lookout," "Inner Basin," "Home Plate," and the basin and summit beyond.

Original post: Spirit, Sol 455, Columbia Hills - NavCam, Right - 15:38:38 and 15:44:28 Local Solar. The black and white picture links to a full-sized 989K greyscale image. [Eric Hartwell's NewsStream 4/16/2005]
 Monday, April 18, 2005
  1:02:38 PM  

Seattle DOS was a better rewrite of CP/M for 16 bits than CP/M-86

Tim Paterson did a better job of rewriting CP/M for 16 bits than Digital Research did, and it's related to the DOS vs CPM/86 porting issue Adam Barr discusses in Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters (starting at the bottom of page 187 in this online sample).

At the time I was doing development work on CP/M Z80 systems, and we were looking for a way to move to a 16 bit OS (8086, NSC8000, 68000). I still have an original Seattle DOS manual (unfortunately, somewhere in storage) from when we did our research. Whether or not the Seattle DOS code was based on CP/M (which was in practice the open source OS of its time), Tim wisely made the basic API the same as CP/M and provided an extended API for 16 bit functions. CP/M-86, on the other hand, replaced the API with a single "new, improved" 16 bit version. This meant that I could port my programs and utilities to Seattle DOS simply by changing a few macro definitions, maintaining single source for both operating systems. I would have had to change all my source code to port to CP/M-86 (don't forget, this was all assembler). When IBM introduced the PC, with the choice of DOS or CP/M-86, it was clear that "DOS" took the Seattle DOS approach. I remember disassembling DOS 1.0 up to 2.1 - if only I could find those files ... Even if CP/M-86 hadn't been priced way too high, DOS still would have been the sensible choice since it was much easier (hence cheaper) to preserve our applications.

Origins of MS-DOS [Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters March 2, 2005] Tim Paterson, who wrote the operating system QDOS on which the original PC-DOS and MS-DOS was based, is suing the author of a book which claims that QDOS was a ripoff of CP/M. Microsoft legally acquired QDOS; the issue is whether Paterson had earlier "ripped off" CP/M when writing QDOS. It's not clear what exactly "rip-off" means; there's no doubt that QDOS looked like CP/M, because most command-line-based OSes back then looked the same (and still do; Monad on the surface looks a lot like CP/M, QDOS, PC-/MS-DOS, and any Unix shell).
  8:33:43 AM  

Convergence in Academic Jargon Generation and Parsing

The circle of technology is almost complete. Academic jargon generators have met academic jargon parsers, and we can finally get rid of the academics who are now redundant. Despite the "Vodka is good, but the meat is rotten"[pdf] myth, computers have been better than people at generating garbage for years. It has been shown [ref: 87,133,279] that the primary [ref: 32,942] functionalityization [ref: 88,166] of academic [ref: 482-507,666] jargonization [ref: 1] is to stretch out a single zero-to-one-line idea into a series of journal articles, concluding with the need for further funding.
"The principal occupation of the academic community is to invent dialects sufficiently hermetic so as to prevent knowledge from passing between territories. By maintaining a constant flow of written material among the specialists of each group, academics are able to assert the acceptable technique of communication intended to prevent communications." -- [Wright House]
Computer Program Makes Essay Grading Easier A professor of sociology spent six years developing the program and has been testing it on his pupils for the past two. Students load papers directly into the system via the Web and get nearly instant feedback. The program scans text for keywords, phrases and language patterns. It analyzes sentence and paragraph structure and can ascertain the flow of arguments and ideas. It gives each work a numeric score based on the weight instructors place on various elements of the assignment. Students have challenged the scores, but if they don't use the right lingo in their papers, they're out of luck. "In sociology, we want them to learn the terms," Brent said. With up to 140 students enrolled in his writing-intensive, introductory sociology course, Brent estimates he's saved more than 200 hours of work per semester. -- [CNET 4/7/2005 via Slashdot: 4/8/2005] >
GPLed code generates automated Comp Sci papers -- output accepted for conferences!. A GPL'ed automated computer science paper generator programmed by MIT students produces results so good that the output has been accepted at conferences. Between the pompous CS-speak ("few hackers worldwide would disagree with the essential unification of voice-over-IP and public/private key pair. In order to solve this riddle, we confirm that SMPs can be made stochastic, cacheable, and interposable") and the amazing diagrams, this thing is nearly the funniest thing EVAR. [Boing Boing 4/13/2005]
 Saturday, April 16, 2005
  4:29:29 PM  

The Red, Red Hills of Mars

Spirit, Sol 455, Columbia Hills - NavCam, Right - 15:38:38 and 15:44:28 Local Solar

The black and white picture at right links to a 645K full-sized greyscale image; the one below to 989K colorized 1280 x 1024 desktop.

  11:06:53 AM  

The new media realities

Is it finally time to drop the piano roll surcharge? Try as you might, you can't blame it all on illegal MP3s, but you probably can blame "The Internets". The audience for television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and music continues its steep nose dive. At the same time, the sales of movies (DVD and theatre), videogames, and web ads continue to set new records. In Mainstream Media Meltdown Chris Anderson provides detailed statistics and sources on what's happening to the consumer media world. [The Long Tail 4/10/2005 via Boing Boing 4/12/2005] It should be fascinating to see how Star Wars III compares to Halo 2's $125 million in first-day sales. The people have voted with their wallets ... and guess where Microsoft is putting its money?
  8:22:50 AM  

Microsoft makes its move in the media market

This time, for sure. Microsoft has a history of coming late to the game but going home with all the prizes. Just as the advent of the Internet spurred people to upgrade their PCs from mere word processors, Microsoft is counting on integrated media as the next big thing. Think of the incredibly successful iPod, combined with the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), but with seamless TiVo integration. Microsoft's upcoming Xbox 2, which is fully integrated with their media strategy, is expected to find its way into millions of homes disguised as a simple gaming platform.
Software giant plays catch-up [Globe and Mail 4/16/2005; 3:52:41 AM] The battle is really about who controls the next generation of home entertainment; how content is received, stored, viewed, manipulated and distributed. In essence, it is a platform war like the one in the early 1990s that firmly established Microsoft as the rainmaker of the PC world.
Some 15 million people have bought an Apple Computer iPod, making it a cultural icon in less than three years. Archrival Microsoft has spent years formulating a strategy to neatly combine all the elements of home entertainment: music, photos, movies, TV shows, and games, in a way that is easy for the consumer to embrace. Finally, Microsoft's hardware partners are starting to ship handheld devices that use the software giant's technology to handle all kinds of media.
One of the reasons Microsoft is playing catch-up is the typical home computer hasn't been ready for the challenge. That's changed with faster computers, faster and continuous Internet connections, and affordable, massive hard drives to store hours of movies, TV and music and years of family memories in digital form. Easy-to-use software lets users personalize and edit that content. And new wireless standards offer the means to move it all over the home.
 Thursday, April 14, 2005
  10:48:52 PM  

Opportunity Surfs the Dunes: The Opportunity Mars rover, now more than 350 days and 4.5 km past its "warranty", continues rolling south across the Meridiani plains. On Sol 433 (April 12), the rover was passing through this lovely dune field. The ripples are a few centimetres high.
  9:52:50 PM  

Adobe Releases Acrobat Client for Linux [Slashdot: 4/14/2005; 8:52:22 AM] Adobe has released a reader client (Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0) for the linux operating system. No news on open sourcing the client, but "Adobe now supports the ability to reliably view and print content across all major operating systems in the enterprise... Our customers were asking for Adobe Reader 7.0 on Linux as they begin to support core enterprise applications at the desktop." You can download the client from their site.
  7:33:31 PM  

Microsoft, Video Game Companies Invading Hollywood Turf

Video games are already competing with movies in terms of earnings. Microsoft's "Halo 2" and Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," last year's biggest titles, generated sales of over $250 million each. Even more worrisome, some video game companies have begun to behave less like publishers and more like movie studios and networks.
"Microsoft has decided to try and turn Halo 2 into a film -- without the help of a film studio. In a first-of-its-kind deal, Microsoft retained the services of ex-Columbia Pictures topper Peter Schlessel, who in turn helped broker a deal with CAA to bring 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland aboard to create a screenplay for the property. Deal was made without the benefit of a studio overseeing development. Grand Theft Auto publisher Rockstar is also believed to be looking to hire a screenwriter to adapt its hit game." [Source: Could Hollywood be facing its first-ever video game strike? 4/13/2005 via Boing Boing]
 Sunday, April 03, 2005
  8:49:59 PM  

Saturn's Moons: [Eric Hartwell: April 3, 2005] I've updated my gallery of images from the Cassini mission. The current orbit has an inner system flyby about twice a month, and the glorious photos just keep on coming.
 Sunday, March 27, 2005
  11:59:19 AM  

The Legendary Pacifist's Guide to Halo 2

Today I published the first installment of The Legendary Pacifist's Guide to Halo 2.
   "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill.
    To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence."
-- Sun Tzu
Halo 2 is hard. On the Legendary setting, it can be next to impossible. Trying to get through Legendary without killing is impossible. This guide describes how to play Halo 2 the Ninja way: using stealth and guile to reach your objective with the bare minimum of violence...
 Monday, March 14, 2005
  5:01:05 PM  

Lego .NET 1.1 released

HPI/OS+M recently announced the second release of the LEGO.NET package, which allows execution of ISO Common Intermediate Language (CIL) applications on the Lego Mindstorms (RCX) platform, bringing the .NET run-time to a new high in low-end platforms. As the original Lego firmware is too limited for such a project, they are building on top of the alternative brickOS operating system. This release includes an RCX API reference, array support and a demo application.
 Saturday, March 12, 2005
  10:32:13 AM  

On Error Resume Next

I was instructed to fix a problem that a "star" programmer had discovered with my code. Apparently his VBScript routine was working fine, but he was calling my COM component's functions and they were corrupting the database. Imagine my joy when I started to trace through his code:

Function WorksFine(EmployeeID)
On Error Resume Next
EmployeeRecord = LoadEmployeeData(EmployeeID)
On Error Resume Next
On Error Resume Next
WorksFine = SUCCESS
End Function

As you might expect, sometimes the Calculate function would fail and return one of its many documented error codes -- such as, for instance, when the LoadEmployeeData call failed and returned one of its many documented error codes. What you might not expect was that sometimes the EmployeeRecord object had enough valid data left over from the previous transaction that the SaveEmployeeData call would actually succeed in trashing some unrelated employee's record, before returning with or without one of its many documented error codes.

The other programmer was quite upset when I put error handling into his routine.

It turned out he had written it this way deliberately so he didn't need to write an error handler. This was how he achieved the high productivity that made him a "star" programmer.

Moral: You get what you reward.

[True tales from the trenches]

  9:13:03 AM  

"Patch it until it's robust"

After months of panic mode, we finally managed to ship a functional port of a legacy program. The horrible hash of years-old FORTRAN code was impossible to decode, let alone fix, but we finally got it to run by turning off all execution error trapping.

While I was recovering, I took two weeks off my regular job as team leader to do a thorough code review. We knew the program didn't work too well (when it worked at all), but we weren't sure why. It turned out that not only did the program rely on overwriting past the end of one array into another (which we already knew), but that it didn't implement its core algorithms correctly. The results were more consistent than random numbers, but only a little more useful.

I concluded that the only way the program could be made to work was with a complete rewrite, which would take 4-6 calendar weeks.

I explained the situation at our next project meeting. The boss (and sole owner of the company) explained in turn that we'd already made a number of sales, and we couldn't delay delivery for merely technical reasons. When I reminded him that the program rarely ran without crashing, that the results were wrong, and that the code was unfixable, he reminded me that the top priority was to eliminate crashes during demos.

Finally, he concluded, "So it's settled - we'll patch it until it's robust".


Not too long after that my immediate boss complained that I wasn't showing the proper team spirit -- "We've noticed you've started taking Sunday afternoons off ... is this likely to continue?"

Well, yes.

Soon after that I left the company. The remainder of the development team beavered away putting patches on the patches. Finally, a year later, they got up the nerve to tell the boss the program really needed a complete rewrite before it could work.

Faced with the inevitable, the boss laid off the entire programming staff.

Instead, he boosted the marketing effort -- and, finally, sold the company to a group of investors.

Moral: Make sure you understand the business model before you think about the software.

[True tales from the trenches]

 Sunday, January 02, 2005
  10:25:53 AM  

Scientific data on Earthquake and Tsunami. Comprehensive collection of materials related to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, including animations, charts, links, and seismograph recordings, and helful explanations on how to read them.

Before and after hi-res satellite images of tsunami zone. "This is a natural color, 60-centimeter (2-foot) high-resolution QuickBird satellite image featuring the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Imagery was collected at 10:20 a.m. local time, slightly less than four hours after the 6:28 a.m. (local Sri Lanka time) earthquake and shortly after the moment of tsunami impact." [Boing Boing Previous BB posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 12/28/2004]

More QuickBird Images of Tsunami Sites

Planets Change. The Washington Post has some vivid before and after satellite images of tsunami damage to Sumatra. As you view these images, ponder the fact that this all happened in the blink of an eye.Planets change - especially our own.... [NASA Watch 12/31/2004]

 Wednesday, September 22, 2004
  4:22:06 PM  

GameBoy-based robot microcontroller. Want to build a microcontroller-based robot and have a GameBoy Advance or two lying around? Charmed Labs offers a GameBoy Advance adapter which makes your GBA an embedded development system for robotics, data logging, etc. You can also use the adapter to install the eCos embedded realtime operating system.
via DailyGadget and flashenabled. [Street Tech 5/3/2004]
 Saturday, February 14, 2004
  6:37:54 PM  

SpaceShipOne Rockets To 68,000 Feet [Slashdot 12/17/2003]
Posted by simoniker on Wed Dec 17, '03 06:41 PM from the that's-quite-high dept.
ehartwell writes "According to, Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne flew its first rocket-powered flight today, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' 12-second first flight. SpaceShipOne's engine burned for 15 seconds, pushing it to Mach 1.2 (930 mph) and a peak altitude of 68,000 feet. To win the X-Prize they need to reach 330,000 feet twice within 2 weeks."
 Thursday, January 29, 2004
  9:25:19 AM  

demotivation motivation mars:
Affectionately dedicated to Steve Squyres and Jim Bell. [2020 Hindsight]

 Saturday, February 08, 2003
  8:53:58 AM  

The Cat Who Crashed a Space Shuttle
During the night, Morgana had recovered enough to hobble her way to my desk and dump things on the floor. They were:
   o space shuttle model
   o remote control
   o glasses
If it was Koko, in "The Cat Who ..." mystery series, this might be the clue to the whole thing. Hmm ...

 Sunday, January 26, 2003
  10:28:13 AM  

"I hate every second Sunday because in my mind I know I have to leave at night"

- Benjamin, January 26, 2003

 Thursday, January 09, 2003
  11:45:47 AM  

"James says people hate me because I change my mind. Where I grew up it was considered a sign of weakness if you changed your mind. My father, the guy who's so sick now, used to give me a hard time when it even appeared that I had changed my mind. I never let him win that. To this day I insist that I have the right, even the responsibility, to change my mind if circumstances warrant it.

"Suppose you get some new information. Or, on reflection, draw a different conclusion. How arrogant would it be to hold on to your old belief. What does it cost to change your mind? Why do people consider it a sign of moral weakness if you change your mind? I don't. Emphatically. "

  Dave Winer - Scripting News; 1/8/2003; 9:52:50 PM.

 Tuesday, December 31, 2002
  7:35:38 AM  

Star Wars origami
 Step-by-step instructions for folding a wide range of Star Wars vehicles -- and R2D2! -- from simple paper. Use the folds, Luke.
 Thursday, November 14, 2002
  1:46:20 PM  

Titanic volcanic eruption seen on Io [New Scientist] The volcano spewed lava kilometres into the sky during its most explosive period, say the researchers. The consequent lava flow is thought to have spread many hundreds of square kilometres across the surface of Io. The eruption was recorded in February 2001 during routine monitoring of Io's volcanic activity by a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. But the images were only recently analysed.
 Thursday, November 07, 2002
  6:59:05 PM  

At this week's 1st Int. Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion in Huntsville a wide range of laser and microwave propulsion schemes are being presented. The big news so far is the announcement by Gregory Benford of plans for a test of microwave propulsion with the Cosmos Sail, due to fly early next year. The possibilities of using lasers to deflect incoming asteroids & comets are also under discussion.
 Monday, November 04, 2002
  7:06:33 AM  

"When I close my eyes to think ... In my mind's eye, I see Shadow"
- Benjamin, on the way home yesterday
 Thursday, October 31, 2002
  7:25:29 AM  

Franklin Covey TabletPlanner: A Tablet PC killer app?
Franklin Covey has daily planner software in the works for the Tablet PC. TabletPlanner allows for ink input, much like paper planners, but stores the information in digital format. Other features include a binder for storing documents (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and others), and ability to search through all of your handwritten information. I must say that this looks like it will be one of the Tablet PC killer apps. If you haven't already, I suggest you check this piece of software out.  [TabletPC Buzz]
 Wednesday, October 23, 2002
  9:24:38 PM  

See Explanation. Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
Liftoff With the Space Shuttle

Explanation: What would it look like to see a Space Shuttle liftoff from just above the shuttle? Because the answer has value in assessing spacecraft performance, NASA attached a small RocketCam to the side of the External Tank on the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis earlier this month. The above five-frame movie, excerpted from a longer video sequence, shows in dramatic fashion what it looks like to ride into space while looking back at the Earth. In the final frame, taken about 15 minutes after liftoff, the shuttle can be seen separating from the External Tank and proceeding to orbit. Credit & Copyright: Don Maas (Maas Digital), Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, Lockheed Martin, NASA - Astronomy Picture of the Day by Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell

 Monday, October 21, 2002
  8:07:36 AM  
by Garry Trudeau - October 21, 2002
 Thursday, October 17, 2002
  8:03:52 PM  

A treat:
  1. cover bottom of bowl with chocolate sauce (Brown Cow or equivalent)
  2. cut up an apple [orange] and spread over sauce
  3. sprinkle brown sugar on top
  4. sprinkle cranberries on top
  5. pour on a little cream
  6. fill to top with ice cream of your choice
Next week: yogurt sandwich (on white bread)
  12:04:09 PM 
A picture named weasel_awards.gifThe Weasel Awards
Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has come up with "The First Annual Weasel Awards" as part of the promo for his new book "Dilbert and The Way of the Weasel."

To quote Scott: " There's a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities. I call that the Weasel Zone and it's where most of life happens....
Welcome to the first annual Weasel Awards Competition . There were so many qualified candidates for 2002 that it was a struggle to narrow the list to under a hundred. And believe me, that's not a sign of "good times ahead." Now it's your turn to vote for biggest weasels of 2002 and enjoy a small degree of revenge as we publicize the winners and subject them to additional public ridicule..."
 Tuesday, October 15, 2002
  10:25:48 PM  
Students to Join NASA's Mars Exploration Rover-2003 Team
"The students of today are the explorers of tomorrow. This is why The Planetary Society is working so hard to involve and excite them now about the exploration of Mars." Planetary Society Director of Projects, Bruce Betts 

The Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronaut contest is open to young people worldwide.  To enter the essay contest, students must be born between September 1, 1986 and September 1, 1990  [complete contest rules and registration]. 

The LEGO Company and The Planetary Society have created products designed to bring the challenge and excitement of a rover mission to the Red Planet to the classroom or the home with Red Rover, Red Rover and Exploration Mars. Red Rover, Red Rover is an educational product suitable for all ages that allows classrooms to construct their own Mars rovers out of LEGO components and guide them through simulated Mars environments that they design and build themselves. Students can also operate rovers built by other classes over an Internet connection, simulating the teleoperation of robotic rovers in real Mars exploration missions. Exploration Mars is a consumer product similar to Red Rover, Red Rover that allows families to simulate the exploration of the Red Planet in their homes. [NASA Watch]

  10:09:48 PM
Public Weightless Flights to Start Next Year
Zero Gravity Corporation plans to make the excitement of weightlessness accessible to everyone in a safe and affordable fashion. A specially modified Boeing 727 aircraft will fly parabolic maneuvers, the only way to create sustained weightlessness without going into space.

The maneuver is like a roller coaster. The plane pulls up to approximately 45 degrees 'nose high' at 32,000 feet.  Next, the plane is 'pushed over' to begin the zero-gravity segment of the parabolas. For the next 25 - 30 seconds everything in the plane is weightless. At approximately 30 degrees 'nose low,' a gentle pull-out is started, which allows the participants to stabilize on the aircraft floor. Finally, the g-force is increased smoothly to about 1.8 G's until the aircraft reaches a flight altitude of approximately 24,000 feet, and then the maneuver is repeated. [NASA Watch]
 Monday, October 14, 2002
  7:25:19 PM  

A Digital Certificate For Every Canadian [Slashdot] September 27 of this year, the Canadian government took a quiet step into the online world. Called Government Online, this broad project involves giving every Canadian citizen a digital certificate, which will allow citizens to access their personal government records online. So far they only have the Custom & Revenue Agency online with a simple Change of Address, but there are over a hundred more applications from various agencies ready to be put online. Could this be the start of something good, or is this Big Brother? How about voting online? [About epass Canada]

 Wednesday, October 02, 2002
  8:01:33 AM  

RIAA Sues Radio Stations For Giving Away Free Music. LOS ANGELES--The Recording Industry Association of America filed a $7.1 billion lawsuit against the nation's radio stations Monday, accusing them of freely distributing copyrighted music. [The Onion]
 September 29, 2002
  8:40:36 AM  Back to Gilligan's Island: "Survivor" meets "Junkyard Wars"
PBS has a new "reality" show Rough Science where "five scientists are challenged to put their collective scientific knowledge to practical use. Transported to isolated locations, they are presented with a series of tasks, with two notable restrictions: they must complete their work within three days and, with the exception of a rudimentary tool kit, must use only indigenous materials." Could the Professor really build all of those things? We'll soon know... Check out the Episode guide. [Slashdot]
 September 28, 2002
  12:19:14 PM  
If Pitch Drops in a Lab, Does Anyone See It?
Everyday materials can exhibit surprising properties. Pitch is a highly viscous derivative of tar once used for waterproofing boats.  At room temperature, pitch feels solid - even brittle - and can easily be shattered with a blow from a hammer (RealVideo clip).  It's quite amazing then, to see that pitch at room temperature is actually fluid!

In 1927 the first Professor of Physics at the University of Queensland, Professor Thomas Parnell, heated a sample of pitch and poured it into glass funnel with a sealed stem.  Three years were allowed for the pitch to settle, and in 1930 the sealed stem was cut.  From that date on the pitch has slowly dripped out of the funnel - so slowly that now, 72 years later, the eighth drop is only just about to fall. The viscosity of this sample of pitch turns out to be about 100 billion times more viscous than water.

In the 69 years that the pitch has been dripping no one has ever seen the drop fall.  If you're interested in trying your luck, or at least just having a look at the experiment, you can view it live via RealVideo.

 September 26, 2002
  5:35:46 PM  Make Your Own Bush Speech: A cool Flash app - W speaks! [JOHO the Blog]
 September 15, 2002
  9:59:24 AM  Are developers people? Jakob Nielsen: I do expect that a DNA test of blood samples from most readers would prove them to be members of the species, so that's not what I am concerned about. Rather, the question is the extent to which developers are similar to or different from the rest of us ...
 September 14, 2002
  4:11:00 PM  Rabbit Gymnastics: Looking for a diversion? See if you can get the cursor back ...
 September 13, 2002
  10:37:20 AM  Scientists create glowing green mice
 September 11, 2002
  8:24:36 PM  Naked Toronto
In an effort to promote wireless network security, Toronto consulting firm IpEverywhere (pun intended) has published a map of downtown Toronto, showing the location of both encrypted and unencrypted ('naked') wireless networks. Is this going to help spread awareness, or is this just going to encourage people to abuse the (apparently) ignorant? Toronto Star Story - Toronto, The Naked City [Slashdot] 

More ...

Can Others Stumble Into Your Wireless Network?

Mark Joseph Edwards, News Editor,
Security UPDATE, September 4, 2002

In the August 7, 2002, edition of Security UPDATE, I wrote about a new trend called warchalking. As you know, warchalking is the act of marking buildings in the vicinity of wireless networks. The idea is to provide a visual clue indicating the presence of wireless networks so that people can obtain a free Internet connection. The trend is catching on, so much so that the FBI recently issued an unofficial warning that businesses should check the security of their wireless LAN (WLAN) equipment to ensure that adequate security is in place.

A new Internet site,, aids users in identifying and locating WLANs around the country. Among other features, the site hosts a national map that shows cities that have open WLANs and a searchable database that helps users query for information about specific locations. also hosts a downloadable program that lets users investigate a given WLAN's security. Security administrators can use it to test their sites.

According to the Web site, NetStumbler is a Windows tool that allows you to [scan for 802.11 wireless LANs. It includes GPS integration and a simple, intuitive user interface. Though primarily targeted at owners of wireless LANs, it has been the de facto tool for casual users such as war drivers for over a year." The tool apparently even won a PC Magazine award earlier this year.

NetStumbler runs on Windows 2000, Windows 98, and Win95 but doesn't work yet on Windows XP, Windows NT 4.0, or Windows Me. NetStumbler has a typical GUI, lets you choose a wireless NIC to use for scanning, and has scripting capabilities. After you've scanned an area and discovered WLANs, you can save the NetStumbler output and upload it to the Web site, where an application on the Web site converts it to Microsoft MapPoint 2002-compatible output. The process helps you plot WLAN points on a graphical map.

With resources such as NetStumbler and freely available, you should definitely take time to ensure that your WLAN security is adjusted to permit only authorized users access--unless you want to intentionally leave it open and available to anyone. The bottom line is that if you run a wireless network, you must keep it secure. If you don't, expect that someone will identify your network, chalk it up, and possibly submit it to the Web site--where everyone can find it quickly. For information about securing your WLANs, read Allen Jones' article, "Securing 802.11 Wireless Networks" and Paul Thurrott's article "Securing Your Wireless Networks"

Copyright 2002, Penton Media, Inc.

August 30, 2002

In the movie "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," Scotty finds himself on the Earth in 1986, lamenting the terrible lack of technology. That's when he wished aloud for some (common in his time) "transparent aluminum" so he could make repairs and get out of this technological backwater. Finding none, he trades the recipe for "transparent aluminum" to a Plexiglas factory so that they can manufacture it for them. (Let's not get started on the "time paradox" this implies...)

Well, it seems that Scotty may have paid us another visit, this time to Germany's Fraunhofer Institut -- because they've now made "transparent aluminum" real! Their scientists have found a way to create an alumina ceramic sheet that, in usable thicknesses, transmits more than 50% of light with minimal distortion. But unlike glass, this material is apparently "three times tougher than hardened steel of the same thickness." So it's no surprise that the military is interested in using this for helmet visors, armored windows, and more. Plus, I can imagine fascinating additional commercial applications.

The bottom line is that yet another science fiction idea seemingly falls to reality, and it's hardly going to be the last. I think that these "speculative fiction" writers deserve much more credit than they're normally given, as they inspire other creative minds to actually create the innovations that they envision in their stories. I wonder which "improbability" will be next...

- The Harrow Technology Report for Aug. 12, 2002

12:48:00 PM    
August 27, 2002
SO CLOSE to what I need ....

"Outlook Mail Backup" is a CDO based program [HTML, VBScript browser/client side] which exports Microsoft Outlook mail to XML based backup. By using the HTML-based mail viewer you can navigate through the backup and search mail by keywords. Submitted to Planet Source Code on 8/5/2002 by Maxim Kazitov

Now all I need to do is tweak it so the generated HTML refers to the actual file names for the graphics.

Then I can export my email archives into non-proprietary HTML format. I'll also be able to compress and index some of the info stores as Windows Help files. And how about storing the full MHTML message source in the XML? [see CreateMHTMLBody Method] And ... What's especially neat about this is that it all runs from interpreted source text using the browser - no EXE, no fuss or muss.

10:40:57 PM    
August 25, 2002
Breakfast with Bill
On Tuesday, August 20th, Bill Gates was "welcomed with open arms" in Toronto. Microsoft Canada has now set up a Web site where you can view the webcast of the event, download the presentations and review Bill's answers to the questions posed during the Q&A session - BreakfastwithBill

9:29:58 AM    

August 12, 2002
We just bought the domain. The BattleBots organization was happy to let us do this, provided we let them vet the content before we post it.
7:47:23 PM    

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