June 29, 2003

Anti-aliased FontsWhat is the big

Anti-aliased FontsWhat is the big deal with
anti-aliased fonts? All over the Linux community, people rave about how
much better things are with anti-aliased fonts. In fact,
is a review of SuSE Linux Desktop in which the author raves: "By
default, display fonts have that slick anti-aliased look familiar from
Windows XP and Mac OS X". Slick? Since when did "smudged and apparently
out of focus" equal "slick"?
I dunno about Windows - the fonts there always look fine to me (that's
emphatically NOT an endorsement, by the way! :-) ) but I'm using OS X
now, and I usually use Linux, and frankly, I never met an anti-aliased
font I didn't hate. I've done all I can, as a newbie to the Mac, to
turn off anti-aliasing, and I always do in Linux. As far as I can tell,
"anti-aliased" is just a synonym for "smudged", "blurred", or just
plain "buggered up". They make me feel as if there's something wrong
with my eyesight, and before long I invariably start seeking out
distant objects to look at, just to check whether I need a new
prescription for my glasses. Next, I start messing with the monitor
settings. Then I realize that anti-aliasing is at work, turn it off,
and voila! Fonts as crisp and clean as you could ever wish for.
I'm neither a font nor graphics expert - and no doubt it shows - but it
seems to me that any problems I've encountered with fonts must be
either down to the font design or the video driver, and need something
substantially more powerful than a bit of smudging to put them right.
Oh boy! It feels good to get that off my chest :-)

Posted by dettifoss at 04:33 PM

June 27, 2003

A great day for American

A great day for American consumers!

I wonder if the new National Do-Not-Call registry will take care of all that answering machine spam I've been getting, too?

Posted by dettifoss at 02:02 PM

June 24, 2003

Netflix DVD rentals: $20 a

Netflix DVD rentals: $20 a month. U.S Patent & Trademark Office's total lack of a freakin' clue: priceless.

So now the USPTO has granted a patent on DVD rental service
to Netflix. I have nothing against Netflix: I think their method is
great - never understimate the bandwith of an envelope with a DVD in
it. But to grant a patent on this just undermines the credibility of
the USPTO yet further. They really needed that!
So now, anyone else who wants to charge a fixed fee for DVD rentals
through the mail - or maybe not even through the mail? - will owe cash
to Netflix. Smart idea on their part, sad and STOOPID on the part of
the USPTO.
I feel sorry for them, really...

Posted by dettifoss at 02:43 PM

June 21, 2003

Notable people. I came across

Notable people.

I came across this guy a couple of weeks ago through the ever-amazing collective powers of observation of the Slashdot folks. Nick Bostrom
is one of those people you sometimes wish you could be. This guy is
smart. Very smart. He apparently pulled off three, sorry, three and a
half Bachelor's degrees, simulataneously, in the space of 16 months. I
guess things started to go downhill a little for him from there: it
took him over a year to pull off a single Master's degree, and almost 4
years to finish his PhD. Here's the write-up on Slashdot that grabbed
my attention (understandably, I think!):
"Nick Bostrom discusses the computational requirements needed to
simulate human existence. He offers a proof based on the anthropic
principle, that you are almost certainly a computer simulation and not
"real". The idea is that given that humans don't go extinct in
geologically short time then eventually computer capability will allow
complete simulation of the human cortex. Consequently, there must be
far more simulations running in future millennia than seconds since you
were born. Thus its astronomically more likely you are a simulation
than real... if humans don't go extinct shortly. Recalling the 13th
floor, Robin Hanson discusses how one should try to live in a
simulation. David Wolpert also weighs in on the physical limits of
Turing machines for simulation of the universe. This also may explain
why time travel seems impossible: we dont meet visitors from the future
since only the present is being simulated."

So I read Nick's paper,
and what I liked most about it was the criterion for ultimate proof
that we *are* in fact living in a simulation: the act of actually
launching such a simulation ourselves would make it virtually certain
*we* are a simulation :-) That's nice.
Nick's a big thinker. He as a book, "Anthropic Bias: Observation
Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy", of which he says:
"There are implications for cosmology, evolutionary biology, the
interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Doomsday argument, the
Sleeping Beauty problem, the search for extraterrestrial life, the
question of whether God exists, and traffic planning."
See what I mean? He can, simultaneously, tackle the mundanities we all
ponder on a daily basis (the origin of life, God, the universe, etc)
*and* the single biggest issue that remains beyond the grasp of even
the brightest among us: traffic planning! I have to hand it to the man.
As if all this weren't enough, Nick is also a transhumanist.
I *think* this means he is all for the notion of people "evolving" into
Borg-like assemblages of biological and what might be labeled synthetic
or technological components (what we already are, plus some mechanical
spare parts), and possibly even through this stage into a cyberpunk
vision in which uploaded human psyches exist indefinitely in a
(presumably self-repairing) technological infrastructure. Hmm... Maybe
the there was less of the "A" in the AI of The Matrix and more of the
uploaded human elite (I have no idea if that turns out to be the case,
by the way - I haven't even seen "Reloaded" yet. I may, in fact, be the
only one).
Nick wants to live forever. Sometimes, I think people like him should.
Turns out there were two X-files episodes that dealt with the themes of
living forever and uploading. I'm not going to put links to them here,
I'm afraid - all this typing of <a href=... >, and so on, is
wonderfully nostalgic, and takes me back to the days when I coded all
my web pages that way, but it gets old fast. That and the time it would
take me to find the links. Anyway, there was the episode with the old
(very old, as it turned out) guy who could see Death coming and was
always there to photograph people dying - he sold the photos to the
papers. Course if he had a camera phone, he'd be uploading them
instantly to his photoblog :-) All he wanted was to be able to die.
He'd cheated Death when it was his time, and his reward was to wander
the Earth indefinitely, trying to eke out an existence using his
peculiar talent to get crime scene shots. He was so old, he couldn't
remember his first wife's name, and was was sick of it all. And there
was the cyberpunk episode, in which these, well, cyberpunks were
actually working on uploading themselves into the Internet - a domain
which I'm afraid they would find woefully barren as it stands...
The X-Files is a bit like the original Star Trek, for the true fan:
there's an episode for every situation in life :-)
But back to Nick Bostrom. I'm not sure most of us are ready to live
forever. Of course, the closer we get to our appointment with the Grim
Reaper, the more ready we believe we are, and in this regard, as in so
many others, maybe Nick is simply precocious (i.e. he wants to do
something about it before he has one foot in the grave). When death is
the only alternative, life almost always seems preferable. Unless
you're a freakin' suicide bomber, but that's something else altogether.
I like Nick. I don't know anything about him other than what I've read
on his website, but I like his optimism, I like his smarts, and I like
the way he's not afraid to dive in and just *think* about things the
huge majority of us just don't give a thought to. I admire him. So if I
sound here as if I don't, it's probably just envy seeping through :-)

Posted by dettifoss at 10:43 AM

June 20, 2003

Happy families :-)Well, isn't it

Happy families :-)Well, isn't it nice to know that
all we Bloggers (or should that be "Blogger.commers"? Blogger dot
commas?) are now collectively sheltering under the benevolent and
protective wing of Google.com? I like Google - who doesn't? It's the
favorite auntie of the Web. Knows the answers to all our searching
questions, etc. *And* it runs on nice, plain vanilla, Linux boxes :-)
But not so fast, perhaps: today another favorite aunt, Auntie Beeb, to be precise, whispered the following revelation to me over my zero-carb lunch:

Is Google too powerful? Google
is a privately-owned US company that has a policy of collecting as much
information as possible about everyone who uses its search tool.
It will store your computer's IP address, the time/date, your browser
details and the item you search for.
It sets a tracking cookie on your computer that does not expire until
This means that Google builds up a detailed profile of your search
terms over many years.
Google probably knew when you last thought you were pregnant, what
diseases your children have had, and who your divorce lawyer is.
It refuses to say why it wants this information or to admit whether it
makes it available to the US Government for tracking purposes.
And the much-loved Google toolbar tells Google about every web page you
look at.

Ouch! One auntie at the throat of another... I checked my cookies, and
sure enough, there it was: the cookie from Google, set to expire in
2038. What is man to do? I didn't dare delete it - they might not allow
me to search any more! I found myself counting my blessings that I am,
apparently, one of the those who doesn't much love the Google toolbar.
Nevertheless, one has to wonder just what, exactly, the folks at Google
are going to do with all the secrets I've vouchsafed to them over the
years (e.g. "What is a weblog?")...
The article from which the above snippet was culled was actually quite
interesting: the guy (a Bill Thompson) was writing mainly about blogs,
and in defense of "real journalism". The hullabaloo about blogs
replacing in some way the traditional media is thought-provoking. Not
that I would know anything about it, but it seems to me that the
blogging community is rather incestuous, and the whole notion of
blogging is so much in its infancy that it's really very difficult to
know whether anybody *but* "real journalists" will be doing it in a
couple of years time. Big names - people who attract attention through
other means - like Lawrence Lessig,
might be motivated to keep it up. But let's face it, typing all this
crap into the public domain is, for most folks, time consuming and,
well, a waste of time.
Something quite different may emerge once we don't have to type it all,
though: like the photoblogs that are, as I laboriously and
time-consumingly type, picking up steam thanks to camera phones. Of
course, photos don't *say* much ("This is me outside Wal Mart!") but
someone with a camera phone, nay, thousands of people with camera
phones, might all be present to snap the next great news event. The
media themselves would love that, much as they love the folks who walk
around with camcorders and just happen to be in the path of a tornado
one day. And there's another thing: video blogs - complete with
soundtracks (maybe even in Dolby 5.1 surround :-) ) are a logical
follow on.
And then, how do we sort the wheat from the chaff? I guess that's where
Auntie Google comes in :-)
And in the meantime, what is the purpose of the blog? According to an article
in today's Washington Post, somebody by the name of Bill O'Reilly, who
is apparently some sort of pundit on Fox TV, is getting "slapped" on
the Web for railing against its denizens like this: "All over the
country, we have people posting the most vile stuff imaginable, hiding
behind high tech capabilities. Sometimes the violators are punished,
but most are not. We have now have teenagers ruining the reputations of
their peers in schools on the Internet. Ideologues accusing public
officials of the worst things imaginable. And creeps gossiping about
celebrities in the crudest of ways.
"The Internet has become a sewer of slander and libel, an unpatrolled
polluted waterway, where just about anything goes."
I take great comfort from this. What Mr. O'Reilly is really saying is
that, far from the "Internet" (through the medium of blogging) turning
everyone with a keyboard and a phone line into an instant journalist,
it is finally acting to heal a wound it has opened: the burgeoning
isolation of so many folks who, for better or worse, spend a large
proportion of their lives in front of a computer screen and
correspondingly less time in front of actual people (e.g. I once
conducted a protracted and bitter row, lasting days, *with my office
mate*, in email rather than turning round to talk to him). It is
enabling people to do what they have always excelled in doing:
gossiping, spreading rumors and lies, attempting to ruin other people's
reputations, and generally being downright scurrilous and licentious.
So, blogs are the village square or street corner of cyberspace.
It's a good thing. After all.

Posted by dettifoss at 08:25 PM

June 18, 2003

ANNOYED! Here is a man

Here is a man who's spent days and days trying to get MozBlog (
http://mozblog.mozdev.org ) to work and not understanding a) why it
won't work, b) why he can't get it to work, and c) how come no-one at
the MozBlog site seems to be complaining about the apparent fact that
And then it turns out it's all frigging blogger.com's fault! They are
unable, apparently, to transition to a "new" system without crippling
their API in the meantime. Astonishing.
More astonishing might be the answer to the question: does anybody but
me CARE???
BTW, MozBlog is really cool if you haven't tried it - it sits there
right in your browser window so you easily blog interesting stuff you
find, as you find it. Theoretically. Haven't been able to use it yet.
AND... it's cross platform cos it uses the outstanding Mozilla browser

Posted by dettifoss at 02:44 PM

June 07, 2003

Strange but true... Sometimes the

Strange but true...

Sometimes the postings from the folks at Slashdot are a scream. Here's a good example :
"Shades of E.E. "Doc" Smith! Thomas Gee has made an 802.11 antenna from
an old floppy disk and a paper clip. He credits this site for the
inspiration (featuring an antenna from an old ice cream spoon). As
MacPlus comments: "It's stylish, effective, and doesn't detract from
that `everything computing' ambience in your home."

Posted by dettifoss at 02:48 PM