Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Classic Jeff Wed, 14 Jun 2000 10:03:21 -0700 (PDT)
For some people, Devo are to New Wave what J.S. Bach was to Baroque: they didn't invent it, but years later they are the ones most associated with it. Maybe because Devo took the style to its logical limits

Classic Jeff Wed, 28 Jun 2000 06:44:19 -0700 (PDT)
I am always amazed at how sloppy many technical people are in their writing style. These are people whose very jobs depend on knowing the exact spelling, case, punctuation, and other arcana of computer languages. They seem to be unable to spare the same number of brain cells to deal with English.

Eric Raymond has written that hackers tend to have carefully crafted, very precise styles of both speaking and writing. Either he is wrong, or this means that most of the programmers I've personally dealt with do not deserve to be called "hackers". I suspect the latter.

Full disclosure: I'm as guilty as the next guy of hurredly tossing off an email without spell-checking it. On the other hand, I am sometimes very anal-retentive and will re-write an email several times before sending it, trying to improve it in some way. I'm sure an analysis of my writings from the archives of this list would show that it is easy to tell which mode I was in at any particular time.

Classic Jeff Sat, 3 Jun 2000 07:05:52 -0700 (PDT)

Could somebody please identify this fragment of poetry:

I told the bosun, "a ship defines the ocean"
He said, "horse shit!"

I know one of your librarians must be able to help me out here. I've been carrying this around in my head ever since I read it in a high school English book. I don't even think I particularly liked the whole poem, just this one part of it.

If you want to solve other long-time mysteries of my literary knowledge, please tell me where I got the following from:

The lantern bearer lights the way
for those who no more seize the day
blind eyes peer out from every head
that crowds the carriage of the dead

Classic Jeff Sat, 13 Nov 1999 11:11:16 -0600

I went to a bar, played Galaga, made it into the top players list four times, entered the following as intials, so that it appeared in order:

1. AXE
2. MUR
3. DER
4. ER.

By the end I was crashing my ship intentionally so as to end the game with the exact score I needed.

(those who don't know me as "jeff the axe murderer" won't see the significance)

I was really there to see the "Man.. or Astroman?" concert. "Logans Run" was projected behind them during the entire show. I had forgotten that it contains (very brief) nudity.. in my drunkeness this was somewhat amusing

Classic Jeff Wed, 5 May 1999 21:24:08 -0500
As my wife is a big fan of British music (XTC, Elvis Costello, ELO, Beatles, early mod-period Who...) I have had some exposure to magazines which I assume are the UK equivalent of Rolling Stone, Spin, etc..

The cigarette ads in them have HUGE warnings, often the largest text on the page, dwarfing the ad copy itself! And they don't beat around the bush, either, they say things like "Warning: Smoking can kill you" or "Smoking while pregnant harms your baby". From the pictures, one can see that a similar job is done on the packaging itself.

Nevertheless, the British still smoke. My point is that if people want to smoke, they are going to smoke, no matter how obvious the warnings are. Hell, "Death" brand cigarettes are (or were) popular...

Classic Jeff Wed, 4 Mar 1998 19:34:58 -0600 (CST)

> Would violence perpretrated by (portions of) the majority
> onto a minority be called terrorism?

It possibly could be, but its usually just called "government".

Classic Jeff Fri, 20 Feb 1998 21:11:32 -0600 (CST)
Swiss scientists warn of robot Armageddon

Classic Jeff Tue, 1 Feb 2000 19:06:19 -0600

Taken from discussions about Chuck Jones' The Dot and the Line.

I think that was made by Chuck Jones after he left Warner Brothers for MGM, where he also directed Tom and Jerry cartoons. During the early-to-mid 60's, Jones made more Tom and Jerries than most people remember... I wonder why he never did a Droopy.

And speaking of Tom and Jerry, I feel the urge to ramble on about them:

I think Jones' were the last "real" Tom and Jerry shorts made before Hanna-Barberra (who had originally created the characters while working at MGM) started churning out their horrible latter-day made-for-TV version. There the two characters were friends and/or coworkers who would into predicaments stolen from Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges.

Later they tried to return to their roots with a show called "The Tom and Jerry Comedy Hour" or something, which also featured new Droopy episodes (also horrible), and Quickie Koala (who was basically a Droopy ripoff anyway). It still sucked, though. The next logical step was "Tom and Jerry Kids" which I think is still shown in saturday-morning and after-school timeslots. A cartoon about the real Jerry's Kids would be about as entertaining.

At least they never decided to turn them into crime-solving rock band or something.

Classic Jeff Tue, 12 Dec 2000 18:41:16 -0800 (PST)

Partly because I thought of this on the way to work today, and also partly because I had a few beers tonight after work and am still buzzing, I am going to present my list of Perfect rock and roll albums. Classical, jazz, rap, and techo works are beyond the scope of this email, and also beyond the scope of my current state of mind. In no particular order:

Kick, by INXS
This was the album that taught me what it felt like to be a horny teenage. I remember listening to "Devil Inside" when I was in the 8th grade... ah the emotions that this albums engendered. You probably alread have this so I won't bother describing it too much, except to say that all the hits are on side one (of the cassette). "Tiny Daggers" on side 2 should have been a hit, but wasn't as far as I can remember.

Black Sea, by XTC
My wife would kill me if I tried to descibe this album, because I would totally screw it up and not give you an accurate picture of it. If "Dear God" or the recent college-radio hits are all you know of XTC, be prepared for a surprise. This is from the days when they were a real band, that actually played live and such. Lacks the blatant punk snottiness of their earliest albums, but is much more musically accomplished, but also thankfully lacks the renaissance-faire, burning-man, acoustic-guitar-meets-fretless-bass vibe that has characterized their work ever since.

The Cars, by the Cars
If you can still find this album and "Candy O" packaged together as the two sides of one cassette, buy that. If you can only find the individual albums, buy just this one. You don't really need to buy Candy O because you can turn
on the radio and hear "Let's Go" ("i like the nightlife, baby...") any day of the week. Getting back to the eponymous album: The keyboard solo on "Bye Bye Love" is a sheer musical pleasure. "Moving in Stereo" is in my opinion the low point, but even that is pretty high.

Kiss, by Kiss
You've gotta admit that even in 1973 there wasn't much that was original about Kiss. The makeup was pure Kabuki and the music was the kind of thing that the fictional band from "Almost Famous" might come up with. But Kiss did it really really well. I associate this music with two things that happened when I was 14 (at the time Kiss was in that no-mans-land between the end of fame and the beginning of nostalgia-fame, kinda the position that somebody like INXS would be in today, except that all the member of KISS were still alive...). My dad and I used to listen to this when he taught me how to drive on the backroads of Mobile county. I'll always associate "Strutter" and "Firehouse" with driving that little brown Corola somewhere near St. Elmo, Alabama. Also, when I my brother and I accidentally filled my parents' kitchen with poisonous chlorine gas, I laid in bed wondering if I was going to die. The only thing I could picture about the afterlife was that everybody would be black and white, like Kiss.

The Gay Parade, by Of Montreal
This is a not-quite-famous band from Athens GA. There is a whole collective of bands from Athens that are generally referred to as "Elephant 6"... all of them are very much in line with that period of music that produced things like Pet Sounds, St. Pepper, the Zombies' "Oddesey and Oracle", and the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society". Of the various Elephant 6 bands, Of Montreal is the most primitive when it comes to recording techniques, but they are the purest form of pop known to man. Neo-psychadelic gimmickry is kept squarely subservient to melody and lyrics. The lead singer has a voice that sounds strained by even the simplest tunes, but that only makes it sound more authentic.

Boston, by Boston
I don't even own this album, but I've been hearing all the songs from it all my life on the radio. Its perfect.

Virgin Killer, by the Scorpions
Between the extended pseudo-prog of their first few albums and the bloated 80's hairspray excess of their later years, the Scorps had a few damn good years. This albums is, ironically, both their most conventional and their most groundbreaking. Conventional because it fits into the general continuum of 70's anglo-american rock more than most of their other 70's output, but also much more innovative than their later work. Much has been written about (lead guitarist) Uli Roth's influence on Metallica and their ilk, but all I can think about is the tastiness of his whole strat-and-crybaby combination.
(Hellcat!) The album's title track is, to quote Lou Reed (who was speaking of Jeff Beck) "pure filth". There is nothing approximating a normally played note in the solo for that song... Roth unleashes pure whammy-par chaos like some kind of Hendrixian Luftwaffe. Bonus points if you can find the original European cover, which from what I've heard, greatly outdoes the similarly controversial Blind Faith album cover in terms of naked jailbait obscenity. The American version just has a picture of the band snarling at the camera, their long straight hair parted right down the middle, a few years before their days of high-teased Stateside fame.


Classic Jeff Mon, 20 Mar 2000 04:57:20 -0800 (PST)
I've found that having sequencing software at your disposal means that you can write in all kinds of time signatures that you would never be able to count without computerized help. You would think this would result in an explosion of odd time signatures in the pop music world, but then again I guess music has to be danceable if the kids are going to buy it.

Classic Jeff Tue, 21 Mar 2000 14:44:50 -0800 (PST)
In the early 80's there was a saturday morning cartoon called "Saturday
Supercade" that had several segments, all of which were cartoon based on
popular video games. Because the games at the time were all too simple to
serve as the plot for even a kids cartoon, they had to come up with new
situations to put the characters in.

- Kangaroo: every week the monkey characters try some hairbrained scheme
(either to escape from the zoo or to get rich, etc.) and the baby kangaroo
always ends up in the middle of it.

- Pitfall: the title character is stuck taking care of a precocious niece and
an annoying dog. Kind of a cross between Inspector Gadget and Johnny Quest.

- Donkey Kong: Kong has escaped from the circus, and Mario tries to catch
him every week. Sort of like the Fugitive, in the same way that what Krystal
serves is sort of like a burger.

- Frogger: several frogs are either detectives or reporters. I can't remember

I think the whole thing was cooked to compete against the Pacman cartoon.

I used to use the email system to annoy my friends with the kind of one-persons-soapbox messages that are now generally recognized to belong on a blog. In the near future I am going to start dragging these out of my email files and posting them here as "classic Jeff".

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Are the fish high yet? Yeah, Lord!

A search for other people named Jeff Robertson turns up (on just the first page of results) a luthier, an astronomer, a dentist, and a Canadian.
Jeff Robertson built his first guitar at the age of seven from an old badminton racquet and two strings. Heartbroken after his first guitar was destroyed in a horrible bed jumping accident, Jeff vowed never to build another instrument.

Unlike those with money to burn, and an insatiable desire to have the latest and greatest box on their desks, I am perfectly content to keep using my venerable Apple II.

He is rapidly becoming known as Irvine Area's leading dentist for people who want to sleep through their dental treatment.

Jeff Robertson Limited, a limited liability company, employs Jeff Robertson to provide professional services.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Quote of the day:
Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That's good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.
-- Stewart Brand

Monday, June 16, 2003

Cringely on Refactoring
There is a performance rule that 80 percent of a program's execution runs in 20 percent of the code, therefore you should only have to optimize that 20 percent. In my opinion (he wrote, reaching for his flak vest), time invested in refactoring should work the same way. What is the chance the code you are refactoring will be modified by some future programmer? Does the 80-20 rule apply here, too?

Computer Space

This is the game that was briefly shown in Soylent Green. This has to be the bad-ass arcade cabinet of all time!

This was the game that Nolan Bushnell designed before Pong. Pong was so much more successful, and spawned so many home versions, that most people still recognize it. Meanwhile, hardly anybody remembers Computer Space. In the history of game play sounds like it was sort of a transition between PDP-1 Spacewar! and Atari's later (and wildly popular) Asteroids.

I'd always figured that the game shown in Soylent Green was Spacewar!

Compared to Computer Space, Pong was damn primitive. Either the general public wasn't ready for a space shooter game yet, or Pong was just cheaper to manufacture. Probably some of both.

Adge's Visual History Of Gaming
I think the evolution of different game genres is a lot more complex than what this page shows. But it's still a cool collection of comparative screenshots from different eras.

After looking at some more pics of original Space Invaders cabinets, my theory is now that the invaders primary means of locomotion is to walk on air. During the course of the game, they walk down through the sky at about a 45 degree angle from the ground. Exactly how they do this, is a mystery.

Coin-Op Museum

My earlier comments about the extent to which all later games were influenced by the actual game graphics, and not what they were supposed to represent, still stands.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The following was written while in San Francisco at the JavaOne conference. I never could get the laptop to work with the hotel phone line, so it was typed off-line in Notepad. Thus there are no links and I can't go looking things up on Google to make sure I know what I'm talking about before I write something.

Monday 6/9

I am relying completely on public transit for the ground-transportation aspects of this trip. This includes getting myself to and from the airport in Atlanta as well as getting around San Francisco.

The most difficult part of Monday was getting to the MARTA system fromo my house. Just a year ago would've involved a 2-mile walk over into DeKalb county, lugging my suitcase and this damn heavy laptop, through streets that are not particularly designed for pedestrian use. So I should consider myself fortunate that Gwinnett has since started up local bus service in my neighborhood. However, I doubt that just walking would've taken much longer.

While waiting for my first bus to arrive, I noticed that a big metal box next to the street was making "modem" noises. Every couple of minutes, it emitted the unmistable sound of an old-sk00l (9600 or less) modem handshake. I don't know why it needed to keep doing that; I guess it couldn't get a connection to whatever phone-company or gas-company or electric-company network it was supposed to be a part of. I didn't really have time to look into it any further. Its right down the street from my house so I can go listen for any time, I guess.

Gwinnett bus route 20 winds through the neighborhood streets and business parks of the Gwinett/Dekalb borderlands with the obvious intention of covering as much surface area as possible, at the expense of actually getting from point A to point B at all quickly. Once again I guess I should just be glad that one of those points A was next to my house.

In order to get to the Doraville MARTA station, I had to transfer from bus 20 to bus 10. This happens on Buford highway. I got off of 20, and realized that I was on the wrong side of the street to get on a bus going in the direction I wanted.

Some of the other passengers apparently had the same idea, because as soon as they got off the bus they dashed across. At this point Buford highway is busy 3 lanes in each direction, and I think it even has a concrete median. Jaywalking is a way of life around there (crosswalks are few and far between), but there was no way I was going to try it with my suitcase and laptop.

So I wasted quite a bit of time going to the nearest crosswalk and waiting for it to change. Once across, I realized that I didn't actually know where a bus stop was on that side of the street. So I just started walking. Every few feet there were places were the sidewalk had been torn up to work on something underneath, so I ended up just carring my suitcase instead of dragging it on its wheels. There were also a couple of places where there was no sidewalk at all. Then I saw the bus stop, and there was a bus there! Not knowing how long it would take for another one to come along, I decided that I'd better try to make this one. I ran towards the bus af fast as I could with the load I was carrying, waving my arms like an idiot in the hope that they would see me and wait for me. It worked, but the wound to my dignity still hasn't healed.

The MARTA train ride was uneventful. I actually stopped by work to spend an hour or so putting out fires before going away.

I was surprised at how quickly I got through security at the airport. It took a lot longer to check in with my airline and get my tickets than it did to get through security. Except for the new TSA uniforms, it didn't seem all that different from the last time I flew, in 1999.

When I got off the plane in SFO and was walking through the airport trying to find the bus stop, I saw their security checkpoint and it looked like they were opening everybody's bags and "wanding" every person. I need to plan for that to take longer when I leave SFO than it did in Atlanta.

As soon as I stepped outside the airport, I noticed how much cooler it was than it had been in Atlanta. This part of the country is naturally air-conditioned.

Later this month, the BART line will be extended all the way to the airport. Unfortunately, I can't wait till the end of this month! Samtrans (the airport is located in San Mateo county) offers a couple of different options to get from the airport to downtown San Francisco. The most obvious is KX, an express bus straight to downtown. However, there was a sign at the bus stop that said something to the effect that you can't bring luggage on bus KX! Who the hell needs a ride from the airport and DOESN'T have luggage? Then there was 292, which is normal local bus service all the way from the airport to downtown. I wasn't too thrilled about the number of stops that such a bus would probably make. So I opted for BX, which goes directly from the airport to the nearest operational BART station at Colma.

Route BX arrived about 10 minutes later than the schedule said it would, and it was already full of people. I ended up standing all the way to the BART station, which was fine with me because I'd been sitting down for about 6 hours on the plane that day. The bus took I-280 most of the way, and the view was quite impressive. The road was often up on the side of a mountain looking down at row after row of perfect little California houses, with very few trees to block the view like there would be back east.

In what I think was part of Daly City, I saw a Home Depot with its own parking garage. They don't even have one of those in Buckhead!

Unlike MARTA, BART actually charges different amounts of money depending on how far you go. You have to get a ticket when you get on, and then re-swipe the same ticket when you get off.

Not much too see from the train. Except for an interesting elevated portion in downtown Daly City, the BART line is mostly in a trench or a tunnel.

Walking up Powell street from Market to Union Square, one of the most striking things to me was probably not what strikes most people. Yes, the cable cars were cool. Yes, the trolleys on Market Street were cool too. Yes, there were a lot of touristy little businesses and restaurants along the way (it was almost like the French Quarter, without the smell).

But what impressed me most was the big-name department stores. Apparently this is a downtown that actually functions as a major shopping destination, and not just for tourists. This is what downtowns were *for* back in my grandparents day, but in this day and age its a rarity. Many places have tried to artificially (re)create such a downtown shopping district, but in San Franisco it is real!

Tuesday 6/10

I got up to make it to the conference in time for the 8:30 keynote speaches. By the time I was done checking in and getting my badge, there was a friggin huge line to get into the presentation room, so I said to hell with it went back to the hotel. Once there, I took a look at the badge I'd just been issued and realized that they'd mistaenly given me an orange "pavilion guest" badge instead of the blue "conference badge". Paranoid that this might take some time to sort out (including the possibility that I in my dumbassed-ness had actually purchased the wrong thing when I signed up over the net), I immediately went back. As soon as the woman at the desk saw the badge, she knew it was messed up because the badge number was in the wrong range of numbers to really be an orange badge. They quickly issued me a blue one, and I walked back towards the hotel.

I now a couple of hours to kill. I started walking north on Powell from the hotel, and it quickly became a steep uphill climb. Earlier, I'd seen several cable cars go by that didn't appear to have a lot of people on them, so I figured it ought to be pretty easy to get a seat on one to take me up that hill. Unfortunately the crowd seemed to have found them by this time, as I waited for two different cars only to find them so full that the driver wouldn't let anybody else on.

So I just kept walking. When I made it to the top of the hill (Nob Hill, I think), I was presented with a downhill slope that appeared to stretch all the from where I was standing to the end of the peninsula. I could see mountains in the far distance, but they appeared to be in Marin county. It occurred to me that the cable cars that I'd seen headed south *from* the Fisherman's Wharf area looked less crowded than the ones going north. From where I was standing, it looked like it would be an easy down-hill walk to the turn-around at the end of Hyde Street.

It turned out to be further than it looked, but it was in fact mostly downhill. I skirted the edges of Chinatown and North Beach, following first Powell and then Columbus. Eventually I wound up at the end of Hyde. I still had some time, so I decided to explore the Hyde Street Pier before getting on the cable car.

The Hyde Street Pier was once the terminal for ferries to Marin county, and actually carried the designation of US 101 before the Golden Gate Bridge was built. It is now a historic park and the home of several historic sail and steam ships. You have to pay to actually go in the ships, and I decided not to do it. Instead I wasted money on a harmonica from the gift shop next to the pier. I had some crazy idea of reliving my college days when I used to play a harmonica as I was walking to class every day. After playing a few songs there at the pier, I haven't messed with again. (This is being written three days after the events described)

Turns out that by this time of day (around 13:00) there was actually a pretty long line of people to get on the cable car at the turnaround. But at least getting on there guarantee's that you will eventually make it onto a car, even if you have to wait in line for several cars to fill up and go before its your turn. All of us tourists standing in line for the car were tortured by a guy playing guitar for spare change. He spent most of his time trying to get the crowd to sing along with him, complaining about it when nobody sang, and yelling back at heckling kids. Right next to him another guy with a guitar appeared to be setting up to play. They must take turns or something.

I decided to hang onto the outside of the car instead of riding inside it. There were a few places where posts set up in the street to keep drivers from changing lanes actually brushed against me as we went past them. The view was excellent.

Things I learned at JavaOne:

The second edition of Core J2EE Patterns is out. I picked up a copy at the conference bookstore. Now I'm more up-to-date than all the people back at work that have the old one.

British pronunciation of 'urinal' is your-EYE-nal.

Wednesday 6/11

In preparation for Collections Connection framework, I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Effective Java for Joshua Bloch to sign. Most of the people at work will think I already had a copy, and that I'm nuts for buying another one, but that one actually belongs to my employer since I got them to pay for it. Effective Java is the kind of book that you want to be able to take with you from job to job anyway.

They have some 1980's video games set up for free play. The high score on the Ms. Pacman machine was depressingly low, proving that even some of the geekiest people in the world can no longer play Pacman effectively without the now-standard speedup mod. I also remember play a game of Galaxian at some point during this trip, and all it did was make me wish that it was Galaga (everybody knows that the "invaders" genre was perfected with Galaga)

Thursday 6/12

Had some more spare time, so I took the F-line (insert link here when I get online) to the ferry building, and then rode the ferry to Alameda and Oakland. I had absolutely no destination in either Alameda or Oakland, and just rode the same boat straight back to San Francisco. It was a very enjoyable trip. We went under the Bay Bridge, and passed pretty close to the largest intermodal port I've ever seen, where huge container ships were being loaded and unloaded.

JavaOne quote of the day. During a discussion about entity beans, the typical 'employee' example was augmented by the introduction of a 'spouse' object for each employee. When the UML was displayed, the presenter said:

'Presumably, spouses are objects to which employees are related in some way'

Hopefully not TOO closely related. We don't want any two-headed, eleven-fingered kids in our J2EE applications.

Friday 6/13

Having seen the bay, I now decided to skip the keynote again and go see the real Pacific ocean before I leave town. I caught Muni bus 38 right outside my hotel, and finally got to see some un-glamorous, un-touristy, un-gentrified parts of San Francisco. It still looks better than the equivalent parts of, say, Atlanta. I overheard some people on the bus tell the driver that they wanted to go to the Cliff House restaurant, so I decided to follow them when they got off so I could see the place.

Brandon and I had planned to eat there on Friday night because they apparently have a camera obscura room, but at the last minute we'd found out that the camera obscura would be closed because of renovations. But I was still curious to see the place from the outside.

I ended up eating at the nearby, much less expensive, and only slightly less historic Louie's. Louie's survived the 1966 fire that destroyed the Sutro baths to which it was once connected.

The ruins of the baths themselves are impressive. Its hard to believe that they're less that 40 years old. They look just as ancient as the Roman-era ruins at Bath, England. Right on the edge of the ocean, with a calm pool of water actually inside the remains of the walls. The rocky cliffs covered with some kind of purple flowers. Seagulls everywhere. Barking of seals and/or sea lions from the "seal rocks" offshore, which can be observed with telescopes. After looking at all this stuff, I spent some time walking along Great Highway next to the beach.

The entire experience was sufficiently different from anything I'd ever seen before that now only a few hours later it almost feels hard to believe it was real. I think yesterday's ferry ride (especially the way the bay bridge looked from underneath) is the same, now. This is also the way I felt the day after the first motorboat ride I can remember taking as a child.

On the way back from the beach, the bus was much more crowded. At one point a woman limped on board the bus saying "oh shit! that leg came outta the socket again". She quickly forgot about her dislocated leg, though, engaging in normal but loud and spirited conversation with other people. When she got off the bus, she started yelling about her leg again.

After the conference, I met Brandon and Stephen at the Caltrain station and we took a taxi to a restaurant that somebody had recommended to Brandon. It was good, but I was still hungry afterwards. We then went to the Sony Metreon, which has got to be the geekiest pseudo-mall I've ever seen. They have:

A store that sells mostly bigass flatscreen TVs.
A store that sells stuff like Walkmen and digital cameras.
A store that sells mostly comic-book-related action figures.
A store that sells Playstation games.
A store devoted entirely to EverQuest.
A Games Workshop store.
A video arcade, including a 'retro room'.
Jelly Belly stores on two different levels of the mall.
A food court, where I had cheesecake.

And that's about it. Absolutely nothing non-techy. It makes sense, I guess, since Sony owns the place. But you'd think they'd rent some space to at least one normal store.

The games at the arcade didn't take quarters. You have to buy some kind of card, and I didn't feel like messing with it, so we just walked around and looked at the games. There was a non-operation "Space Invaders" game, and we noticed that the invaders depicted on the side of the cabinet were very different from those in the actual game. Space Invaders has been gone from mainstream U.S. arcades for so long that probably nobody under 35 can remember what the cabinet looked like, only knowing the game from home console versions. The invaders on the cabinet looked like giant humanoids, which were apparently either very hairy or covered with flames and/or sparks. They looked like that electricity ghost from Scooby Doo! Seriously. And they were depicted as each carrying a long javelin-like missile that they intended to throw at the player! Its impossible to tell whether they are supposed to be flying, walking, or what, but what if the reason they march like that is because they really are supposed to be marching, ON THE GROUND. Maybe the whole game takes place on the ground, except for the flying saucers which are presumably above a horizon that the primitive graphics made no attempt to depict.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if the game had really looked like *THAT* ? No more of the bugs, skulls, etc. that everybody thinks of when they think of space invaders. The impact on later generations of games, gamers, and geek culture in general would be huge and hard to predict. If somebody actually made a game now that looked like that, and called it a modern version of Space Invaders, nobody would accept it as such!

I have now, in the course of this trip, employed all of the following modes of transportation:

regular old bus (MARTA, Muni)
rubber-tire bus powered by overhead wires (Muni)
streetcar powered by overhead wires (Muni F-Line)
cable car
'rapid transit' trains (MARTA, BART)
737 and 777 jets
moving sidewalk (at Chicago airport)

Ok, maybe the moving sidewalk is reaching a little. The only portions of San Francisco's transit system that I didn't use were:

Muni N-Line: tracks in street, overhead power.. only difference from F-line is modern trainsets.

Saturday 6/14

Waiting for the BART train from Powell to Colma, I noticed that BART rail is wide-gauge, or at least it looks like it is.

On the bus ride back to the airport, I noticed that a stop light whose only purpose could be to stop traffic already on the ramp from getting on the freeway. This doesn't make sense. It appeared to be completely off: no red, no green, nothing.

Near the airport, this was written on a hillside in huge letters:


Anticipating a huge security delay, I arrived at the airport THREE AND A HALF HOURS before my flight. Things went pretty smoothly, and now I have all this wonderful time to spend at the airport terminal. This is being written while drinking coffee at a restaurant in the terminal.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Best domain name ever: fullfrontalnerdity.com.

(I know the guy who registered this, and he is quite proud of it)

Btw, the registrar for this site (www.register.com) displays the WHOIS record as an image. That has to violate some RFC doesn't it?

A little something for the AWK folks. Assuming you have AWK, xargs, and netcat installed on your Windows box (and why the hell wouldn't you?), this batch file will scan the hostname supplied on the command line for all the ports listed in the services file.

@echo off
awk -F"[ /]+" "/tcp/{print $2}" %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc\services | xargs nc -vz %1

(Of course if you have all that stuff you probably have nmap or something too)

What version is your Java code?

Offers some insight into a confusing subject.

Actually, forget that centimeters nonsense... give me good old American inches of chocolate.

My email sig now includes the URL of this blog.

#!/usr/bin/perl -- jeff_robertson@yahoo.com  http://jeff_robertson.blogspot.com
@q=split '',"|/\\_ \n";print map{$q[($r=-32+ord)/10].$q[$r%10]}split '','ABLL'.

Somebody needs to make a candy bar that's just a big thick chunk of chocolate. Not wafer-thin like a Hershey bar, and not full of gooey crap like most everything else. Just a slab of chocolate (milk or dark, almonds optional) with about the same horizontal dimensions as a Hershey but several centimeters thicker. Candy makers of America: if you produce such a thing, people will buy it.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Quote of the day:
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
-- Oscar Wilde

Look Who’s Rocking the Casbah by Charles Paul Freund

What this low, "vulgar" genre is offering, in sum, is a glimpse of a latent Arab world that is both liberal and "modernized."

From now on I am going to estimate all of my software projects like this:
  • Figure out how many objects (Java classes, db tables, XML files, something else depending on language) will have to be created or modified.
  • Give myself a full eight-hour day for each of the above, no matter how small each change might be.
The results might seem ridiculously large. Eight hours to change one line in a XML file? But trust me, problems will always come out of nowhere to eat up that slack time. The other advantage to this approach is that it forces you to actually list out all the places where you plan to touch the code before you do it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Google appears to index the "main" page of this site, but not the archives.

If you search for things that are still on the main page, it will generally find them (assuming they have been there long enough for it to have crawled over them). If you search for something that has been archived and disappeared from the main page, it will sometimes find the old version of the main page from the cache, and even then it doesn't always actually retrieve the right version from the cache. But more often it finds nothing.

Very rarely it will actually find the archive. This appears to be limited to cases where it followed a permalink directly into that individual archive file, either from the main page or from another web site altogether.

One would expect it to simply follow the "archive" link down from the main page and then crawl into the individual archives from there.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I swear I can remember anonymously posting parts of this to Slashdot, some time in 2000. My intention was just to make noise with it. I think I even got First Post. Now I can't find any evidence of it, either with Google or with Slashdot's search page. It seems to have simply disappeared down the memory tubes. There is nothing I can find in Slashdot's FAQ to confirm this, but it appears that for the really old stories in the archive they threw away all the -1 posts.

Brandon's Compendium of Troubleshooting Laws

Things will tend to go wrong in a fashion most pleasing to a malevolent deity.

People who know me may have heard me claim from time to time that I came up with the idea of the "buddy list" before AOL. Well, here's the deal on that.

In 1993, I was a freshman at the University of Alabama. In spite of the new connections I was forming at school, I was still quite close to my friends from high school. At that time the University imposed a hard limit on the number of long-distance minutes that a student in the dorms could use in one month (now I think they you use as many as you want, and just bill you for it later), and I quickly found it was possible to overrun this limit.

One of my best friends, a certain Brandon Downey, was a freshman at Tulane at the time. I quickly learned that I could save a lot of phone calls by conducting our chats using the Unix talk program.

The challenge was how to know when Brandon was online. He had accounts on about four different systems at Tulane, and I would have to finger all of them to see where he was logged in. This quickly became tiresome.

So I wrote a program called "watch" that would read a .watchrc file in my home directory containing all of the logins and systems that I knew about, and then poll every few minutes to see if he was logged in. I would start it in the background from my login script, and then whenever Brandon happened to log into any of his systems I would be notified immediately.

The .watchrc looked something like this:


It wasn't good enough to just finger each line of this file, like so:

finger bdowney@rs1.tulane.edu
finger bdowney@rs2.tulane.edu
finger downey001@math.tulane.edu
finger brandon.a.downey@student162.res.tulane.edu

That would result in getting Brandon's somewhat wordy .plan file, and any indication of whether or not he was currenty logged in would be presented in a way that was difficult to recognize. The program had to parse out the host names, and run finger(1) on each of them:

finger @rs1.tulane.edu
finger @rs2.tulane.edu
finger @math.tulane.edu
finger @student162.res.tulane.edu

This would simply return a list of everyone who happened to be logged to those systrems at the time. The program would search each system's list for Brandon's login name on that system, and if it found him it would send some ASCII beep (0x07) characters to the terminal and print out something like "bdowney@rs1.tulane.edu is online!", interrupting whatever else I happened to be doing in the foreground. I would immediately shell out of whatever program I was using and initiate a talk session.

It was probably the first actually useful program I wrote on Unix. (I had previously written a similar extension to the WWIV BBS system, that would cause the computer to feep whenever certain people logged in, including anyone identified as female.)

This list of Brandon's logins was basically what the "buddy list" does in AIM and the various AIM imitations. It alerts you when your buddies log on. As far as I know, AOL (or possibly ICQ) "invented" the buddy list in 1995 or 1996. I think I had mine working perfectly by 1994 at the latest.

I no longer have any physical evidence of the "watch" program. The University has long since deleted my student user directory. I can't even remember if it was a shell script or a C program. The only proof of its existence is my memory and Brandon, who ought to remember being annoyed by me trying to start a talk session with him every single time he logged in.

Sometime later I re-wrote it in Perl. I managed to save that version, although I don't think I ever actually tried to run it (by that time nobody still let you finger their servers). It survived because I included it as part of email that I wrote to my self one night in 1997 while very intoxicated and/or bored. I just happen to have saved that email for posterity. Here it is, with only some especially self-incriminating parts excised. The perl script itself is pretty short:

#put the email address of all your friends in .watchrc

open(RCFILE,".watchrc") || die;

    push (@alist,$_) if $_;


    foreach $thing (@alist)
        open(FTEXT,"finger \@$host 2>/dev/null |");
        while ($fline = <FTEXT>)
            if ($fline =~ /^$uname/)
                print "\n\a" if ($found==0);
                print $fline;

Monday, June 02, 2003

I am looking for an open-source SQL query design tool.

Microsoft Access, SQL Server Enterprise Manager, and Dev Studio all include query tools that let you build up queries graphically by drawing lines between tables to represent inner and outer joins. If you come from the Win32 world, you've probably seen it, but here is a screenshot:

(from this page).

Oracle and other vendors probably provide something similar, but my use of Oracle has never gone beyong SQL*Plus. The only one of "these things" that I've ever seen is the MS one.

Basically I want something like that, but open. It also needs to work with "any" database. That means any neat little open-source solutions that are tightly coupled to MySql or something are out.

In the Java world (which is what I typically work these days) it seems like the kind of thing that somebody would write as a plugin for NetBeans or Eclipse, but I haven't run across any that advertize anything like what the screen above shows.

I would be willing to write such a thing, but I'm just hoping that somebody has already done it. I'm not sure my GUI development skills are up to it.