Trygve.Com > Diary > JournalWeblogDiaryWhatsis - February, 2001
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World Conquest
February 2001
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burst of light

because ... well ... why the hell not ...?

it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Wednesday, February 28th


Another Fein mess:

According to the March 5th, 2001, edition of Time magazine, page 17, [,9171,100566,00.html ]
"Ellen Fein, co-author of top-selling book The Rules, has reportedly filed for divorce"

Some of you may remember the controversy surrounding The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right when it first came out, over its advice to women, urging them to play a hardball version of "hard to get," relying on feigned disinterest and generally manipulative and dishonest behavior to trap the heart of an elligible and well-heeled bachelor. For the interested reader who may have missed this particular tome the first time around, the official "The Rules" website may be found at [ ] and is updated to include Rules for the technologically inclinded such as Rule #4: "On all nonbusiness e-mails, responding once for every four of his e-mails is a good rule of thumb."

Apparently the demands of going through a divorce are not expected to interfere with the release of Fein's new book, The Rules for Marriage: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work, slated to be on store shelves this June.

Monday, February 26th


This just in: "Earth's Rotation Mysteriously Remains Unreversed!"

The last time I'd read anything about a blue dalmatian, I'd written it, in one of my non-winning entries into the prestigious Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest [ ] in which bad writers from around the globe compete pen-to-pen in a no-commas-barred fight to create the worst possible opening sentence for a novel.

For the morbidly curious, that particular entry, from back around 1984, read like this:

Like a blue-painted dalmatian being dragged through a grommet by a length of rough packing twine, the sickly grey moon rose above the horizon, thought better of it, and sunk below again as the direction of the earth's rotation mysteriously reversed.

The entry out of that particular batch that did wind up selected for their collection was the one involving rabbit entrails:

With the sickening thud that a cloth sack filled with rabbit entrails makes when colliding with a concrete wall, the sack of rabbit entrails smashed into the wall behind me.'s probably just as well that nothing more than the first line of that hypothetical novel was ever committed to paper.

But, as usual, Apple is stranger than fiction, and, lo and behold, they've introduced new and improved iMac models, featuring "Flower Power" and "Blue Dalmatian" colored cases.

And so it goes. Apple has joined the frenzy to create products in a sort of misguided retro-sixties-psychedelic-combined-with-eighties-pastel-revival motif, an odd sort of mod-country style that we can only hope goes the way of transparent vinyl "jeans" and other attempted fads that faded fast enough that most people probably don't even remember them.

Which is, of course, entirely wishful thinking on my part and not much more likely that any other hardware and software product designers and manufacturers will start giving any thought to making products that work or at least contain fewer glaring and obvious design flaws instead of devoting their efforts and creativity to implementing their glaring design flaws in new colors and styles.

Case in point being yet another attempt to look into the currect crop of mp3 encoders; it's easy enough to find reviews that discuss in great detail the "quality" of their visualizations (why?), how counter-intuitive and annoying their user interface was (this seems to be a highly sought-after "feature" these days), and how many stupid and irritating "skins" were available. Unimportant details like quality, functions, encoding algorithms and libraries used, and features were a lot harder to find out about.

Sure, a lot of these things screw up the sound, don't edit ID3 tags properly, are missing basic features, or simply crash--but I guess most people are willing to put up with that as long as it has a display that looks like a fractal aligator face or retro-sixties TV set that shows falling tetris blocks you have to hit at the right moment to make it read a file.

P.S. For those who are still morbidly curious, since I'd pulled up my file of past Bulwer-Lytton contest entries anyway, I decided to stick them up on the web [ ] -- as much as anything, just to see what kind of search-engine traffic they'll be drawing a month from now....

Sunday, February 18th


"Do-it-herself" combat tools:

I spent yesterday afternoon over at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science looking at the currently-under-construction Viking exhibit and brushing up on some of the costuming and cultural details, and afterwards I wanted to track down some more specific details about the construction and use of the weaponry from the period. While the web is a great source of knowlege, finding historically accurate information about sword, armor, and shield construction and use is a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack.

While it's true that a sword is bigger than a typical needle, the world-wide-haystack is bigger than the garden-variety ... er farm-variety kind too.

But, that's okay--I found a reasonable assortment of technical papers on the web once I'd weeded out the sites that were trying to sell cool-looking but historically-inaccurate weapons and accessories. Now I have to take the "reasonably historically accurate" data and figure out how cool I can make it without getting too historically inaccurate.

Hey, historicity is a good thing, but you have to entertain the audience too.

Along the way, I did run across one site with illustrations that may be entirely historically inaccurate, but is nonetheless absolutely worthy of mention: [ ]

(Sort of like the "live action" version of "Mercenary Barbie")

Thursday, February 15th


Who put the Pee in the IBM Pee-Cee?

Having spent a good portion of the last two decades elbow-deep in computer hardware, I don't often run across a hardware problem that I hadn't seen before, but on Valentine's day, 2001, it happened.

It all began innocently enough; I was taking what looked like a pretty nice looking 486 and replacing the motherboard with one of the AT-style all-in-one super 7 boards I'd picked up a while back. The case, power supply, floppy, hard drive, CD-Rom, modem, etc., were all good; its only shortcoming was that it was a 66MHz 486 mounted on a VLB motherboard with 30-pin memory.

It's cheaper for me to get a complete 486 system (the current market value ranges from a high of about $5 down to "haul it away, please") than to get a loose floppy disk drive, and in this case not only did it include those other accoutrements mentioned above, the SIMM slots were populated with the 9-chip 4Meg SIMMs that the older Sun equipment likes. What, exactly, I'm going to do with all those IPCs, SparcStation 2s, and the trash-compactor-sized SparcServer 4/600MP with 256Meg(!) on two full-sized VME boards, I haven't quite figured out yet, but at least having memory for them expands my options considerably.

Unfortunately, there were problems.

The motherboard went in fine, but something was wrong with the rest of it.

The power switch felt funny; it resisted turning on and didn't click into position. With the steady application of force, it sort of "mooshed" into the on setting.

The floppy disk had a similar sort of non-clicky responsiveness.

. . .

Okay, I'll save you the rest of the suspense; it turned out that, though the external, visible parts of the case were more-or-less clean, all the cracks and spaces and internal stuff with openings on the front were filled with what I think was a large supply of accumulated dried pet urine.

I'm not really an expert forensic urologist, but at least I hope it was from the pet.

I guess I don't have to wonder over why its previous owner had been willing to part with it.

. . .

Fortunately, it was just the front. The modem jacks were entirely lacking in nitrogen-rich waste products. The new motherboard can always be placed in another, more sanitary environment instead, and the memory can still be put to use.

(Assuming I do come up with a use for those older Sparcs; at least it didn't require too much more thought to figure out what to do with the rest of the 486 in question.)

Monday, February 12th



Just got another note letting me know that Film Music (UK) reviewed the Dragon and the Hawk soundtrack CD in their February issue:

It is strongly rhythmic and the orchestrations are appropriately exotic. The music supports the story-line quite well.

There are 24 tracks and do not propose to cover them all but three or four do linger in the memory. The rhythms of 'Search' grip and 'Lair of Evil' is eerily sinister and mysterious; quite flesh-creeping. 'Saying goodbye' has some much-needed warmth and romantic yearning and sorrow. 'Dungeons' starts dank and dark, one senses evil and danger lurking in the shadows but there is also an element of hope and freedom.

Sounds good to me. (And, a couple of weeks back, I'd even heard from a company in the UK who wants to distribute it; I should make sure they know about the review.)



I haven't quite gotten the program for the performance at the opening of the Denver Museum of Science and Nature's Viking exhibit figured out quite yet:; one more item on my "really have to get that taken care of" list. It does complicate matters somewhat that Mark Steven Grove may not be back from working on Rush Hour II with Jackie Chan in time--and he's had a lot more experience in stunt and effect choreography than I have. That, and the ideas that had jumped to mind initially involved adaptations of a few stunts and scenes he'd wanted to do.

(That's one problem with stunt-work; most of the time the director and scriptwriter have already worked out the plot, scenes, and even the individual stunts they want to have in the movie without even considering what stunts and effects you'd think would be really cool and fun to do. Go figure.)

But I figure that Jackie Chan should be more stunt-oriented than the typical filmmaker; I'll keep you posted.

This makes it easier to recognize him under non-ideal viewing conditions such as when he's plummeting from the 69th floor of a skyscraper

Back when Mark was updating his demo reel to send out to the Rush Hour II people, I was helping him with getting a couple of clips digitized better; Mark's a fine editor, but I'm the one with all the broadcast-level gear lying around, which helps a lot for this sort of thing.

My Markspotting talents are getting steadily better--most actors try to stand out and be noticed in their roles, but with stuntpeople, a lot of the time doing their job well means you don't notice them, or at least recognize them. In one of the Three Ninjas movies, it seems like Mark is in just about every scene, he just looks totally different, has a different costume, different makeup and hairstyle, etc.

At this point I do have the advantage of having spent more time than most watching Mark fall off of buildings, get blown up, shot, get engulfed in fire, start spurting blood, etc. This makes it easier to recognize him under non-ideal viewing conditions such as when he's plummeting from the 69th floor of a skyscraper.

Stuntwork does have its disadvantages. For starters, it's not easy to fully realize your dramatic talents and express oneself artistically when most of your lines consist of "aaaaaaAAAAAAHHHHHHH!"

Saturday, February 10th


acid test?
( 800 x 600 )

( 1024 x 768 )

Speaking of photography, I gave the camera a bit of exercise yesterday, figuring to make some last-minute e-cards; haven't made the cards themselves yet, but I converted a couple of the pictures into desktop wallpaper format: ] (for the whole collection, at least as of the moment)

me and gargoyle
( 800 x 600 )

( 1024 x 768 )
just my type
( 800 x 600 )

( 1024 x 768 )

a few moments of silence divided by the quiet turning of pages (much like 4'33" except for the substitution of bongo drums for the piano), and the inevitable sudden descent into anguished screaming


Set flash parameters, exposure, and brain-stop:

No doubt a lot of you remember some of Richard Feynman's stories of reviewing school textbooks for a California school textbook selection committee, most of which involved descending into the basement with an armload of texts, a few moments of silence divided by the quiet turning of pages (much like 4'33" except for the substitution of bongo drums for the piano), and the inevitable sudden descent into anguished screaming.

The internet and the world wide web have done much to increase the ability of those of us who dwell outside of academia to experience these same feelings ourselves. Today's award for "Excellence in Bogosity" goes to Donald McKay of F-Stop Photographic, whose "Advanced Photographic Education" site [ ] includes this amazing "explanation" of his company's eponymous photography term (in the fourth and last item) :

Light is much like water in that both when forced to pass through a small aperature will increase in pressure and velocity during the transmission. The water squirts. Light does the same thing in that it also sort of 'squirts'. This kind of compression is called the Venturi effect. Under compression (that is passing through a small lens iris opening a high f-stop number, f/16, for example) the frequency wavelength of the photons (light quanta) is accelerated. The result of the 'compression-acceleration' through a camera lens is that everything from the near foreground to the distant horizon will be in focus. If the camera lens was to be set at a low f-stop number, f/1.2, say, the photographer could, by moving the focusing collar on the lens barrel, bring a specific object into focus, but other objects in the scene not included in the 'plane of focus' would be blurry. The light wavelength is no longer compressed and its frequency is slowed. Therefore we can say that the "f-stop" on a camera lens is really a "frequency stop".

What I personally find most remarkable about this passage is that the scientific terms that appear are actually spelled correctly.

Granted, he's managed to get every last scientific term or concept referred to completely wrong, which is an accomplishment few writers can manage--even the most utterly clueless can be expected to get something right, just by random chance. Somehow, Don McKay has managed to craft an entire paragraph with a minimum of one whopping big technical error or complete misrepresentation for each and every scientific term used therein, and got them all spelled right.

Don, there may be a lucrative future for you as a school textbook writer....

Wednesday, February 7th


Lazarus Lives Again (and Again...):

Just got a note from a savvy reader who noticed that issue number four of Lazarus, the Many Reincarnations ] is featured on Amazon.Com's "best new graphic novels" list [ ] (#15, right after The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman--can't complain about that).

Tuesday, February 6th


another episode of the treehouse home companion:

It was a quiet morning out here at the treehouse; most of the snow is gone from the surrounding fields and there are only a few little patches of ice remaining in the courtyard.

Seems like the snow hasn't stuck around this long for a few years now. No matter what the headlines read on the National Enquirer in recent years, or what dire prognostications were made over the meddlings of El Nino on the winter-to-come, the last few winters and summers have all been mild and temperate.

There were years in the past when the snows took out almost half of the largest tree in the south gardens (along with damaging most other trees in the Denver metro area, taking down enough power lines to leave 40% of Denver without power for most of the week) and the time when the snow drifts piled up high and heavy on thr road in front of the treehouse so I spent the day getting the trucks that braved the snow unstuck and the trucks that came to tow the stuck trucks unstuck as well.

That was the day when the door to the balcony outside the bedroom blew open and I returned to find a three-foot-deep snowdrift on my bed.

But this year there haven't been any deep or furious blizzards, just a little snow that stuck around a little longer than I'd remembered it having done the last few winters.

"Spam and the Spanner," the Norse myth that tells the tale of how Spam came to be the sacred food of the Vikings, in which I'd played "Ted," Thor's lesser-known younger brother, the Norse God of Bicycle Repair and Maintenance

Later in the morning, it was off to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Until recently, the museum was known as "the Denver Museum of Natural History," which is why their web address is [ ]--obviously if they're going to update their name for the new millennium, they should have picked something that was acronym-compatible with the old name, but I guess sometimes people still do things that way, coming up with the name first and then figuring out the acronym. I would have thought that everybody knew by now that you come up with the acronym first and/or find a catchy domain name that's still available, and come up with a product name (or, for that matter, the product itself) to fit.

Starting in March, the museum will be the third stop on the Smithsonian's "Vikings, The North Atlantic Saga" ] touring exhibit (after the Smithsonian itself and the New York American Museum of Natural History). We went over some initial ideas for an opening ceremony/performance to kick off the exhibit, and the promotions and exhibits departments liked some of the Viking-related stage work I'd done in the past, notably the performance of the previously entirely unknown (and now only "nearly unknown") saga, "Spam and the Spanner," the Norse myth that tells the tale of how Spam came to be the sacred food of the Vikings, in which I'd played "Ted," Thor's lesser-known younger brother, the Norse God of Bicycle Repair and Maintenance.

Haven't decided what to do yet, whether it would be an updated version of that play or something entirely different.

Unfortunately, with less than a month (and a short month at that) to prepare, no matter what the performance ends up being, I probably won't have time to get a line of action figures designed and into production.

Sunday, February 4th


Switch switched:

Looked like the network traffic was relatively light at 3:30 this morning, and the new switch had passed all the tests I'd thrown at it, so I figured that was as good a time as any to swap a few cables around.

But when I got back to the activity monitor next to where I'm typing this, it had been close to three minutes without a hit on the webserver. Uh-oh. So of course I start running through diagnostics and the switch is happy, the DNS servers are doing their jobs, the network looks healthy and error-free, and, finally, I can bounce off of other machines out in the rest of the world and see my own servers just fine.

And then the traffic started up again--so maybe I just picked a particularly good window for my bout of cable-swapping.

Saturday, February 3rd


Now, there's a switch:

Woo-hoo--just thought I'd mention, BTW, that in the latest batch of miscellaneous equipment (mostly consisting of a pallet of 166MHz pentium computers for the Computer Cottage and a pile of overhead projectors and associated stuff for a youth center and some rural school districts I'm helping out) was a 3Com 26-port managed switch. How much excitement can one guy stand?

Well, the night isn't merely young, it's not even been born yet, and I've managed (ahem) to get into the setup and configuration menus, so this could be shaping up to be an exciting night of networking out here at the treehouse!


Render unto DV:

Ulead never did start answering their phone; for the rest of Friday, their support line continued to announce merely that I had called during a time when their operators cannot take my call.

I'd dallied enough to miss getting anything shipped out before the post office closed on Friday, but getting the promo tapes shipped out Saturday morning would still be okay. At least computer stores are open later than most software support desks (assuming anyone was ever at Ulead's), and, sure enough, the Micro Center (which also happens to be my favorite store for marked-down computer books) happened to have one copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0 (upgrade) on hand, and within the hour, I had it on hand instead.

It was a small annoyance that the quick-and-dirty ways I had of getting quick-and-dirty editing projects done on Premiere didn't work any more, and I didn't have time to learn how one is really supposed to do some of these things, so instead I came up with new quick-and-dirty ways to get it done.

I'll figure out the proper ways to do things later; the important thing is that it worked. I had enough time to redigitize some of the original material off of BetaSP and Premiere 6.0's capture functions are so much easier to use than what I'd been fighting with from Ulead and the resulting video quality was also better. (Why? I dunno; maybe because Adobe had somehow come up with the idea that video editors might be interested in a working product for producing video rather than a creative and almost unintelligible user interface.)

Some of the other new features in 6.0 look interesting and even useful; those, however, I'll have to figure out later, since I've got a few other projects that have slipped behind a day or two while I was trying to get the tapes edited up and sent out.

Friday, February 2nd


Not even invisible means of phone support:

Yeah, I probably should have gone out and tracked down copies of Premiere 6.0; theoretically, Ulead's support line opens at 7:00AM, but at 9:30, calling their support number still retrieved only the recorded message, "our support hours are from 7:00AM to 6:00PM Monday through Friday; please call back the next business day."

Eventually, they did change their recorded announcement. Currently it says, "you have reached our technical support line at a time when our operators cannot take your call. Please call back later."

On the plus side, at least I don't have to spend a whole lot of time on hold or worry about leaving messages in voicemail, since neither option is available.


Video editing in six easy steps, five of them on your toes:

The name "Ulead" may have been a poor choice for software that's aggressively determined to force you to edit video its way and no other, especially when its way is clumsy, awkward, and entails having one's toes stomped upon repeatedly.

Somewhere, back at Ulead's product design headquarters, they must have had a meeting in which the head of the design team for the product that would eventually be called VideoStudio stood before the whiteboard, the boldest, blackest, thickest dry-erase marker in the building clutched in one powerful, meaty, mouse-callused hand:

Starting today you face what may be the biggest challenge of your programming careers; in recent years, the movement for standard user interfaces, file-format compatability, and useful documentation has turned computer users soft, weak, and complacent. No longer are computer users the rough, ready-for-anything, "Marlboro-Geek"-style pioneers they once were.

This form of complacency attacks the very heart of our national security; increasingly, users are becoming dependent on software that works, programs that are easier to use than it would be to write one's own--the way we used to do it, the way it should be done.

We are becoming, in short, a nation of dummies.

Our mission--and we must not take this responsibility lightly, for the very sanctity of our precious bodily fluids depends upon what we do here in these coming weeks and months--is to shatter this complacency that infects the fiber of our national character. We must dedicate ourselves to writing software that is almost-but-not-quite compatible with standard hardware, drivers, and file formats, software that will entice users for many hours or days with visions of that holy grail of video editing, the possibility of getting something completed on schedule, perhaps even getting to spend as much as a tenth as long actually editing as is devoted to fighting with the bugs in the software.

We must invent from scratch an entirely new and different user interface, one that will be both visually exciting and different, while retaining none of the features or conveniences that users have come to expect. It must add the excitement and time-wasting-ability of the most sophisticated adventure games to the task of finding even basic functions--and, to keep people thinking and searching, leave out many of the most obvious ones entirely.

Less glamorous, perhaps, but no less critical to the success of our mission, is the documentation. If I catch anyone writing an entry into the on-line manual or into the context-sensitive "help" system that in any way provides meaningful information or threatens to answer a question that a user might have, you will immediately and without recourse be transferred onto a team in charge of writing documentation in a language you'd never even heard of before.

And with these principles firmly in mind, let us embark upon our sacred crusade to shake our nation's dummies from their slack-jawed, "I don't need to write my own application software," stupor, and thus bring peace, prosperity, and purity to their precious bodily fluids. Remember that if even one video editing project gets completed on time using the software we are to begin writing today, we will have failed. But we shall not fail; we shall ...

Hey, wake up, you slackers! I'm delivering an inspirational speech here!

That's my guess, anyway, penned while waiting for yet another attempt to get video out of VideoStudio to finish not working.

Prior to getting the ADS Pyro 1394 card that came bundled with Ulead's VideoStudio, I'd actually been considering getting their high-end editing software because it theoretically included DV support before Adobe's Premiere did--but I was sufficiently disgusted with how much time and effort had been devoted to making VideoStudio difficult to use versus how little time and effort had apprently been thrown into making it work, that I decided to wait for Premiere 6.0 (or some other suitable software) to come out. Premiere 6.0 just came out, but I don't have it yet--and so I've been getting by with using Ulead for DV capture and then getting it out of Ulead into something usable (like Premiere 5.1 which is what I've been using).

That was a nuisance enough for editing content for the web, multimedia, or VCD...but last night I needed to get something out through the 1394 port. If you note the time on this entry, you could infer that I've been fighting with this ill-conceived and poorly documented software for quite a while now.

What to do next? I guess that all depends on whether Ulead's customer support number (they're in California) starts answering and can provide any helpful suggestions before the computer stores that might have a working product available are open.

Thursday, February 1st


Dances with CDs:

It all started with a rumble.

... but it was a good rumble, the kind a truck makes when driving up with a delivery, because, in this case, it was a truck driving up with a delivery.

Three thousand CDs, in this case--that's how many were being delivered to the treehouse, thence to be distributed to local stores, Amazon.Com, and presumably other parts unknown (at least to me). I figure it's a good omen when the truck driver recognizes you and mentions liking your previous CD. I ripped open one of the shipping boxes and gave him the first CD out of this batch; now I just have to think of something interesting to do with the remaining 2,999 CDs before they get dispersed to the aforementioned parts, known and unknown.

Hey, I did get some shots of myself buried in a pile of CD players before those went out to the Christmas gift program.

... clearly, this all but cries out for a sequel.


Long names with which to start a short month:

So, where were we...?

Oh, wait--this is the beginning of the month, so I guess we we're just starting out.

It used to be that domain names were limited to 26 characters, including the .com, .org, .etc, extension, but that limit was set back in the early days when people were thinking of the web as a way to make information more accessible rather than as a new, electronic frontier just aching to be filled with unsupportable (and generally stupid) get-rich-quick schemes.

a total of 1020 sites with 67-character domain names, fewer than a third of which are variations on ""

In order to fill the public's crying need for really stupid domain names that they could try to sell on eBay, the limit was recently bumped up to 67 characters, thus making it possible for people for people to register names like "" and "" and allow them to languish unresolved for months or years until their registration expires and/or they decide that what will really make them rich is to fill it full of banner ads linking to porn sites and online casinos.

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Looking for somebody else's intimate personal secrets?
journals, burbs, and blogs--oh, my!

So, who would register a 67-character domain name and why? Fortunately, where that question is concerned, Netcraft's domain name search function may not be entirely complete, but it's always entertaining. To do a search on all 67-character domain names registered, one need only perform the following search query:*&lookup=Wait..&position=limited ] (everybody got that? I don't want to repeat it unless I have to.)

Netcraft comes up with a total of 1020 sites with 67-character domain names, fewer than a third of which are variations on ""; I haven't found many that actually appear to be operational, but I've noticed that details like actually having a functioning website are pretty low down on the list of priorities in the modern-day e-commerce paradigm.

Tune in tomorrow for another episode


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