Year: 2005

Art Outside

Went to Art Outside at the Enchanted Forest last night. Fun. There was a lot of bizarre art there, of highly variable quality. High points: the giant welded mechanical musical instrument, the wind-powered spinning sculptures, the bone sculptures, the doll mashups (way, way back at the end of a trail). Low points: poetry readings and undirected jam-band ramblings. Some of the art was pretty sketchy. All in all, worth seeing though.

Go at night and bring a flashlight, as the installed lighting is inadequate.

A new phishing exploit

I’ve run across a new phishing exploit–new to me, anyhow. This one is especially pernicious because it actually uses a legitimate bank’s website against itself.

Take a good look at the following URL:

http://www.charterone.com/ legalcenter/do_not_solicit_confirm.asp? name=%3Ciframe+ style%3D%22top%3A120%3B+ left%3A0%3B+ position%3Aabsolute%3B%22+ FRAMEBORDER%3D%220%22+ BORDER%3D%220%22+ width%3D900+ height%3D650+ src%3D%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.totallyfreebanking.biz%22%

I’ve broken it up and highlighted the salient portions in red. I’ll break down what is happening here. Apparently, Charter One uses (or used–see below) a frame-based interface where the contents of a frame could be specified through the URL. What the scammer has done is set up a mimic site (www.totallyfreebanking.biz) that looks like Charter One’s, and loads in a frame of Charter One’s, but isn’t a part of it, and send the phished data back to the scammer. So even a person who is generally aware of phishing scams might look at this URL and say “Oh, it really is from my bank, it has their URL, it must be OK.”

I visited the page in question, and Charter One seems to have defeated this already.

I don’t want this to be a “frames are bad” rant, because I do think frames have their uses. And in fact, using URLs to specify frame contents goes a long way towards addressing the problem of frame-addressability. But anyone who can’t afford to have an outside party insert content into a frame needs something more subtle–perhaps a javascript detector in the framing page to prevent outside pages appearing in a frame.

Technological slumming

Everyone knows that Lego-based movies are a medium for low-budget cinematic self-expression, covering every genre from politics to gay porn (of course, these days, the two aren’t that different). One particularly popular genre is Star Wars fanfilms.

And while there is certainly a big overlap between Star Wars fans and videogame players, and there have been many successful Star Wars-themed games to date, one thing that action games are definitely not known for is their humble production values. So what are we to make of Lego Star Wars, The Video Game? Here’s a game from a major developer that takes all that texture-mapping inverse-kinematic razzmatazz and puts it to work rendering…low-budget lego animation.

Bad Education

Saw La Mala Educación. A story within a story within a story, which gets a little dizzying at points, but it works. A twisty-turny plot that, in a very abstract way, reminds me a little of The Sting. Gay sex. Pedophile Priests. A movie about movies (as is Almodóvar’s wont).

Helpful hint

If you’re trying to fire up the grill, and your charcoal is unwilling to light because of a long humid spell, then a blowtorch is a good thing to have.

Comments hosed

I’ve learned that comments aren’t working, for some extremely arcane reason that I have been unable to diagnose. I am preparing to switch to WordPress.

Later: Not exactly sure what I did, but comments are working now. Still contemplating a switch to WordPress.

Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the toughest to watch. The fight scenes have savage choreography–real boxers could never fight like that–but those scenes just soften you up (as if with a meat tenderizer) for the last part of the film, which is completely devastating. Do not see this movie if you have any plans to be happy for the next day or so, but it’ll give you plenty to think about. It’s a movie about many things, but at its root, I think it’s about looking at what loyalty means from different angles.

There’s no wasted motion. Clint Eastwood strips everything down to the moral consequences of one’s actions, and omits or barely sketches legal, financial, and everyday issues that would just get in the way of telling the story. The cinematography is equally economical and beautiful.

Putting tagging to work

I’ve previously noted the conversion of my sideblog to del.icio.us, partly so that I can take advantage of tagging. The whole tagging phenomenon has caught fire among the blognoscenti because it provides a quick and dirty–and effective and flexible–way to categorize content.

Technorati, the blog search-engine, has added a tagging facility–it finds del.icio.us entries, flickr photos, and blog entries with a given tag. In order to make these tags explicit, Technorati lets blog authors insert a rel="tag" attribute into a link in order to be treated as a tag by Technorati, though what many bloggers do not know is that as long as their software supports categories and/or keywords, and they are publishing feeds containing this data, Technorati will figure it out from that.

I’ve started assigning keywords to my posts, and am including all that data in my feeds. I’ve also decided to take advantage of Technorati’s tagging thing by creating direct links to its tag directories for each of my keywords. I’m still using categories as well, but I’m not creating Technorati links on category names–somehow it doesn’t quite feel right. Perhaps an information architect could diagnose my taxonomic malaise–all I can say is that tags are feel like they should be used to discover communal links; categories feel more idiosyncratic.

Anyhow, the result of linking to Technorati’s tag directories is something vaguely akin to trackback–it lets you see what other people are saying about the same subjects. It’s still somewhat primitive, but it’s a start.

It occurred to me that it should also be possible to extract links from a blog entry, search del.icio.us for that URL, find how other people have tagged it, and use the most popular tags as the blog entry’s tags, resulting in consensus tagging without even trying. There are some problems and interesting ramifications to this approach: 1) not every link I might use will be in del.icio.us; 2) I might not want to use the consensus tags; 3) the consensus tags will change over time–this, in my opinion, is the most interesting and most problematic part of the idea; 4) I’d have to do more programming work, and I’m lazy.

Strange fantasies of childhood

Gwen and I recently saw two movies that make a surprisingly apt pair: both about adult men obsessed with fantasies of childhood.

First, Finding Neverland. This is a fictionalized account of JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, and the writing of that play. It’s either very affecting or very schmaltzy, depending on what mood you’re in when you walk into the theater. I was initially in the former camp, but part of the movie’s power derives from the fact that it purports to tell a story of real people. When I later learned that it had taken considerable artistic license the facts of their lives, I felt cheated. Still, on its own merits, it’s a good movie. Not really for kids.

Second, In the Realms of the Unreal. This is a documentary about Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor who died in the 1970s, leaving behind an astounding 15,000-page saga, with 23 mural-sized illustrations that are masterpieces of outsider art. The man was so little known to his neighbors that there isn’t even a consensus among them on how to pronounce his last name. Darger’s story in itself is compelling, but the movie adds little to one’s understanding once you already know the basics of it. Although the murals get plenty of screen time, the treatment isn’t as deep as it could be–we never get a full view of them, what some of the stranger aspects of them might mean, etc. And in some spots, the filmmakers animated them (need to liven up the movie, I guess), which is a questionable artistic decision. As an introduction to Darger’s story and work, it’s not bad.

Barrie was fascinated with boyhood because boys haven’t lost the potential for imagination, or gained the burdens of responsibility. Darger, after enduring a very difficult childhood, created a fantasy world that recapitulated many of the worst aspects of it, perhaps initially as a way of working through difficult memories. But it clearly consumed him, to the point where it was not only more important than his everyday reality, it may not have been entirely distinct.

Multiple iTunes libraries, one music folder

What follows is a solution to a problem that has annoyed a lot of people for some time now.

Suppose you are in a household with two Macs. Each person has a copy of iTunes installed. They both want access to the same music directory, but they both want it to be part of their own library.

iTunes already makes it easy to share your music over a LAN, which is nice up to a point, but doesn’t give you much flexibility: you can’t assign star ratings to someone else’s music, make playlists, or load up an iPod with it. What you really want is for all that music to be yours (and all your music to be similarly available to your cohabitant).

Here’s the recipe. I’ll assume you have a LAN set up already.

  1. On each computer, go into System Preferences : Sharing : Services and enable “Remote Apple Events”
  2. Designate one computer as the “music host”; the other will be the “music client.”
  3. On the client, connect to the host, and mount the hard drive on the host that contains the iTunes music folder. Go into iTunes Preferences : Advanced on the client and set it to use the same folder as the iTunes music folder as the host (the one on the host’s computer)
  4. In the interest of good file management, you probably want to go into iTunes Preferences : Advanced on the host and enable “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library”. However, on the client machine, I think you will need to disable these (otherwise multiple computers will contend over where and how the files should be organized). If the client already has music files stored locally, relocate those files to the host and remove them from the client. Add those tracks to the library of the host computer manually.
  5. Find and remove the files “iTunes Music Library” and “iTunes Music Library.xml” (or create an archive of them) from the folder ~/Music/iTunes on the client machine. Manually add all the tracks on the host machine to the client’s copy of iTunes by dragging the into the iTunes window. For very large collections, you should probably do this in chunks (iTunes seems to get confused otherwise). I added all the artists starting with A at once, then B, etc. Took a while, but it worked.
  6. Now both users have access to the same music directory, can make their own playlists, set their own ratings, load up their own iPod, etc. The problem is that the situation is static–if anyone adds a new track, things get out of sync, and only that user will have access to that track (without additional futzing).
  7. That is where the following mystical-magical script comes in. This was pretty much written by “deeg” (with some nudging from me) in the Applescript for iTunes forum at iPod Lounge.
    (*=== Properties and Globals===*)
    property theDateofLastSync : "" -- date of last sync
    property theOtherMachine : "" -- ip address of other machine
    
    (*=== Main Run ===*)
    
    if theDateofLastSync is "" then set theDateofLastSync to ((current date) - 1 * days) -- force date of last sync to sometime ago for first run
    if theOtherMachine is "" then
     display dialog "Please enter address of other Mac" default answer "eppc://"
     set theOtherMachine to text returned of the result
    end if
    
    -- chat with other machine
    set GotsomeTracks to true
    try
     with timeout of 30000 seconds
      tell application "itunes" of machine theOtherMachine
       using terms from application "iTunes"
        activate
        set theListofTracks to location of file tracks of library playlist 1 where date added > theDateofLastSync
       end using terms from
      end tell
     end timeout
    on error
     set GotsomeTracks to false
    end try
    
    -- back to this Machine
    set SyncedOK to false
    if GotsomeTracks then
     set SyncedOK to true
     try
      tell application "iTunes"
       if (count of items of theListofTracks) is greater than 0 then
        repeat with alocation in theListofTracks
         add alocation to library playlist 1
        end repeat
       end if
      end tell
     on error
      set SyncedOK to false
     end try
    end if
    
    -- save sync date if all ok
    
    if SyncedOK then set theDateofLastSync to current date
    
  8. Copy this script and save it as “sync libraries” to the directory ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts (if you don’t already have a Scripts folder there, create it). Relaunch iTunes and it will be available under the Scripts menu. You can now run this script manually on each computer to update its library against the host. Better yet, use a timed macro (or cron job, which you can set up easily with cronnix) to launch the script in the wee hours. This assumes that each computer will be turned on when the script executes.

Additional notes:

  • Assuming that different computers will have different user accounts, you will need to specify the other user’s username and password in the “please enter the address” dialog that appears when first running the script. The URL format looks like this: eppc://username:password@machinename.local I’m not sure how to deal with spaces in the computer name (perhaps a backslash \ before the space–my machines all have one-word names; you can change the computer’s name in System Preferences : Sharing).
  • Likewise, it should be possible to sync libraries between two user accounts on a single machine using the above format. This probably requires that both users are always logged in (using Fast User Switching).
  • This script only works for one host and one client. It should be possible to modify it to deal with multiple clients. I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Update With recent versions of iTunes, this is all redundant. Although it’s not entirely automated, there is a much simpler way to deal with this problem.

As above, treat one Mac as the host and one as the client. On the client, go into Preferences:Advanced and make sure that “Keep iTunes music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library” are both unchecked. This is important.

Make sure the host’s disk is mounted on the client mac. Again, in iTunes, select the menu item “File:Add to Library…” and select the music folder on the host disk. This will scan the entire directory and add all the files to the client’s iTunes database. The client’s database will need to be updated whenever new files are added on the host (new files should only be added on the host); to do this, just repeat this process. It takes a few minutes.

Pardon the dust

The upgrade to MT3 has been going less than smoothly. I’m starting from scratch, with a new blog and old data. I’ll gradually be adding back in features of the old blog.

Hill Country Ride for AIDS

I’ve signed up to do the Hill Country Ride for AIDS as part of Team Soup Peddler (for those of you who missed it, the Soup Peddler himself was the officiant at Gwen & my wedding). I’ll be very grateful to anyone out there in TV land who is interested in sponsoring me (yes, it’s one of those fundraiser things).

Spammed

I just got hammered by a trackback spammer (I wonder if that recent Register article had anything to do with it). Trackbacks are offline until I get this sorted out.

Later — updated to MT3

House of Flying Daggers

Saw House of Flying Daggers yesterday. Excellent. Beautiful cinematography, costumes, acrobatics and fighting, and all that. A multilayered plot that changes directions quickly and makes you think.

Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (to which all big-budget martial-arts movies must be compared), at one level the story revolves around the conflict between desire and duty, but if that movie was wushu Jane Austen, this is wushu Shakespeare. In Crouching Tiger, duty won. In this movie, desire loses. The intricate way that the fates of the characters play out is like a blacksmith’s puzzle–you can tug on it a dozen different ways, but none of them seem to disentangle the pieces.

Translate this!

Fellow translators of Japanese know that personal names are all but impossible to translate with certainty unless you can ask the person who owns the name how they prefer to have it romanized. When I’m translating a scientific paper (as I am now), the problem is acute, since there is usually a bibliography packed with Japanese names, but these names can often be tracked down, as the authors occasionally have their own web pages, or have been published before in English. So I spend a lot of time googling for their papers and their names.

One citation in my current job has eight names to track down. Ouch. I googled all the surnames together in the hopes that I’d find some bilingual reference with their names. I did not, but I did find a long listing of papers that included the one I’m looking at. Google helpfully offered to translate the page for me. The results for the names in question are interesting and amusing:

汐 promontory positive, increase mountain reason, Kazuhiro Yamamoto, Hiroshi Kondo 也, Doi 玲 child, Ono Megumi child and Ken under village, Ogasawara Masafumi

All watched over by Elvii of loving grace

The Elvii look down benevolently

A friend who couldn’t make it to our wedding, Jen, sent Gwen and I the Elvis on the right. She had no way of knowing that I already had a remarkably similar Elvis that Jenny had picked up for me on a trip through the King’s hometown. Now I have two Elvii gazing down benevolently from atop my bookcase. The one from Jen is extra-special though:

Elvis statuette reverse

The motif on the collar is taken from our wedding invitation. Jen tells me that when she was painting this in her ceramics class, her classmates skeptically asked “are they really going to like that?” in a tone of voice that said “you’re crazy.” Jen enthusiastically reassured them “they’ll love it” and they just shook their heads as if to say “then they’re crazy too.”

Feh. We love it.

As an aside, the title of this post popped into my head after I put the second Elvis up. I knew the phrase “all watched over by machines of loving grace” from somewhere, but had no idea where it came from. A moment’s googling showed me it’s a poem by Richard Brautigan. What’s odd is that I’d never read the poem before, and still somehow knew the phrase.

Getting with the program

Del.icio.us is a “social bookmarks manager,” or in plain English, a web page that lets you keep a list of interesting websites. What makes it interesting is that it lets you use tags to classify your links a rough-and-ready sort of way (this kind of undisciplined tagging is now sometimes called “folksonomy”), lets you see links from other people with the same tags (or any tags) and shows you how many other people link to a given URL.

I’ve been keeping a “hit and run” blog for some time, and this fulfills the same role for me as del.icio.us would, but I had been unwilling to switch over two del.icio.us for a couple of reasons: 1. The data doesn’t live on my machine; 2. It’s not easy to control the presentation–it is possible to republish your del.icio.us links on your own page, but you’re kind of stuck in terms of presentation. There are ways to get at the data programmatically, but that involves programming, and that means work, and I’m lazy.

But I finally decided to sit down and figure it out (as a way to avoid something even harder: my current translation job). Somebody has already provided a library of PHP tools for messing with del.icio.us, and I know just enough about PHP to get myself in trouble. Here’s what I did [caution: entering geek mode]

The Aviator

Saw The Aviator last night. Very good. It kind of drops you in the middle of things without giving you much of a lead-in, which is unusual for a biopic, but the movie is already pretty long, and Scorcese probably felt that the parts of Hughes’ early life that he was omitting weren’t that interesting, and that the audience could fill in the blanks.

And there’s a lot of ground to cover. When people my age think of Howard Hughes, we probably think of him in his latter years, as a pathetic figure–I know I did. What I’ve always failed to appreciate is that he really was a larger-than-life character who also happened to be nuts. This movie brought that side of him into sharp focus and showed how he battled with his dementia. It’s easy to write off Leonardo DiCaprio as another pretty-boy actor, but he did a damn good job.

Cate Blanchett as Kate Hepburn was just uncanny–the movie is worth seeing for her performance alone. Hepburn was so distinctive in her mannerisms, speech, etc, that any imitation would easily slip into parody. Not here. Lots of other big or recognizable faces pop up throughout the film, too. What’s Willem Dafoe doing in such a tiny part?

The movie ends before Hughes did, and relies on our knowledge of his decline for some of its power. The movie sticks in my mind, making me think about the potential of a man like that, held back by madness that (at least at the time) could not really be addressed, and perhaps wouldn’t be when the sufferer is in a position of such authority.

Shuffling along

Apple’s release of the iPod Shuffle created a lot of buzz, as would just about anything new from Apple. And it is interesting that Apple would take the interface they developed for the bigger iPods–which is one of the aspects of the iPod that really sets it apart–and rather than try to shrink it down to fit a smaller unit, simply discard it.

It’s interesting for reflecting the changing way we listen to music. It used to be that we listened to albums, sometimes with the liner notes laid out in front of us, and there were only about six tracks per side to remember before you had to flip the record. Some people would make mix-tapes, but that was fairly arduous. And of course there’s always been the radio. I get the impression (I can’t back this up) that more and more radio is talk, though, and the music programming that remains is increasingly narrow, with two conglomerates pushing uniform formats to radio stations all over the country, and very little variation within those formats. If you want to listen to something different now, you have to listen to something other than radio.

Apple was already partly responsible for changing the way we listen, thanks to iTunes and the iTunes music store. iTunes and programs like it make it trivially easy to rip your music to your hard drive and put together a mix CD, taking individual tracks out of the context of their original albums. Or listen to customized or randomized playlists at your computer (or on your iPod). And the iTunes music store (and other online music vendors) sell tracks individually, so you may never have the whole album to start with (and this has been a point of contention for some artists, who refuse to sell tracks individually). And of course there’s that whole P2P thing, not that I would know anything about that. The existence of collections like Massive Attack’s Singles 90/98, with four or five different mixes of a given song, mocks the idea of listening to an album straight through, and invites shuffling with unrelated tracks.

So I was initially dubious when I saw the iPod shuffle, sans display, but I realized that I already listen to a lot of music from my own collection without being able to identify what it is, so the lack of a screen might not be that big of a deal after all. Right now in my car, I have the CD changer loaded with 6 CDs filled with random stuff from my music collection. I suspect most runners, pedestrians, and people riding public transit or in cars don’t check the screens on existing MP3 players much. What is most interesting about the iPod shuffle is not that it innovates (deleting features isn’t exactly an innovation) but that it is the first to acknowledge reality.

Movies movies movies

A little catching-up to do on the movieblogging.

Saw Ocean’s Twelve. Apart from the fact that this is indicative of the colossal lack of originality in Hollywood–a sequel to a remake of an original so awful it should never have been remembered by anyone–this was a fun, well-done movie, but not life-changing. Steven Soderbergh always does a good job, and this had good characters, a good story, good dialogue, and good cinematography. So, good but conventional.

Saw the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Very much enjoyed this. I’m always a fan of Bill Murray’s, and he seems to keep doing better as he gets older–though, as Gwen pointed out, it’s saddening to see Bill Murray portraying an old character, since we remember him when he was young, and it’s still a bit of a shock to see him looking old. Beyond that, though, the story goes in unintended directions, ties itself together surprisingly well, and has whimsy. It also has whimsy in things like the set design–there’s a wonderful cutaway shot of the Belafonte, Zissou’s ship, showing all the crew doing things in its various cabins. At first, this dollhouse view seems like some kind of trick of compositing, but later, when we actually see the crew moving from cabin to cabin to cabin in one long shot, it seems that the entire ship-set was constructed as one giant cutaway.

Finally, saw the Last Days of the San Jose (no IMDB listing at this time). Fascinating. In 1997, South Congress was a dicey part of Austin, and the San Jose was a seedy hotel, its rooms filled by long-term residents half a step away from homelessness, by hookers and johns, by kids who needed a place off the street to get high. Liz Lambert bought the place with a vision, not shared by many other people, of transforming the place into an upscale boutique hotel. She tried to get bank financing for the massive renovation, and in the meantime, documented the daily goings-on and lives of the people at the San Jose with an inexpensive handheld movie camera.

In fact, it took three years for her to get financing, so long-term customers became part of her life. There’s so much in this movie, and there’s so much surrounding it. The renovation of the San Jose was the front edge of a wave of gentrification in South Congress, and I can only imagine that Liz Lambert looks back on the trail she has blazed with mixed feelings: the renovation of the San Jose was a dream of hers, and clearly one she held onto tightly through what must have been three pretty tough years, but when it came true, she had to kick out these people who had become important to her. But beyond that, I imagine she looks across the street at what used to be “GUNS JUST GUNS,” beholds Factory People (a pretentious shop selling ugly, overpriced hipsterwear), and thinks “wait…this isn’t the South Congress I signed up for.”