In an earlier entry, I spectulated about poor implementations of the DOS file system on various portable gadgets.

It turns out the "DOS" file system is called NVFS and has come to the forefront because the Treo650 potentially holds less data than the Treo600 because of a switch to NVFS from some internal RAM-based thing that is super efficient.

I searched a fair bit and I couldn't find an organization or reference for NVFS so I'm not too sure how much of a standard it is ...

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



I want to decommission my Firewire hard drive before it completely dies.

Since it was used as my "backup" drive it has all kinds of potentially sensitive material on it.

I found a great freeware program to "scrub" the disk and remove all trace of the data that was previously stored upon it. (I have deleted all of the files, but that doesn't count for much.)

It takes a _ l_o_n_g_ time to scrub a disk. It's running now and I'm guessing it will take a couple of days to scrub all of the free space on the 120 gigabyte drive.

It's worth it though. It's apparently quite easy to harvest data from old hard drives.

It's important to scrub the drive before it dies - otherwise the only alternative is to take a hammer to it, which I have done in the past to a couple of drives and a laptop that was way past it's prime.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


iPod Defrag Update 4

I plugged my iPod into my USB 2.0 connection and then went away from the computer to watch TV. It was just one show, and I thought, how much could the battery go down in one hour?

Apparently, the answer is, "all the way down." When I returned the iPod was still working, but the battery bar was empty.

Jack Brummet wrote in one of the comments that I should use Firewire instead of USB 2.0 for the simple reason that the Firewire connection powers the iPod.

In fact, I used to use Firewire, but I had problems where removing my iPod would cause another hard drive on my computer to crap out with a "can't write file" message.

So I switched to USB, where I've never had a problem connecting or disconnecting a gadget.

The hard drive on the Firewire port is on its last legs - it started making an awful sound - and the drive I bought to replace it is USB 2.0.

When that old hard drive dies or I disconnect it, then I'll put the iPod back on the Firewire port, and I'll have a happy iPod.

This experience lends more credence to the notion that the #1 power draw in the iPod is the hard drive and over a couple of years of usage it can get fragmented and lessen your battery's lifetime.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



It's the day after Thanksgiving, and one thing I am not thankful for is Spam.

Jeff Petkau told me about Spambayes so I decided to try it out.

I get about 50 spam emails a day - considerably less than Bill Gates, who is said to get 4,000,000 a day. (His email address has always been billg@microsoft.com.) I suspect they authenticate email from inside Microsoft so at least internal mail gets to him. Steve Ballmer said in an interview that "almost a whole department is dedicated to filtering Bill's email."

Even with Spambayes, which is pretty good, I still get about four emails a day into my main inbox and then about 15 a day that are marked by Spambayes as "almost Spam."

Spambayes works well enough that I've gone back to publishing my email address: stephen@above-the-garage.com without resorting to replacing "@" with " at " and that sort of thing.

I still say that if they would just make getting an email certificate from Verisign or whoever cost $1.00 a year then we could all just set our email programs to accept certified email only and the problem would be solved. But at $15.00 a year it's just too much to ask.

Oh well. This problem will be handled in the next year or two.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



It's Thanksgiving, 2004, and I'm grateful for innovation.

I saw an article that said Vonage telephone service over the Internet (VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol) had lowered its price to $24.95 a month. A day later, I paid our regular telephone bill, which had about $26.00 in long distance charges on it.

*Light Bulb Turns On*

So I ordered up Vonage off their web site and a few days later a Linksys telephone adaptor arrived. I plugged it in and presto, another phone line!

Vonage provides unlimited long distance all over the US and Canada. So our long distance charges should be, well, *ZERO* from now on. (I think it was about $.10 a minute.)

If the new Internet phone works out really well, we'll try to switch our regular home number over to Vonage, since it costs $25.00 a month just to have a "regular" phone line.

Actually, we don't have a "regular" phone line. Our "regular" phone service comes over cable and is provided by Comcast. We get almost all communication services over cable: telephone service, Internet, and TV. Now we are getting additional telephone service over cable, but now using Vonage/VoIP whereas the Comcast digital phone service uses some kind of proprietary protocol. (There is a battery backup in the garage to support the Comcast telephone service.)

The only other communcation service we get is cell phone service, which is from Cingular, which just merged with AT&T, and is GSM-based, and now the biggest cell carrier in the United States. Everyone tells me Verizon has better coverage but I really like our GSM phones - I like that I can buy a new phone and just move my chip over to the new phone and it's up and running. A couple of years ago, I would just pop the chip into my PalmPhone and it was ready to go. I didn't have to tell the cell phone company that I was using a different phone.

(I also like roll-over minutes and free cell-to-cell phone calls if the person you are calling is on Cingular as well, which is now about 46 million people in the United States.)

GSM phones are also handy because if you get a tri-band or quad-band phone you can use it in various places around the world (not everywhere, most notably not in Japan, where they have their own system).

I went to France and wanted to take my then-new tri-band phone. I called up Cingular and said, "I'm going to France, will the phone work?" They said yes.

I get to France and the phone doesn't work. I can't call Cingular because you can't call a US 866 number from France, at least not in any way I could figure out. It's not a big deal, so when I get back, I call Cingular and complain that the phone didn't work. "Oh, you need the international calling plan enabled. It's free." The M-Fs didn't bother to tell me that BEFORE I got on the plane for France.

I read somewhere that telecommunications companies are the most hated companies in the world. They passed up used-car salesmen.

I can understand why these companies are hated so much, but if you ignore the fact that they frequently charge you for things you didn't do, and charge you for taxes that don't exist, and don't bother to tell you to enable international calling before you go to France, then you just have to be amazed at the incredible technology we can use to communicate.

And it's only getting better and better.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for innovation.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


Krogroth Game Boy

The launch of the Nintendo DS - which they are trying to position as a different platform from the Game Boy Advance, even though it is compatible with the Game Boy Advance, and ought to be called the Game Boy DS, except Nintendo is afraid that sounds too childish - reminded me of my original Game Boy.

I put every add-on I had on it and took a picture of it. I call it the "Krogroth Game Boy" after the big bad unit in Total Annihilation.

One of the first games I ever produced was "Caeser's Palace" for the original Game Boy. It was a gambling game and it sold very well over the years.

There was a bug in the original release of the game where if you crossed over either $32,768 or $65,536 the game would give you negative money or something.

It never happened in testing because nobody at Virgin ever thought anyone would possible go "double or nothing" enough times in a row, which is pretty much what you had to do to get that much money, so we never saw this bug. But when you sell hundreds of thousands of copies which are probably played by two or three people each, then something like a million people are playing your game.

Since it is fake gambling, of course people are going to try to double their money on every bet.

And some small percentage of those people will succeed!

The fix was (I think) literally one bit - changing a 6502 math instruction to handle the carry differently.

If you called up Virgin and told us the game crapped out, we would just tell you that you broke the bank and good job! If you really complained, we would swap your game for a fixed one.

For awhile Nintendo threatened to make us recall every game! But the odds of the bug happening were truly small, so we were allowed to let it slide. Of course, the next run of the game had the fix in it. (I can tell you this - most games shipping today have far worse bugs than that.)

Anyway, in honor of the Game Boy DS - I mean, Nintendo DS - I present to you Krogroth Game Boy.

Krogroth Game Boy - the biggest Game Boy ever! (C) Stephen Clarke-Willson

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



For some reason, the wonderful people in Japan have named a soft drink after me.

Stevia Soft Drink from Japan

It's really more of a Gatorade style drink. It looks like it's a can of sweat but really it's something to drink if you've been sweating a lot, which, if you are in Japan in the summer, could be quite a bit.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.



I was feeling abused back in January 2001, so I decided to make a picture that represented my feelings.

First, I took a picture of myself, trying to look as pained as possible. Notice the glasses are crooked.

Stephen w/o bruises

Next, I added some bruises and blood with Photoshop.

Stephen with bruises painted by himself

Lastly, I showed it to Clay Corbisier, who is an artist with a very good naturalistic sensibility, who said, "I can do better than that!" This last one is his version. It's very good. It makes my wife want to throw up.

Stephen w bruises painted by Clay Corbisier

(You can click on any of the pictures above for a bigger version so you can see the gore at much higher resolution. I recommend looking at the bigger pictures for Clay's version so you can see the detail in the scratches bruising.)

This article © 2004 by Stephen Clarke-Willson. All Rights Reserved.


Slow down there, partner

We have an emergency cell phone for the kids, which hopefull will get very little use. We use Virgin Mobile because when I went shopping for the emergency phone it was the best deal I could find. Basically, for $20 every THREE months, we have emergency phone service, so the kids can phone home, if necessary.

I got impatient when I was adding my $20 today, and hit refresh to find out what was going on with my top-off payment (as Virgin calls it):

Slow down there, Partner. It'll take us a sec to process your request, so give your mouse a rest.

Pretty cool - first, because it's funny, and secondly, because (hopefully) it didn't charge my card twice!




Jack Brummet brought this amazing movie to my attention.

Zoom blends seamlessly between complex images. The idea is simple (and clever), which is to place a series of images, one inside the next, and zoom in, expanding each new image as you go.

The thing is, to make the Zoom look good, you have to filter the "unzoomed" or small images and connect them seamlessly to the larger, containing image. Since this doesn't make any sense without a picture, look at this credits page for Zoom, and click on the X's in the boxes - they show the pieces that make up the larger Zoom picture.

This got me thinking.

Graphics programmers have to worry about “Level of Detail” (LOD), which means creating different shapes and textures for objects depending on how far away they are from the camera.

The trick is to blend between the different models without anyone noticing, so that as one approaches an object, an increasing amount of detail is visible.

Zoom does a terrific job of matching the smaller, filtered images to the larger, original images.

As I considered the problem of managing the level of detail of graphics, it occurred to me that the same principles - filtering and visibility control - could be mapped onto sound.

Does your stereo have a "Loudness" button? You're supposed to turn that on when your stereo is playing at low volume, to increase the bass levels, so you can hear them better. (Why is it called "Loudness" instead of "Quietness"? I don't know, but this article tells you more than you want to know about it.)

Basically, the Loudness button changes the way the music sounds at low volume. Sound at low volume is akin to graphics that are far away.

Since graphics people generate LOD (Level of Detail) models that differ in the distance (both in terms of shape and texture) and carefully blend between them, it makes sense to me that if someone truly wants to make great audio, they should mix several versions of their music at differing audio levels and then the hardware - your stereo - should blend between these versions to present the best possible sound, depending on the volume setting of your stereo.

There are new audio formats that have high bit rates, like 192 kHz, which most people think is overkill. (Yes, SACD discs sound better, but this is probably because they were mastered with great precision instead of the normal crap you hear. After all, very few SACD discs come out each year, and Sony insists that they be mastered with great precision. A smart guy in the AES of the PNW told me this – but I can’t remember his name.)

Instead of making the music higher resolution, how about recording multiple takes at different volume levels - I think that could be a much better way to use all those extra bits.

I think this is a frickin' brilliant idea. Of course, no one will do it, because it would be a ton of work. Still, it could be cool in special circumstances, for instance in some kind of art installation.

This article © 2004 by Stephen Clarke-Willson. All Rights Reserved.



I've already mentioned how great the newer digital cameras are at low-light picture taking.

This first image is a picture taken "normally" with my Sony camera:

First night picture

This second image was taken using a special "accumulation" mode where the camera takes a series of pictures and adds them together until it thinks it has enough light for a good picture. It's a kind of multiple exposure. You have to hold the camera still or it gets blurry.

Second night picture with multiple exposure

Pretty cool! This was something I always wanted to do with a digital camera: shoot a lot of pictures and then add them together so I could "see" in the dark better. Now it's built-in to my Sony camera. Cool beans!

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


This site details many of the changes George Lucas made to THX-1138 when converting it to DVD.

And you've probably heard (or seen) that he made more changes to the "final" versions of the original Star Wars Trilogy.

Maybe he should spend his time making his current movies better...



Richard Branson's TV show was on last night.

I met him a few times while I worked at Virgin Interactive.

The time that most sticks in my mind is when David Bishop, who was head of game design at Virgin Interactive, and I were talking with him in a hotel lobby in England, or Chicago, or somewhere.

At the time, Virgin Atlantic flight attendents or pilots or somebody was on strike. David, without missing a beat, said to Richard, "So how much money are you losing each day?"

I about died inside. In America, at least, you're not supposed to talk about money too much. For instance, my sister-in-law has a cattle ranch, and the first question city folk want to ask, is, "Really? How many cattle do you have?", which, in cattle ranching country, is the same as asking how much money you have. As a result things get awkward quickly in the conversation.

But Richard didn't blink. He kind of thought for a moment, and then said, "Not too much. It costs a lot of money to fly the plane and if it is just sitting there it isn't too bad, since no one is getting paid."


I remember another conversation about airplanes with Branson's brother-in-law, Robert Devereax. Robert wanted us to turn the computers off at night to save electricity costs. I said, "No, that's not a good idea - it's much healthier for the computers to leave them on, but we can turn the monitors off, since they consume a lot of power and make a lot of heat."

Robert said, "Sounds like a 747. You don't want to turn it on and off too much - not more than once a day."

Now, I have to admit, I had never thought of a 747 as something that would have an on/off switch, so this was quite a revelation.

Anyway, I like the show - his crazy-ass personality shows through. As I mentioned elsewhere, as well, he can add and subtract and actually says "no" to bad business plans all the time, so it's interesting to see him "fire" or basically say "no more for you" to the contestants. He takes his time and has some heart about it, which is obviously a big difference from Trump.

© 2004 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.


Paul G. Allen Center

I went to an IEEE talk last night about RFID at the Paul G. Allen Computer Science and Engineering building at the University of Washington (UW).

What a beautiful building!

Paul G Allen CSE building at UW

Not a CRT in sight - all flat panel displays everywhere you looked.

There is Wi-Fi throughout ... but you have to have an EE or CS account in order to log into the network!

That's very unfriendly to guests.

What are they worried about? Hobos camping out in the CSE building and using up Wi-Fi bandwidth?


Or maybe ...

I receive a news letter from a Washingtonian (state, that is) named Gary Foss. He aggregates news stories. Here's what he wrote today:

Once again, exit polls received a black eye in the presidential election. By the time most of the polls closed in precincts across the country Tuesday night, real numbers began to suggest that the early estimations that had been so upbeat for Sen. John Kerry were over-inflated - so much so, that FOX News Channel decided to quit using the exit poll results Tuesday evening, calling them inaccurate and unreliable.



Consultant Dick Morris says: "the possibility of biased exit polling, deliberately manipulated to try to chill the Bush turnout, must be seriously considered…..This as no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play." http://www.thehill.com/morris/110404.aspx

I don't think it was an organized conspiracy... I'm thinking that a lot of people continued with "Answer the Opposite Day".

Yup, that's the ticket.


Apparently it's National Novel Writing Month. It's abbreviated NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo.

Coincidentally, I've been writing a novel, and it's about NaNo - except I mean Nanotechnology.

I'm up to about 35,000 words. The goal for a NaNoWriMo novel is 50,000 words.

Also, I've been working on my novel since May, 2001, when I did a story outline. I was curious how hard it is to actually write a novel, so on an airplane ride to San Jose to the Sony Developers Conference on March 6, 2002, I wrote the first chapter on my Palm Pilot Prism, which had a fold-out keyboard attached.

Now it's November, 2004, and I'm still not done.

It turns out it is easy to start to write a book but hard to finish a book. It's not so much writer's block for me that slows me down - I know what's going to happen. It's just the size of everything that went before weighs me down. I worry too much about keeping it consistent.

Also, I don't think the book will make it to 50,000 words. It might end up 5,000 or 10,000 words short. Does that make it a novella?

I plan to sell it online, shareware style, for a few bucks. It will be cheap - it's meant to be read during one or two airplane flights (depending on the length of the flight).

People who've read it say it's not bad for a first effort.

The main thing I have left is a big chase scene / fight. Frankly, the idea of it is kind of boring. Maybe I should rethink that and come up with something that gets my juices going.

Then maybe I would finish.


Plausible Shipability

Jon Mavor, who co-founded Adrenium Studios with me (actually, he was first, and then I and Jeff Petkau got involved), has come up with a cool term to help people decide when something is “done enough” to move onto the next stage of a project.

The problem with making a game is that there are a thousand things to do, at least, and if you spend too much time on one thing, then the other things never get done!

I have a saying I heard from a Microsoft guy who was working in Multimedia, who said he heard it from an old boss at Apple, which is this: “Shipping is a feature too.” (A Google search turned up a couple of references but nothing definite on who originated this term.)

So, in order to focus a team’s attention, Mavor came up with the idea of “Plausible Shipability,” which means, you can stop working on a feature if you can imagine the game could possibly ship with the feature in the state it is in.

After all, when the whole game is done, you can always go back and improve a few things - that is, if you didn't waste all your time on one single feature.

Louis Castle, founder of Westwood Studios, said once at a Game Developer Conference talk that the best way to improve a title is to find the five worst things about it and cut them! In terms of a “quality percentage”, this will improve the title the most, statistically speaking.

If you spend a long time on a feature that might ultimately get cut, then you’ve really wasted a lot of money.

So take Mavor’s advice and get as much of the game done as possible, so you can find out what works and what doesn’t work, and then cut the things that suck, and polish the things that matter the most.

And then ship the game.