2007-03-31

Tokyo DisneySea

Perhaps even more beautiful than Tokyo Disneyland is Tokyo DisneySea. Most people have never heard of it and if you mention it they hear "Disney C" and have no idea what you are talking about.

There was talk about a theme park like this for Long Beach, CA., but when that fell apart, most of the ideas ended up at Tokyo DisneySea, except exceptionally well-funded.

Tokyo DisneySea


(Click to visit the album online.)

The center of the park is a volcanic caldera where Captain Nemo parks the Nautalis. Nearly every ride is unique. My mind was boggled. Someday I hope to visit again with my family.

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland


(Click to visit the online album.)

Photos from a trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Tokyo Disneyland and it's sister theme-park Tokyo DisneySea are really beautiful parks. They are mostly owned by The Oriental Land Company who is willing to spend a lot of money to make the best theme parks possible (unlike Disney who has been going cheap recently on their own theme parks). So even though all Disney theme parks are designed by Disney the Tokyo Parks are funded by different folks and it shows.

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

2007-03-28

'Guild Wars': An experiment that worked

'Guild Wars': An experiment that worked - On the Level - MSNBC.com:
With more than 3 million units sold, legions of passionate fans and heaps of critical acclaim, “Guild Wars” is probably the most popular massively multiplayer online game you’ve never heard of.

...
Strain, O’Brien and Wyatt wanted to do something different. They wanted to create, as Strain puts it, an “MMO for the rest of us.” Those folks who may have played their fair share of “Ultima Online” as teenagers, but were now looking for something that didn’t require five hours a day to feel satisfying.

“Our design goal when creating ‘Guild Wars’ was this: ‘If I’ve got 30 minutes before dinner, will I have fun playing this game?’” says Strain.

It took the trio a year and a half to build their “secret sauce,” a smart publishing system that would let them stream cool new stuff to players in real-time, rather than the massive downloadable patches used by traditional MMOs.

...
“Guild Wars” also has a number of fans that have played plenty of MMOs in the past — and found them wanting. Thom Gavin, 39, has been playing games for 25 years and online games for 10.

“I have played games that require a fee and have found them to be hardly worth the original price,” he says. “This is simply not the case with the ‘Guild Wars’ franchise.”

Many fans cited the constant updates to “Guild Wars” as a major reason to keep playing. Log in around Christmas and you’re likely to find a winter wonderland complete with candy canes and gingerbread men.


Check out A Guild Wars Slide Show on MSNBC.com.

Is your computer a criminal?

Is your computer a criminal? - The Red Tape Chronicles - MSNBC.com:
AOL’s Mayrides says he’s seen bots instructed to send out only one e-mail per day.


Apparently the spam bots are going to merge and become SkyNet before the Google computers can get it together.

But anyway, with this massive spam bot army, any kind of computational approach to limiting spam isn't going to work.

I find it amazing that with 10s of millions of spam bot computers identified that nobody can get an automated system together to phone up these people and tell them that their computers are infected. (Actually most of them are outside the United States.) Google, Yahoo and Hotmail, who must see nearly every piece of spam pass through their servers, surely could compile a list of machines sending this crap out.

According to Steve Gibson on Security Now it is illegal to tap into someone else's computer even for the purposes of helping them. But surely it isn't illegal to phone them up and tell them they are probably infected with a spam bot. Between IP address databases and automated phone systems and massive spam analysis at the big email providers ... I think some kind of anti-spam-bot mashup would be possible.

Windows Live OneCare safety scanner: Free online tool for PC health and safety

Windows Live OneCare safety scanner: Free online tool for PC health and safety

Free Windows OneCare scan via an ActiveX control. Only works in Internet Explorer.

Immigration: The Human Cost | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Immigration: The Human Cost | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

A surprisingly well produced joke-video-podcast-thingy from The Onion.

2007-03-27

Amazon Unbox on TiVo

I tried out Amazon Unbox for TiVo. I have a $15.00 promotional credit. You can 'buy' a movie for $15.99 or rent for $3.99. I have a policy against buying movies, simply because they take up too much space, virtually and in real-life. Between Netflix, DVD Overnight, the local Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores, Movielink, and just plain borrowing a DVD from a friend, there are plenty of ways to get content without having to store it permanently at home. Did I mention Pay-Per-View? Comcast On-Demand? HBO? Cinemax? The 500 other cable channels?

So, I rented Idiocracy as my first Amazon.com unbox experiment. The video quality was good - better than the TiVo can record off Comcast. The sound is stereo - not Dolby - but sounded good. I didn't think much of the movie though. I like Mike Judge but this movie was a single joke repeated over and over.

Our second test was The Devil Wears Prada which was a much better film.

And then I forgot about the service.

Luckily I get an email once a week or else I would completely forget about it. The Amazon "download" email reminded me that I had forgotten all about Amazon Unbox for TiVo.

I still have two movie rentals worth of credit left, and I will eventually use them.

But I think the moral of the story is ... holy crap, there are a lot of ways to get movie content these days. Sometimes we even go to a movie theatre.

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

2007-03-24

Unlikely alliance against '.xxx' domain

Unlikely alliance against '.xxx' domain - Tech News & Reviews - MSNBC.com:
Religious groups worry that '.xxx' would legitimize and expand the number of adults sites, which more than a third of U.S. Internet users visit each month, according to comScore Media Metrix. The Web site measurement firm said 4 percent of all Web traffic and 2 percent of all time spent Web surfing involved an adult site.


Holy crap! One third of internet users (which is basically one third of everyone) visit a porn site each month? And yet the actual time spent porn-surfing is low. And it is probably the case that everyone at least one time a year visits a site, if only by accident. This is a case where I'd really like to see a graph of number of visits per time frame - daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

Visiting porn sites is a bad idea unless you have your browser really locked down. Lots of porn sites are "honey pots" designed to download mischievous code into your computer. And who really knows how to lock down their browser? Almost nobody.

As for the actual proposal to have a '.xxx' domain... I must admit I am confused. At first I thought it was a no-brainer, but I can see the arguments against it now. It will just lead to government mischievousness. And fights about what should be named '.xxx'. And so on.

One third of internet users. I'd really need to see the graph though - I suspect a few people visit a lot and the rest less often. Do they count Playboy.com? That's probably safe to visit. Do they distinguish between hard and soft core? Does a racy site like Victoria's Secret count?

*Sigh*. Another meaningless statistic.

Later in the article, a religious dude says,
"They will keep their `.com' domains, and I have no doubt they will buy their `.xxx' as well," said Patrick Trueman, special counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian public-interest law firm. "There will be twice as much pornography on the Internet."


Ha! Actually, Patrick, there will be the same amount, but twice as many addresses for it. And one entire set of addresses - the '.xxx' ones - will be ignored by almost everyone. In fact, one could use the corresponding '.xxx' name as an indication to ignore the '.com' with the same prefix. But then a person could register "Yahoo.xxx" and that would confuse things. (Actually, Yahoo.xxx is a pretty funny name for a porn site. But double actually, Yahoo would claim trademark infringement. Like I said, it will just turn into a mess. So I'm agin' it.)

2007-03-18

Single Pixel ... NOT

Camera Reconstructs Image from Single Pixel: Scientific American:
Camera Reconstructs Image from Single Pixel


I am disappointed with Scientific American. Repeating this claim that an entire picture is made from a single pixel is retarded. Later in the article it says,
The positions of the mirrors are randomly reassigned up to tens or hundreds of thousands of times, creating a series of randomly varying light intensities.


I hate to tell the people at Scientific American that a sequence of hundreds of thousands of samples is not a single pixel. It is the same as hundreds of thousands of pixels. A single pixel, by definition, is a single picture element. A hundred thousand picture elements, even those derived using a statistical algorithm, and sample over a period of time, is still a hundred thousand pixels.

And the light intensities are not random. Duh.

Morons.

(Also, the statistically generated picture doesn't look so great.)

ACM Names Bluespec Founder Arvind 2006 ACM Fellow

ACM Names Bluespec Founder Arvind 2006 ACM Fellow:
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has named Arvind, founder of Bluespec(TM) Inc., developer of the only electronic system level (ESL) synthesis for control logic and complex datapaths in chip design, a 2006 ACM Fellow.

Arvind, who is the Johnson professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), received this award for his contributions to dataflow computing and verification. The ACM Fellows Program celebrates exceptional contributions of leading members in the computing field who have helped to enlighten researchers, developers, practitioners and end-users of information technology throughout the world.


My wife took a class at UCI from Arvind. That's his whole name: Arvind. I think I saw him in the hall once or twice before he took off from UCI for MIT.

I did spend some time with two guys who wrote a dataflow compiler for Arvind. One guy was named James and the other was Curtis. The dataflow compiler was written in Simula, a fairly slow language to begin with, and took seven passes to compile the Dataflow language (I think that's what it was called) into a simulated instruction set that modeled a dataflow computer. It took hours to compile and run a small program. But apparently it worked and simulated a dataflow compiler and computer (in Simula). (Modern computers do a bit of dataflow work as they work out argument dependencies in order to simultaneously execute more than one instruction.)

One time James and Curtis set off the alarm in the lab where we worked. This lab alarm had the worst user interface of any alarm button every known to man. It was a button on the wall near the door. For years, everyone resisted pushing this button. Finally James or Curtis pushed the button. The alarm went off and I arrived just as they were slipping out the door. The UCI fire department had to go to the top of the engineering building, which was about eleven floors, and check each floor from the top down for trouble. Then they had to go through the underground tunnel to our building until they found a flashing light over the room that had set off the alarm. For some incredible reason they couldn't look at an annunciator panel and see where the alarm had been set off.

Some very tired (but strong!) firemen finally arrived at our lab. I told them they alarm had been tripped by accident and we had no idea how to turn it off or who to call. One of the firemen gave the alarm a twist and it turned off. A twist! WHAT? So, to summarize: alarm with no documentation, alarm system that provided very little information to the firefighters, and two guys who couldn't resist pushing the button. John Locke (from Lost) would have been proud. Luckily there was no C4 wired to the alarm.

2007-03-17

Cool Spot: Information from Answers.com

Cool Spot: Information from Answers.com

I love vanity searches. This one came up on an image vanity search. Google is constantly changing it's image search algorithm, so you never know what will show up.

2007-03-14

Happy Pi Day

I've noticed some people have started writing dates with "periods" instead of slashes or dashes.

That would make today 3.14, or Pi day.

Here's an article about Pi day (and it notes that at 1:59 it will 3.14159 [and I should point out that at one moment in there it will be the true value of Pi, whatever that is, accurate to infinity decimal places]).

Today you can eat a slice of pizza, raise a toast with a piƱa colada, or just reflect for a moment on 3/14 at 1:59 p.m. to celebrate the most irrational holiday of the year: Pi Day. The observance commemorates the first few digits of one of the oldest known constants, 3.14159 ... and it also happens to coincide with Albert Einstein's birthday, which makes today a doubly cool day for science geeks. So what else can you do to celebrate?

Happy Pi Day

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

GameDaily BIZ: Neil Young 'Very Impressed' by Sony at GDC, Talks Spielberg Projects

GameDaily BIZ: Neil Young 'Very Impressed' by Sony at GDC, Talks Spielberg Projects

Wow! It sounds like Neil is working out the interface to Hollywood. And Louis Castle is making a Wii game? Excellent! I'm very much looking forward to that.

2007-03-11

Wired News: Will Biology Solve the Universe?

Wired News: Will Biology Solve the Universe?

People who, ah, want to have more control over their lives like to believe that Quantum Mechanics says that by thinking positive thoughts you can live a better life.

Personally, I believe that by thinking positive thoughts you can live a better life. However, making the connection to Quantum Mechanics has been a stretch. One of the more famous books on this matter, The Dancing Wu Li Masters interleaves modern scientific thought with mumbo-jumbo resulting in an entertaining but totally bogus argument as to how one's thinking affects one's place in the Universe.

Now, this Wired article at least raised the issue in a way that got me thinking about it again. Interestingly, the author doesn't say that he has the answer - just that certain holes in the way our theories are described, especially as relates to the notion of an "observer", leaves open the possibility that a connection could be made in the future between biology and awareness and how the world works.

More: Wikipedia article on Wheeler's Choice Experiment.

Wikipedia Article on the amazing Double Slit experiment (with pictures!).

2007-03-10

Arnold Spielberg named Computer Pioneer

Arnold Spielberg, famous as father of Steve Spielberg, the movie maker, has won an award from the IEEE Computer Society as a Computer Pioneer "For recognition of contribution to real-time data acquisition and recording that significantly contributed to the definition of modern feedback and control processes."

Arnold Spielberg

Interestingly, I had dinner once with Arnold Spielberg. It was probably around 1989 when my wife was working for him at Burroughs in Mission Viejo, California. He took his team out to dinner for some milestone celebration or another and spouses were invited. He was very kind and easy to talk to. Of course people asked about his famous son but I honestly don't remember anything about the dinner conversation all these years later.

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

2007-03-09

Forfeit (baseball) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Forfeit (baseball) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
In the past twenty-five years of MLB play, there has only been one forfeit. On August 10, 1995, the St. Louis Cardinals were visiting the Los Angeles Dodgers, and leading the game 2-1 as the Dodgers came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Dodgers had given away thousands of baseballs to fans coming to the game as a promotion. The first batter, Raul Mondesi, was called out on strikes and then ejected by home plate umpire, Jim Quick, for arguing, as was Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda immediately after. The crowd became agitated, and soon Dodger fans began throwing baseballs onto the field of play. The Cardinals left the field and the baseballs were removed, but when the fans started throwing balls again after the Cardinals came back onto the field, the umpires declared a forfeit by the Dodgers.

Famous Forfeits

The 1970s saw two of the most famous forfeits in baseball history. Ten Cent Beer Night, a promotion held by the Cleveland Indians on June 4, 1974, backfired when intoxicated Cleveland fans jumped onto the field and attacked Texas Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. Umpires declared a forfeit win by Texas.

Five years later, on July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox held Disco Demolition Night, in which Chicago radio personality, Steve Dahl, came onto the field to blow up a box full of disco records between games of a doubleheader. Rioting fans stormed the field and the game was postponed. American League President Lee MacPhail later declared the second game of the doubleheader a forfeit victory for the visiting Detroit Tigers.


I was looking up how to spell "forfeit" and I learned that all Major League Baseball forfeits have been caused by stupid publicity stunts.

Amazing.

2007-03-07

Google - 404 Not Found

http://www.google.com/screensaver - 404 Not Found

I think this is pretty funny. If there is any company that should at least provide a list of related pages AUTOMATICALLY when you screw up a URL ... it would be Google.

As it is, I was looking for that cool new Google screen saver that makes montages of pics.

Spam Reduction (and Postscript!)

www.ps2pdf.com Postscript to Portable Document format converter

Awesome. You're looking for some academic article and it's only available in Postscript format. Just visit this site and convert the file to an easily readable PDF.

In my case, I had a genius idea of computing an somewhat expensive operation (say, something that takes about a second to compute) for every piece of mail that is sent; the sender computes it, based on some hash of the sender, receiver, and date/time, and then sticks the result in an X-Header for the email message. The receiver does the same thing, and if the results match, then the email is worth looking at.

The idea is that it is so cheap to send a million emails that if we changed the system so that it took one second to process each email message, then a bulk emailing would take one million computer-seconds to send. So even if you put 1,000 computers to work on it, it would take 1,000 seconds (or 16 and 1/2 minutes) to send those million messages. Of course, it's easy to scale something like this; just adding a few bits to finding all the prime factors of the hash can have a pretty dramatic effect on how long it takes to compute the function. If we make it five seconds, or 10 seconds, then it would take 80 minutes, or 160 minutes to send all that junk email, even using 1,000 zombie computers to do the job.

The receiver doesn't care about the cost - even a busy human like me receives maybe a hundred real emails a day (on a bad day) and the extra time taken to compute the validation function is a very small price to pay for elimination or at least vastly reducing spam.

Real commercial senders, of course, would have to pay the "processing price" for their bulk mailings, which one would hope, would cause them to consider carefully the contents of their bulk e-mailings.

Well, just as I was congratulating myself on how great this idea was (I had even found a freely downloadable prime factoring program and was looking at how to integrate into the open source project Spay Bayes, which has all of the hooks for working within Outlook), I ran across an article in Communications of the ACM that referred to an article from 1992 which described basically the same system.

The article is Pricing Via Processing or Combating Junk Email by Cynthia Dwork and Moni Naor. The link is to a draft version which is posted for some reason at Microsoft Research. The only official versions of Combatting Junk I could find were in Postscript format. I downloaded GhostScript but it's a pain (command line driven) to use. The Unix versions claim to have a script, PS2PDF, but the version I grabbed from SourceForge.net was missing it (at least the Win32 version was missing it). A web search brought me to PS2PDF.com which solved my problem.

I still might undertake this project, even though it is not an original idea, because of the excellent framework provided by Spam Bayes for hooking into Outlook. (My approach is simpler and better - there is no need for a central authority.) A simple to use and install program would make a huge difference in how something like this could be adopted. Also, once the framework is in place, it would be easy to experiment with different costing functions.

Cool, huh?

(After reviewing more work by Naor I have to say I like my idea better. Naor's idea is based on making it difficult to sign a message but easy to verify the signature. She has another mechanism that depends on memory access. My scheme is simpler - I think it should be equally hard to sign and to verify the message. The idea is that receivers have tons of computer time whereas senders will be limited in direct proportion to the amount of spam they want to send.)

2007-03-06

Many Eyes : US government expenses 1962-2004

Many Eyes : US government expenses 1962-2004

I haven't fully grokked this yet ... apparently it's a web enabled user friendly way to create cool data visualizations. The one I have linked to is federal government spending over the past 40 years. It does fun things when you wiggle your mouse over it.

Everybody fuck off!

Apparently I now know how to keep my blog from appearing as the "Next Blog" when someone pushes that button at a Blogspot.com site.

Swear words!

My daily visit count went from 60 to 25 once I mentioned "shit" in a title.

I actually prefer to only get people that come because they already know about the site or because they got here by search (my Disney Castle pics are very popular).

Everyone else can fuck off! (Not you, the other guy.)

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.

2007-03-02

Dueling Fools: Sirius/XM Bull [Fool.com] March 01, 2007

Dueling Fools: Sirius/XM Bull [Fool.com] March 01, 2007:
Meanwhile, in radio, terrestrial stations managed by the likes of Clear Channel (NYSE: CCU) are suffering. That's not entirely Sirius and XM's fault; more of the blame should be sent Google's way. After all, Big Goo is leading a digital-advertising revolution. Its online pitches are pulling dollars away from ad-supported radio, according to research from eMarketer.

If that's true -- and I've no reason to believe it isn't -- then nixing a deal between Sirius and XM on competitive grounds could be like feeding beer to a sick cow. Sure, it might look interesting, and given enough brew, it might even dull the pain. But the cow is still going to die. Terrestrial radio, too. Or at least the terrestrial radio that we know and (mostly) love today.

Tuning in to the real competition

Which brings me back to the Web. Online radio is a booming business that now boasts some 65 million listeners -- 65 million! That number will likely grow, thanks to the relative ease of streaming radio over a Web connection. In most cases, a simple MP3 file will allow you to listen to broadcasts from around the globe.

My MacBook Pro offers a reasonable example. My snooty taste is varied, but thanks to a few quick downloads, I get classical public radio here in Colorado and from Washington, D.C. And thanks to a handy widget in the Mac OS Dashboard, I'm also able to stream the BBC.

Therein lies the problem for Sirius and XM, which together would have just 14 million subscribers. With all of the special equipment required, it's a lot harder to become a satellite-radio subscriber than it is to get radio over the Web, or on FM.


Well said. I actually listen to the radio ... once in a great while. "Once in a great while" isn't going to cut it financially for the radio business. The same will happen to TV - just a few years later.

Imagine ... if Howard Stern was signed up by Google after his deal with Sirius expires ...

Meltdown Walkabout

Apparently I uploaded some photos of Seattle that I took during a break from a Microsoft "Meltdown" event. I had totally forgotten about this Picasa (read: Google) photo album.



I like these pictures. A couple of them have been my desktop background for months at a time. Perhaps you'll enjoy some of them too. (People who work in the new very modern and bitchen and disaster-resistant Fisher Plaza might especially like them.)

© 2007 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved.