Saturday, November 27, 2004

Orders of Magnitude

From memepool, a piece of infinitely* zoomable collaborative artwork: the zoomquilt.

I love things that you can experience at all sorts of scales. Reminds me, in a weird way, of Katamari Damashii. And also Keyhole, which is like TerraServer, but continuously zoomable.

*It wraps eventually.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Knock sensor?!?!?

My car (a 2000 Celica GTS) has been painfully sluggish in first gear lately. And not just 4-cylinder-pseudo-sports-car sluggish. We're talking having-difficulty-pulling-into-20-mph-traffic sluggish. I finally brought it to the dealer the other day, and they stared at it for most of a day.

Part way through, they called me up and asked, "What grade gas do you put in it?" "Medium", I said. I knew that the car says it wants premium, but I figured it couldn't matter that much. Octane is all about preventing engine knock; as long as you don't hear knocking, you're fine, right?

Apparently not. I appears modern cars have knock sensors that detect engine knock long before you can hear it, and then retard the spark timing to prevent further knocking. They're actually pretty clever, rolling the timing back until the knocking stops, then advancing until it starts again, to find the sweet spot. Or something. I don't know the details, but the point is that the system settles into a new "learned" configuration, rather than the ideal one.
This means that in a recent car, a knock situation due to lower octane just saps horsepower. The dealer's best guess is that that's what's going on in my car. It's strange that the system would be willing to retard timing almost to the point of unusability, but I guess the priority is to prevent damage.
At their suggestion, I dumped a bottle of Octane Boost into the current tank of medium-grade gas, and will start using premium next time. The Boost seems to have helped--I can merge into standing traffic now!--though it'll take a couple days of responsiveness before I'm fully convinced.
Knock sensors! Who knew?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Totally useful.

It's here it's here it's here it's here it's here!

I ordered a 12" Powerbook a week and a half ago and today it arrived! And by "it" I mean the extra battery that I also ordered! The Powerbook isn't here yet! I can't do anything with the battery! But boy, is it shiny brushed metal!


RSS in Firefox and Thunderbird

I've been using Firefox as my primary browser for a while, and recently started using Thunderbird for mail both at home and at work. Particularly in their latest versions, these two programs are rock-solid and really wonderful. Today I discovered the RSS capabilities of each program, and am more in love than ever.

For those who don't know, RSS is a way for web sites to publish little standardized summaries of their recent content. (Monkeyspeak's RSS feed is here, though it may not be easily readable in your browser.) This allows programs--called aggregators--to slurp up the summaries and present them in a unified way. The idea is that you no longer need to visit each site manually; instead, summaries of the recent content are presented to you by your aggregator.

thunderbird feeds

Firefox and Thunderbird each have ways of displaying RSS feeds. Firefox has a cute feature called Live Bookmarks. When it detects that a site has an RSS feed, an icon appears at the bottom right; by clicking it, you can add that feed to your bookmarks. Thereafter, a new "folder" appears in your bookmarks, containing links to the recent stories contained in the feed. Since Firefox already has a solid system for managing bookmarks, it's neat that they can incorporate RSS feeds into that.

Live Bookmarks are cute, but aren't intended to become a full-fledged aggregator system. Thunderbird has one of those, and it's fantastic. Like most modern mail clients, Thunderbird lets you manage multiple accounts at once. For example, I have my personal mail and my work mail visible--but managed separately--in the same program. And it turns out that Thunderbird lets you add another account for "News and Blogs", which serves as an RSS aggregator.

The screenshot on the right shows my thunderbird session at work. My personal and work accounts are visible, along with the collection of RSS feeds I've subscribed to. When you click on a feed, the recent entries appear as "messages" at the top right. Clicking on a message shows the linked content (usually the article itself) in the bottom right.

The important feature here is that Thunderbird can check these feeds regularly, just as it does for your other accounts. It also knows which entries you've read before, so it only highlights the feeds with content you haven't seen. It's really an excellent way to present RSS feeds, and it's the first form of aggregator that might make me stop using my links page.

Monday, November 15, 2004


I came home the other day to see Emma running around with a cardboard box strapped over her shoulders, happily yelling "WeeeeOooooWeeeeOoooo!" It was a fire truck, built by Melissa for Emma's amusement. Emma loves her fire truck.

Melissa is such a great mom.

Emma as a Fire Truck

Over the last several moves, a few hard drives have followed thanklessly in the bottom of miscellaneous-computer-part crates. Most notable among these is a SCSI drive: the collected works of (later, my personal server in college and a machine of minor infamy. As an important part of my data-past, I've thought periodically of that drive, and occasionally even installed it to explore the contents. I never, however, bothered to back up the data on it. This weekend, I became determined to finally do so.

The first obstacle was its SCSI-ness. Not one of my personal machines has SCSI any more. I dug through the aforementioned crates and found a very dusty ISA SCSI card. After much wrangling, including dozens of reboots of a half-working headless server and an actual interrupt conflict (remember those?), the drive mounted happily. Despite my years of neglect, the drive offered up its wares intact, with no complaint.

That semi-precious data now resides on several forms of modern media, and so the old drive is no longer needed. I feel like I should bury it in a tender ceremony or something.

Meanwhile, I now have easy access to everybody's trout home directories. If you were one of the lucky forty-or-so with accounts, contact me and I'll send a tarball your way.

Also among the data is trout's web site, last updated Nov 14, 1995--nine years ago yesterday. For nostalgia's sake, I have a copy of that site up here. Nearly all off-site links are now dead--how's that for permanence of the web? I've also crippled all the cgi-bin script links, since they no longer work.

I also found a prototype version of the site that I apparently never deployed. It's cute but unfinished and almost entirely devoid of content. The PerkWare page does have a cute motto, though.

Both sites make mention of "The UnfortuNet", a pun that I was very happy with at the time. It appears that somebody else came up with a similar idea ( a year later, according to whois.

For me, the most important aspect of trout's data resurrection is the mail archives. The resurrection was actually part of my current obsession: collecting all of my old mail archives--from every account I've had since I started using email (1993 or so)--into a single IMAP account. Those archives were scattered across several machines and ancient hard drives, and Trout's hard drive formed the last piece of the puzzle. My IMAP account is now huge.