At the USENIX contest for “name your favorite proposed window manager feature,” whose results were announced at 2pm yesterday, one of the entries of note was ‘dbwm,’ the Dan Bernstein window manager: it argues with you for 10 weeks whenever you want to move a window.

— Tom Christiansen

Elton John: censorship in the US is soooo much worse now than in the Sixties


Dear Elton, with reference to your recent statement that, unlike in the Sixties where people like Pete Seeger were out there speaking truth to power, entertainers today are “frightened by the administration’s bullying tactics,” I call to your attention the documentary Smothered — The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Note that unlike current entertainers such as Michael Moore, the producers of this enlightening film actually made an honest documentary.

By the way, where do you buy your drugs, or is this the result of giving them up?

"There was a moment about a year ago when you couldn't say a word about anything in this country for fear of your career being shot down by people saying you are un-American."

Keep your powder dry…


…and away from your ex-wife. 18 grains of Unique in a pistol cartridge; shiver.

The author also admits that he missed several clear warning signs that should have prevented the accident, even setting aside the mystery of how the wrong powder got into the clearly labeled container.

CNN: all the news we like, we print


CNN has two stories today (here and here) on the Butler report of the investigation into British intelligence related to the war in Iraq. Neither story, not even the one headlined “Summary of conclusions,” includes any reference to yellowcake. Why not? Maybe it’s because the report said this:

We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." was well-founded.

But you can’t have people finding out that Bush’s famous “sixteen words” were true, or they might not vote for Kerry.

Reporting with a straight face…


…here’s CNN:

Al Jazeera unveils code of ethics

Reason’s “Ten Reasons To Fire George W. Bush”


Just for fun, and coming off of a weekend surrounded by true-red Lefties, I decided to see how Reason’s reasons affected my voting decision.

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Why I just deleted Konfabulator


It lasted about fifteen minutes on my laptop. Why? First, because the supplied widgets were primarily designed to be pretty. The weather and calendar widgets are translucent; you can’t make them not be translucent, even if you have wallpaper on your screen that makes them unreadable. The (thankfully not translucent) to-do list doesn’t allow you to edit in-place; anything you want to do with a to-do item involves popping up a bog-standard Mac dialog box and clicking “Okay”, which pretty much renders it useless as a “quick! write that down!” tool or organizing tool. Most of the other standard widgets are similarly long on chrome and short on function, to the point that I have trouble remembering them mere minutes after trying them out.

I was already underwhelmed by the contents of their user-submitted widget gallery, so I’m left with no possible reason to purchase this product, nor can I imagine it ever becoming a significant commercial success. This renders the whole “Apple stole our idea” and “Dashboard was designed to be a Konfabulator killer” claims completely moot. Konfabulator in its current form could never have made its way onto the desktops of a significant percentage of Mac users; it’s just not that interesting.

Will there be a lot of high-chrome, low-content Dashboard gadgets? Sure; as the man said, 90% of everything is crap. The difference is that you don’t need to learn a proprietary development environment to create gadgets for Dashboard. Hell, you don’t even need to learn JavaScript; Dashboard will cheerfully run Flash applications with a trivial DHTML wrapper. You can also embed Java applications, QuickTime videos, etc.

Konfabulator can’t do any of that.

If, for instance, I wanted to build a nice kana/kanji chart around this remarkable collection of QuickTime videos that demonstrate the correct stroke order for the entire hiragana and katakana syllabaries as well as all 1,945 Jōyō kanji, I could (and likely will, if only for my personal use), because a Dashboard gadget is just a web page, and web pages can have embedded QuickTime videos.

The closest thing they’ve got over in Konfab-land is the new Kanji-A-Day widget, which uses /usr/bin/curl to scrape a Japanese web site and import its content into a (cough) pretty window. Maybe that’s the one that will justify the $25 they want for the product…

Your brother is dead, but you’re a moron


An Australian surfer died recently after being mauled by a shark. So what’s his brother’s reponse?

"I don't believe that the shark should be killed just for the sake of what's happened in this situation. I don't believe that Brad can be revenged by killing a shark."

Hate to break it to you, Steve, but the local authorities aren’t planning to kill it for “revenge.” They’re planning to kill it (if, and only if, they can conclusively identify the shark responsible) because carnivores that attack humans tend to repeat the act in the future, having discovered that humans are not only easy prey, but pretty darn tasty. Our place at the top of the food chain is not a result of animals recognizing our natural superiority; indeed, as ably chronicled in The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and other books, there are always a few predators who violently disagree with our position on that subject. I think that it’s in our best interests as a species to continue to press our claim.

I should note that the head curator at the Aquarium of Western Australia isn’t much brighter:

"If you hunt him, so what? A day later another one cannot come and kill someone else?"

Apple’s Dashboard: sample gadget


I’m not really a programmer; I’ve been a Perl hacker since ’88, though, after discovering v1.010 and asking Larry Wall where the rest of the patches were (his reply: “wait a week for 2.0”). If I’m anything, I’m a toolsmith; I mostly write small programs to solve specific problems, and usually avoid touching large projects unless they’re horribly broken in a way that affects me, and no one else can be persuaded to fix them on my schedule.

So what does this have to do with learning Japanese? Everything. I’m in the early stages of a self-study course (the well-regarded Rosetta Stone software; “ask me how to defeat their must-insert-CD-to-run copy-protection”), and authorities agree that you must learn to read using the two phonetic alphabets, Hiragana (ひらがな, used for native Japanese words) and Katakana (カタカナ, used for foreign words). A course that’s taught using Rōmaji (phonetic transcriptions using roman characters) gives you habits that will have no value in real life; Rōmaji is not used for much in Japan.

So how do you learn two complete sets of 46 symbols plus their variations and combinations, as well as their correct pronunciations? Flashcards!

The best software I’ve found for this is a Classic-only Mac application called Kana Lab (link goes direct to download), which has a lot of options for introducing the character sets, and includes recordings of a native speaker pronouncing each one. I’ve also stumbled across a number of Java and JavaScript kana flashcards, but the only one that stood out was LanguageBug, which works on Java cellphones (including my new Motorola v600).

When the misconceptions about Apple’s upcoming Dashboard feature in OS X 10.4 were cleared up (sorry, Konfabulator, it will kill your product not by being a clone, but simply by being better), I acquired a copy of the beta (why, yes, I am a paid-up member of the Apple Developer Connection) and took a look, with the goal of building a functional, flexible flashcard gadget.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent the past few years stubbornly refusing to learn JavaScript and how it’s used to manipulate HTML using the DOM, so I had to go through a little remedial course. I stopped at a Barnes & Noble on Sunday afternoon and picked up the O’Reilly JavaScript Pocket Reference and started hacking out a DHTML flashcard set, using Safari 1.2 under Panther as the platform.

Note: TextEdit and Safari do not a great DHTML IDE make. It worked, but it wasn’t fast or pretty, especially for someone who was new to JavaScript and still making stupid coding errors.

I got it working Tuesday morning, finished off the configuration form Wednesday afternoon, and squashed a few annoying bugs Wednesday night. Somewhere in there I went to work. If you’re running Safari, you can try it out here; I’ve made no attempt to cater to non-W3C DOM models, so it won’t work in Explorer or Mozilla.

There’s a lot more it could do, but right now you can select which character sets to compare, which subsets of them to include in the quiz, and you can make your guesses either by clicking with the mouse or pressing the 1-4 keys on the keyboard. I’ve deliberately kept the visual design simple, not just because I’m not a graphic designer, but also to show how Apple’s use of DHTML as the basis for gadgets makes it possible for any experienced web designer to come in and supply the chrome.

So what does it take to turn my little DHTML web page into a Dashboard gadget?

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“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”