Efectos Especiales

Ramblings, rants, musings, ideas and observations. Topics include (but are not limited to): programming (especially Python), books, games (especially CCGs and board games), astrology, design, writing, painting, etc.

icon:default #679 (old comments) Nostalgia used to be much nicer

Over time, I've been tinkering with different computers, operating systems, and programming languages. What I *really* want is something that brings back the fun in computing. That's why I dabbled with Macs, SGIs, Amigas, Zeta, Knoppix, Palm Pilots, and countless languages.

The real problem may be deeper. Back in the day, computers were cool. At least I thought so. emoticon:smile The old "home computers" like the C64 or even the C16 may have been terribly limited by today's standards... but you didn't know that back then, and on top of that, there was a lot of stuff to discover. Programming in BASIC or assembler. POKEs that did strange and wonderful things. Games that improved yearly, while still using the same instruction set and 64K of memory. Games that actually *worked* (if your tape recorder or disk drive cooperated :-). Magazines that unveiled mystical secrets. Of course it was not a perfect world, but at least computers were *exciting*.

I don't think so anymore. This may be due to overexposure -- I've been a professional programmer since 1998 (or 1993, depending on how you count), and have been using computers since 1985. Hardly an old timer, but hardly a newbie either. More importantly, I've also been looking at the same stupid Windows screen for over 9 years now. Computers still are OK, programming is still OK, and languages like Python make it bearable. But what I really would like is to rediscover my old enthusiasm. It may be a hopeless task... it looks like computers will only be more of the same. Other operating systems look like Windows, even have many of the same programs. That's a Good Thing, but it also makes things extremely boring.

What I really want is something cool to tinker with. It doesn't need to be a replacement for PCs/Windows/Python/etc. But I want something different. Something that makes me think. Something that doesn't suck. I don't care if it's an OS, a language, a computer, a gadget...

Ideas welcome. emoticon:smile

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-10 23:05 */

icon:zeta #678 (old comments) What next?

Zeta is cool, but
it is unclear what to do
with it. Ideas?


After a few days of experimenting with Zeta, I come to the conclusion that RC3 is still too flaky. Apps crash regularly, for no apparent reason. On top of that, there are several annoyances that make the OS feel less stable or mature, overall. (For example, font changes don't always work, sometimes German names show up here and there rather than English ones, some applications hang and must be beaten into submission, etc.)

To be fair, it may be that some apps don't work so well because they were written for BeOS 5 (or maybe even older). This is Zeta, and things may work differently.

One thing I missed was a vanilla text editor. You know, something simple like Windows Notepad. OK, maybe not that simple. But a little app that stores things in ASCII format. ZEdit seems to have its own ideas about how to store things. There's the ubiquitous vi(m), but it has to be started from the command line (so it's non-GUI) and seems to have some strange settings.

In general, Zeta seems to dislike the Ctrl key. I don't know why, but in some programs (like Firefox and vim) the familiar Ctrl combinations don't work. In Firefox they are replaced with Alt combinations, e.g. Ctrl-T (to open a new tab) becomes Alt-T, etc. (But maybe this is common on Unix-derived systems?)

On the plus side, Zeta comes with a number of programs preinstalled. As said, Firefox is one of them. It comes with Python too; Python 2.2.2 is available from the command line (without Tkinter or wxPython). I haven't been able to find a more recent version. It also comes with Perl, and gcc (of course). No Ruby, CLISP or OCaml, although a recent version of the last can be downloaded at BeBits. There's not much programming stuff installed, mostly obscure development tools that I don't know how to use (yet?). In other areas there's more, though... CD burning, Internet tools, games, office tools (like AbiWord), etc.

Configuration is very easy. The "deskbar" (kind of like a start menu) gives you easy access to the preferences, and can be easily changed itself. Just open the right preferences screen, and drag applications to it so they appear in the start menu. (This can be done in Windows as well, but somehow it seems more user-friendly in Zeta.)

All in all, it's not ready for prime time yet. I don't know if I will keep it or try another OS (maybe a Linux?). But maybe I should wait for the 1.0 release, or this "Neo" thing. I would like to do more, if only try some programs and blog about it on Zeta itself. (But so far, I haven't found a blogging tool yet. I suppose I could use a Blogger or LiveJournal account, but that feels like cheating.) Or maybe try my hand at a little development. Not that I have a clue where to start, at this point.

/* Posted by Hans "ζ" Nowak at 2004-11-10 21:57 */

icon:python #677 (old comments) C# iterators

The Daily Python-URL notices the article For Each++ Iterators in C#, describing Python-like iterators (well, as far as that sort of thing goes in C#). That reminds me of something Guido wrote a while ago:

It was nice enough to compare the yield statements in Python and C# (they are very similar, even though C# quotes CLU as the origin rather than Python :-), but for me the high point of the evening was Miguel de Icaza's excitement over Python's feature which makes text files iterators yielding the lines of the file in succession, so that you can write

  for line in open(filename):
      ...process line...

Miguel is on the ECMA standardization committee for C# and IL (as a guest of IBM), so if you see something like this in the next revision of C# attributed to, say, COBOL, you know where it really came from!

/* Posted by Hans "might as well use Python instead" Nowak at 2004-11-10 09:51 */

icon:astrology #676 (old comments) Born on a rotten day

Bought this book the other day. It’s much like Astrologically Incorrect, but more vicious (and often over the top).

These are basically “dark” Sun-sign books. For some reason I find them often more accurate than traditional astrology books, which often give you lists of boring descriptions. Aries is impulsive, enthusiastic, a born leader, etc. Yeah, yeah, but what is the sign really like? This book has an interesting outlook on that.

In astrology, signs are divided into 4 elements (fire, earth, air, water) and 3 “modalities” (cardinal, fixed, mutable). The book starts off by “translating” these terms as follows:

fire = selfish; earth = hardheaded; air = flighty; water = moody
cardinal = bossy; fixed = stubborn; mutable = inconsistent
positive/masculine = aggressive; negative/feminine = emotional manipulator

This gives us the following table:

Sign Element Modality Polarity
Aries selfish bossy aggressive
Taurus hardheaded stubborn emotional manipulator
Gemini flighty inconsistent aggressive
Cancer moody bossy emotional manipulator
Leo selfish stubborn aggressive
Virgo hardheaded inconsistent emotional manipulator
Libra flighty bossy aggressive
Scorpio moody stubborn emotional manipulator
Sagittarius selfish inconsistent aggressive
Capricorn hardheaded bossy emotional manipulator
Aquarius flighty stubborn aggressive
Pisces moody inconsistent emotional manipulator

This book doesn’t play around. Some quotes:

“Ms. Pisces is as sexually diffuse as Fish-boy, except where the male tricks his lovers into believing he is a prince in a frog’s clothing, she tricks herself that every man she gets between the sheets, or on top of the Xerox machine, is her One True Love, at least for a couple of hours. This woman has kissed dozens of toads in her quest for a soul mate. Trouble is, she rarely lifts her eyes higher than the swamp. Of course, this is extremely lucky for you if you are demented, unemployable, a hopeless mama’s boy, or an escaped felon.”

“Get a “C” on a test and your Cancer mom will put one hand on her breast, sink down on the nearest chair, and ask herself what she did wrong in raising you. Try to cut the apron strings for a life of your own, and she’ll fake a heart condition to keep you home.”

“Sagittarius lives in the Ninth House of Philosophy, Adventures, and Long-Distance Travel. In astrological myth, this Mutable Fire sign is described as a gregarious, honest fun-lover who was born with a philosophical outlook and a yen to wander. The rotten truth is this tactless, vociferous bore galumphs through the world with one foot caught in a bucket and the other lodged firmly between his, or her, overdeveloped jaws.”

Any similarities with existing people are entirely coincidental. emoticon:shiny To be fair, here’s a quote about Aquarius:

“You have the annoying habit of acting like an authority on subjects about which you know little or nothing. This is because your brain is like an encyclopedia with chunks of pages missing. You confuse snatches of a conversation held a year ago with the Adventure Channel’s special on the pyramids you saw last week. Then insist you had a conversation with the curator of an Egyptian museum on the relics found in King Tut’s tomb. The sad part is that you believe your fantasy so you are not only a phony but also a fruitcake.”

Of course these are all generalizations, as some Amazon reviewers point out. For them, there’s this A-team quote: emoticon:smile

B.A.: I knew it! All businessmen are crooks!
Murdock: B.A., that is a very crude generalization of a social class…
B.A.: Yeah, but it’s true!


/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-08 16:55 */

icon:zeta #675 (old comments) An idea

This sounds like an interesting idea:

  1. Make a new partition on the harddisk
  2. Install Yellowtab Zeta on it
  3. Get Zeta to work (i.e. learn some basics, set it up so I can surf the Net, etc)
  4. Start a new blog, describing your adventures with this operating system

[Update #1] So far I don't have much success in installing it... Partition Magic stops me right at the gate, complaining that the "partition's drive letter cannot be identified". @#$%^&!! Try "C". emoticon:frusty

[Update #2] After a few hours of fighting Partition Magic, Boot Magic, and the Zeta installer, I finally have a partition with Zeta on it, and a boot manager.

[Update #3] It appears that Zeta RC3 is not up to snuff yet... it doesn't recognize my graphics card, and as a "solution" reverts to 640x480 grayscale (!). It admittedly still looks cool like that, but it's not really workable, especially on a 19" monitor. Let's see if I can find any drivers for an Intel 82845G Extreme Graphics.

Connecting to the Net was not a problem, by the way. Keeping the configuration options is a different issue. I suspect I can't see/access certain buttons due to the low resolution.

[Update #4, 2004-11-08] Thanks to a little program called Vesa Accepted, I now have color and a higher resolution. Oh glorious king, thy name is Zeta. It must be said that the mode I'm currently using (1024x768x16; I'm assuming the 16 is 16 bits, not 16 colors) is rather slow. Well, at least it's workable, and hopefully someday a real driver will come along.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-07 19:38 */

icon:programming #673 (old comments) Those were the days

As seen on Slashdot...

Man, I miss 8-bit computing. Back in the good old days, you just peeked and poked (or LDA'd and STA'd) wherever the heck you wanted. Ask the system for resources? Bah! If I practiced poor memory management and ran out or overwrote something, cool things would happen. Text would change shapes or colors. The screen might change color in the middle. The joystick would work backwards and the tape drive would have a life of its own.

Back in those days, when I knew the entire 6510 assembler command set and the entire C64 kernel jump table by heart, I could do ANYTHING. I could even debug programs after assembly and correct for assembler errors. 032 212 255? No way!! That's 032 21*0* 255, or JSR $FFD2, the "print character to screen" routine. Let's just shave a bit off one of those bytes and we're good to go...

Now there are so many languages and so many implementations of each... And so much hardware to support and abstraction layers... It's not that it's harder... it's just not as much fun anymore... Maybe I'll get a C64 emulator and type in the development kit from Compute!'s Gazette again!

Moderated "funny", but it's true. ^_^

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-05 18:12 */

icon:usa #672 (old comments) A load of bush

It appears that many of my fellow bloggers are disappointed that Dubya won. They can't seem to imagine how this could happen, and some are even considering moving to a different country.

I'm not a Bush fan, but I think his victory is really not so hard to understand. First of all, many people don't really bother to look deeply into the issues at hand. Why should they? Like I said before, once every 4 years you get to vote, and that's it. For many people, there's no reason to get hung up about these issues, when they hardly have any influence over it. Also, many people have no interest in acquiring a good grasp of economics, civil rights issues, etc. (Or maybe they are unable to.)

So they choose a person + perceived qualities rather than a solution for certain issues. This is especially true in the US, where the weeks (or months) before the elections are more of a grand show than anything else, where the candidates try to make their opponent look bad. (Such elements of show are not uncommon to the Netherlands anymore either.)

This is where Kerry loses. IMHO, Bush is perceived as a leader. Maybe not a very good leader, but a leader nonetheless. Kerry, on the other hand, is not seen as such. Sure, maybe *you* think so... but many Americans don't, and the Bush camp has ruthlessly hammered on certain issues, portraying Kerry as someone who cannot make up his mind. Note that it does not matter who is actually the better leader... it's how it's *perceived*.

But frankly, I don't think much would have changed with Kerry as president, anyway...

[Update #1] (via Ian Bicking) Ping suggests that Bush supporters also tend to be misinformed.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-04 15:31 */

icon:default #671 (old comments) A thought

Freedom of speech is a great right. But is there such a thing as "too much" freedom of speech?

Normally, one should be able to voice their opinion without having to be afraid of repercussions. (That only goes so far, of course... try entering a biker bar and saying that all men there are faggots.)

Should one be allowed to say whatever they want, even if it is hurtful to others? Not just hurtful because of a dissenting opinion... but, say, deliberately mocking what somebody else considers sacred.

If I don't like "Jantje", then I am (legally) not allowed to hit him, or use other kinds of violence against him. But I can still hurt him with words, and my right to do so would be protected by law. Interesting. Why this discrepancy? Granted, violence may kill people, while words rarely do so. However, giving someone a black eye or a kick in the shins rarely kills them, either. Yet these actions are not allowed, while hurting them with words is.

I was thinking about this after the murder of Theo van Gogh. In the Netherlands, just like in the US, people value freedom of speech very much. And there is absolutely no excuse for killing someone just because they stated their opinion, no matter how hateful that opinion was. However, maybe the right to be able to say "anything" has gone a little too far. You can deliberately hurt people all you want, and if you call it "satire", "parody" or "art" you might even get paid for it.

I am not calling for censorship. But freedom is speech is a right that, like any right or law, can be abused. Also, maybe it wouldn't hurt if some people checked themselves before they said certain things. Yes, you have the right to say them; that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to do so. You also have the right to jump off a building, or stick your hand in a tiger's cage, or do that thing with the bikers I mentioned earlier. Do you think you should, just because you can?

Words can be enormously powerful, sometimes more so than fists. Let's not forget that, and be a little careful when exercising this important right.

(The line "with great power comes great responsibility" comes to mind. Cheesy, but very true.)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-03 17:45 */

icon:default #670 (old comments) No comments

There have been some problems with the comments lately... I'm not sure what is going on, but it appears that pycs.net (which hosts the comments) is hard to reach. So if you have something to say and the comments don't work at that moment, drop me a note.

I'm not sure how long I can keep the comments, anyway. Comment spam is on the rise, even on my blog.

[Update #1] I've disabled the comments for now. I will put them back later, when pycs.net is working again.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-11-03 15:10 */