Archives for June 2005
Thursday, June 30, 2005

"It's behind you!!"

John Gibson opened his "The Big Story" show by intoning "This is a Fox News alert" -- then proceeded to inform his viewers of the urgent news that a boy who was attacked by a shark had his leg amputated, before going on to interview a shark expert. The contrast between Fox's resolute avoidance of showing bloody images from the war in Iraq and its nearly pornographic immersion in shark bites and unsolved murders, was glaring. Only death or bloodshed with high entertainment value gets on Fox.[War? What war?]

To be fair I don't watch enough UK news these days to see if they get beyond Wimbledon results and "Is Henman finished?"

30/06/2005 09:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Detecting Ruby platforms

I got bitten recently by some naive platform detection code for Ruby. Ruby defines a constant RUBY_PLATFORM which contains a string identifying the platform and many programs use regular expressions to parse this in the same way that Browser-Agent strings get parsed. It's not a precise science and I imagine the author of the code:

if RUBY_PLATFORM =~ /win/i
hadn't spent much time using a Mac or he'd have come across the platform string
and realised it wasn't going to fly.

I had a look around for Ruby platform detection code and, whilst I found other people doing the same trick, I didn't find a library or a comprehensive attempt to cover available platforms. So I decided to give it a try and the current result is: platform.rb.

If you require 'platform' in your code it will define three constants:

  • Platform::OS
    • :unix
    • :win32
    • :os2
    • :vms
    • and so on...
    • :unknown
  • Platform::IMPL
    • :macosx
    • :linux
    • :mingw
    • and so on...
    • :unknown
  • Platform::ARCH
    • :powerpc
    • :x86
    • and so on...
    • :unknown

If you're a Ruby coder please download this library and run it using:

ruby platform.rb
and check that it prints sensible values for your platform. If not please leave me a comment here with the output of
ruby -e "puts RUBY_PLATFORM"
and what you think should be the value for Platform::OS, Platform::IMPL, and Platform::ARCH. I'm also interested in any comments about other, potentially useful, things we can infer.

Once I have reasonable coverage I'll release it as a file download and a gem.

29/06/2005 10:52 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

YARV is coming

Ko1 is (firmly) back in the saddle. I totally missed this message dated June 2nd, wherein he outlines the three plans for YARV between now and February 2006. [RedHanded]
Excellent news for Ruby fans everywhere.

28/06/2005 09:09 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Monday, June 27, 2005

Broken again

Seems like my blog format is frelled in Safari with the content map appearing somewhere towards the bottom of the page. If anyone has any idea what's wrong (it seems okay in FireFox, Mozilla, and IE) i'd be grateful.

27/06/2005 23:41 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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PowerBook to Razr to the Web

Any advice on how I hook my Motorola V3 up as a modem with the PowerBook? I seem to be able to iSync the contacts to/from the address book but i'm a bit lost with the modem part and Google hasn't helped so far.

27/06/2005 19:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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These powerbook batteries are magic!

When I woke my laptop up from sleep a second ago it said I had 118hrs and 14mins of battery life left! Pretty good :-)

27/06/2005 14:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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First Skype spam

I've received my first Skype-In spam. When I signed on today I had a voicemail from unknown number telling me about a wonderful holiday package to Florida including a trip to the Bahama's all for the unmissable price of £199. Why do I think it's targetted to SkypeIn? Because the price was in pounds even though the voice was American (it sounded like a voice synthesizer to me).

I wonder where they got my Skype-In number from? Since Skype is not telephony am I protected by the same regulations as phone? Hmm...

27/06/2005 14:36 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Hail to the King baby (redux)

You're Ash, baby.
Gimme some sugar baby.

Which B-Movie Badass Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
27/06/2005 14:32 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The future ain't all it's cracked up to be (and it never was)

6. Apple's market share doesn't change much in the future. Out of all the computers I saw at the NextFest, only one was a Mac. Sorry Steve, but the people of the future are still using Windows. At least you can gloat that they're all still running Windows 2000. From what I saw, Windows XP never really catches on in the future, and Longhorn is nowhere to be seen at all. I did see a flying car though, and maybe it was running the embedded version of Longhorn. [Wired NextFest from Ars.Technica]

Narrowly beating out No.'s 4 and 8 as my favourite.

27/06/2005 13:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Is the end in sight?

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a hawkish US National Security Advisor during the cold war conflict with the Soviet Union, said in response to Bush’s Saturday radio address: "Patriotism and love of country do not demand endless sacrifice on the part of our troops in a war justified by slogans." [Paul Craig Roberts]

27/06/2005 10:45 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Friday, June 24, 2005

The PowerBook cometh

I am now the very proud owner of a 12" powerbook. My capsule review:

It's f**kin lovely

24/06/2005 19:45 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Thursday, June 23, 2005

How much longer?

Wow, I wrote this two years ago:

Cuba prisoner puts BBC on spot. US authorities abruptly end a media tour of the Guantanamo centre after an inmate tries to start a conversation. [BBC News | World | UK Edition]

I think the citizens of the United States of America should be ashamed at the behaviour of their government.

These people should either be given a trial or sent home.

I still think this. I appreciate that half of Americans (and probably most of the ones I know) think this way. I'm talking to the other half who still give Bush a decent approval rating.

23/06/2005 18:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Is the time for indecision past?

So, my resistance to the lure of the Apple Powerbook is breaking down. It occurred to me today that even if new Powerbooks get announced in July I probably wouldn't be able to buy one for another 4-5 months and I really don't want to wait. I could, but I don't want to.

In the intervening time I could be using Keynote, TextMate, Tinderbox (finally), SubEthaEdit, making Rails run right, using Unix again, and just generally having a happy and portable experience.

Despite the cost angle the PB is winning over the iBook on account of size, weight, and graphics issues (the inability to drive a 2nd monitor properly being foremost among them). The 12" PB because I want to take it everywhere with me.

So, there is I would say a better than even chance that I will buy a 12" Powerbook at the Apple store on Oxford St. tomorrow. My strategy is to buy with 768MB of memory (a £50 upgrade) then buy a 1Gb stick from Crucial next month and auction off the spare 512.

23/06/2005 18:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Civil liberties *were* a great heritage for Americans

Is the Sixth Amendment relevant today? You bet it is, especially given the Pentagon’s use of military tribunals in another country, Cuba, for people accused of terrorism. Ever since their arrest, people accused of terrorism at Guantanamo Bay have been indefinitely detained and denied the right to counsel, due process of law, habeas corpus, trial by jury, and even the right to know exactly what they are being charged with. Most of the proceedings are as secret as they were in the Star Chamber and in Hitler’s People’s Court. Moreover, the federal government is doing everything it can to deny accused terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui the right to cross-examine adverse witnesses and to summon favorable witnesses in his behalf in his federal court prosecution. [Jacob G. Hornberger]

A brief tour through the U.S. sixth amendment, where it comes from, and why.

23/06/2005 15:14 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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What's on your desktop?

As part of my practice for being a new Mac owner I just installed TopDesk from Otaku Software which is an Exposé style tool for Windows XP. It seems to work quite nicely.

Link from Joey deVilla@TheFarm

23/06/2005 10:12 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Amazon shim

Something I would like would be a shim between and such that, when I click on an link I would automatically get the page from I'm always going to buy from the site but I read so many American weblogs that I typically end up searching to find something I'm already looking at.

23/06/2005 08:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A very fishy business i'm sure EULAgree

If this quote doesn't tempt you to read on there's no saving you:

"And they leave it open to interpretation whether they would come after me if I were to get a pair of these fish and they mated and had babies. Do I need to destroy the babies? Can I give them away to non-California friends? Does the reproduction of the fish revoke my license to the original fish? Will they come take my fish away?"

22/06/2005 00:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Comparing light weight Apple notebooks

Friend and former colleague Paul Walk has suggested another possibility vis-a-vis my buying a Mac. He was in more or less the same buying situation as me and thought a 12" iBook was better value for money than the equivalent PowerBook. He waxed pretty lyrical about it today and certainly it looked very nice. When he told me he hadn't shut it down in 6 months (he can just open & close the lid as necessary) I was pretty impressed. Hibernate has never worked under Windows XP for me.

It's true that the benefits of the PowerBook seem more pronounced in the 15" and 17" models. My plan was originally to get a 15" PB but I have been seduced by the idea of carrying a super-small, super-light, Mac with me where-ever I go.

The iBook is cheaper and that money could go towards getting a new PowerBook when the second generation of Intel variants start arriving in 18 months time.

So, to compare:

12" iBook
CPU1.2GHz G4
L2 Cache512K
GPUATI Radeon Mobility 9200 32MB DDR
RAM768MB PC2100 266MHz
HD60GB 4200RPM
WirelessWi-Fi + BlueTooth
Dimensions3.42cm high x 28.5cm wide x 23.0cm deep (2241.8cm3)

12" PowerBook
CPU1.5GHz G4
L2 Cache512K
RAM768MB PC2700 333MHz
HD60GB 5400RPM
WirelessWi-Fi + BlueTooth
Dimensions2.8cm high x 27.7cm wide x 21.9cm deep (1698.9cm3)

The PowerBook should be a better performer. The CPU, RAM, FSB, GPU and disk are all faster components. But, really, how much of a performance difference will be noticable? The only online comparisons I could find of iBook vs Powerbook performance seemed pretty old.

The iBook is cheaper by £200. This isn't as big a margin as I'd imagined but it does put the iBook under the magic £1000 barrier. Apple RAM seems to be extortionate even by their pricing standards. Am I safe buying memory from Crucial or Kingston? A 1GB stick for the iBook costs £88 from Crucial and £340 from Apple!?! (That would reduce the price a fraction to £862 at the same time giving me 1.25GB RAM instead of 768MB and probably a small performance gain into the bargain.) I guess I should also ask how many people buy AppleCare too?

A concern I have about the iBook is that it can't drive a second screen. I see mention of mirroring and a suggestion that this means you just see what's on the LCD on the external screen. That would be a big minus. On the other hand it seems like you get an extra hour of battery life which is a plus. But, then again, the PB is 25% smaller (by volume) than the iBook.

Now I'm not so sure Paul's made my life any simpler :-) And then, of course, Apple may confuse(please?) me even more if they rev the iBook/PB line at MWE next month.

I've come up with some more information to muddy the waters still further.

  • Because of it's graphics card the iBook does not support the new CoreImage feature of Tiger. It's not clear to me whether this is relevant to someone who doesn't do a lot of graphics heavy work. Will it affect the general OS X experience much?
  • There is some kind of ongoing problem with the scrolling and the trackpad on powerbooks although I'm not clear what the problem is or how serious.
  • Apple Insider have a report which suggests that either iBooks or PowerBooks might get a faster CPU in the October time frame. It's not clear which line or what the details are but 2.0GHz with a 200MHz FSB is not out of the question. This is only a marginal improvement but might be worth holding out another 3 months for.

21/06/2005 23:23 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Friday, June 17, 2005

A cracking good read

Today I picked up a copy of Statistical Language Learning by Eugene Charniak. It seems like quite a thorough treatment of natural language processing using hidden markov models and probabilistic context free grammars. I'm also half way through Thomas Passin's Explorers Guide to the Semantic Web which is a very useful guide to the current state of the art in RDF w.r.t. agents, searching, logic, and ontology. I'm especially motivated by the relevance to the cognitive psychology reading I did on judgement, reasoning, and decision making this year.

Off the back of that I'm tinkering with a simple agent programming environment, written in Ruby, which I might release if it amounts to anything interesting.

17/06/2005 23:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Enabling web acceleration

I was just reading about smart spidering (a directed topic-based crawler which uses Bayesian analysis to determine which links to crawl when it expands its search) and the Google Web Accelerator problem drifted into my mind along with a practical solution.

The default behaviour for web accelerator should be to not accelerate pages. Since we have no idea what is safe or not safe on the web this is the only safe choice.

To control acceleration on a page-by-page basis use the meta tag, e.g.

then on a link-by-link basis this can be overridden, i.e.


A large class of applications could, very quickly, be using web acceleration safely with the addition of only one meta-tag.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Whither GMail?

Did GMail just suddenly stop working in Firefox? It has on both my computers...

15/06/2005 11:26 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Machines that know that the fur is on the outside

Graham Glass is pondering Googles plans for machine learning based translation. But wonders how knowing that "cat", "chat", and "katze" are the same thing will help it know they are cute, furry, animals. He ponders linking to WikiPedia as a kind of subject matter database.

You could do that, or you could link to the Cyc knowledgebase. I don't know the scope of Cyc but it's little brother OpenCyc contains 47,000 concepts and 306,000 assertions which link them. They define this as an upper ontology whose domain is all of human consensus reality.

15/06/2005 09:41 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Definitely BS

Ken "Caesar" Fisher writes at Ars.Technica about the BSA's claims on software piracy referencing a scathing Economist article "BSA or just BS?".

The substance of the piece concerns the completely unscientific way in which the BSA construct their numbers so as to inflate their claims about piracy. You don't even need basic math to smell a rat at how they cook this stuff up. Read Ken's piece for more.

The BSA's response to the Economist?

SIR Your article on software piracy was extreme, misleading and irresponsible ("BSA or just BS?", May 21st). The headline was particularly offensive. The implication that an industry would purposely inflate the rate of piracy and its impact to suit its political aims is ridiculous. The problem is real and needs no exaggeration.
Hands up who thinks the BSA wouldn't inflate their numbers if they thought it would further their political aims. No? I thought not.

15/06/2005 09:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Natural Language Parsing

An online reference to natural language parsing:

Allen 1995: Natural Language Understanding

14/06/2005 19:38 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The signs of Ragnarok -- part #1

Okay the people who know me well should try not to get too freaked out by this, but I've started going to a gym.

This has been on the cards for some time as I've acquired a spare tyre I'd like to get rid of and, anyway, I lead such a sedentary life that I surely must be a candidate for heart problems.

The funny thing is that, iPod enabled (Chemical Brothers is my current workout music), I find I quite like it. Oh my body is screaming blue murder, but I'm looking forward to going again on Thursday.

14/06/2005 19:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Don't part with your illusions

I've had this hanging around in an editor window so I wouldn't lose it for so long now that I can't remember where I saw it...

Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. - Mark Twain

12/06/2005 23:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Farewell Technorati tags I hardly knew ye...

I just got rid of the technorati (t)'s I recently added to my topics. They served a purpose in that they prompted me to take a closer look at Technorati tags. However this just confirmed my impression that Technorati tags are of very little use and likely to get progressively less useful as time goes by. Simply mixing tagging with the content produced in millions of blogs doesn't serve my needs and I can't think whose needs it does serve.

12/06/2005 21:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Fifty words '05

I've updated my fifty words to better reflect my character and what's important to me. To this end they are less business focused and perhaps more about my character and values. I think I should come back to this exercise more often.

12/06/2005 19:39 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Friday, June 10, 2005

A defining moment

I've just read the defining moment of the Apple/Intel coverage in John Siracusa's interesting wrap-up at Ars Technica:

Q: Will x86 Macs come with a two-buttons mouse?

A: Hey, we're just taking about moving an entire platform to a new CPU architecture (again). Let's not get crazy!

10/06/2005 22:05 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Intel buys Apple next?

I've been waiting for Bob Cringely's reaction to the Apple/Intel deal and it didn't dissapoint. He see's the announcement of Apple's with Intel chips as the first public steps in a dance that will see Intel buying Apple in order to strike back at Microsoft whom it see's as an unfaithful partner. He could be wrong but it fits some facts which are hard to explain if you take Jobs at his word.

09/06/2005 19:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your towers down

I've just read a thought provoking account of the collapse of the WTC buildings in the wake of the September 11th 2001 attack. It re-examines the evidence for the towers collapsing because of impact and fire damage and suggests that the theory doesn't hold water. It further suggests that the evidence is explained by professional demolition.

What's most suggestive to me, if true, is the way in which the aftermath & investigation was handled. Why should such an investigation (which would have consequences for all new building projects and be in the public interest) have all the airs of a cover-up?

I have no hesitation in believing that people close to the Bush administration are capable of such acts followed by such a deception. If it is true I wonder how complicit my own government is.

09/06/2005 09:22 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

PowerBook quandry

Apple's move to Intel has given me something to ponder. I had been planning to buy a PowerBook next month, now I'm not sure if I should wait. When are the first Intel based PowerBooks likely to hit the market? If it's early next year I'd probably hang on, if it's in 12-18 months time I'd probably get a 12" PB in July and see what happens.


07/06/2005 22:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Technorati Tag support

I've really no idea if Technorati tags are at all useful. I've certainly never found them so. But it was trivial to add automatic linking of my topics to their equivalent technorati tags. Now the technorati tag link appears as a (t) in the topic list.

07/06/2005 19:27 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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