I met him in a swamp

Dagoba dark chocolate "New Moon" is extraordinarily smooth for chocolate that is 74% cacao. It's much tastier than dark chocolates from Scharffen Berger and Ghiardelli.

Jeopardy versus a computer was boring and unfair

I looked forward to the Ken Jennings (human) vs Brad Rutter (human) vs IBM Watson (8 racks of computer) battle on Jeopardy. However, it turned out to be a dull match. All three competitors could correctly answer 70-90% of the clues by the time the clue had finished being read. They were likely an close match in terms of knowledge, but we'll never know, because the humans didn't have a chance to show it.

A fair fight would have been if the humans had the same buzzing capabilities that Watson had. The Jeopardy buzzers are only interesting if all competitors are human. The buzzers work by having some countdown that completes after the question gets read. If you buzz in too early, you get locked out and can't buzz in for a few seconds. Buzz in too late, the other contestants beat you. Watson, on the other hand always buzzes in at the perfect moment. This could even be done without computing power...it is not an impressive feat for a machine. To make the competition fair, the early-buzz lockout should be replaced by a random picker which chooses from any competitor who buzzes in before the question has completely been read. This way everyone has a fair chance at buzzing in. Easy questions would be a toss up between the three contestants instead of a gimme for the computer.

As it was played, the match may as well have been 121 iterations of A:"2-1?" Q:"What is 1." Watson was impressive, but we still don't know how well it compares to the top human Jeopardy players in terms of answering trivia--all we know is that it's pretty good, and a computer can push a button a lot faster than a human (leave George Jetson out of this).

Rematch proposal: Jennings vs Rutter vs Watson. Early buzzes are registered at the time when the question reading is complete; the winner out of multiple early buzzes is chosen at random.

(Finally, IBM, please program Watson to choose the funniest, rather than most likely to be correct, answer in the cases where it has an insurmountable lead. "Alex, what is a steampunk sneezing panda frightening Rick Astley. aaaannd...I'll take Your Mom for $400.")

Amazon Payments doesn't actually keep your email address private

I bought something from a merchant who uses the Amazon payments system, and sent some questions via the Amazon payments form, which stated:
IMPORTANT NOTICE: When you submit this form, Amazon Payments will replace your email address with one provided by Amazon Payments in order to protect your identity, and forward the message on your behalf.

That statement is incorrect. The merchant sent a response to my questions directly to my email address (i checked by looking at the Received: headers, of course), not via some anonymous one provided by amazon. Also, the email they were responding to had my email address in the From: line.

No big deal, but someone should fix that.

Amazon video on demand -- eh

Amazon has been offering free streaming versions of movies that you buy on disc from them. In theory it's a great concept, however:

- I had to reload about ten times to get anything better than 384 kbps quality (one bar) video; there's no way to manually tell amazon what bandwidth to use. After that reloading, as suggested by people with similar problems, i finally got 2.5 mbps (full bars). I have a 20 mbps connection. I saw the same thing on other mac browsers i tried.

- Video and audio were out of sync and video was mildly but consistently choppy. Perhaps this is a problem with flash on the mac, but 720p youtube videos play perfectly on my mac.

- The picture leaves a big black bar on the side edges...turning your TV/monitor into one that's 80% as big.

- Audio is only in stereo. Only the download version (windows only) offers 5.1 sound.

bad decision dinosaur

Most 1st place heisman votes received--what does it predict?

Here are the five highest first-place vote-getters in the history of the Heisman Trophy:

1. O.J. Simpson - Currently in prison
2. Troy Smith - On the 49ers, Recently demoted in favor of Alex Smith (career QB rating: 70)
3. Reggie Bush - No longer a Heisman winner
4. Charlie Ward - Did not play in the NFL, had a fair basketball career
5. Cam Newton

Heisman curse?

Video capture on your Mac, for under $10!

Short version:
1. Buy the EasyCAP DC60 (NOT the DC60+)
2. Install the open source EasyCapViewer, reboot
3. Plug the EasyCAP directly into your USB port, connect the EasyCAP to your video source
4. Connect audio source to your Mac's audio input with a two-RCA to 3.5mm cable
4. Run EasyCapViewer, configure video to use the either S-Video or input 1, and audio to use audio input
5. Press play. If it doesn't work the first time, press play again.

Long version:
I've always wanted a video capture solution that could take analog video (S-video or composite) and dump it to my Mac. There have certainly been many options out there, but I didn't want to spend much on something which would inevitably be a time-waster. Previously when i needed to do this I borrowed a firewire-equipped camcorder, but that's a hassle and a big box to have around. Dedicated analog video to firewire converters run around $100 and analog video to USB boxes tend to be Windows-only.

If I recall correctly, Amazon suggested the EasyCAP DC60 to me once when I was searching for a cheap video input device. I was fascinated by the $9 price and it had over a hundred reviews spanning the entire range. One of the reviews said that the device worked on the Mac using some free/open-source software. Buy!

I got the EasyCAP today. Connecting it is well...easy. Do not use the included USB extension cable (mine appeared to not work). Connect your video source to the EasyCAP. Hook up the audio to your audio input instead of going through the EasyCAP.

The EasyCapViewer software is a bit rough around the edges, but functional. After installing, I had to reboot for it to work (not completely sure why). It lets you select the video input and audio source, and shows you the video in a window. You can adjust the aspect ratio to match the source. You can capture into motion JPEG and mpeg-4. I would recommend the "half frame rate" and "record to RAM" options.

Now you can transfer all of those clips you've been saving on your DVR to your computer and send them to youtube so someone searching for "panda toaster" gets to watch your video. $9 well spent.

Fixing the broken checkbox problem when viewing PDF files on OS X

I've recently seen pdf files which have broken checkbox characters due to a missing font. I don't know what generates these pdfs, but they have what are supposed to be checkbox (checked and unchecked) characters that show up as unrelated substituted characters. Presumably this can be fixed on the production end by appropriately embedding fonts in the pdf.

If you simply want to view the file correctly in OS X, here's how to do it:

1. Obtain the "marlett.ttf" font file one of several ways:
- It's included in the "Steam" game distribution engine for OS X.
- You can extract it from the source code distribution for WINE.
- You can find this as a hidden file on a Windows box; copy it over.

2. Search for "marlett.ttf" in spotlight or wherever you saved it, open it, then select "Install Font". This will copy the font to your ~/Library/Fonts directory.

3. If you want the font installed for all users, copy it to /Library/Fonts

Zombie javascript banished

Discovered by process of elimination the culprit behind the idle browser page CPU-eating woes. The javascript from "sharethis.{com,net}" causes "idle" pages in Chrome to eat around 6% CPU on my old Macbook Pro.

Additional tabs loading the same javascript consume an additional 6% CPU if they are in a separate process, but a bit less if in the same process.

Many blogs (including LJ) use sharethis. I blackholed w.sharethis.net w.sharethis.com wd.sharethis.net wd.sharethis.com and my CPU and battery are happier.

There's also some strange runaway CPU situation caused by an NPR page that's left open for a long while. All of the sudden without any specific user action the CPU usage of that process will shoot to 100%, fans shoot to rocket speed, not stopping until i close the NPR tab.

Craigslist vs .info TLD: annoyances

I registered shieh.info back when I was working on our wedding website. Flense.com was a bit odd, shieh.[other tlds] were for the most part taken, and I figured reputable people were using .info so it would be fine in the future.

For the most part, it's fine. Yes, there's annoying garbage on many .info domains but you could say the same about .com and any wide-open TLD. I've seen a couple sites with poor email address validators reject it, but only one major problem:


I was helping my parents rent out a duplex they own in Upper Dublin. I wrote up a big description with nice pictures, registered a Craigslist account w/ my @shieh.info email, then tried to post the ad. Every time i tried, it was rejected. I removed links, removed random HTML, and so on, but it would always be rejected. Even a barebones text-only ad was rejected, despite filling out the captcha and completing the phone verification.

I searched through the help forums and discovered that Craigslist often rejects postings that contain *.info. I created a new account under @flense.com and my posts worked. Blah.

More recently, I've been browsing Craigslist for used cars (looking for something with 4+ doors, hatchback or folding rear set, is awesome/fun, cheap to run, reliable, $5000-$20000). After replying to a few ads via email to sale-[randomstring]-[randomnumber]@craigslist.org, I began to notice that strangely, no one replied to any of my messages. Until today I figured people were ignoring me because I was asking too many questions. Finally, I ran a test, tried to email myself through one of these craigslist redirection emails, and found that I never received the email.

Apparently they're also blackholing any email that comes from a @*.info email address. BOOOO. There isn't even a courtesy bounce message to explain why my email's not going through to sellers. Is there a good reason for blackholing *.info? A quick search through my spam folder shows that out of 1446 spam messages, exactly ZERO of them have a From envelope or From: header with a @*.info email address! Sure, craigslist might have a different incoming spam profile, but why use a trivially forgeable header for rejecting messages?

I'll try to pass this along to folks at Craigslist. In the meantime I'll have to remember to switch my email address any time I'm replying to a Craigslist ad. I appreciate their fast old-fashioned text-only interface, but i wish they'd spend more time supporting people who have trouble posting ads. At the time I submitted a couple detailed help requests and received no response. Their system is intentionally non-transparent, so I wasted far too much time trying to figure out why my ad wouldn't post, then wondering why my ad wouldn't show up in search results ("ghosted" in Craigslist help forum terminology). Dumping an entire TLD might make sense for some provider with very limited resources, but a business like Craigslist shouldn't exclude a significant chunk of users for no fault of their own.