Archives of 2004

The Church of Horrors

Something to do on a Sunday evening with full moon and clear weather: photograph the Church of Kallio and photoshop the images to make them look like they are taken from an old horror movie. This means desaturation and high contrast. However, I chose not to add any noise, scratches or grain or otherwise lessen the quality.

The results proved out to be ok, but nothing spectacular. I think vampires and werewolves would like the place (keeping up appearances is not that important to zombies so I think they really wouldn't care).

Enter the Visceral Image Gallery to visit the Church of Infernal Horrors!

Categories: Photography
Posted by Matias at 26.12.2004 21.23 (12 years ago) | 17 comments

Wintry Korpilahti

I spent a few days around Christmas at Korpilahti, which resulted in lots of new photos being added to the gallery, taken in both solar and lunar light.

It's been well over five years since the last time I walked around in Korpilahti and it's quite funny how I now perceived the village in totally different way. In lack of a better expression, things just made sense better than before, history-wise. I think I could disentangle the different layers leaved by different eras in town planning, buildings and infrastructure and deduce why things are the way they are now. The light green signs in red-brick municipal buildings are still ugly as hell and incomprehensible, but maybe they will be remembered in the future as a similar fad of tastelessness than rokoko.

Trip to mount Oravivuori was quite nice, we had to plunge through snowdrifts, quagmire and climb up (and down) icy rocks, but the view at the top of the gazebo was even more exhilarating than at summertime.

Categories: Photography
Posted by Matias at 26.12.2004 11.20 (12 years ago) | 15 comments

The papalest present

Aarne and Stiina gave me a most original and cool birthday present, a book of Pope John Paul II cut-out paper dolls! All the characters in the book represent the Pope, although the two on the right side of the cover are somewhat creepy... The costume repertoaire is very thorough: even the Papal Skiing Outfit is included (however the book fails to mention it's Latin name).

The book is from 1984, an era when the cardinals did not have to wiggle John Paul's jaws whenever the playback device utters a speech.

Posted by Matias at 21.12.2004 22.17 (12 years ago) | 368 comments

Spam elimination by visual pattern recognizion

I'm getting so much junk mail that the sheer amount actually eases recognizing it. Thunderbird does a wonderful job in placing the spam messages into it's Junk folder, but although it never has done a false positive (determining that a non-spam email is spam), I do not trust it completely and want to glance through the junk mail titles before actually deleting them.

When the amount of received spam is huge, I know that a group of emails is spam if the pattern formed by the letters of the subject is repeated in the screen and I do not need to read the titles, which makes ensuring the spamness of the emails very easy. Of course, there are some junk mail messages with unique subjects, which don't form a pattern, but these are a minority. It is possible to determine from the screenshot with it's size scaled down, which emails are spam even though the letters are not readable.

This method will fail if someone sends me repeatedly messages with the same subject and Thunderbird makes a false positive, but the odds of that are quite small and besides such a behavior is quite unusual so I don't care.

Categories: Computers
Posted by Matias at 11.12.2004 17.22 (12 years ago) | 35 comments

Personification of the iPods

iPodWizard, a supercool application, can change the graphics of iPods thus allowing customization of iPods.

Kati wanted Aladdin Sane onto her iPod Mini (which is titled Ziggy). Naturally, I put the Papal Kekkonen onto mine. Now the flashing "Do not disconnect" signs will emanate papal blessings and rock decadence every second.

Categories: Gear
Posted by Matias at 13.10.2005 20.48 (12 years ago) | 13 comments

The Rasterbator in the media


ReadyMade magazine is something I never had heard of until one day I got email titled "Press question". My first thought was that something had passed Thunderbird's spam filter, but it was a genuine email from their reporter, who wanted to write an article about The Rasterbator. She asked quite a lot of different things in a few emails and based the half-page article on them. The article turned out quite well, I reckon, she understood quite well all the motives and things behind being enthusiastic about the web and having too much time to do things - at least I'm quite happy about it.

The BBC incident is still a mystery. Quite a few people mentioned to me that they heard about The Rasterbator from a BBC news show that features different web sites and the reporters of the show even used it to create a huge poster. I cannot recall the name of the show just now, sorry. The shows were available in the Internet and mysteriously one of them was a few minutes shorter than the others - which were exactly of equal length. However, the following show contained a concise apology, something like "we're sorry one of the sites we featured last week contained some questionable material". Huh? The BBC team have failed to reply to the few emails I have sent to them to inquire about whether it really was The Rasterbator, or whether someone was playing an elaborate practical joke on me..

Although my generall impression on the BBC is very good - due to the open source video codec, opening the archives for non-commercial use and many great programs - still, THAT'S NO WAY TO RUN A PUBLIC SERVICE. Just kidding.

Categories: Art, Creations
Posted by Matias at 08.12.2004 21.38 (12 years ago) | 483 comments

Reality check for security

Beyond Fear cover

Recently, I read Bruce Schneier's book Beyond Fear. It was quite an enlightening read: quite a few of the things the book was about were obvious in some intuitive level, but Schneier managed to formulate them in a logical manner. Even better, the formulation was very clear, consistent and easy to follow. Although the book was occassionally a bit tedious, it still was very entertaining to read, thanks to numerous examples. I especially liked those taken from the behavior or characteristics of different animals. Being both enlightening and entertaining is not very easily accomplished.

After a (somewhat populistic, at least from an European point of view) 9/11-intro, the book talks a lot about security risks, risk mitigation and trade-offs. It starts by analyzing situations where humans make subconscious security decisions such as crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red: when the pedestrian sees clearly that no cars approach, the trade-off of waiting for green light is too great for improved security of green light for most people (of course, the law-abideness of the pedestrian also has an effect on this). Analyzing these mundane antics is a good and clear way of introducing a formal security analysis system.

When the reader has gained some knowledge of basic security and the difference between true security and "security theater", Schneier moves on to analyze more complex security systems, such as the effect of spectacularity (media attention) or personification (as opposed to anonymity) of victims. It's clear why too powerful police force is actually a security risk to the citizens rather than a risk mitigation. A basic characteristic of technology is that it enables; restricting is much more difficult. This fact brings forth both good and evil: it will be difficult to secure a house, but it will be probably impossible to generate a totalitaristic computing platform even with a cute name like "trustworthy computing".

Schneier manages to stay politically neutral even with the touchy subject of terrorism, although I think there was quite severe critique towards the American foreign policy between the lines (paraphrasing, "after being mugged, no one accuses you of being in the dark alleys, but would it have been wiser not to enter them in the first place?"). As a side note, this is probably what the Finnish politicians and media should be considering about NATO: will joining mitigate threats or aggravate them? (Of course, before that one should ask "what risks?"...)

The book revealed a few rather bleak matters about the world. History shows that in the long run, terrorism does work. And quite a few of the people in charge of security decisions obviously cannot see the true value of their actions. Security cannot just be "placed" by adding security cameras, ID checks or other arbitrary policies, it must be planned. Maybe even more important point is that increasing security does not need to mean reduced liberties.

The average member of a yellow press audience scarcely is going to read the book, but it really puts different risks into perspective: it's 200 times more probable to be struck by a lightning than die of anthrax. Combined with critical analysis of sensational media makes the book even more informative. Security is not of any value per se and it should be applied with caution and where needed - exaggeration is easy, hence prevalent.

I would recommend the book to those in charge of security policies (even more, I would insist that they read it) and to everyone who just wants to know how different systems work. Security is not totally unlike other systems.

Categories: Literature
Posted by Matias at 07.12.2004 22.42 (12 years ago) | 1299 comments

Upgrading MySQL from 4.0/Latin-1 to 4.1/UTF-8

I upgraded the MySQL database server powering this and a few other sites from 4.0 to 4.1. At the same time, I converted the data from Latin-1 to UTF-8, which proved to be a bit more complicated thing that I had anticipated. This is how it was done.

Backing up data and removal of 4.0

First, backing up of the entire 4.0 database. This was done with the superhandy MySQL utility mysqldump with the following command:mysqldump --opt --all-databases > d:\dump.sqlThere was 420Mb of data in sql form. However, MySQL can INSERT several rows with one command, so there is no one INSERT command per one row; it is much more compact.

Just to be sure, I zipped the dump.sql file and copied it onto another computer.

Then, removal of the MySQL 4.0. This was done by using the standard Add/remove programs -thing in the control panel. However, the uninstaller does not uninstall the service registration. To do this, use mysqld --remove

Installation of 4.1

The installer was quite a standard installer, easy to use.

When the installer has finished, it launches a configuration program, which was very welcome! It set up the things that previously have been available only in configuration files.



Feeding the data

Since I was unable to find any other solution for charset conversion, I wrote a small program, SqlDumpImporter, to feed the data into the database. You will need MySQLDriverCS to use it. The program reads data from an external file in iso-8859-1, converts it to utf-8 and recognizes the different databases. It executes only the commands of the databases specified. If you want to import databases kissa and vuohi from file kuukkeli.sql, invoke the program thusly: sqlimporter kuukkeli.sql kissa vuohi Note that the connection string is hardcoded into the program.

I did not use the program to import the data to the mysql database, which contains the user data. There were so few database users that it was fast to re-create the accounts.

Categories: Computers
Posted by Matias at 06.12.2004 21.49 (12 years ago) | 55 comments

Half-Life 2

Yes, Half-Life 2 is great, as every other blog and messaging board in the known Internet emblazons. The game is very cool due to graphics, gameplay and physics modeling, but the combination of gravity gun, space zombies and circular saw blades took the coolness to a completely another level (if you don't have the game, check out the web browser version).

However, it's not completely, thoroughly, intrinsically great. Here are a few things that were disappointing to me:

  • Sound design, especially guns
  • Getting damage is not displayed obviously enough. It happens quite often that you notice the hit points have dropped by 60.
  • The objects in the scenery seem to be either static or physically modelled. For example, wrecked cars can only sometimes be interacted with the gravity gun. Sometime they just function as platforms.
  • Objects can be split to pieces only in predefined matter. This applies to wooden boxes, water melons and - sadly - zombies.
  • The game contains less cute scientists than part one

That being said, everything else is very cool by default.

The worst thing about the entire game was getting to play it. I bought the retail version of the game, which had to be installed from dvd in quite the usual manner. The installation took quite a long time, which was ok - but that was only the beginning. The poor user had to wait through the following tedious phases:

  • The normal installation program
  • "Connecting with Steam"
  • "Updating Steam platform"
  • "Registering licence key with Steam"
  • Decryption of game files
  • Updating Half-Life 2 files
The entire installation took about like 100 minutes (with a 2 GHz AMD with cable modem). Of course I understand that all the gamers were effectively DOSsing the Valve servers and this caused a major part of the delay and the inconvenience. However, that's not a viable excuse. Steam is marketed as being a content delivery platform which is very easy and convenient for it's users, but it simply did not accomplish it's task.

Heavy load is Valve's problem, not the customers. If we set aside the fact that electricity is more important than computer games - at least to most people - it would be like the electric company saying "I'm sorry, but we cannot deliver any electricity to you. We are maxed out because all the Finns are heating their saunas."

Categories: Advocacy, Games
Posted by Matias at 21.11.2004 22.21 (12 years ago) | 351 comments

Blizzard in Helsinki

All the snow comes suddenly down today!

Categories: Photography
Posted by Matias at 20.11.2004 15.17 (12 years ago) | 497 comments

Autumnal Kallio

Autumnal Kallio Autumnal Kallio

I walked around in Kallio testing my new camera, and I added some images from the trip to the gallery.

Quite funny that although I've lived around here for three years, I still noticed quite a lot of new things. Of course, I was more perceptive because I was actively looking for things to photograph, but for example - I'm almost ashamed to admit - I think I had never noticed the statue behind the library of Kallio.

Categories: Photography
Posted by Matias at 24.10.2004 19.45 (12 years ago) | 626 comments

Art+Communication 2004 in Riga

Some thoughts about the Art+Communication 2004 Festival which I attended a few weeks ago follow. I arrived Riga Thursday evening, 30th of September. The hotel which quite a few of the festival guests used, Hotel Viktorija, was rather nice experience. The reception and elevator lobbies very quite ok and well-kept, but when I got to the fourth floor and opened the folding doors to the corridor where my room was located it was an instant transferral to the Soviet era. Quite a low, flickering lighting, overall tone of earth colors, and no similar doors whatsoever. It was so cool, an ostalgy overdose. The feeling just elevated when I got to my room: very high ceiling, the surfaces of the cupboard and table were high-gloss enamel, the floor was creaky parquet. Too bad I failed to take a camera with me.

The breakfast of the hotel was excellent, especially the newly roasted pancakes! I met Annie at the breakfast hall and some other festival participants. I ended up walking to RIXC building with Teemu from Helsinki and a Colombian guy who had dreamed some quite weird dreams (can't remember his name, alas). Although we arrived some 15 minutes late, we just made it in time for the first representations.

The first panel was called Endocolonization. The most interesting speech was given by Heath Bunting, who has compiled quite a comprehensive database about national borders, BorderXing. It's about documenting the crossing European country borders without identification.

At the afternoon, in the Social Cartography panel, Schyler Erle had a very interesting and lively representation. The title was Mapping Hacks, and he represented examples of what can be combined using freely available data. A very interesting example was a map that combined the paths of hurricanes in Florida and the voter behavior in these countries in the 2000 election. However, according to Snopes, the data in question is not very accurate. (I think I originally misunderstood the example: I thought that the hurricanes had struck previously and this had effected on people to vote for Bush with his religious ramblings. However, it seems that the map tried to say that voting for Bush results in a punishment from the (American) God).

Then there were artists presentations, live sound performances, and the usual eating and partying.

The facilities of RIXC were very nice. The lecture hall was shaped like half a circle, like an amphitheatre sans elevation. I heard the room was used by a sculptor to make huge statues. At the exhibition hall many works of art and banners about the workshops were on display. There were, amongst others, Jaanis' hyperdelic installation parallel[land]scapes, an eerie and irrational 3d landscape (spacescape?). Time that Land Forgot by Timo and Even looked greater than usually thanks to huge plasma screens.

On Saturday, Mark Bain showed a program, Tempest for Eliza, that creates patterns on a monitor which cause it to emit AM radio waves that can be received using a radio. In other words, the program outputs sound files utilizing quite an unexpected medium. Unfortunately, the demonstration did not work (it occured to me later that maybe it was because he used a laptop and it might require a CRT).

The keynote presentation was given by Dr. Richard Barbrook. The keynote, New York Prophecies, was about the imaginary future of technology, how technology was being marketed to the general public and what were the real motives behind the development. The examples he used were from the 50's and 60's: atomic power, rockets and computers. It was probably the dramaturgically best lecture I've ever attended. Very enlightening, too.

I gave my presentation on Saturday evening, there wasn't much time (Derek was such a sharp moderator), but I think I managed to convey the idea to the audience. A few people came to talk about it so at least it was of some interest.

We went to eat at a Latvian restaurant chain, Ludo. The concept was just great: you go to a separate room in which you fill the tray with anything you wish (mostly traditional Latvian food) and then pay. Quite greasy, but (or hence) very good.

On Sunday we boarded a double decker and headed off to Limbazhi, a village about 100 kilometers from Riga, where the opening of The MilkLine exhibition was being held. The location was very beautiful, a dwelling of a Latvian writer, which had been made into a museum. Idea of the MilkLine is to follow the milk from cow to cheese to consumer. This was done using GPS, which is quite banal nowadays, but the project was became outstanding because the artists told stories about all the people involved. The cheese in question is Rigamont, probably one of the best cheeses in the world, which there were plentiful amounts available.

When we got back, I scarcely had the time to buy stuff from the center of Riga. Since Latvia has the best dairy products in the world, I bought a lot of Rigamont cheese and chocolate.

Overall, the festival was really a boon! Well organized, great representations and foremost, the overall atmosphere was very original. Hence, I extend my gratitude to RIXC and other organizers.

Categories: Art, Events
Posted by Matias at 17.10.2004 18.46 (13 years ago) | 80 comments

Art+Communication 2004 festival: Trans-Cultural Mapping

I'll be in Riga, Latvia, participating to the Art+Communication: Trans Cultural Mapping festival from September 30th to October 3rd. I'll be giving a presentation about my Iceland Inside and Out project, ProximityMapper, tentatively scheduled to Saturday from 16 to 18 (not entire 2 hours, others will be doing presentations in the same slot, too). The festival is organized by the very active Riga Centre for New Media Culture, RICX.

I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the Endocolonization and Social Cartography and Tactical Mobility panels. If I understood correctly, Endocolonization is about mental borders and the "war on terror" discourse. Social Cartography... panel will discuss how maps can be used to enlighten the ad-hoc networks subject to much prejudice.

Categories: Art, Events
Posted by Matias at 30.09.2004 12.12 (13 years ago) | 857 comments

ProximityMapper

Introduction

ProximityMapper is a visualization utility which combines data from image files and gps output (gpx file format). By combining the timestamps of the image metadata and gps coordinate entries, the proximities of different images can be found out.

ProximityMapper is the one of the outcomes of the Iceland Inside and Out workshop of the Trans-Cultural Mapping series organized by RIXC.

Data flow

The following image shows the flow of the data from different devices.

Data is processed using a program running on .NET Framework or Mono. The program also resizes the original images and creates thumbnails for more convenient display with the Flash application, especially over the web. The following properties of the images are extracted:

  • Running order of images
  • Timestamp
  • Second of day
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Elevation
  • Average amount of red, green and blue color component in the images
  • Average hue, saturation and luminance in HSL color space

Visualization

The visualization is done with a Flash application which can be run on any web server. The application displays image thumbnails in its window. The images can be sorted in two dimensions by any combinations of the listed properties.

The proximity of the different images can be determined by pointing any image with a mouse. Images taken near the selected image will display normally. Overexposure effect is applied to others. The strength of the effect is determined by the distance so that the further the image is taken, the brighter it is.

Images can be dragged, but other images follow, according to the proximity: closely if taken nearby.

The application works also as an image gallery. By clicking the thumbnail, display size image can be viewed. The detail view also allows quick access to next or previous image according to the sort criteria applied.

Play around with ProximityMapper to see the results. For example, sorting by hue and elevation is particularily interesting with the example images of Icelandic landscape. Another great combination is second of day and luminance. Uncheck the Proximity checkbox to see the images better.

Thanks

I would like to thank RIXC and Lorna for organizing the workshop and especially Timo Arnall and Even Westvang for the gpx data used in development and some worthwhile ideas such as the HSL colors. See also their most interesting project, Time that land forgot.

Categories: Art, Creations, Information, Programming
Posted by Matias at 30.09.2004 11.47 (13 years ago) | 80 comments

Browsers of our lives

The browser soap opera got quite more interesting. Google is apparently building a browser based on Mozilla. This might well have the effect on getting rid of the inscrutable IE, which has become a similar technical burden Netscape 4 was.

The best statistics available to me, first-hand, are from homokaasu.org and according to them, during the last year, usage of IE has diminished from 82.6% (Oct 2003) to 64.1% (Sep 2004, days 1-20). These figures are based on 2,7 million visits from 1,9 million unique visitors so there must be statistical significance. The logs have been analyzed with software par excellent, Awstats.

However, one must consider a few things when pondering this data.

  1. The visitors of homokaasu.org are more technically inclined than the average user and thus prefer Firefox or Opera
  2. The Rasterbator is a particularily attractive to Mac users

Nevertheless, the change is quite astounding - I wouldn't have guessed such a decline in IE usage. And now Google is stirring the balance even more. Jason Kottke has found some interesting references such as the registration of gbrowser.com and revealing error messages in the Mozilla development database (Bugzilla). There are articles in New York Post (not to be viewed without Adblock) and The Register.

As a web developer, I really would like to get rid of the mass using IE 6 (but I'm not listing it's shortcomings, "features" or bugs here). There are two acceptable ways to achieve this.

  1. People migrate to better browsers
  2. Microsoft publishes a standards-compliant version and rams it down their auto-update pipes
Categories: Web
Posted by Matias at 21.09.2004 21.48 (13 years ago) | 321 comments

Christian Apocalyptic Fiction

Until yesterday, I was completely unaware that an entire subgenre of science fiction called Christian Apocalyptic Fiction exists. It sounds just too good to pass! I read about it from The Zenith Angle by Bruce Sterling - one of the characters of the book read CAF novels - and I searched the Internet for it with results aplenty. CAF seems to be quite a thriving subculture, the biggest publisher has allegedly sold 40 million copies!

The basic idea is that all the righteous Christians are transferred to Heaven and the heretics are left behind to Earth to battle with the troops of the Antichrist. This is almost as good as the concept of zombies.

I would never have come up with a notion of fundamentalist scifi by myself, but it makes sense. If religious spreadsheets are a hit in the American Midwest, why not science fiction. Based on this, I would guess that scifi literature with communist agenda is bound to exist - it might be even better! The Soviet Union produced at least scifi movies. North Korean scifi would probably be the best, when judged from the point of view of totalitarian propaganda kitch esthetics.

Categories: Literature
Posted by Matias at 12.09.2004 10.11 (13 years ago) | 84 comments

Mind's eye

Virtual Hallucinations appears to be quite an interesting and eerie project. Nash Baldwin, a medical doctor who also has a decree on computer science, created a virtual reality application that mimics the sensory experiments of actual schizophrenia patients. According to the article, cheerful, repeating voices and intrusive environment are haunting. I think the fact that the visitors know it's an actual perception of a mental patient may have a multiplying effect on the world. Although this may seem a bit callous, I thought this kind of knowledge could be useful in creating a very interesting computer game.

According to a BBC news article, virtual hallucinations seem to have a good effect on actual schizophrenia patients. For some morbid reason, the experiences of mental patients are quite intriguing to me. For example, Spider by David Cronenberg appeared to me very insightful.

Categories: Games
Posted by Matias at 11.09.2004 00.05 (13 years ago) | 50 comments

Top 20 records

I happened to stumble upon this page that claims to list the best 100 record in the world and was alarmed that I have only two common records (Faust: The Faust Tapes and Comus: First Utterance). Hence, the author is mostly wrong.

Here is the correct list. However, top 100 is a bit too arduous for me right now, so I'll settle to top 20. The list is not definitive and is subject to change at any arbitrary moment. Only one record from each band or artist is allowed.

20. Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
19. Faith No More: King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime
18. Hitomi: Thermo Plastic
17. The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
16. Magyar Posse: Kings of Time
15. Theatre of Tragedy: Velvet Darkness They Fear
14. David Bowie: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
13. Electric Wizard: We Live!
12. Tiamat: A Deeper Kind of Slumber
11. Sentenced: Amok
10. Solefald: The Linear Scaffold
9. Elend: Winds Devouring Men
8. Decoryah: Wisdom Floats
7. Emperor: Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk
6. The Gathering: How to Measure a Planet?
5. MonumentuM: Ad Nauseam
4. Third and the Mortal: Memoirs
3. Ulver: Perdition City (Music to an Interior Film)
2. Devil Doll: The Sacrilege of Fatal Arms
1. Arcturus: La Masquerade Infernale

Categories: Music
Posted by Matias at 08.09.2004 19.24 (13 years ago) | 715 comments

Doomed information

While listening to Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum by Esoteric, it occurred to me the musical information in their productions can be found from a different place than usually is the case. This is probably quite obvious to scholars of musical theory, but anyway, I try to explain my perceptions.

Esoteric plays very low speed doom metal with low growling vocals. The music changes rather slowly. The songs last usually 15 minutes. There are samples available at their discography page, which ought to give better concept of their music than any words can describe.

Their music is based on building up different structures than actual melodies. At most parts, I think, it would be irrelevant what exact note the guitar plays, itself or in respect to the previous ot following beats or notes. Rather, musical experience (the perception of organized sound, the information which the human brain processes and finds structures from) manifests mostly from longer units, most notably rhytmical arrangements - in stead of the melody, which usually is the main information carrier.

I reckon that a passage of about 30 seconds is equivalent to a few measures in a pop song. Of course, there is the informational level of the combination of singular notes, but these are quite random and carry scarcely any data. The real information can be found in the level of verses, concealed in the different rhythms of guitar riffs, timing of the growls etc. The whole band is like a rhythmical instrument, but way more complex than just a set of drums.

It requires a longer attention span (and experience with the soundscape of the doom metal genre, lest it is likely intolerable) than the usual pop song. But I'm pretty sure that from the point of view of the human mind, it's exactly the same effect. But did the composers design all this when composing or is it just a coincidence?

The deployment of information onto a different level is scarcely anything new. For example, many classical pieces of music carry the information in both of these levels (and in plenty of others, for example, and quite likely most notably the fugues of Bach). It's quite unusual in modern rock-based music, though.

Categories: Information, Music
Posted by Matias at 05.09.2004 18.41 (13 years ago) | 501 comments

www.nyt.fi and html thereof

The weekly color supplement of the biggest newspaper of Finland renovated their www pages a while ago. I hope they did not pay very much to the developers. In my opinion, the technical quality of the outcome is very low.

The source code of the front page, http://www.nyt.fi, consists of 93218 bytes. However, there are only 2829 text characters. The actual content is 3% of the page; the rest is markup.
  • The web page claims to be HTML 4.0 Transitional. However, it does not validate.
  • The markup is full of empty lines and spaces at the beginning of lines. In fact, when removing these, the source code could be reduced to 63377 bytes. 32% of the page is blank data that could be removed!
  • All the css classes are named by the appearance they provide. For example, <td class="tddarkestgray"> or <td class="tdblack"> or <span class="text_bold">. The very idea of classes is to add semantic meaning.
  • Transparent gif images are used to space areas. No padding or markup.
  • Borders of the images within links are removed by writing border="0" as an img element attribute. This could have been accomplished with css definition img { border:0; }. Similar definitions are used in tables. By removing border definitions, the byte count was reduced by 3410.
  • Hacks like <table><tr><form><td> ... The idea of this is probably to remove the margin of the form element. Why not use css definition form { margin:0; padding:0; }
Of course, some of the
Posted by Matias at 05.09.2004 14.33 (13 years ago) | 30 comments

Stealing fair use, another attempt

Here are three pastime activities:

  1. Stealing a car.
  2. Stealing a purse.
  3. Downloading movies from the Internet.

It seems that even in Finland the entertainment industry is sneakily trying to extend the general public's concept of stealing to non-material goods. The advertisements shown in movie theaters include one that places all these on the same level. It's probably produced by the righteous folks of Motion Picture Association of America. According to my memory, the advertisement shows a bloke trying to brake into a car, then "You wouldn't steal a car" is displayed on the screen. Then a similar scene with a purse. After that a man is in a rental outlet or a store, nicking a dvd. Finally, someone is downloading a movie.

Obviously, the aim of the advertisements is trying to build up a mental model that copying is equivalent to stealing. Which is utter nonsense. One might ask that if someone "stole" a movie, how come the source still exists? Does this happen with cars also? What actually is stolen from the copyright holder, ie. what does the copyright holder not possess any more after the act?

The advertisement is blatant lying. Here's why. My impression is that the main points trying to be conveyed are the following:

  • It is illegal to copy movies for personal use
  • Same rules apply to material and immaterial property
  • Taking a car or a purse or a material dvd disc without owner's permission is at least partially equivalent to duplicating information

All these are incorrect; hence lying. Copying works that are released to public for personal use (or making copies for someone's personal use) is legal at least in Finland no matter what the source is. Same legal rules most certainly do not apply to material and immaterial property. And I believe and hope that the moral of most people does not juxtapose the protection of material property with exclusive rights to immaterial property.

The order of the antics shown might have some hidden purpose too: stealing car, stealing purse, stealing dvd, copying file. At least Americans probably think that stealing a car is worse than stealing a purse. Stealing a purse is definitely worse than stealing a dvd. A slippery slide?

I am no expert of law, but I know at least the basics of intellectual property and copyright. These issues are very difficult per se; there's no need to beget false assumptions. It's just obscene manipulation. If one wants to educate people about copyright, it should begin with the basics. I try to summarize. By default, everything is in the public domain. Copyright is a temporary exception to this: an exclusive right to control the distribution of a piece of work.

While criticizing the "advertising" of the entertainment industry, I do think that copyright is important. However, I also think that free personal use is even more important to society as a whole. The current outline - the copyright holder solely controls the distribution but individuals can use published works personally however they wish - has proven to be very good a solution. Changing this must be the aim of MPAA, which I think should not happen.

Categories: Advocacy
Posted by Matias at 05.09.2004 10.26 (13 years ago) | 14 comments

Smooth finish

My girlfriend got a green iPod Mini and iTunes shows it's colour correctly in the icon appearing at the music source list. Things like these seem to be idiomatic to Apple and only to Apple. Although it admittedly is a totally unimportant detail, it's very distinctive. Could someone imagine that software from Microsoft or Creative had been detailed to have nuances like this? This kind of thoroughness emanating from hardware to software? It'd be more like "The colour of your music device is not defined. Would you like to launch the Music Device Configuration wizard?"

Categories: Gear
Posted by Matias at 04.09.2004 17.47 (13 years ago) | 32 comments

CPU throttling for fun and profit

I noticed quite an interesting phenomenon with IIS 6 when tweaking with the settings of the server hosting this site amongst a few others. If you limit the CPU usage of the .NET worker processes to a maximum of 95%, all the hosted sites became substantially faster (with 250 simultaneus users). The difference was discernible.

It actually makes sense when you consider that MySQL database server is running on the same box. Apparently MySQL is running on a lower priority (or is CPU throttled) and if the web server eats up all the CPU, web requests with database queries just have to wait. Also the fact that Windows cannot handle scarce recources very well may have something to do with it.

Nevertheless, I'm happy, hope you're happy too.

Categories: Computers
Posted by Matias at 30.08.2004 22.02 (13 years ago) | 432 comments

Stuff

I will add things here, at the moment the sole purpose of the existence of this page is to make the navigation bar look a bit more crowded.

Posted by Matias at 29.08.2004 21.25 (13 years ago) | 2428 comments

Contact information

Matias Ärje
Helsinki, Finland

+358 50 375 5843

Posted by Matias at 29.08.2004 20.09 (13 years ago) | 3545 comments

404 Page not found

Unfortunately, the page you requested could not be found. Please try using the search feature or go to Main page.

Posted by Matias at 29.08.2004 20.03 (13 years ago) | 1756 comments

Punch and yellow lies

Dogs are barking outside in the last rays of the summer sunshine, as they were invoking fall. The washing machine is making the distinct noise of it's kith and kin and I have just finalized my blog software, which probably causes the surge of the pathetic metaphoras.

Onto less prosaic spheres, spheres like balloons in an arid wasteland.

I wanted a blog, although I am inexcusably late from the heyday of the fad. I tried MovableType, but unfortunately making it work with the features and infrastructure I wanted was not feasible. So, I wrote a blog software with C# based on MySQL, RSS.NET and FreeTextBox. I am not very sure yet what I am going to write about and how often that is going to happen, but I hope this is not going to be a diary in the traditional sense. I will start by pondering the technical aspects of blogs and the basis of this particular blog. It's like with cartoons: I am sure every cartoonist draws a cartoon about drawing cartoons at some point (most of these are never published). The more metaphysically inclined cartoonists draw about drawing cartoons in a cartoon. And we end up with Hofstadterian strange loops: recursive cartoons and blog entries about blogs.

Ok, onto blog infrastructure. Amongst the features I wanted to have were Unicode output. The most boring technology of them all, character sets, provided very hard to get right with MovableType. Maybe it was the ActivePerl framework, but it just could not save the data into the database correctly. Perl apparently has methods for encoding characters into unicode, but since I am no expert in Perl, I didn't want even to try tweaking the libraries.

Easy and usable urls without file extensions are a must-have. The file extensions are a most stupid feature of most web server application: the visitor is hardly very interested that the web page is an ASPX file! Of course, the file extensions are just legacy, but nevertheless, they are just plain pointless. In order to accomplish this, the request handling of .NET classes had to be intercepted. I wrote a HttpHandlerFactory, which maps url requests with no extension to corresponding, existing aspx pages (if the server gets a request to http://arje.net/poing, it tries to get compiled page instance of http://arje.net/poing.aspx invisbly to the visitor).

If the file is not found, the http handler factory uses the default page, which I call scaffold (maybe it's not very accurate term, but it sounds cool and one of my favourite records is Solefald's The Linear Scaffold, so can't help it...). The scaffold has it's own page handling logic and it generates the front page, monthly archive pages and entry detail pages. Neither the entries nor the archives exist in the web folder. The scaffold fetches the entries from the database based on an arbitrary url, which is assigned to the entries. If a certain regular expression matches, the scaffold knows an archive is being sought. It just occurred to me that using the Levenshtein method for close string matches, it wouldn't be very hard to build a 404 page, which suggests near matches of the incorrect url: "The page /beginnign was not found on this server - did you mean /beginning". Maybe I'll do that.

Easy link management. This is not quite finished yet, but all the link lists and categories can be managed from the blog administration.

Rich text editor. NO! The evil information technology cliché buzzword! But yes, editing of the xhtml content must be easy. FreeTextBox is very cool, although it seems to have some bugs and I still need to slightly edit the xhtml by hand to attain standard compliance.

My custom software turned out quite nicely. It's very easy and straightforward to use, although my objectivity is out of reach here. I probably used something like ten hours for the core and a few hours for the graphical layout so I think that's pretty effective, not that I'm counting, though... I shall extend my gratitude to Jari Laiho, who commented the layouts I made and although I did not take heed of all his suggestions, the site looks a lot better now.

Of course, a RSS feed is provided for your feed consumption pleasure. If you are new to them, get SharpReader or Opera for consummation.

I probably will release the blogging software under GPL. Before that, I need to make it more configurable and find out whether the components I used are GPL-compatible.

Categories: Programming, Web
Posted by Matias at 29.08.2004 20.02 (13 years ago) | 561 comments

content licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA - Valid HTML 5