I've just finished watching episode two from the first season of Pioneer One, a sci-fi show made by amateurs, financed by donations and freely downloadable via Bittorrent. That is just fabulous! An episode is done with 20000$ and they need about 40000$ more to finish the last two episodes of the series.

I thought of this kind of system myself a year or so ago as I was observing that almost all movies and shows I watch are made by Americans, through gigantic media outlets that are only interested in profits and cancel any good show on the basis of money alone. I was wondering: where are the people that would be to TV what bloggers are to printed press? Of course, writing an article in a free public place like Blogger is a lot simpler than making a movie, but the idea is there. Mangakus do it all the time, in the US the comic book is back, why not TV shows?

The series is really good for the money that went into it. Except for some clueless actors that play very small parts, the people involved act decently and the atmosphere of the show is powerful and enticing. The dialogue is also strangely good, as I am used to clichees being sprouted in scenes of a certain type and when that doesn't happen, I have an eery feeling of unreality!

Pioneer One is not the only show like this. There is a network, called Vodo, with the motto: We love free! that helps distribute a lot of these Creative Commons licenced films and shows. I really want this to work. This gets the money from people interested to watch and gives it to the creators, rather than some vampire distribution network.

On that note, I would like to also talk about another TV show that is about to appear, called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Yes, indeed, it is a TV series inspired by the game with the same name, which in turn was inspired by Roadside Picnic, by the Strugatsky brothers. The show is made by the Ukranian company that made the game and you can follow the progress of the series by going to its official site. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. show would not be freely released, but at least it is not part of the official channels for TV distribution. The story itself sounds cool and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe counts about 40 books already (in Russian, unfortunately, but give it time).

It moves slowly, but surely. I am convinced that in a few years people will make and distribute work via the Internet, directly sponsored by the people interested in their creation. All the salesmen in the middle will just be bypassed and creators will be controlling the cultural market rather than distributors. It only feels natural: if you distribute something under a Creative Commons licence, there can be no piracy :) So there, what I've always said comes true: the death of piracy is synonimous with the death of mammoth distribution companies and all their bullshit.

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Here is the link for the article, written by Brian Hayes, who argues that programmers should rather communicate peacefully, rather than fight each other over the language they are using. In the end it didn't really reveal anything grandieuse, but his post was detailed and funny and nice to read.

Update: I've thought about the article and I feel I have to add to this post.

First of all, I have to admit, as the author of the initial article admited that he is a Lisp fan, that I like the C-like structure of programs (minus the pointers :D). Actually, I would go so far as to occasionally dream of building an application which would convert Python and F# and Lisp and all those wacky languages into a semicolon/curly bracket version that I could use, then convert it back to their normal format before compilation or use. I agree with the author that the syntax itself is not very relevant to the language, but it is relevant to the users. I can "read" C#-like code much easier because by now I am fluent in C#. I believe that a nice option is to have the kind of functionality I am describing: something that would not change the language, but would slightly change the syntax so that someone can read it more easily.

Second of all, I am amazed that something that started as a nice introduction to an idea would continue with an admission (of guilt >:) ) that the author likes Lisp and then abruptly end. He didn't mention anything about the .Net idea which tries to unify a lot of programmaing languages under an intermediate compiler language. This brings the great opportunity to use a library written in a language with an application written in another. If that is not a good idea, I don't know what is!

I didn't know about this until today, but the technique itself is so simple that it must have worked on every browser from the first introduction of the :visited CSS selector. Think about it: in your site you have a css style that colors the visited links with a specific color. Then you place in your page a list of links to other sites (maybe in a hidden container). Using Javascript, you inquire the computed style for each of the links. Taadaa! You now know the links in your list that the visitor has recently visited.

You can download a PHP demo of the technique from here. Ain't this neat?

Update: I since found another interesting article, showing how a site could (on certain browsers that are not Internet Explorer >:) )see if you are logged on to another. Here is the link.

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Here is an unsettling news: US and Indian filmmakers sign Hollywood-Bollywood deal. In my mind, this means outsourcing to India for movies just as good as the software coming from there, it means working together to control distribution and selection of movie material, coordinating moves so that the huge garbage spewing movie monster we now call Hollywood would have no competitor, ever.

Maybe I am just paranoid, but where are the Internet based movie-hacker studios that should have sprouted everywhere with low budget, but very cool films? Do they all stop at small stuff on YouTube and then get a job in fast-food? Where is the "free market" competition in entertainment?

So I have returned from the holidays, but I have still a ton of stuff to organize before I get my mojo back. I will probably start writing entries from next monday, featuring the holiday to Greece, books I've read, TV series that I am watching and, hopefully, something related to programming, too :)

However, I have amassed a few small things that I wanted to say and are minute enough to not deserve their own blog post, so here are some of them:
  • I have watched the British TV mini series called The Deep. It stars lovely Minnie Driver, but the show is utter crap! I couldn't believe how bad it was. So, don't watch it!
  • Internet Explorer 9 beta was released and it is downloadable. However, when trying to install it at home it said I cannot install IE9 on a Windows XP machine and I must upgrade the operating system. Verboten! Here is a hearty Fuck you! from me, Microsoft. When are you going to get that no one prefers Windows 7 to XP?
  • I've finally watched The Expendables. Imagine one of those really low budget TV movies with heroes killing faceless bad guys in huge explosions, only with known people in the underdevelopped and badly written roles. Fail!

Here is a post from Phil Haack about extra extensibility options in ASP.NET 4.0. I would like to emphasize the third "gem", the one that lets you add an assembly programatically to the list of loaded assemblies (equivalent to adding it in the assemblies tag in web.config). I wanted this from .Net 1.0 ! Unfortunately it must be called during the Application_PreStartInit stage of the application, but maybe the first gem can help with that.

Of course, I haven't been using these things yet, so I may be saying stupid things. It is a distinct possibility... Quite distinctive... Oh, shut up!

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My personal opinion is that the freedom women now enjoy comes a lot from the humble contraception pill. Indeed, who would have the resources to pursue a career, fight for their rights or have a life of their own if only the men would carry the responsability for sexual protection? The pill allowed women to break the recursive loop, so to say.

Now, men have used condoms for a long time, with various degrees of efficiency, though. Sometimes they break, sometimes mysterious holes appear in them, sometimes they are so annoying they are not used. The search for a contraceptive pill for men is ongoing, but even if some progress was made, it is not yet a usable solution.

Here come James Tsuruta and Paul Dayton with "A Sound Decision", a method which would involve placing your balls into a liquid, zapping them with ultrasound and become sterile for a specified period of time.

Can you imagine the social impact this could have?

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Just two month ago I was blogging about the cracking of 768bit RSA and now 1024 was cracked by using only 81 Pentium4 CPUs in 104 hours. There is a catch and that is they needed to fluctuate the power to computer CPUs. Here is more detailed information.

Update: Web security attack 'makes silicon chips more reliable'

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Using RSA encryption means you base your security on the lack of resources of people trying to break your code. Well, that's saying very little, as the required computational power is indeed not accessible to most individuals, yet the same is not true for some organizations. And when we are talking about "organizations trying to break your code" we are, of course, going above the few hackers that employ a few thousand bots and that normally would have no reason to crack your communication, and going directly to the more likely culprits, mainly governmental organizations. And given their propensity for secrecy and paranoia, maybe even 1024 RSA is not really safe. After all, in "lands of freedom" there are laws against exporting software that employs too powerful an encryption, like 1024bit RSA. And that's an old law.

Anyway, here is a news link about the 768bit RSA cracking and, for the math inclined, a link to the actual paper. A list of the different RSA bit lengths and the known efforts to break them is found here.

A little quote from Wikipedia, showing that the limit is not really 768: As of 2010, the largest (known) number factored by a general-purpose factoring algorithm was 768 bits long, using a state-of-the-art distributed implementation. RSA keys are typically 1024–2048 bits long. Some experts believe that 1024-bit keys may become breakable in the near term (though this is disputed); few see any way that 4096-bit keys could be broken in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is generally presumed that RSA is secure if n is sufficiently large. If n is 300 bits or shorter, it can be factored in a few hours on a personal computer, using software already freely available. Keys of 512 bits have been shown to be practically breakable in 1999 when RSA-155 was factored by using several hundred computers and are now factored in a few weeks using common hardware. A theoretical hardware device named TWIRL and described by Shamir and Tromer in 2003 called into question the security of 1024 bit keys. It is currently recommended that n be at least 2048 bits long.

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Happy New Year! May the year bring... wait a minute, I didn't mean to add to the noise that follows any large celebration like the New Year. In fact, quite the opposite. I intend to show you a way to block the outside noise in a relaxing way while on your computer.

Many a time a simple mp3 player would do the trick, however, sometimes you need to read boring documentation and that makes your brain switch to the text of the songs played rather than stay focused on what must be read and understood. Enter SimplyNoise, a simple site that generates white, pink and brown sound, with an optional feature to modulate the volume, thus shielding you from the outside audio interference, yet not disttracting your attention.

This also helps with tinnitus, if you have the misfortune of suffering from it. Recent research also shows that the condition can be alleviated if the specific frequency of the tinnitus sound is blocked. If they would block some frequencies from their generated sound, they would actually provide a medical service.

My personal favourite is the brown sound with modulated volume. Sounds just like standing on a beach.

Happy relaxed coding!

...and no, I am not talking about the Ashes to Ashes spinoff of the British series, I am talking about actual life on Mars.

Remember in 1996 when everybody was talking about finding signs of life in a meteorite that came from Mars? At the time the theory was dismissed because other causes for the structures in the meteorite were thought to be valid. Here comes a new study from december 2009 that invalidates the proposed non-organic processes in which the features on the martian rock could have been formed.

Yay! Merry Christmas, green guys!

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A while ago I was writing of the ending of the anime series, well before the story in the manga, leaving me wanting more. Well, a new series has been started that continues the plot. The English translated first episode of Inuyasha Kanketsu-hen has been released on the 4th of October 2009.

Did I mention I love how this guy writes?

First time I've ever heard of cymatics and I am intrigued. basically you use some (physical) devices to visualize soundwaves. Here is a small TED presentation about it:

My question is simple: can this be used to "understand" sounds for deaf people or are the pattern transitions too complex? googling for cymatics I've found a lot of videos about water and cornstarch moved by sound and links to "sound healing" and even some technical papers that never seem to have left academia. I think this could be interesting enough to emulate on a computer, yet I have not found code for it yet.

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I am not working with barcodes or anything, but I think this new technology is kind of cool. Something that acts like a barcode, encodes more information and it is several times smaller. More than that, it can be read from multiple angles and from a distance of up to 20 meters!

I can imagine multiple applications, but what I specifically think could be great is augmented reality. It would start with markers that would tag objects from computer detection, but then it would probably transform into a communication system, if the codes are dynamic. And I am not talking about replacing IR or bluetooth here, but couldn't one imagine a programmable bokode that would change the tag of an object? Think picture frames. Or TV images. Something that would tag a dynamic object like a video screen.