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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

Dr. Tom Murphy VII gave a research paper called "The First Level of Super Mario Bros. is Easy with Lexicographic Orderings and Time Travel . . . after that it gets a little tricky," (PDF) (source code) at SIGBOVIK 2013, in which he sets out a computational method for solving classic NES games. He devised two libraries for this: learnfun (learning fuction) and playfun (playing function). In this accompanying video, he chronicles the steps and missteps he took getting to a pretty clever destination.

learnfun & playfun: A general technique for automating NES games (via O'Reilly Radar)     

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Oona Räisänen has written a thorough and engrossing article about the noises emitted by dial-up modems while they connect and handshake, and the accompanying graphic (ZOMG HUGE) is nothing short of spectacular. It would make a great full-size poster -- maybe a framed art-print.

Now the modems must address the problem of echo suppression. When humans talk, only one of them is usually talking while the other one listens. The telephone network exploits this fact and temporarily silences the return channel to suppress any confusing echoes of the talker's own voice.

Modems don't like this at all, as they can very well talk at the same time (it's called full-duplex). The answering modem now puts on a special answer tone that will disable any echo suppression circuits on the line. The tone also has periodic "snaps" (180° phase transitions) that aim to disable yet another type of circuit called echo canceller.

Now the modems will list their supported modulation modes and try to find one that both know. They also probe the line with test tones to see how it responds to tones of different frequencies, and how much it attenuates the signal. They exchange their test results and decide a speed that is suitable for the line.

After this, the modems will go to scrambled data. They put their data through a special scrambling formula before transmission to make its power distribution more even and to make sure there are no patterns that are suboptimal for transfer. They listen to each other sending a series of binary 1's and adjust their equalizers to optimally shape the incoming signal.

The sound of the dialup, pictured

(via JWZ)

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Vanity Fair's history of the making of The Blues Brothers is amazing, a story as madcap and improbable as the movie itself (though there's a lot more coke in the story of the movie). This is one of my favorite films of all time -- at one point I could quote the whole movie by heart (which created a lot of dissonance when I saw the DVD release and they'd added scenes -- it was like discovering extra rooms in a house I knew so well I could get around with my eyes closed).

Weiss calls Sean Daniel. “Good news,” Weiss reports. “The first draft finally got here.” It is not the typical 120-page draft. “It’s 324 pages,” Weiss says. “We have a lot of work to do.”

The script contains great scenes and inspired ideas but is written in a kind of free-verse style. It includes lengthy, Aykroyd-esque explications of Catholicism, recidivism—you name it. It gets meta, with separate story lines detailing the recruitment of all eight backup musicians.

“The script is never-ending,” Ned Tanen thinks. “It doesn’t really work. It’s like a long treatment or something”—a treatment being a detailed outline the writer produces before writing a script. The Blues Brothers is scheduled to begin shooting in two months.

Landis, script in hand, locks himself away. He cuts, shapes, tones. Then he cuts some more. Three weeks later, he emerges with a script that’s down to size and, as they say, shootable. More or less. It still lacks certain basics, such as stage directions.

Soul Men: The Making of The Blues Brothers [Ned Zeman/Vanity Fair]

(via Kottke)

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From Lists of Note, the 10 Commandments for Con Men as set out by Victor Lustig a con-legend who once took $5K off Al Capone and sold the Eiffel Tower.

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
2. Never look bored.
3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
8. Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
9. Never be untidy.
10. Never get drunk.

Lists of Note: 10 Commandments for Con Men

(via Kottke)


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