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Home > Weblog w/e 18.3.2000

Saturday 18 March 2000, 23:50 GMT
A hymn to the joys of grayscale: SoulBath looks fabulous (requires Flash plugin for browser). [Via Memepool]
Hollywood wants to remake the 50s SF classic Forbidden Planet. Naturally, the producers have said that the remake will have state-of-the-art special effects. I really wish they wouldn't do this: the original still looks pretty good, as one of the two best 50s SF films should. (My other 50s favourite? The Day The Earth Stood Still.) I wonder whether the producers of the Forbidden Planet remake will try to get Leslie Nielsen, who starred in the original in a non-comedic role, to do a cameo in the remake?
The much-maligned World Trade Organisation has actually settled a trade dispute in favour of the little guys. This would be praiseworthy if it wasn't one of the very few times they'd found for a small nation against a major First World interest in the five years since the WTO was set up.
United Nations Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas - yes, the film star - is to address Members of Parliament about nuclear proliferation on Monday evening. I know the UN has long used famous people to raise the profile of its campaigns, but there's something about the idea that an Oscar-winning actor is responsible for discussing an issue which could actually affect - as in "end" or "terminate" - the lives of millions of people is deeply hilarious.
The Rocky Horror Muppet Show: LOL! [Via Windowseat Weblog]
Friday 17 March 2000, 23:55 GMT
Broadband Internet access is coming, whether via cable modems or ADSL over phone lines, but is it really going to be as revolutionary as is claimed? An article in Salon suggests that while broadband is nice, it isn't necessarily a life-changing experience. Coincidentally, MSNBC has a story about how the US cable companies are struggling to cope as their users soak up their bandwidth. This highlights an issue I honestly don't think the "we would all have unmetered broadband access now if it wasn't for greedy telcos!" crowd appreciate: it's all very well having a broadband link between you and your ISP, but that implies that their internal networks and their connections to the wider Internet have to be massively expanded to cope with the effect of users' broadband browsing. Someone is going to have to pay for all that extra bandwidth, and I'm finding it difficult to see how it won't be users in the end.
Microsoft's proposed entry into the games console market has created a stir already, with predictions that their X-Box may deliver Microsoft a hefty share of the console market and further their "Windows everywhere" strategy. Robert X Cringely suggests that in a lot of ways it this is a typical Microsoft anti-competitive strategy: it doesn't matter whether the X-Box actually wins a significant share of the console market, but the mere announcement will hinder the efforts of big rivals like Sony to establish a computer-related market that Microsoft doesn't influence.
As digital media make copy-protection impossible, could it be that we'll see a revival of the primacy of the live performance? Andy Oram hopes so. As far as the music business goes, this would represent a return to the historic order: until the 60s, records were only released so as to publicise tours by the artists, which was where the money was really made. Even today it works that way for some acts: look at the Rolling Stones, whose records don't sell in huge numbers nowadays but whose tours make them a fortune.
Thursday 16 March 2000, 23:50 GMT
The EU/US data privacy agreement I mentioned yesterday is subjected to a scathing critique by The Register. Sounds as if the agreement is a lot less substantial than it seemed.
Censorware provider Microsystems Software Inc have shot themselves in the foot by trying to stop critics from distributing software which reveals which sites the company's Cyber Patrol software blocks access to. I can do no better that quote Declan McCullagh: "It should be obvious to anyone who has half a clue about the Internet what happens when a company or government tries to stomp out something it doesn't like. The offending bytes appear in every corner of the globe." More information here and here.
The government wants to provide a "one-stop shop" for the unemployed by merging the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service. This isn't "modern" at all: governments have been dithering between using Jobcentres to help people find work and using them to ensure that benefit claimants are trying to find work for twenty-five years. The whole reason for creating the first Jobcentres in the mid-1970s was that staff in the old Employment Exchanges found that it was difficult to help people into work when you were seen as a benefits policeman, and there's no reason to suppose that things will be much different now under a government which is very keen to emphasise that those who rely on the state for help in difficult times must accept that they have as many responsibilities as rights.
The economics of free Internet access are puzzling. Today Freeserve announced a £3.5 million loss on a turnover of £5.1 million for the last quarter, and yet they're now proposing to offer fixed-rate access which will undercut that relatively meagre income and still hoping to make a profit due to increased e-commerce income. Also today, e-commerce site Zoom announced that they will offer free access via an 0800 number and will fund the whole thing through increased e-commerce, with every customer .required to spend £20 per quarter through their site. Considering that everyone agrees that unmetered access is going to lead to people spending more hours online, it's hard to see how either company will manage to turn a profit running their unmetered service unless their customers spend all their online time shopping.
The Home Office have responded to critics of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. Home Office minister Charles Clarke's open letter is here.
Is Concorde causing homing pigeons to lose their way?
Interview question of the day: Donna Air interviewing The Corrs: "So where did you guys meet?" [Shamelessly stolen from Looka!]
Google have introduced a Yahoo-style Directory with entries shown in hierarchical categories. It produced excellent results when I checked it out today: I may never need to visit Yahoo! again. [Via RC3.org]
The prevalence of bloatware and poor user interface design are discussed here. The trouble is, until users and companies refuse to buy bad software there's little incentive for companies to slim down their products.
Advice for kids online is to be issued soon. I couldn't find details of the new guidelines on the web site of European Research Into Consumer Affairs, the charity which compiled them, but this BBC story gives some details.
Wednesday 15 March 2000, 23:45 GMT
The European Union and the United States have been at loggerheads about how to reconcile their very different approaches to private data protection since the EU introduced strict new rules in October 1998 which threatened to stop US companies processing data collected in the EU. Now it looks as if they've reached an agreement which will ensure that data originating in the EU which is sent to the US will be protected to European standards. However, the financial sector has been specifically excluded from the agreement, so there's a distance to go yet before the problem is completely resolved.
Online universities are becoming common, especially in the US. However, so far they all charge tuition fees just like bricks-and-mortar institutions. Now IT billionaire Michael Saylor has announced plans to start an online university which will provide a world-class curriculum for free: the lecturers will not be paid, but he believes they'll agree to appear anyway because the established academics will want to donate their services for posterity's sake and up-and-coming academics will sign on for the exposure they'll get. It's an audacious idea, and Saylor deserves credit for his willingness to put his money where his mouth is. I wonder how the established universities will react to this sort of competition. [Via NewsScan]
Open government took a step forward when the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly announced that he plans to put the minutes of Cabinet meetings online. It's to be hoped that his example will encourage the Scottish Parliament and Westminster to follow suit.
People have been telling little white lies on their CV for a long time now. I wonder how long it'll be before we see employers checking out applicants' personal web sites as a matter of course, if only to see whether you're really interested in mountain climbing or folk music or whatever.
Tuesday 14 March 2000, 23:15 GMT
Yum! Rust will not be a problem. [Via User Friendly]
A balanced summary of the good intentions that led to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (as well as a summary of the problems in the drafting of the Bill) from The Register.
Tee hee! Installing Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 on a Windows 2000 system might result in users being unable to log in.
Still more fixed-fee Internet access promises, this time from Freeserve. Analysis of the deal here and here.
Monday 13 March 2000, 23:25 GMT
Pognopholics of the world, unite!
Generation E? I really hope this is a joke!
In an age when we hear every week about how "the world" is being transformed by the Internet revolution, it's a sobering thought that 3 billion people still don't have access to clean water.
A different perspective on the "explosive" growth of the Internet from Robert W Taylor, one of the quiet pioneers who laid the system's foundations. It's also interesting to read of his aversion to going into business to capitalise on his undoubted technical skill. [Via Tomalak's Realm]
Taking politics out of sentencing is always a good move, so I'm glad to read that Jack Straw plans to resist public pressure and let the 10 year tariff imposed on the defendants in the Bulger case stand. If he sticks to his pledge to take steps to ensure that future tariffs are set by judges rather than politicians he will have earned back some of the liberal credibility he once had.
Curriculum Vitae (Mortisque). Nicolas Walter, eminent rationalist, is dead.
Sunday 12 March 2000, 23:00 GMT
Another day, another pair of announcements of free/unmetered Internet access, this time from Breathe and LineOne. As usual the small print takes the gloss off their deals, but no doubt they felt that after the last week's wave of announcements they couldn't afford to be left behind. I refuse to get excited about all these new deals until we've seen them a) up and running and providing an acceptable service level, b) established that they're capable of scaling their operations without hitting service levels, and c) seen how many of them run out of money or change the terms of the deal once they see the level of demand.
James Gleick has written a useful summary of the background to the current argument about the patenting of their business methods by Amazon.com. [Via Scripting News/DaveNet]
Censorware is still way too immature to be useful, as Declan McCullagh demonstrates. Even if it worked as well as it's supposed to, it would still be a poor way to 'protect' people from the wilder corners of the Internet. Far better to explain to kids what it is they should be avoiding, or if they're too young to make sensible judgements then to monitor what they're doing when they go online. We should no more make the entire Internet "child safe" than we should all broadcast TV.
One thing we can certainly do online to help kids is set up sites like www.missingkids.co.uk, which aims to use the Web to publicise details of missing children. [Via BBC News Online]

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