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Saturday 15 April 2000, 23:30 BST
Fanfic has been around for a long time, but the Internet has allowed it to flourish as never before. Slate has a pretty comprehensive article about just why it is that some people can't leave it to a film or TV show's writers to tell their characters' story. [Via Windowseat Weblog]
Neil Gaiman is going to ensure that the latest film adaptation of his work is faithful. Sci Fi Wire reports that he'll be writing and directing it himself. Done right, a big-screen version of Death: The High Cost of Living could be something to see.
This site is about as interesting as navel fluff. [Via NTK]
I've never found prank TV shows very much fun. Gavin Williams shares my view, but he expresses the reasons why there's something distinctly creepy about such shows much better than I could.
Sometimes software authors shouldn't give users lots of options. Or at any rate, so says Joel Spolsky. He makes several good points - especially about the idiotic Microsoft Help Wizard that asks whether to optimise for maximum speed or minimal storage space when all you want to do is find the answer to a question - but in general I don't think that supplying lots of options is a bad thing at all. There's a difference between making options available to a user who wants to go looking for them via a Tools/Options menu (good), and interrupting the user's task with a Wizard asking him or her to make a decision that is unrelated to the task at hand (bad). [Via RC3.org]
Friday 14 April 2000, 23:55 BST
He Who Bundles Software Binds Freedom! This message brought to you courtesy of The Modern Humorist. [Via Metafilter]
What a surprise! VNU reports that Microsoft are going to introduce their own replacement for Sun's Java Software Development Kit. Unsurprisingly, the new kit is going to be a "Java-like toolset" targeted at the Win32/COM platform. Any bets on the chances of it maintaining even 95% compatibility with Sun's offering? [Via RC3.org]
Gorgeous Astronomy Picture of the Day. A striking false-colour image of a supernova remnant.
Thursday 13 April 2000, 23:55 BST
As our political parties get into gear for the local government elections, immigration is shaping up to be one of the big issues. There's a perfectly rational discussion to be had on the question of the country's obligations towards non-citizens, but this isn't it. Hugo Young sums up the nasty side of the Tory offensive on the subject pretty well in today's Guardian.
Multinational corporations have long been known for their litigious attitude to trademark violations, and in some cases - where there's a genuine intent to deceive and a possibility of confusion - they may even have a strong case for doing so, but every once in a while a company will go so far over the top as to bring the whole notion of intellectual property rights into question. Now it looks as if a certain online financial site is going down the same road: BBC News Online reports on the case of the Red Herrings.
While we're talking about intellectual property rights, AOL in Germany has just suffered a major setback in court: it's been required by a district court to make greater efforts to locate and remove from its systems material which violates copyright.
It looks as if Network Solutions have some work to do patching a serious security hole.
Salon reports that the techno-libertarian revolution might be about to take a sharp turn leftwards. This makes a great deal of sense; the communal nature of the Internet was relatively easy to maintain when it was the province of a relatively small number of geeks who were largely left alone by the world at large. Now that big business (much more so than big government) is encroaching on the Internet, the virtues of a touch of - whisper it! - government regulation can seem like a good idea. The trick, as in all walks of life, will be to stop regulation from going too far. The difficulty of achieving this fine balance shouldn't be underestimated, but nor should it cause the idea to be dismissed out of hand.
Wednesday 12 April 2000, 23:15 BST
Ten Signs That I Am Becoming Everything I Once Despised. I only got four out of ten, so perhaps there's hope for me yet… [Via Rebecca's Pocket]
Libel and the Internet, American style. After the Godfrey case, the Guardian reports on a high-profile instance of the operator of an American web site being sued for libel. The difference between the UK and US approaches is that in the States the host site is not liable for content posted by its customers, so it's the operator who (quite properly) is required to defend the site or suffer the consequences.
If you thought Unsolicited Commercial Email was a pain now, read this and weep. [Via Techdirt]
Microsoft have responded to criticism of their decision to omit various standards-compliant behaviours from Internet Explorer 5.5. In response, the Web Standards Project have issued a reasoned, well thought-out explanation of why they don't accept Microsoft's arguments, pointing out that they've been equally critical of Netscape in the past and that they praised IE5 for the Mac for its standards-compliant design. Basically, Microsoft claim that "our customers made us add all sorts of non-standard features by wanting to use IE on intranets." It's fair to say that intranets tend to be much more homogeneous environments where system administrators have much more control over the hardware and software in use and you can get away with using proprietary features, but that doesn't really explain why Microsoft couldn't either a) produce an intranet-only version of IE for those who wanted it, or b) support all the standards they said they would, then add proprietary features, preferably as an optional upgrade.
If Elian Gonzalez had a weblog, one hopes it wouldn't look anything like this. [Via Metafilter]
Tuesday 11 April 2000, 23:55 BST
A-Level exams discriminate against children from poor families or in areas where schools don't have sizeable Sixth Form colleges. This situation isn't new, but nothing much has been done about it. Now The Guardian reports that one solution under consideration is the introduction of American-style SAT exams. I'm not clear that this is really a solution: admittedly it's potentially a better idea to select based on the results of intelligence tests rather than A-Levels in three or four subjects, but I think it's still a pretty poor method. The biggest factors behind the higher levels of participation in higher education in the States are a) the much greater variety of routes into higher education, and b) the greater availability of part-time courses which adults can undertake while holding down a job. The British university system is far too focused on the traditional 18/19 year-old entrant with a handful of A-Levels, and adults or those who attempt entry via other, "vocational" qualifications are disadvantaged. A decade ago Oxbridge colleges wouldn't even consider applicants who had taken BTEC National qualifications rather than A-Levels.
Have you ever seen a penguin in a sweater? No, this isn't anything to do with Linux. (I was hoping there would be a JPEG.) [Via Rebecca's Pocket]
Details of Windows Millennium Edition (the next - and allegedly last - revision of Windows 98, which will be known as "Windows Me") are starting to emerge, and judging by this report from CNet it's clear that Microsoft are determined to continue the integration of their operating system with links to their own web sites and ancillary software like media players and, of course, the web browser. One of their executives in charge of the project even admits that the team paid no attention to what was happening in a certain recent court case. Every revision of Windows looks like making it harder to untangle the web browser from the operating system, and at the rate we're going by the time the DoJ vs Microsoft case is settled or fought to a standstill it'll be utterly impossible to separate the two components. Which is, of course, what Microsoft are counting on.
Is this geeky, or is this just totally geeky? [Via Memepool]
The Infinite Monkey Protocol Suite. Note the date. [Via Haddock Directory]
Monday 10 April 2000, 23:30 BST
RIP Peter Jones, the voice of The Book in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide of the Galaxy.
Another 70s show revived. The other day it was Blake's 7, now it's Crossroads. Just one question: why?
It's been all of a couple of weeks since the last round of unmetered Internet access announcements, and now The Register reports that World Online has started it's unmetered service. Like the Screaming.net/Localtel deal on which it is based, the new scheme involves switching telcos. Naturally, World Online assure us that they won't make the same mistakes as their predecessors: time will tell whether their confidence is justified.
Microsoft are at it again according to the Web Standards Project, who have just released a scornful critique of Internet Explorer 5.5, claiming that it fails to implement several important web standards and pushes some more MS-specific tricks in the hope on ensuring that site designers will have an ever harder time putting together sites which look the same regardless of which browser is used to view them. Is anyone really surprised by this? [Via Metafilter]
The European Union is looking to turn online retailers into tax collectors, according to a lawyer quoted in a report from Wired News. In fact, the proposal is that online purchases by EU residents should be liable to Value Added Tax, as offline ones are. While the report makes some good points about the problems that arise because downloads are treated as services (which can attract a higher VAT rate than goods), and about the problems for American firms in keeping track of the differing VAT rates and exemptions in the 15 EU member states, and the likelihood that some less reputable firms will set up shop in tax havens and ignore the EU directives anyway, I still think the overall principle is sound. Just because American online stores are used to a very different tax regime in their home country, that doesn't mean that they should be in a position to export the US tax system to Europe just because it's more convenient for them. If they want to play in Europe, they have to follow our rules.
Sunday 9 April 2000, 22:45 BST
Whit Diffie, who co-invented public-key cryptography in 1976, warns that the increasing amounts of data held centrally on servers is a danger to privacy, and points out that the personal computer offered us a way out of this by giving each user a hard disk on which to store their data, where network administrators couldn't get at it. Yet now, just as the spread of xDSL and cable modems offering 24/7/365 access gives home users the opportunity to access their personal data on their home PC from anywhere across the Internet, we find that most of the providers of such services tend to operate a no-servers policy, which closes down that very option. These ISPs usually claim that their networks couldn't cope with a network full of users hogging bandwidth by operating servers, but I'd be happy to agree a reasonable weekly bandwidth threshold above which I'd pay additional charges. I just hope that when Demon finally finish their ADSL trial they follow their traditional "you operate a free-standing node and we just provide a gateway to the wider Internet" stance rather than restrict everyone's access in order to stop a few users from swamping their external bandwidth.
Following on from that mini-rant, Wired News reports that one of the US cable ISPs has had major problems because of users running Napster, contrary to their terms of service which prohibit users running servers. For all that I think ISPs should be prepared to offer a service which allows for users running servers, if you sign up with an ISP and part of the contract is that you won't run a server, it seems to me that no amount of complaining that the ISP was somehow invading their privacy by knowing what software was hogging the bandwidth will alter the fact that you're in breach of your contract.
ReBoot: The TV Movies. Rejoice!
The time-limited preview of StarOffice 5.2 is available now. Initial reports on Slashdot suggest that the update doesn't add anything major, but one point that is mentioned is that the program is now even better at importing MS Office files. As version 5.1 was already pretty good in this department, that suggests that version 5.2 might be just about as close as it gets without actually using the MS applications. StarOffice is an amazingly useful piece of software: I haven't had to fire up MS Word or Excel once since I installed StarOffice 5.1a. The program may not excite the average Slashdotter, who'd much rather use TeX or Emacs or vi, but for the majority of users who just want to be able to write a letter and exchange documents with MS Office users, StarOffice is well worth a look.

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