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Saturday 22 April 2000, 23:35 BST
Sarah Michelle Gellar tops the list of the "Ten Most Stalkable" stars compiled for People magazine, reports Sci Fi Wire. The list was created by a panel of law enforcement officials who assess "how often a celebrity had been the target of threats, kidnapping attempts or arrests of obsessed fans." Amazingly, no less that four of her colleagues on the show joined her in the Top Ten: David Boreanaz (Angel), Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) and Alyson Hannigan (Willow). If I were Nicholas Brendon (Xander) I'm not sure whether I'd be happy or mad at being left off the list!
Celera Genomics, a private company who recently announced that they had mapped the entire human genome, have accidentally included some fruit fly DNA data in the midst of the human data they were meant to be collecting, according to Wired News. Mixing up fly DNA and human DNA, eh? Sounds like a good idea for a film! [Joke shamelessly stolen from this week's edition of NTK]
Dot.com madness continues! Every single three-letter combination of .com address has been registered. [Via Suck]
This year's Hugo nominations are out I've only read two of the five Best Novel candidates so far, but either Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In The Sky or Lois M Bujold's A Civil Campaign would be worthy winners. As for the Best Dramatic Presentation, I'm not sure whether to be delighted or depressed that not one TV show is nominated. On the one hand, it's good to see that so many worthwhile films have sprung from the SF/F genre recently, but it's also a sign that with the passing of Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine television SF is going downhill again. Farscape is good fun, but it's really just a souped-up Buck Rogers, The X Files is in decline, and Lexx is too self-consciously weird to get beyond a cult audience. That said, why the heck didn't Buffy The Vampire Slayer get a nomination? My guess: Buffy fans don't see themselves as SF/F fans, whereas the people who enjoyed B5 or DS9 would definitely see their shows as part of a wider genre. [Via Sci Fi Wire]
"GSM killed the satellite phone." Sung to the tune of The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star. [Via NTK]
Friday 21 April 2000, 23:35 BST
Yet another company comes up with a scary user tracking scheme for the Web. So says a report by the Privacy Forum on a scheme whereby ISPs will be offered another way to make money off their users, this time by passing logs of their users' movements around the web to a company which wants to turn that data into "Digital Silhouettes" as a means of targeting content (ie adverts). There's no denying that user profiling can be a nasty, underhand business, or that companies should be open about what they're doing with their data about our Internet use, but this is the sort of alarmist article that puzzles me.

What I found odd about this report is not so much the author's concern that yet another company is trying to create a means of profiling and tracking Web users - that sort of proposal is becoming commonplace - but that she was worried that this scheme would lead to ISPs forcing users to either allow their data to be tracked via this system or else get their Internet access via another ISP. In practice it seems to me that as long as an ISP is open about their use of this system - and I'll grant you that this is by no means a given, especially with "free" ISPs - then there's nothing stopping those customers who wish to avoid using this system from going elsewhere and signing up with another ISP. And if this system becomes widespread, being "silhouette-free" could become a significant marketing tool for a rival ISP. The idea which is introduced towards the end of the article that ISPs will force users who opt out of such schemes to pay more for their account seems pretty far-fetched to me, at least from the perspective of the UK ISP market where there is still a mix of "free" ISPs and subscription ISPs and the competition for customers is pretty intense. Maybe the dominance of AOL in the US market and the extreme size of the country that leaves US Internet users less room to manoeuvre when it comes to switching ISPs or something. [Via Metafilter]
Jon Carroll has written yet another excellent column, this time on the art of washing dishes.
Esquire magazine came up with a silly dot.com business idea for its April issue: a company offering free cars to users, with the catch being that the car would be a pink minivan plastered with ads for feminine-hygiene products. To their surprise, the article (complete with fake interviews with the Stanford MBA who had started the company) got a big response, as readers rang up to volunteer to act as drivers for the mobile billboards and several real businesses reacted to the news that a rival was getting such big publicity by thinking about whether they needed to come up with a new business plan. [Via Techdirt]
Joe Is My Interactive Bra. [Via Memepool]
Thursday 20 April 2000, 23:15 BST
The Justice For Siôn Jenkins Campaign has set up a web site in support of Jenkins' campaign against his conviction for the murder of his foster daughter Billie-Jo Jenkins. This sort of thing is a model of the way the Internet allows people to mount campaigns and put their side of the story out there: It's also a prime example of the sort of site which is vulnerable in the wake of the Godfrey judgement: what would happen if some prosecution witness, perhaps supported by his or her professional association, threatened a libel suit because their testimony was criticised on the site and this would affect their professional prospects by damaging their reputation? OK, it may not happen in this case, but it surely could. [Via BBC News Online]
It pains me to write this, but I find myself agreeing with the Tories over the flaws in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. The Register reports on the concerns of Tory MP Oliver Heald, and in particular the minister's intransigence over the "surrender your encryption keys or we'll assume you're guilty, even though you can't prove that you never had something" proposals. If you haven't done so yet, get over to Stand.org.uk and send your MP a fax reminding him that there is opposition to some of the provisions of this idiotic Bill.

I got a reply to my fax from my MP last weekend: noncommittal, but he's at least aware now that there is some interest in this matter on the part of a constituent. If lots of us write in, our MPs might just start to think about what they're doing.
One of the biggest problems with e-commerce is that mail order goods tend to be delivered when I'm out at work. Now Parcelforce have finished piloting a system of allowing customers to opt for evening deliveries, and will be rolling it out nationwide soon. BBC News Online reports that there may be "a small charge" for businesses wishing to offer an evening delivery option, but I wouldn't let that put me off if it allowed me to specify an evening delivery for my convenience.
The government is going to raise a huge sum through its auction of the licenses for the 3rd Generation mobile phone networks - £22 billion is the present total and it isn't over yet. The new networks will enormously increase the bandwidth available to mobile users, but it's not exactly clear that the bidders are going to make a fortune. Neil McIntosh outlines the problems they'll face in an excellent analysis in The Guardian. The spectre of the Iridium satellite phone network hangs over the process: if the explosive growth in the mobile phone market is due to cheap phones and contracts with no pre-payments, how does that business model translate to a system where you've spent thousands of pounds per phone to buy the license and build the network? Having spent all that money to buy the licenses the bidders are bound to try to make it pay somehow, but it'll be interesting to see where the market turns out to be. Permanently online MP3 players, anyone?
Wednesday 19 April 2000, 23:30 BST
Goodbye, Lucy Knight. Tonight's ER double-bill on Channel 4, featuring the departure of Kellie Martin from the show, was one of the most affecting couple of hours-worth of drama I've seen in a long time. I feel quite wiped out just thinking about it. It's not just that Kellie Martin managed to give an excellent performance in the second hour despite not having much to do in a sense, it's the way the incident affected the rest of the team. I might change my mind when I get a bit of space to put things in perspective, but right now I'd say that in terms of impact on this particular viewer that was probably one of the top three or four ER episodes ever.
Trinity will be back according to Sci Fi Wire. Yay! I thought Carrie-Anne Moss was every bit as important to The Matrix as Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves, but I wondered whether her character would be used in the follow-ups. Of course, it's always possible she's going to have a brief cameo role, but I hope not.
Online chat is supposed to be a major component of an Internet "community," but the best online chat forum of all, Usenet, is rather out of the limelight (notwithstanding the ongoing Godfrey farce). DigitalMASS have published a summary of the attempts of MIT's Media Lab to enhance online chatting, but I'm not really clear that Usenet needs enhancing. The problems of Usenet have more to do with the extreme openness of the system, and the resultant ease with which net.kooks and trolls can disrupt a group, than with any insurmountable difficulties in following the threads of a newsgroup. (It doesn't help that the free newsreaders supplied with web browsers are pretty poor: anyone reading a lot of newsgroups using Windows really needs to take a look at Forté Agent, the best newsreader for Windows bar none.)

The strongest, most resilient online communities I've encountered (Usenet and mailing lists) have little need of the sort of enhancements the Media Lab are considering. In particular, I completely fail to see the point of Loom, their attempt to reflect the discussions in a newsgroup in graphical form. Then again, maybe it's just that their web page fails to put across the advantages for ordinary newsgroup users, as opposed to researchers into online interactions in a way that I can understand.
Microsoft always takes three goes to get a new product right. Does this mean that Windows CE3 (sorry, I mean Pocket PC!) is going to take on the Palm and the Psion and win? I don't think so. Psion are far more experienced at making portable computer operating systems and user interfaces that are actually usable on a small, monochrome screen than Microsoft, and Palm are keeping their devices relatively simple for a reason.

PDAs are not PC replacements: they're meant to be lightweight tools for people on the move. Despite the MS marketing slogan for Pocket PC ("simple is what you call yourself when you don't have a lot to offer") it seems to me that PDA hardware is far less amenable to the throw-more-hardware-at-the-programs-and-they'll-work-at-an-acceptable-speed strategy that Microsoft have been able to use on desktop systems, if only because every extra MHz on a PDA's CPU has an impact on battery life. Being able to play movies and MP3s using Windows Media Player is all very nice as a demo feature, but I doubt the average PDA user is going to pay top-end prices for the privilege, especially if the upshot of all this processing power is that the battery life of their PDA drops so far that you couldn't get from Newcastle to London by train on a single battery charge. Give me simple and usable every time: my Psion Series 5 does everything I really need in a PDA and gives me almost 30 hours on a pair of AA batteries. When I read reports from real users that Pocket PCs can match Psion's reliability, build quality, ergonomics, price and battery life, then I'll start to reconsider my loyalty to Psion.

You'll find first reactions to Microsoft Pocket PC here and here.
A French Internet portal site has been taken to court and accused of negligence by the French Union of Jewish Students for not spotting that a web site set up by a user advocated Nazism, according to Yahoo!. This is absurd, firstly because it's simply impractical for any portal to vet web sites before they're made available, and secondly because even if they had spotted it they had no business acting as judge and jury and removing the site. If the site's owner/author has made statements which are against the law, that is who should be in court.
Tuesday 18 April 2000, 23:50 BST
Seven out of 10 office staff would prefer a grander job title to a pay rise, according to a survey from the consultants Office Angels reported in The Guardian. Apparently it's all a matter of status, and people believe that an elevated job title (eg a "filing clerk" becomes a "data storage specialist") gives them an additional allure in the eyes of people they encounter in and out of work. Personally, I think they're crazy: I'm described as an "administrator", and if someone gave me a choice between a change of job title (to, say, "executive assistant") or an extra £1 a week on my salary, I'd go for the cash every time.
BBC News Online reports that the world's largest game of Tetris is currently running at Brown University. They've wired up 10,000 Christmas lights across a twelve-storey network running Linux, and the resulting game can be seen for miles around.
Are people really stupid enough to throw things at their TV set to kill an animated cockroach in an ad? Furthermore, are they really litigious enough to sue the makers of the ad for the damage to their TV sets? Ye gods! [Via Metafilter]
Was Sarah Michelle Gellar born male?
Monday 17 April 2000, 23:30 BST
Sony's Playstation 2 will require a special export licence designed to cover equipment with military applications from Japan's Ministry of Trade and Industry, according to reports here and here. Me, I can't help but think this is a PR scam in the same vein as the "Apple's G4-powered Macs are regarded as supercomputers for export purposes" stories from last year.
The morale-boosting, stress-busting, team-building powers of penis play. Good grief. [Via Metafilter]
Channel 4 are just asking for a lawsuit by virtue of the terms and conditions for entrants to The E-Millionaire Show. Basically, they want people to come up with potential money-spinning ideas, then submit them to a panel of judges in a bid to get funding for the idea: a sort of venture capital game show. However, the small print in the agreement contestants are asked to sign up for expropriates the rights to the ideas they present "in perpetuity throughout the universe" and then goes on to absolve the programme's makers of any liability should any disputes arise over their use of the ideas put forward.

I'm quite sure that Channel 4 wouldn't be stupid/dishonest enough to steal someone's idea, and I realise that such terms and conditions may sometimes be necessary if you're going to protect yourself against potential liabilities down the line, but all it needs is for one of the judges to emerge a few months down the line with an e-commerce business in remotely the same area as one of the contestants and the lawyers will be getting very, very rich for years. This could easily turn into the biggest PR disaster since the BBC's Castaway shenanigans at the end of last year. [Via The Register]
Further to yesterday's comments on "deep linking," ZDNet reports today on a preliminary ruling in a similar case whereby eBay look to be able to block another site's ability to link directly to their content. eBay are naturally very pleased that it looks as if they'll get their way, but what this does to everything from the ability to put together a weblog to the ability to run price comparison bots is suddenly a more urgent question. I rather think commercial sites are going to end up requiring us all to enter via the front door, except where it suits them to do otherwise (eg where Amazon.com want their affiliates to be able to send buyers direct to a book's page.)
I feel a migraine coming on! [Via Planet Jon]
Oliver Stone: Natural Born Historian. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Sunday 16 April 2000, 22:00 BST 
The other day I was wondering why the legal questions about "deep linking" hadn't been fully resolved. Now Keith Dawson has written a column explaining just how limited in scope the initial judgement reported by Wired News really was, and how many hurdles still need to be cleared before deep linking gets the all-clear from a legal standpoint. Considering how cataclysmic the effects of legal sanctions against deep linking could be for the Web, I'm surprised this case hasn't had a lot more coverage.
Before clicking here, you should probably put a pair of sunglasses on and be quite, quite sure that you're not susceptible to epilepsy. [Via User Friendly]
Which Online have been finding out how promptly Britain's top companies respond to emails, reports The Observer. British Telecom and British Airways came out pretty poorly, but what's really amusing is that whereas the former came out and admitted that their response just hadn't been good enough, the latter argued with the magazine's facts. Since it appears that all BA sent out within the (72 hour) time limit laid down by Which Online was an automated response that failed to answer the questions put to them in the original email, it doesn't seem to me that they can claim a moral victory.
DigsMagazine - "For the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation." [Via Haddock Directory]
iWant an iButton! I'm not too sure how useful these would be right now, but they appeal to the geek in me. [Via Windowseat Weblog]

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