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Home > Weblog w/e 27.5.2000

Saturday 27 May 2000, 23:00 BST
Wow. Oh boy. Apparently these are genuine pet food ads from New Zealand. I'm not 100% convinced that they aren't somebody's idea of a joke (though if so, I'm sure Jason Kottke isn't in on the gag), but they're so gobsmackingly over the top that they're worth linking to anyway. [Via Kottke.org]
Jeffrey Zeldman has written a superb analysis of the way the World Wide Web has failed to live up to the revolutionary promises. He argues that it's not that there isn't plenty of great independent content out there, it's just that the urge to turn the web into a shopping mall has eclipsed the efforts of the independent content creators. Zeldman's most important insight is that one effect of the commercialisation of the web has been to devalue and marginalise any content which isn't intended to create a revenue stream for someone, but there are a lot of worthwhile insights in the article. Well worth a read. [Via Barbelith]
Mattel are at it again. [Via Metafilter]
Sometimes when I'm messing around with a laptop at work I find myself thinking that portable computers are way too bulky to be usable. After reading about The World's First Portable PDP-11, I'll never complain about lugging round a Dell or Toshiba laptop again. [Via the author's posting to alt.folklore.computers]
Internet-capable mobile phones using the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to make web content usable on tine screens have only recently become cheap enough to interest a the mass audience, yet ZDNet UK reports that there are already signs of a WAP backlash as users discover just how scaled-down the web as seen through WAP is. Considering how much mobile access costs and how unsatisfactory web browsing via WAP is, I have a feeling that within a year all those internet phones will be used purely as a way of sending email messages too large to fit into an SMS text message. More to the point, after such an unsatisfactory experience those users will need a lot more persuading than they otherwise might when the next generation of mobile internet access devices arrives.
Friday 26 May 2000, 23:30 BST
Gregory Hoblit worked alongside Steven Bochco on classic television dramas like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. Now he's starting to make a mark in film with Frequency, which has been a sleeper hit in the States and has gained some pretty decent reviews. Salon has an interesting interview with Hoblit in which he discusses why Hill Street Blues was such a striking piece of television and how he tries to use some of the techniques that served so well on television into the cinema.
Gene Spafford spells out the steps system administrators need to take to minimise the risk of falling victim to the likes of the ILOVEYOU worm. This essay is useful not simply because it gives good, practical advice, but because it's a very balanced look at the problem rather than another anti-Microsoft rant. Not that Microsoft don't deserve to be ranted at, but telling everyone to abandon Microsoft products completely is neither practical nor likely to be effective. [Via RC3.org]
Is your neighbour a mutant? The next wave of internet film hype starts here.
Oddly enough Half.com, the town that renamed itself in return for $75,000 from a publicity-hungry e-commerce site, reportedly isn't seeing a lot of benefit from the change.
Salon have apologised for their horrible new layout. Will they have the guts to actually roll back the changes? If not, the nearest you can get to a decent overview of their new site is their archive page.
Wednesday 24 May 2000, 23:45 BST
[Readers who aren't interested in politics may want to skip the rant that follows and move along to the next entry.]

Sometimes you can start to think that perhaps New Labour doesn't deserve all the criticism it gets for rethinking traditional Labour priorities. You may even start to think that maybe there's something to the New Labour contention that the world has moved on and we need to focus on the goals and not the means. Then you hear about speeches like this, as reported by BBC News Online which is due be delivered by Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid, and you realise that there comes a point where New Labour deserves to be sued under the Trades Descriptions Act, because what they're offering bears no resemblance whatsoever to the policies and priorities that the Labour party has long supported. Apparently we're all supposed to rid ourselves of the mindset of Old Labour and stop expecting the government to try to help us when we're in need, because it's better for us to be left to stand on our own two feet.

Well maybe that's so, but given that that is pretty much the position of the Conservative Party it doesn't really give us much of an incentive to vote Labour if the end result for the vast majority of us - the sort of people who aren't sponging off the state, but who may from time to time need help to cope with spells of unemployment or sickness, or who know that when we retire we aren't going to have large private pensions to fall back on - will be the same. You'd think that after the Livingstone debacle and the poor results in the local elections the Labour leadership would have got the message that their core supporters aren't enthusiastic about a further watering-down of Labour's traditional support for a comprehensive welfare state.
If you read many online news services you'll notice that much of their content is supplied by press agencies rather than the site's own staff. The Online Journalism Review is worried about this phenomenon, seeing it as causing a general blandness and lack of personality in news sites as those sites use the agency copy as a means of pretending that they offer full 24/7/365 news coverage. I can see why this is considered a problem, but I find that sites which make use of lots of agency copy can be a good thing. Indeed, I find that a site like Yahoo! Full Coverage, which tends to have lots of links to stories posted as a news item develops, is very satisfactory. As long as the news sites back up that agency coverage with some reporting or commentary of their own, and so long as there's no attempt to pretend that the agency copy is anything but that, I don't see a problem. A news site which tried to cover everything with staff reporters would soon sink, so I'd sooner see them concentrate their efforts on areas where they can be strong (eg coverage of a specialist area of news) and round out the picture with agency reports, which may be somewhat bland but nonetheless provide the essentials of a story pretty well. I find that even with print journalism it's the commentary and analysis that hooks me, not the raw news reporting. [Via Blog]
Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of Guildford is teaming up with NASA to demonstrate that it's practical to hook Earth-orbit satellites into the internet, complete with IP addresses and the use of standard internet protocols. This sounds like a very neat idea - I love the idea of being able to log into a satellite's web site which is actually hosted on the satellite itself, but I wonder how long it'll take for a hacker to take over such a satellite and embarrass NASA?
Courtney Love has been stirring up controversy again. Inside reports that she's threatening to fight her record label all the way down to the wire over the terms of her recording contract, rather than settle out of court and thus allow the record industry to avoid the setting of a precedent which might effectively limit the length of time a company can hold an artist to a contract. Love also fires off several pro-Napster, anti-major label comments which suggest that the major labels are all thieves and she'd gladly distribute her art direct to fans via the internet. Then she goes and spoils it all by admitting that assuming that she can get out of her contract with Geffen she hasn't ruled out signing up with another major label. In other words, like Prince and George Michael before her she's casting around for an excuse to get out of a contract early because she's changed her mind or thinks she can do better elsewhere, not because of a matter of high principle.

Not that artists shouldn't be dissatisfied if they think their label has botched the promotion of their last album, but you rarely notice established artists complaining when they sign multi-album deals for millions. If they want more freedom, they should sign contracts for one or two albums at a time and accept that they won't get as much cash up front. (And obviously this may not be an option for acts which are at the start of their career and don't have the bargaining power, but such acts rarely want to stay with a label that doesn't wish to take up its option for another X albums under the contract anyway.) [Via Haddock Directory]
Tuesday 23 May 2000, 23:30 BST
According to a new survey the vast majority of Britons don't care about dot.com millions and aren't at all in thrall to the notion that the internet is going to change the world and could make them rich beyond measure. You could suggest that this is evidence that the British "just don't Get It" (to borrow a phrase that Wired Magazine is fond of), but I think the author of this report in Wired News has it just about right. The real story here isn't that the British don't "get it", or even that there's a fundamental cultural difference between the European and American views on issues like social justice and short-termism, it's that an awful lot of the hype and envy over the dot.com lottery is generated by a relatively small, mostly college-educated elite which happens to find itself in the right place at the right time and which gets disproportionate media attention. In short, don't believe the hype. [Via Haddock Directory]
Given the stereotypical view of the average internet addict it's hard to see why this site isn't the most popular weblog of all. Could it be that we're not all hormonal, teenaged males after all? [Via Metafilter]
It's commonly held that the increase in the number of "hate sites" is a worrying trend, and that the internet allows extremists of all stripes to spread their hatreds online more effectively than they could before the internet gave self-publishing a global reach. However, Wired News reports that there's some evidence to suggest that in fact hate sites are pretty ineffective and if anything can serve to expose the shadowy, secretive groups behind the hate sites to scrutiny and criticism. That's an encouraging thought. [Via Techdirt]
Salon have just redesigned their site, and on a first glance I'm not impressed. The new layout is way too cluttered, it doesn't fit nicely into my browser window, and it makes the site look way too much like a portal. Perhaps it'll grow on me, but I'm not clear what was so wrong with the old design.
Monday 22 May 2000, 23:15 BST
"The company is not currently engaged in any substantial business activity and has no plans to engage in any such activity in the foreseeable future." Not that it's stopped them from raising venture capital, since if you're not actually aiming to do any one particular thing that makes it that much easier to switch to doing something specific (and perhaps even profitable) somewhere down the line. Michael Liar's Poker Lewis writes about a company that exemplifies the new rules of doing business in the Internet Age. [Via Pigs & Fishes]
Have you ever wanted to be able to generate accurate 3D maps of a planet's surface on your PC? I don't have the RAM or the CPU cycles to run Mars3D, but a look at the program's web site is almost enough to convince me that the time for an upgrade is upon me. Stunning stuff. [Via Metafilter]
Sunday 21 May 2000, 22:00 BST
The newest addition to the Blair household has already been mugged by cybersquatters. BBC News Online reports that within hours of his birth and - more to the point - the announcement of his name, the domains leoblair.com, babyleo.co.uk and leoblair.co.uk were all taken. All this for a kid who is almost certain to have faded into total obscurity a decade from now, when his father will very likely be just another retired politician. What would carolthatcher.com be worth now?

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