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Home > Weblog w/e 10.6.2000

Saturday 10 June 2000, 23:50 BST
Thomas Kuhn's analysis of the way that paradigm shifts occur in the scientific world was hugely influential. Unfortunately, according to James Franklin in The New Criterion, the effects of Kuhn's relativist approach to science are still felt today. I particularly liked Franklin's use of a quotation from Richard Selfish Gene Dawkins: "Show me a relativist at 30,000 feet and I'll show you a hypocrite." [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Microsoft have started to implement their policy of no longer allowing large OEMs to ship full Windows install disks with their PCs. The lack of publicity about this move, and the lack of clarity as to what any particular supplier is doing, is going to cause a huge problem. A lot of new users may not realise that they have no way to fix a totally broken Windows installation until it's too late: shipping your PC back to the manufacturer to have Windows reinstalled in not going to be a popular option, especially if that PC holds important or sensitive data on its hard disk. [Via Metafilter]
Mentioning "cybersex" is a very reliable way to grab a reader's attention. (You see, it just worked!) Talk of people being addicted to cybersex is always popular in the Old Media, but there are almost no useful statistics on the subject. Furthermore, suggests Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice, the root causes of such addiction have less to do with technology than with a combination of a culture which represses "nontraditional" sexual expression and a bunch of would-be therapists espying a business opportunity. [Via Guardian Weblog]
Friday 9 June 2000, 23:55 BST
This week's big IT news has of course been the finding that Microsoft should be broken up. That's a very drastic step, but for all their complaints now Microsoft can't seriously claim to have demonstrated that they're trustworthy enough to abide by any agreement as to future conduct. In a timely reminder of how Microsoft have handled the trial, Scott Rosenberg writes in Salon about the company's appalling record of telling half-truths and behaving in an incredibly arrogant manner for a company which was facing such serious charges. On the other hand, Dave Winer believes that the damage to the software business that splitting Microsoft will cause is too great to be borne and suggests a different remedy.

I think that Microsoft will avoid being broken up: they have plenty of incentives to pursue appeals and tie the implementation of the remedies up for years, and the longer they manage to delay the implementation of the judgement the easier it will be for them to argue that the software products which sparked off the whole argument are ancient history. By 2003, who'll care what the arrangements for bundling IE3 with Windows 95 were? Not to mention the prospect that an even more business-friendly Republican might be calling the shots from the White House, and encouraging the Department of Justice to settle rather than take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The other half of the Wintel duopoly is still playing hardball with competitors. According to this report, they couldn't even stand to have iMacs working in the vicinity of an Intel-sponsored exhibit at Harvard University. Of course, they didn't really "demand" to have the iMacs covered, they merely requested that they be hidden "as a matter of courtesy" to them as sponsors. But that's OK, because we all know that only Big Bad Evil Guvmints can limit free speech. (I'd say the ability to display a logo on a working product counts as "free speech.") [Via Metafilter]
The Register have just implemented a big redesign, and like Salon before them they've fouled up what used to be a perfectly good site. With fewer headlines on the front page, you have to view more pages (and be exposed to more banner ads) to get to the information you really want. Again like Salon, they've published a letter explaining themselves and promising to review some aspects of the changes. It'll be interesting to see how far they go.
No link for this entry, but I can't let the end of the current season of Frasier on Channel 4 earlier this evening go unremarked. I was half-expecting that ending, but the playing and plotting in the season's double-episode finale was so marvellous that I can almost live with the inevitable wait for the new season. This season hasn't been perfect - they've spent too little time at the radio station for my liking, and Roz hasn't had enough to do - but the gradual development of the Niles-Daphne plot since Frasier took those pills and got a massage from Daphne has more than made up for those minor problems. It's rare that a spin-off surpasses its parent show, but Frasier has more than managed it.

Fortunately, the hole in my TV-watching life which the departure of Frasier and ER from our screens will leave is going to be filled to some extent by the repeat run of This Life on BBC2 from Monday night onwards. And of course there's still Farscape (always good fun, and fast developing into a must-watch) and the best show on television in any genre: Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Wednesday 7 June 2000, 23:40 BST
Is AOL worse than TV? This New York Magazine article ponders the concerns of parents who find that their children are spending their evenings using AOL Instant Messaging to spread gossip and idle chatter when their parents think they're doing homework. Three points:
  1. Instant Messaging is not a babysitter, any more than TV is.
  1. The parents seem to feel that the idea that the ability Instant Messaging offers their kids to keep in touch via the internet and form cliques, say nasty things about one another and so on is something unusual. Do they really think that their kids aren't nasty to one another in person? Is the real difference here just that unlike social interactions in the playground or on the street corner or in the classroom an IM leaves a record of a child's beastliness to other children which you can read later?
  1. The article doesn't even consider that there is another way to stop your kids using Instant Messaging: don't use AOL, and don't install other IM software like ICQ. For that matter, if you don't want your kids going online in your absence don't set up your PC so that it can dial up automatically and send your user name and password to your ISP. That "Remember password" checkbox can be unchecked, for goodness' sake!
[Via Metafilter]
Tuesday 6 June 2000, 23:00 BST
Do you remember Elite, the best computer game of the 80s bar none? Has your life been empty since you put away your BBC Micro/Sinclair Spectrum and moved "up" to PC-compatible hardware? Fear not: Void is as near-as-dammit Elite for PalmOS. [Via NTK]
What the hell! [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
A gorgeous Astronomical Picture of the Day.
Monday 5 June 2000, 23:30 BST
First there was SETI@home. Now we have YETI@Home. [Via Pigs & Fishes]
Sci-Fi Wire reports that Jimmy Smits may be appearing in Star Wars: Episode Two. No word on who he might be playing, but I hope it'll be a bad guy. Better yet, why not team him up with former NYPD Blue partner Dennis Franz? Franz as a Dark Lord of the Sith would be something to see: I'll bet Darth Sipowicz would kick Yoda's ass!
Sunday 4 June 2000, 23:50 BST
Astronomy without a telescope has a long history: Kepler devised his laws describing planetary motion using data gathered by Tycho Brahe, uncovering the hidden patterns therein by purely mathematical means. Now The Economist tells us that the ability of computers to carry out data mining on an impressive scale has sparked a number of initiatives which aim to pool astronomical data and make it available to the astronomical community at large for further processing.

I was a little surprised that the article didn't mention the SETI@home project in connection with this. For some types of data mining, harnessing the spare CPU cycles of the world's geek community is an obvious next step. Then again, the article emphasises that at the moment the aim is to limit the availability of the pooled data to serious researchers so that they can figure out how best to use such pooled data in future: hopefully they'll consider the best way to harness the efforts of the geek community. Perhaps a decade from now we'll be able to run ADMP (the Astronomical Data Mining Protocol) servers on our broadband networked PCs, seamlessly downloading and processing data for the scientific project of our choice. [Via Techdirt]
The Observer surprised me by running a very good article on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill today. Author John Naughton has clearly been reading up at the Stand.org.uk web site, and he does a superb job of summing up in non-technical terms exactly why the RIP Bill is a bad joke. Better yet, this is the first in a promised series of articles about the impact of the RIP Bill.

The reason I say I'm "surprised" is that the very same newspaper has repeatedly run scare stories about Demon Internet being a conduit for child porn. I'd like to think that this article signals a change of approach to internet issues in the offices of The Observer, but I suspect it's more that the RIP Bill offers another stick with which to beat the illiberal tendency at Jack Straw's Home Office. [Via Metafilter]
"The web is at once a steamy swamp of smut and debauchery, a new Library at Alexandria, and everything in between." Well said, that man. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
The New York Times reports that as of tomorrow a data haven designed to allow cypherpunks to hide their affairs from the prying eyes of the world's governments will appear just six miles off England's coast. I give them about a year before HM Customs & Excise, the Inland Revenue, MI5 or the police find some pretext to enter the "Principality of Sealand" and grab their computers. Who knows, maybe they'll even be the first major test case for the RIP Bill's provisions regarding the disclosure of encryption keys. [Via Metafilter]

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