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Home > Weblog w/e 17.6.2000

Friday 16 June 2000, 23:00 BST
I Can't Stop Thinking! A very cool look at how comics can adapt to make the best of the freedom offered by the web. [Via Misnomer]
Who owns capitalism? Jack Beatty muses in The Atlantic that maybe we all do.
Jon Carroll is far more eloquent than I was about the latest research into the way the death penalty is implemented in the States.
Thursday 15 June 2000, 23:45 BST
The Napster revolution continues, apparently. Salon reprinted Courtney Love's recent speech lambasting the record industry as the real music pirates, which has been the subject of a lot of favourable comment this week - see, for example, here and here and here. To a large extent it deserves the applause. She's quite right that major label tricks like reclassifying an artist's output as "work for hire," or grabbing the rights to their name expressed as a URL, or charging huge promotional expenses to million-selling acts which are left with barely a living wage are anything but equitable.

However, she also points out that Metallica are right, and that if the likes of Napster aren't trying to work with artists to make sure that they get their share of the spoils from online music they're as much the enemy of the artist as the major labels. Just because the major labels behave badly and have built up a huge industry which pays a small percentage of its turnover to the artists, that doesn't make the adversaries of the record industry some sort of angels. Evidence that Napster's "we're out to facilitate the sharing of new music, not abet piracy" stance is a sham emerged this week as part of the evidence in the Recording Industry Association of America's suit asking that the Napster site be closed down: basically, emails between Napster's founders have been published in which they discussed the need to use the distribution of unsigned artists as a means of diverting attention from Napster's use to distribute copyrighted material. Obviously this interpretation of the evidence is being heavily spun by the RIAA as part of the PR campaign around their case so there's room for less damaging perspectives to emerge, but nonetheless on the face of the information reported by Inside this email makes Napster look very bad indeed. [Inside story via Metafilter]
They Think It's All Rover. A clever bit of PR, to be sure.
Jack Straw has been defending his Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. The Register isn't impressed.
According to a two-part report from ABCNEWS.com, female hackers find that they can easily be seen as second-class citizens in the hacker community. Obviously some of this is down to their being female in a culture which is heavily dominated (especially at the "entry level") by teenage boys. However, I wonder how much of this ostracism is due to what the report describes as the female hackers' more political and ethical approach to their pastime. I can easily believe that the average teenaged script kiddie will have little time for crusades against child porn.
Can you use Friends as a way to introduce students to Shakespeare? For that matter, can you use Shakespeare as a means of explaining what's going on between Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe? Should you? Richard Keller Simon thinks you can, and should, do both. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Iceland got a lot of publicity this week for reports that it had bought up 40% of the world's entire production of organic vegetables. (For the benefit of non-British readers, in this instance Iceland is a chain of supermarkets, not a country!) What amazed me was that one moderately large UK supermarket chain with a moderate but not remotely dominant UK market share could buy up that large a chunk of the world's organic harvest: I had no idea the organic food supply was so tiny.
The BBC has been subjected to a lot of criticism this week for having lost out in the auction for rights to screen highlights of Premiership football. There's talk of it having betrayed the nation, and of its role as a public service broadcaster being brought into question by its failure to secure the future of Match of the Day. I think that's ludicrous: the BBC has only two terrestrial channels and a limited amount of money to spend, and frankly coverage of mass spectator sports is much better handled by a multi-channel broadcaster which is capable of showing sport uninterrupted (and, for that matter, showing other programmes in regular timeslots untroubled by sports coverage.) Hopefully the BBC will spend the £123 million on drama and comedy and music instead of trying to buy up the rights to every tiddlywinks championship and equestrian tournament going just so they'll have an excuse to keep putting on Grandstand every Saturday.
Tuesday 13 June 2000, 23:20 BST
Could you really forego print media in favour of online news and analysis? Not without missing a lot, according to this report. I think most of the points the author makes are valid (particularly regarding the convenience of newsprint, which can be taken places an expensive laptop can't), but I thought the most interesting one was that by subscribing to online media you lose the element of serendipity, that satisfaction when you find an article you never would have gone looking for. However, I'd suggest that a very good way to compensate would be to keep an eye on a few weblogs: if there's one thing a weblog does, it's point you in the direction of sites and stories you might not otherwise have seen.

I haven't bought a weekday edition of a newspaper on a regular basis for some years now, and have relied upon online sources for news coverage. However, I do still get the weekend editions of my favourite newspapers: there's nothing quite like settling down for a leisurely browse through the Sunday papers. (That said, I find that I'm often already aware of the news items from my browsing of online news sources - for non-techie stuff, BBC News Online is superb - so I stick to the features and analysis of The Guardian and The Observer at weekends.)
An Englishman in Chicago got very drunk and tipped a waitress US$10,000, but then he sobered up and realised that he couldn't afford a tip that large. He's apologised to the waitress, but that's not why the story caught my eye. What struck me was that after the publicity she's apparently been asked to pose nude by Playboy. What do they do, make offers like this to every blonde female under the age of 40 who finds herself in the news? [Via BBC News Online]
How easy is it for businesses to avoid using Microsoft applications software? Judging by this story, it's not at all easy unless you're either in a position to dictate to those outside your organisation how they format documents they send to you, or else you don't deal much with electronic data from those outside your organisation. The worst of it is, even having MS apps is no defence. At work today was emailed an Excel worksheet which I can't open, simply because I'm using Excel 5 and the person who originated the file is (reportedly) using Excel 97. What's worse is that even when I did feed the file to a copy of Excel 97, it still wouldn't load! Why isn't there a spreadsheet equivalent of RTF, which is at least tolerable as a means of transporting document formatting across platforms?
In the face of reports like this, how can two-thirds of Americans still support capital punishment?
Sunday 11 June 2000, 23:40 BST
The New York Observer reports on a panic in the bedrooms of America. [Via Guardian Weblog]
David Hewson thinks Trainline is the silliest site on the web, since they allow you to purchase train tickets online but force most users to either wait for their ticket to arrive by post, or else collect their tickets from the very train stations where they could book the tickets anyway. I have to admit that when I first read a Trainline flyer I had the self-same thought: given that most of us with internet access also have access to a printer, why on earth can't they find a way to let us print off a ticket for ourselves with a unique identifier which encodes enough details of the journey that you couldn't re-use an old number or just make one up? I can't help but think that part of the problem is that since British Rail was split up and the routes sold off it has been that much harder to justify introducing this sort of service, but even so you'd think one or more of the holders of a franchise which caters to business travellers (ie all the ones going into London, for starters) could make a go of something like this as a proof-of-concept if nothing else. [Via Haddock Directory]
The Village Voice has a fascinating article about the way that American firms not only ask their employees to support political causes, but track which employees responded. When I first read this I was astonished at the notion that employers would feel they have a right to ask employees to support political causes, but maybe I've just led a sheltered working life by working mostly in the public sector. Is this just an American thing, or do private firms in Britain do this sort of thing? [Via Metafilter]
The Register reports that Tim Berners-Lee is unhappy about the trend for web sites to integrate advertising and content to the point where it's hard to tell the difference. There's no question that he's right to worry, but as the article notes for any site that hopes to generate revenue but still be available to a large audience banner ads are presently the least bad option. The sooner someone comes up with a decent, open micropayments standard the better. Until that happy day, the best we can hope for is that sites will arrange their pages so you can easily distinguish the ads from the content.
The British legal system has once again dipped its toes into the murky waters of the internet, this time to affirm that a trademark is a trademark, even if it's hidden in the meta tags of a web page. I think the decision as reported by BBC News Online is fundamentally reasonable. It's one thing to argue over whether someone is entitled to use a particular trademarked word in meta tags if they were once associated with the owners of the trademark (as in the Playboy case in the States a few years ago, where a former Playmate used the word "Playboy" in her site's meta tags), but for a business to use a rival firm's trademark just to try to trick search engines into picking their site is plain unethical.
Tim Burton's remake of Planet Of The Apes may feature Matt Damon in the Charlton Heston role, according to Sci-Fi Wire. I'm already nervous about a) the idea of an unnecessary remake, and b) the choice of Tim Burton to direct a film that doesn't obviously match his normal gothic outlook on life, and throwing a boy in to play a man's part just adds to my qualms.
AltaVista's ultra-cheap unmetered internet access scheme has just got a fair bit more expensive before it's even launched, with BBC News Online reporting that the annual fee will be increased from the "£10-£20" originally announced to just under £60. At first I thought this was hilarious, as a sign of how unrealistic all those announcements in the first couple of months of this year really were. Thinking about it, this might actually be a sign that they're going to operate on something resembling a realistic business model after all: dropping the automatic disconnection and spamming (sorry, "marketing emails") in return for a bigger charge up front seems like a step in the right direction to me.

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