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Home > Weblog w/e 24.6.2000

Saturday 24 June 2000, 23:10 BST
Another triumph for filtering software. [Via NTK]
The Anti-Porn site I mentioned yesterday has now been taken down due to harassment, but there's a mirror of the site up. [Via Bad Hair Days]
Thursday 22 June 2000, 23:15 BST
The government wants to stop state benefits for those who breach the terms of community service orders. Hugo Young thinks the government's talk of a "social contract" masks a significant shift towards administrative justice rather than the use of the justice system. He's right.
The Four Rules of Sex:
  1. ONLY to the person you are married to.
  2. ONLY for procreation.
  3. ONLY in the missionary position.
  4. NO orgasm for the woman.

I'm not sure the author of these rules is going to get a chance to put them into practice any time soon. [Via Bad Hair Days]
Be careful who you write to.
When Barbie™ goes bad. [Via MISCmedia]
After the recent bout of synthetic outrage the government generated over university admissions policies, Oxford University isn't going to offer Tony Blair an honorary degree at present. Considering how gleefully Margaret Thatcher tore into the universities after a similar snub fifteen years ago, this might turn out not be such a great idea.
BBC News Online reports that the vocal talents behind The Simpsons are coming to the UK to perform scripts from the show live on stage. Part of me thinks attending one of the readings would be unutterably cool, but the other thinks that the script without the accompanying cartoons just wouldn't be the same. [Via apropos of nothing]
Wednesday 21 June 2000, 23:50 BST
Are you sick of banner ads defacing every other web page you read? You could turn off your web browser's graphics, but that would make some commercial sites really difficult to navigate. This page details a simple way to cut out an awful lot of banner ads: the method is simple enough in principle, but the real trick is compiling a reasonably comprehensive list of banner ad servers. The net result should be to save dial-up users a fair amount of time on-line, and to render ad-supported web sites an awful lot more palatable. [Via Planet Jon]
This guy might just be taking his weblogging a bit far, I think. [Via Dan Bricklin log]
Eminem is probably the most divisive figure on the current pop music scene, with critics lining up to applaud his undoubted wit and invention and others slamming him for his outrageous, inflammatory attitudes. Jackie Danicki's excellent apropos of nothing weblog (which I only discovered this week thanks to the GBlogs directory) pointed me in the direction of this insightful analysis of Eminem's paradoxical appeal.
A few weeks ago I finished Naomi Klein's No Logo, a comprehensive survey of the rise of the global corporate brand and the way that globalisation has served the interests of the virtual corporation which spends much more money on marketing a lifestyle than it does on actually employing people to work in factories. The book's one shortcoming was that it was long on description and analysis but short on prescriptions for action. For an interesting discussion of the strategies of the new opposition to globalisation, take a look at this discussion between two generations of activist.
As I type this another episode of This Life is coming to a close on BBC2. The repeat run has been even better than I remembered it, not least because of Daniela Nardini's marvellous portrayal of Anna. If there's any justice This Life will be remembered long after the likes of Friends have been forgotten.
The art of the obituarist is a delicate one, balancing respect for the feelings of the bereaved with a duty to try to provide some sense of perspective as to their legacy. Novelist Porter Shreve wrote a fascinating article on the people who write obituaries in Salon. Coincidentally, yesterday's Suck also published an article about the obituary, and pointed me to one of my favourite examples of the form: Hunter S Thompson's scathing yet oddly sentimental farewell to the malign spirit of one Richard Milhous Nixon.
Dearest Britney … with love from Martin Amis. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Tuesday 20 June 2000, 23:55 BST
BT think they invented what? According to BBC News Online, BT have started trying to collect fees from US web sites, claiming that a patent from back in the day of Prestel and Viewdata gives them the rights to the whole idea of hyperlinking. Now, if only Ted Nelson could be persuaded to sue the pants off BT.

I particularly liked the comment from BT at the end of The Register's article about this move: "If the claim is successful BT said it will invest the cash in R&D and its network." Yeah, like that makes it all better!
Applying Artificial Intelligence to the task of content filtering - how could it fail? Very, very easily, according to Wired News. [Via Techdirt]
After thirty-odd years of satellites falling to bits in orbit, there's an awful lot of junk up there. Now BBC News Online reports that a British firm has come up with a "nanosatellite" which weighs in at 6kg and can grab and divert orbiting junk so it burns up in Earth's atmosphere. The most amazing fact mentioned in the article is that each "nanosatellite" will cost £100,000, and will be burned up along with the piece of junk it zeroes in on. This is a bargain compared to the cost of the satellites which might be damaged by running into debris, which tells you all you need to know about how much space hardware costs.
What were they thinking? [Via Bad Hair Days and apropos of nothing]
Remember when Deja.com was DejaNews? Now they have even less reason to ever revert to their old name, because according to Salon for the time being they're only going to keep Usenet posts from May 1999 onwards available. You see, they've become a consumer goods rating site, so apparently the line of business that brought them to prominence can go hang. DejaNews used to be a really useful tool, but now I can't help wondering whether they'll bring the entire archive back online. Some old-timers believe that Usenet was always meant to be an ephemeral medium, with only the best bits preserved by participants in the discussions, but I feel that DejaNews added a lot to Usenet, by opening it up to everyone. Usenet is a fascinating collection of subcultures, but the harder it is for newcomers to get a taste of it, the more it'll become a backwater. I think the opening up of Usenet in the last five years or so has improved it enormously in some respects. The greater the diversity of opinion (even if some of it is expressed by people using brain-dead news clients like Outlook Express), the more vital the online community, I say.
Monday 19 June 2000, 23:55 BST
As I type this, tonight's edition of Newsnight has just finished on BBC2. One of the reports was about the establishment of the data haven at Sealand. I was pleasantly surprised at the way the report resisted the temptation to portray the organisers as wild-eyed paranoiacs. It helped that they followed the report with a discussion with Home Office minister Charles Clarke about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill: after hearing a halfway-complete account of the provisions of the RIP Bill, anyone would think setting up a data haven was a damned good idea. (Though I still give Sealand twelve months before HM Customs and Excise pay a visit and impound all their servers.)

Unfortunately Charles Clarke was allowed to divert the interviewer from the crux of the matter by picking one misstatement (that "all businesses" rather than "all ISPs" would have to install black boxes to copy traffic to MI5) and thereafter went on autopilot about the threat posed by criminals who will use computers to hide details of their nefarious plots from the forces of law and order. The point that keeps slipping by in these discussions is that there's a world of difference between the right of the police to gain access to the contents of a criminal's safe deposit box and their being given access to everyone's email. In the former case, they can't just open up the next safe deposit box on a whim, but the technology available now makes it child's play to scan emails in bulk for "subversive" comment or references to specific subjects. This is the critical difference that information technology makes to all sorts of applications: what was completely impractical with paper records or analogue data becomes simplicity itself with digital technology. In the light of this, it's just not good enough for governments to say "you can trust us." Even if we do trust them, how can we trust that their successors will never be tempted to abuse their powers?

For much, much more on the implications of the RIP Bill, see Stand.org.uk and the Foundation for Information Policy Research's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Information Centre.
Sunday 18 June 2000, 23:20 BST
Microsoft: the awful truth. [Via the author's posting to rec.arts.sf.written]
Two computer crashes have caused chaos in Britain's air traffic control system this week, leading to major delays and flight cancellations. As usual, there are cries from the public of "how can one computer crash cause so much chaos?" The short answer is, "very easily," it seems.

Since the computer system in question held details of the flight paths of aircraft entering UK airspace, data which changes constantly, it's hard to see how anything short of a Space Shuttle-style triumvirate of computers sharing the same stream of incoming data and checking one another's data would do much good in keeping a system up despite a crash. Since the information held was not considered "safety critical" by the National Air Traffic Services, presumably nobody saw the need to triple the expenditure on computers to avoid delays.
Opera 4 Beta 6 is available for download now. They've tidied up a lot of the bugs that irritated me in earlier betas, so I'm now happy to use Beta 6 as my working browser. They've added a ton of useful new features, retained and enhanced the MDI-based interface which makes it easy to open multiple windows at once, and added support for XML, XHTML, WML, ECMAScript and most of CSS Level 2. Even with all these extra features, Opera is still much, much faster on relatively low-spec hardware (ie my P-166MMX) than Netscape or Internet Explorer, so I'll be more than happy to pay US$39 to register Opera 4.
Boys asks God a question. God answers. [Via The Onion]
How do geckos manage to retain their grip when they're climbing all over your ceiling? Suction? No. Minute imperfections in the surface they're climbing on? Nope. Electrostatic charge? It ain't so.

Would you believe that they can get a grip on the molecular structure of the surface they're hanging off? Could be. [Via Honeyguide]
Looking for a list of UK-based webloggers? Get over to GBlogs now for what looks like a pretty comprehensive list. Thanks to Jen Bolton for maintaining the list. [Via Planet Jon]
Spot the bored headline writer. [Via NTK]

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