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Home > Weblog w/e 22.7.2000

Saturday 22 July 2000, 22:00 BST
Maggie Thatcher turns out to be hugely popular. Or at any rate, her Spitting Image puppet was the one which went for the highest sum (£11,224) in the recent auction at Sothebys .
Worried about electronic surveillance? Sorry, you'll just have to get used to it. That's the message various "experts" are spreading at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in London this week. My favourite justification for loosening the restrictions on what law enforcement bodies can do in the pursuit of criminals came from William Webster, a former head of the CIA and FBI (as recounted in a report on SiliconValley.com):
He said other laws restricting police behaviour also seemed unnecessary in retrospect -- such as one that limited undercover FBI agents to drinking milk on duty while the tough gangs they were trying to infiltrate were on the whisky.
[Via Techdirt ]
The PowerPoint Gettysburg Address . One for everyone who's had to sit through a talk from some manager who leta Wizard do his thinking for him. [Via David Brake's Blog ]
The Web Standards Project don't just bash Microsoft : here's their indictment of Netscape for spending two years missing their window of opportunity to produce a standards-compliant web browser. By the time they've finished will anyone care? (Not "should they care?" which is a whole different question.) [Via Metafilter ]
Things That Have Been Sold In Vending Machines . Leeches...? [Via MISCmedia ]
Wednesday 19 July 2000, 21:55 BST
Oops! Powergen set back the cause of e-commerce in the UK by a year or two in one fell swoop.
A superb site devoted to the study of snow crystals and snowflakes. Highly educational , and with some truly stunning images . Sod e-commerce, this is what the web is really good at. [Via Bifurcated Rivets ]
Remember when Deja.com used to be a useful Usenet archiving site called DejaNews? Not only have they ruined their user interface and relegated their Usenet archive to a corner of the site, but now they've started inserting links to adverts for products into people's Usenet articles.

I first read about this on rec.arts.sf.written at the weekend, as posts in that newsgroup were among the first to be affected. Now there's a thread on Slashdot about the fiasco.

The really bizarre thing is the way they're doing this. If they sought out every mention of Microsoft and added a link to the MS site's front page then that would be one thing, but their automated process for inserting links is far, far sillier than that: it'll even search for a common word like "Memory," which happens to be the title of a fine science fiction novel by Lois McMaster Bujold, and put a link to an ad for the novel into a Usenet posting which uses the word "memory" in a completely unrelated context.

Deja.com say that they will eventually honour a new header they're going to define so that those of us who don't want out Usenet posts linked to ads for products willy-nilly can indicate that we want our words displayed untouched, but that's hardly the point. Unless they're going to email everybody whose posts will be subject to this markup process and ask them for clearance to add ad links to their posts it seems to me that they're violating the copyright of every single Usenet poster who doesn't use X-No-Archive already. By posting to Usenet I'm implicitly granting anyone who wants to run a news server permission to distribute and copy my posts, but I still own the copyright on the text of those messages: what Deja.com are doing now is altering the content of the posts itself, and that's an entirely different issue.
Big Brother has arrived in the UK. So far it's hard to assess whether the idea has legs. I can easily see the show's claustrophobic format becoming dull after a couple of weeks: at least shows like MTV's The Real World allow the characters to interact with people who aren't on the show and have some semblance of a normal life, to which the audience can then relate. Still, the mix of distinctly exhibitionist characters looks like providing some amusing moments, and I'll certainly watch for a while yet. I'm not sure if I'll bother to vote to help decide who is thrown out first, but if I do it'll probably be for Caroline (the late-thirties Brummie blonde who used to sell sex toys), if only because my eardrums can't take much more of that laugh of hers!
Tuesday 18 July 2000, 22:20 BST
"Finally somebody has had the nerve to stand up and tell those euro-johnnies in Brussels just where to shove their sprouts." Tesco stands up for Britain! Good show, what... [Via Planet Jon ]
The American Bar Association has figured out what the internet really needs. Unfortunately, the answer appears to be " borders ," according to Excite News. Well, e-commerce firms might find it handy for all sorts of practical reasons but it's a pretty dismal prospect otherwise. [Via Metafilter ]
Talking of the effects of e-commerce on the web, here's R U Sirius and Justin Hall reminiscing about the days before there was such a thing as e-commerce, way back when " The great thing about the early-'90s cyberculture was that we got to make it all up. " Well worth reading for a look at how the internet was supposed to (and might yet) turn out. [Via the null device ]
The DeCSS trial, which started yesterday , could very easily have a much bigger effect on the future of the web than the DOJ-Microsoft case ever will. If you can't freely link to other pages on the web, is it still the web? [Via Metafilter ]
Bibliotherapy? Sounds like an excellent idea to me. [Via David Brake's blog ]
Monday 17 July 2000, 23:15 BST
The Twelve Days of Xmas, in the style of Twin Peaks . [Via Memepool ]
Sun is going to release StarOffice under the GPL, according to ZDNet. If this is right, it'll be interesting to see whether the open source community does a Mozilla on the program and spends two years rebuilding the program from the ground up while allowing the competition to stride ahead, or simply works to add functionality to what's already a very useful program. [Via Wired News ]
Microsoft's .NET initiative is claimed to be "standards-based" and thus less vulnerable to the monopolist's usual "embrace and extend" tactics than the Windows desktop. Chris Nelson at the O'Reilly Network has produced a brief, lucid but very entirely convincing explanation of why Microsoft not only can, but almost certainly will, try to superimpose their system software on the internet so as to ensure that competitors will be forever playing catch-up with the latest version of the Microsoft "standard", just as they have to now with the Windows APIs and file formats. [Via NewsTrolls ]
The Atlantic Unbound has an interesting discussion by Harvey Blume of a number of books which seek to define, through fact and fiction, just what "geek culture" is and how it affects the rest of us.
Sunday 16 July 2000, 23:00 BST
Confusion reigns over the legality of letters the police send to motorists who are registered as the keepers of cars caught committing an offence by a roadside camera. The police normally tell the car's keeper that they are considering prosecution of the driver, and require the vehicle's keeper to indicate who was driving the car when the alleged offence was captured on camera. Now BBC News Online reports that a judge in Birmingham has ruled that this demand for identification in connection with a prosecution amounts to asking citizens to incriminate themselves. As this contravenes the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Human Rights Act enshrines in English law later this year, it means that thousands of such requests for information every single week are on potentially dodgy legal ground until the law is clarified by a proper test case and/or further legislation.

It seems to me that this is just a foretaste of what's to come now that the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into English law. You can be sure that solicitors up and down the country will be keen to help their clients assert their rights under the Act/Convention, and it'll be a few years yet before everyone's clear on how big a difference this Act makes to the conduct of day-to-day business by all sorts of governmental bodies. The balance of power between citizens and the state could do with a good nudge in favour of the citizen, and this Act might be just the fulcrum that was needed.
If you're fascinated by the Sony AIBO, you'll definitely want to read this important alert :
 The AIBO Sound Controller, when configured to play
   Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again," will cause AIBO
   to lift a hind leg and spontaneously leak battery juice
   on the floor, simulating a urination (female ERS-110
   models "squat" during this exploit).
[Via Politech ]

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