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Home > Weblog w/e 19.8.2000

Saturday 19 August 2000, 22:30 BST
Wired visits Sealand. There was one very striking paragraph, I thought. Discussing the possibility that the Church of $cientology might try to get information out of the "data haven" as they eventually managed to get information out of anon.penet.fi:
But what if the church sent in a private gunboat and demanded the data? "This is how we'd deal with any battle group threatening to destroy us over a server," says Lackey, emphasizing Sealand's foursquare commitment to customer satisfaction. "We'd power off the machine, optionally destroy it, possibly turn over the smoking wreck to the attacker, and securely and anonymously refund payment to the owner of the server."

Given that Sealand proposes to host data for all sorts of people who might have slightly, er, unorthodox sources of revenue, I can imagine that in some cases destroying an organisation's entire data store (remember, off-site backups will be vulnerable so until there's a network of data havens it may not be safe to keep backups) and just sending them a refund might result in the owners of said data paying Sealand a visit with a few guns themselves. Not to mention that as a ship approaches to demand that you release the data you hold it may not be entirely clear which server they're interested in: are Sealand planning to destroy all the data on their servers, just to be on the safe side? I still think that the first time the operators of Sealand piss off the UK government their supposed sovereignty is going to be severely tested (i.e. to destruction).

What a cock-up. [Via The Register]
Feed has an interview with Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and now Zot! Online. Well worth a read (as is Zot! Online itself).
Thursday 17 August 2000, 21:45 BST
Nasty Nick has gone! Big Brother is going to be well worth watching tonight.
Wednesday 16 August 2000, 22:15 BST
Linux for the lame! That seems to be the reaction of the crowd at LinuxWorld to the idea that AOL are starting to release beta versions of some of their software for Linux. I find this sort of knee-jerk elitist reaction to the mere idea of putting AOL's access software on the Linux platform is pretty depressing. If Linux is going to make inroads on the desktop as well as the server, surely it's a good idea if users of the biggest ISP in the States can use Linux to go online? Not every computer user wants to have to learn the ins and outs of their OS, and for the purposes most of us use computers for there's no reason whatsoever why they should need to do so. AOL users aren't that different to customers of other ISPs in that regard, and they certainly shouldn't be assumed to be stupid just because they want to use their computer as a tool not a toy. [Via rc3.org Daily]
Paul Verhoeven revels in making distinctly creepy big budget Hollywood films. His latest, The Hollow Man, has reinforced his reputation as a voyeur and a sleaze merchant, and judging by this interview in the Village Voice he isn't terribly bothered. [Via Robot Wisdom]
Nice to see that Amazon.com are leaving themselves some room to expand into a couple of new areas of e-commerce. [Via Haddock Directory]
"In the spirit of European togetherness, MSI is offering vasectomy to our French neighbors..." [Via Looka!]
Tuesday 15 August 2000, 21:30 BST
Pessimism can be good for you . [Via the null device ]
Readers who aren't interested in politics should probably skip to the next item...

There are echoes of the current British political situation in the American presidential election. It's commonly argued that the major party candidates are so close together that there's little to choose between them, and that this justifies a "plague on both your houses" approach. In Britain, the result of this feeling is the apathetic response by activists and public alike to the first Labour government in eighteen years. In America, it's led to a resurgence of interest in third party candidates, most notably consumer/environmental advocate Ralph Nader. Joe Conason writes in Salon that Nader's rhetoric about "Republicrats" is mistaken, and that even though the Clinton/Gore years haven't signalled a clear break with Reaganite "greed is good/Morning In America" politics there is still a decisive difference between a party totally in thrall to the demands of big business and one which is at least aware of environmental and labour concerns, even if it can't always ignore the demands of economic orthodoxy.

It seems to me that Tony Blair's New Labour party is suffering from a similar problem. Lots of mildly leftish people claim that New Labour is just the Tory party with a smile on its face, but that's nonsense. What are the chances that another Major government would have had an openly gay Cabinet minister, or would have increased the tax burden on the better-off (albeit by stealth rather than a simple increase in the headline rate of income tax)? New Labour has been way too timid in challenging the conventional wisdom of the focus group and the opinion poll in some areas, and it's clearly going to regret not having thought through its policies in some areas (most obviously constitutional reform), but under the Tories we'd have seen illegal immigrants being thrown directly into jail and no reforms of the House of Lords whatsoever. Don't let disappointment at the caution of New Labour ministers blind you to the differences between them and their Tory counterparts.

Sunday 13 August 2000, 22:00 BST
One positive aspect of the Napster saga and its aftermath is that it's focussed attention on the advantages of peer-to-peer networking: that is, using the internet to set up systems whereby end users' computers talk directly to one another rather than to machines operated by third parties which act as centralised repositories of data.

The question is, do you really want total strangers to be able to rummage around on your hard disk? Dan Bricklin has written an essay considering the options.

Bruce Tognazzini found out the hard way that anticipating what power users will do is at least as hard as catering for naive users. I loved Parker the Permissive Prairie Dog .
Cheap computing power is revolutionising architecture , allowing building designs to be changed at the drop of a hat. However, as this article in The New York Times points out sometimes the design of a building can reflect the capabilities of the software package used to design it, which gives rise to the thought that one day we might see the Microsoft-style building: it looks pretty, it has lots of ideograms in place of door numbers and directional signs, and it's exceptionally easy to burgle. [Via Techdirt ]
The culture of Silicon Valley is so closely associated with the high-tech revolution of the last five years or so that it's difficult to figure out how far the internet boom was caused by that culture. Now that labour rates and property prices are so high in Silicon Valley, various US states are trying to make themselves attractive to firms looking to relocate. The Standard has a longish report on what might at first seem like a less likely substitute for Silicon Valley: Utah.

The Mormon State gave us WordPerfect and Iomega, but can the intensely family-oriented culture of Salt Lake City really prove a comfortable home for firms looking to make it big in the IT sector? What would a Mormon version of Wired look like? [Via Arts and Letters Daily ]

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