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Home > Weblog w/e 18.11.2000


Saturday 18 November 2000, 23:35 GMT
Spain 25 years on. BBC News Online reminds us that it's just 25 years since Franco's death opened the way to the possibility of a liberal, democratic future for a country which had been locked into the past for almost forty years. If the article which prompted this posting has one failing, it's that it makes no mention of the role played by King Juan Carlos in Spain's transformation. He may not have been personally responsible for giving the world the films of Pedro Almodovar, or for the way Spain has embraced a new future in Europe, but his strength and commitment to a democratic future for his country (especially at the time of the attempted coup in 1981) was crucial.

(Note that this comment should not be taken as an argument in favour of monarchy in general - I'm a convinced republican - but rather as a recognition that sometimes a hereditary monarch can actually turn out to be the right person in the right place at the right time.)
In defence of lists. Michael Berube has written a lengthy but entirely worthwhile paean to pop culture criticism for the Chronicle of Higher Education. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Further to my mention the other day of Terry Gilliam's aborted attempt to film Watchmen, I came across a link to a copy of Sam "Batman" Hamm's unproduced script for Gilliam's project. [Via linkmachinego]
Friday 17 November 2000, 23:15 GMT
Linus Torvalds gave a two-part interview to The Register, covering everything from why the "Bill versus Linus" show is old hat to why "free" is exactly the wrong word to use when discussing Linux.
Ever wanted to see how any particular bit of the Earth looks from space, day or night? Very, very cool. [Via Feed]
Salon asked readers to come up with alternative meanings of common TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). I think the right entry probably won, but I did like the alternative version of MP3.
I'd like to say something cogent, thoughtful and insightful about ICANN's proposals for new Top Level Domains. I promise to try again just as soon as I've finished laughing at ".name".
Thursday 16 November 2000, 21:30 GMT
A fascinating article from New Scientist reveals just how little we really see when we look at the world around us:
Last year, with Christopher Chabris, also at Harvard, Simons showed people a videotape of a basketball game and asked them to count the passes made by one or other team. After about 45 seconds, a man dressed in a gorilla suit walked slowly across the scene, passing between the players. Although he was visible for five seconds, 40 per cent of the viewers failed to notice him. When the tape was played again, and they were asked simply to watch it, they saw him easily. Not surprisingly, some found it hard to believe it was the same tape.
[Via the null device]
Why is it that everything has to be done via the Web? Thomas Kephart writes at OS Opinion that it's because SMTP, NNTP and FTP don't support advertising.

That's part of it, to be sure, but I think there's more to it than that. There's nothing really complicated about configuring a news or FTP client, but the mass market (which is now, and will remain, a hell of a lot more important to the software business than the wishes of the techies who dominated the internet until 5 years ago) prefers not to have to think about which tool to use to accomplish a given task. Even if a proper FTP client is a much more efficient means of uploading or downloading files than an HTTP session (or an FTP-via-browser session, for that matter) the average user prefers to leave it to the site designer to tell the browser what to do when the user clicks on a link: open a blank email, download a file, go to another web page. Why should the user care? [Via Web Voice]
Researchers find that mobile phones are penis extensions. What does that make PDAs? [Via the null device]
Howard Wen writes in Salon about the trend for fans to make their own sequels/prequels to major Hollywood films and put them on the internet. Star Wars is the biggest candidate for affectionate tributes, but several other shows are getting the same treatment nowadays. It's an high-tech extension of the long tradition of fanfic, of course, and as with fanfic there's a somewhat strained relationship between the owners of the original work and the fans.

One aspect of this which Wen doesn't address is the question of why this sort of thing is only happening to speculative fiction shows. Is it just that science fiction fans, being of a more technological bent than the average genre fan, are the first to apply cheap video editing technology to this end? Is it that science fiction shows, which invent a whole "world" for their characters to live in, leave more room for the fans to go off and fill in the background to a story which was told on the big screen? There's a fair bit of written fanfic about non-SF shows, so perhaps in time fans of ER and Dawson's Creek will join in. (For what it's worth, the best fanfic I've ever read was an attempt by Eric Holdridge to write the first half of a second season of My So-Called Life: he did a terrific job of reproducing the characters who were left dangling at the end of the show's one and only season and showing us what might have happened next.)
Wednesday 15 November 2000, 22:55 GMT
MMXI Europe has published research indicating that the UK internet population is still growing rapidly, increasing by 40% in the last twelve months. People are spending more time online in the average online session, and Britain has the largest number of under-17 internet users in Europe.

The report from CNet News of the research highlighted the fact that many of those new users are heading straight for the big US sites, MSN and Yahoo! being the two most-visited sites. The Register noted a more interesting/depressing statistic: only one site in the Top 10, (the BBC) actually hosts original content.
Matthew Parris wrote a thoroughly hilarious account in The Times of the debate in the House of Lords on equalising the homosexual age of consent. [Via Blog]
Leander Kahney writes in Wired News about a new approach to web browsing: 2Ce, a cubic browser which displays five web pages at a time, as if they were pasted to the inside of a cube. The claim is that this will allow users to read one site's content in the main, undistorted window, while keeping an eye on other four in case they change. Judging by the picture of the browser shown in the article, what this means in practice is that unless the peripheral pages are designed to blink at you (please god, no!) or otherwise signal what's changed unambiguously you'll end up squinting at the pages on the sides of the cube trying to figure out what the change says and whether you want to switch your attention to that page. If you want to watch several web pages at once, I'm not sure what's wrong with either opening several browser windows or else doing what Opera does, and utilising the MDI interface to have several pages open in one browser, sized differently to suit the user's requirements.

There definitely is a problem with monitoring several web pages at a time whichever browser you use. None of the major browsers really handle this well, but trying to cram five pages-worth of screen into one display really isn't the solution.
The Onion has fun with the electile dysfunction presently afflicting the United States. Nothing in this week's update is quite as funny as their pre-election piece, but then they couldn't expect real-life events to cooperate as they did last Tuesday again.
As if the RIP Act wasn't a big enough impediment to our civil liberties on the internet, now The Register suggests that we may not even be allowed to know about the proceedings of the Tribunal set up by the Act to consider complaints about the way it's implemented.

There's a certain irony in the fact that this change in the rules is being made via an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act...
Just when you thought that the advertising industry was done with finding ways to irritate you with online ads, they've come up with some even worse ideas. [The Standard article via NewsTrolls]
Tuesday 14 November 2000, 23:55 GMT
All of a sudden, "naming consultants" are declaring that .com company names and meaningless names like Athlon or Vividence or Inprise are a bad idea, according to a report at CNet. These would be the same companies which went out of their way to claim that their "scientific" methods of choosing names would work so much better than merely picking names that the company's officers liked, presumably. The truth is that the whole process is fashion-driven: right now Inprise is reverting to its old name (Borland), but you can bet that if the renamed company ends up in trouble again or Wall Street starts to favour dot.coms again it'll become Borland.com or Inprise.com and the whole fashion cycle will begin all over.
Note to Craig from Big Brother: it was very good that you won, and wonderful that you put the prize money towards your friend's medical treatment, but please, please, for the love of god, don't release a Xmas single. What's really frightening is that he's signed a 5 album deal! I suspect this will actually be an "option" for the record company to release 5 albums if they decide that there's money to be made in doing so, but it's still a scary thought. [Via NME.com]
A mixed bag of film and TV news today. Britney Spears won't be appearing in Buffy this season after all (yay!), but she's rumoured to be starring in The Lost Girls, a sequel to Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys (hmm). Terry Gilliam won't be directing an adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen graphic novel, because he thinks the story wouldn't fit into a 2-3 hour film: he's right, but I wish someone would give him the chance to do it as a miniseries. Finally, Bryan Singer is in talks to return to direct an X-Men sequel, and the entire cast has already signed up (yes!). [All via Sci Fi Wire]
Adam Clayton Powell thinks Bill Gates is wrong about the benefits of information technology for poor people in the Third World. Powell makes a good point about the way that Western ideas about how the internet is used may not apply in poorer countries - basically, he argues that communal use of PCs will be more common than the one-PC-per-user/family model we see in the US and Europe - but he erects an awfully shaky edifice of ill-founded assertions upon that shaky foundation. Powell asserts that "Extended to the far corners of the earth, the Net has proven to be a matchless tool that enables people to feed themselves," but he completely fails to demonstrate that the ability to send an email to a relative overseas via an internet kiosk or a communal PC is going to change anyone's life chances in communities where people attempt to survive on US$1 per day. [Via Politech]
Monday 13 November 2000, 22:30 GMT
BT is finally being dragged kicking and screaming in the general direction of truly unmetered internet access by Oftel, reports BBC News Online. Aren't BBC News Online getting tired of coming up with new ways to herald the arrival of unmetered access by now? This must be at least their eighth attempt so far this year.

I've no doubt that there will be all sorts of interesting games played out between now and whenever this new service is finally rolled out, but it might just be that this will open up the ISP market a bit. Mind you, the fact that BT have made such heavy weather of providing a reasonable deal for ISPs also provides a convenient alibi for the likes of AltaVista UK for their having failed to live up to their promises earlier in the year, but that's by the bye.

On the positive side, I'm very happy with the BT SurfTime package and Demon Internet's performance since they went live with their "Premier Connect" package last month. So far I've had no problems whatsoever connecting, decent throughput and a glitch-free service, but if this development lets Demon provide the same sort of service even cheaper then that's just fine by me.
Have you ever wondered whether your personal web site might get you in trouble with your employer? Bill Owens didn't, but then someone discovered his online alter ego, Buck Hunter, and everything changed. Reynolds Holding, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, tells the tale. [Via Techdirt]
Jack Straw plans to unleash 80 " cyber cops" to ensure that Britons are no longer troubled by criminals, con-men and perverts. I feel much safer now... [Via BBC News Online]
The 11th Hour is a very good site for devotees of science fiction, fantasy and horror, with amusing essays on everything from James Cameron's new, "definitely not science fiction, oh no" series Dark Angel (which sounds like a vain attempt to combine Faith from Buffy with The Bionic Woman with Robert A Heinlein's Friday) to why the heck people are actually buying Anne Rice novels to whether sequels ever work out better than the original. Well worth a look, even if the episode summaries for TV shows are just tantalising glimpses of the far future for terrestrial TV watchers in the UK. [Via Bad Hair Days]
Sunday 12 November 2000, 22:00 GMT
2001: A Space Odysseyis to be remastered and re-released next year. The good news is that a DVD release will follow later in the year. The bad news is that the only UK showing specifically mentioned in either the BBC News or Sci Fi Wire reports is at the NFT in London on 1.1.2001. I'll buy the DVD in a flat minute, but I hope the new print makes it as far as Newcastle: 2001 definitely needs to be seen on the big screen with a really good sound system.

Now if only they'd re-release the original version of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (not the pointless "Special Edition"!) in a double-bill with 2001 my joy would be complete.
The Register takes a close look at the roadmap for the transition from Microsoft Windows to Windows.NET. It looks as if the best way to upgrade will be to buy a new PC, as Windows 98 users will get a less than perfect upgrade and Windows 95 users like me will be completely frozen out. (I refuse to "upgrade" to Windows 98 and have to put up with the inconvenience of using IE to browse my local file system. Ugh!)

As long as MS are honest about this from the start I don't see that there's anything wrong with them refusing to support legacy hardware, but it does make you wonder how many users of Windows 98-based systems will want to upgrade if even MS are telling them they're in for a less-than-smooth ride. Presumably Microsoft aren't too worried about all those users of older, underpowered PCs going off and installing Linux. (And they're probably right.)
Jakob Nielsen for President in 2004: At Least We'll Know Who Won This Time! Very, very good stuff. [Via NTK]
NTK points out that Ross Anderson anticipated the whole software piracy detector van phenomenon a couple of years ago.

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