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Home > Weblog w/e 30.12.2000


Saturday 30 December 2000, 23:25 GMT
Disturbing Auctions. Some very creepy items indeed. [Via As Above]
MSNBC have put up their readers' favourite pictures in a two-part "Year In Pictures" gallery. There are some extraordinarily striking images there, including that stunning fire picture I linked to a couple of months ago. I particularly liked the pictures of the Keyhole nebula and the puppy on wheels (numbers 9 and 13 respectively in Part 1 of the gallery). [Via NetSurfer Digest Volume 6 Issue 43]
I'm not a big fan of the honours system, but if we must have one the least they can do is reward genuinely worthy recipients, people who've inspired or educated us, not merely served political parties or enriched themselves. On that note, I'm glad to see that Patrick Moore, the face of British astronomy for some forty years now, and five-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave have been knighted in the New Year's Honours list. In their very different ways, they've both made a positive contribution to the life of the nation.
Robbie Williams' record company have told him to stop joking about being gay in case he puts off female fans.
The Register's story about the proposal to stop us all from copying media files without the permission of the copyright owners continues. They've put together a rather good Q&A on the subject that avoids the technicalities and discusses the implications in layman's terms, while Rafe Colburn over at rc3.org has highlighted a thoughtful contribution to the debate from Jonathan S. Shapiro which makes the important point that the proposals don't merely serve to enforce copyright protection on digital media, but to potentially extend the control of copyright owners indefinitely, even though current copyright legislation limits the length of time for which copyright protects a work.
Should I Kill My Weblog? According to this test, my weblog was rated at 62%, which earned the following comment:
What a nice weblog you have! I imagine that if you hang around the scene long enough someone might actually notice."
As I don't feel like part of a "scene" anyway, this possibility doesn't interest me much anyway. [Via NewsTrolls]
In the Philippines the Catholic Church is the nation's main ISP. Unsurprisingly, they use filtering software, so users occasionally see the following message:
Thank God you were not able to enter that bad site. CBCPNet suggests that you access wholesome sites instead. God Bless You.
[Via the null device]
Bob Cringely is distinctly relaxed about online credit card fraud. He says it's not our problem.
Thursday 28 December 2000, 23:45 GMT
Jon Carroll ponders another of life's little mysteries: women and their hair.
The Register paints a picture of the future of personal computing if Microsoft gets its way, and it ain't pretty.

This picture of future PCs as dumb terminals with a pretty graphical front end you use to connect to a MS-approved Applications Service Provider also points to a world where the Linux movement is stopped dead in its tracks, because the sort of PC you use to run MS Windows 2010 purely in order to access your ASP won't have devices like hard disks off which to run Linux on your local PC. No doubt it'll be possible to buy custom-built PCs if you really need the flexibility, but they'll likely not be subject to the price-pressure the mass market brings to bear on hardware prices. If this scenario comes to pass Linux might never become a serious mass-market phenomenon. (And some Linux advocates would argue this is a good thing, as unless you're a programmer Linux is still far better suited to the server market than the desktop market.)
Thankfully, the Russian space agency have re-established contact with Mir and it isn't going to come crashing down just yet. No doubt they'll send someone up with a new set of Duracell ASAP, just to make sure Mir stays in touch until it meets its fiery end on schedule (and hopefully on target) a couple of months from now.
Alyssa Rayman-Read looks at whether the New Economy is "family-friendly," and finds about what you'd expect: some lip service paid to the concept, but only if you're the sort of person who's so essential to your company that they'll do whatever it takes to keep you. So much for being "revolutionaries" out to "change business." [Via Techdirt]
HELLO GORGEOUS. No prizes for guessing what you're after, juxtaposing your beery orbicularis oris muscles with mine under the wilting fronds of a poisonous, parasitic shrub. If it's my lucky night, you might explore my buccal cavity with your tongue, applying a gentle suction so that I get a mouthful of your saliva, sebum, millions of bacteria and possibly some finely masticated bits of those salted peanuts I saw you scoffing earlier.

The New Scientist looks at the history of tonsil hockey. [Via Blog]
Would you like to link to my site? That'll be US$50 please, sir. Idiocy, pure and simple. [Via Politech]
I watched Gattaca on DVD last night, having bought it in a "four-for-the-price-of-three" deal at HMV just before the Xmas break. A rare example of a modern SF film that looked stunning without overdosing on special effects, and which was actually focused upon the human consequences of technological change. Both Ethan Hawke and Jude Law gave excellent performances, and Uma Thurman did pretty well too despite a part that didn't give her much to do beyond being the object of Hawke's adoration.

For what it's worth, the other three DVDs were Heat, Tin Cup and Out of Sight. I've seen the last two at the cinema already, so next up is Michael Mann's cops-and-robbers tale, which I somehow managed to miss at the cinema and when it showed up on TV. God, DVDs are wonderful!
Wednesday 27 December 2000, 21:05 GMT
The Rules of the Air.
6. The propeller is just a big fan in front of the plane used to keep the pilot cool. When it stops, you can actually watch the pilot start sweating.
[Via Fongueusemare]
Jason Robards, RIP.
Wired News has a fascinating report about an Illinois school district which has provided Palm IIIxes to 2,200 pupils in three schools and made a concerted effort to integrate them into the school's curriculum. I was prepared to be unimpressed with this experiment, but after reading the article I'm cautiously optimistic that it's been worthwhile. As well as using the Palms to track homework and write the odd essay, pupils can plug them into probes which allow the Palm to measure and graph temperatures, and pupils can also take advantage of the Palm's portability to encourage students to record information during their day (eg to analyse their "environmental impact") which they'll analyse later. All in all, it sounds like the Palms have made a difference, and are certainly more cost-effective than having a Pentium III-based PC sitting in a lab somewhere.

Obviously there are lots of issues which have to be addressed if this sort of thing is to become the norm: ensuring equal access to the PDAs regardless of parental income, backing up data so that a playground accident doesn't lose a week's work, the question of whether you can spend your money more effectively on other resources like library books. Still, it's a worthwhile experiment.
If you ever wanted to know anything at all about skyscrapers, this site is probably the place to look. I was especially taken with the diagrams comparing all the skyscrapers in a given city. [Via The Internet Scout Report (22.12.2000)]
Just the news the British film industry has been waiting for. Q Online reports that not only will Guy Ritchie's next film be another gangster flick, but his wife is going to play the starring role. I can hardly wait...
Wired News hands out the Vaporware Awards for 2000.
Now even MPs are aggressively registering domain names to use against their rivals. The Register has the story. Like the story I posted about MPs' email access the other week, this is an argument for the House providing all MPs with basic internet facilities: if they all have a set of pages within the Parliamentary site, there shouldn't be any need to register some torturous variation on their name as a personal domain to ensure that their constituents can find them.
A couple of issues ago, Wired magazine printed a superb article by John Heilemann recounting the story of the Microsoft-Department of Justice antitrust suit. I meant to post a link to the full article some time ago: it's well worth a read. (NB/- the printer-friendly version of the article is here, but that page weighs in at 340KB and may take a couple of minutes to download. If you'd prefer to read the article a page at a time, start here instead.)
Peter Jackson's film of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings had its wrap party just before Xmas, so now it's just a matter of counting the days until the premiere of the first of the three films, The Fellowship of the Ring in December 2001. I'm looking forward to this a lot more than the Matrix sequels or Star Wars Episode Two.
Tuesday 26 December 2000, 23:00 GMT
Peter Morwood finds himself channeling Nigel Molesworth, to considerable comic effect.
Shelley Powers is sceptical that adherence to standards should be the be-all and end-all of developing software for the web.

I think she's right that developers - yes, even Microsoft - should be free to add features over and above the content of the latest W3C recommendation in the interests of seeing what works and what's popular. The thing is, that shouldn't stop them from complying with the W3C's recommendations too.
The Daily Telegraph has a good interview with Sir Arthur C Clarke. [Via NewsTrolls]
As I've noted before, Tanya Headon hates music at the best of times. But at Xmas she really Hates Music. Mind you, if this BBC News Online story is correct she'll come round eventually.
Oh shit. Take coveeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's John Gilmore weighs in on The Register's CPRM story. Perhaps the net effect of all this will be to increase sales of SCSI drives to the masses.
John Lettice demonstrates that the more Microsoft inconvenience users in the name of "protecting" us, the more they'll encourage us to find ways round their schemes that also tempt us to make copies of their software for the sake of convenience.
Monday 25 December 2000, 23:10 GMT
A political pantomime, courtesy of Nick Assinder, BBC News Online's Political Correspondent. [Via linkmachinego]
The world's skies have been pretty interesting today. No stars hovering over mangers, but the United States had a partial solar eclipse today, and if you were in the UK and were looking in the right direction today you could have seen the International Space Station. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day was rather appropriate, and very striking: a view of a solar eclipse as seen in the shadows cast by a tree's leaves. [NASA eclipse page via Metafilter]
I didn't watch much TV today, but one holiday programme was very much worth the time: Victoria Wood With All the Trimmings was a hoot, especially the all-singing "tribute" to Ann Widdecombe that closed the show.
On a less seasonal note, New Scientist has an article on the potential consequences for the world's food supplies if the contents of the world's seed banks end up being treated as just another form of intellectual property. [Via Metafilter]
The Register has still more analysis of the proposals to build vendor-controlled copy protection into every ATA-spec hard disk we buy. First, they pick holes in attempts by an IBM spokesman to defend the idea (and include lots of useful links to sites with more detailed information for the techies amongst us), then they report that RMS thinks the whole scheme might just kill off open source operating systems if the authors of such software can't gain access to the central servers which will control and authorise access to the protected content on our hard disks.
Sunday 24 December 2000, 23:20 GMT
Carl Hiaasen sounds slightly disappointed that the Florida recount fiasco wasn't a little more colourful. Florida has a reputation to uphold, after all... [Via MISCmedia]
The Register reports that Alan Cox is worried about the implications of the proposed changes to the ATA hard disk specifications. No great surprise there, but the question is what can be done about it?

I think the best hope is that the public will object to being inconvenienced by the copy protection. How will they react to the idea that if they upgrade their hard disk, or even try to move a file with the copy protection scheme enabled, they can be stopped from doing so without paying again for the content? What happens to the computer business if upgrading to a new PC means you can't move your paid-for content to your new PC? Whay happens if your hard disk defragmenter wants to move a file around to optimise hard disk access but moving the file will break it? Hopefully even if the proposed specification is adopted, content providers who activate this method of copy protection will find people oddly unwilling to buy their product.
When Oxford academics meet businessmen wanting to get something done the results aren't pretty. Just ask John Kay.
Planet Earth has just had a near miss, with an asteroid passing within 480,000 miles of the planet. What's shocking isn't so much the distance as it is that we didn't even see it coming. Lembit Opik got a lot of stick when he proposed spending £70 million over a decade to develop technology to track asteroids on near-Earth approaches, but when you compare that to the cost of an asteroid impact on a major city, or even a near-miss in the middle of the North Sea - surf would most definitely be up pretty much everywhere on the coastlines of Europe! - it's a trivial sum.

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