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Home > Weblog w/e 10.2.2001

Saturday 10 February 2001, 23:30 GMT
Michael Kinsey wonders when it became compulsory for American politicians to ask God to Bless America at the end of every speech.
The American version of Blind Date sounds a lot different to the one Cilla Black presents. (Spookily enough, as I type this sentence a young Cilla is on TV, singing Walk On By.)
New Zealand has pioneered any number of innovations in social policy, from pensions to universal suffrage. Now their police are trying to ease the burglary rate by advising "problem families" about benefit entitlements as an alternative to crime. [Via the null device]
As if Bonsaikitten.com hasn't got enough problems, what with animal rights protestors hounding it (sorry!) from one host to another, now the FBI have taken time out from scanning *.binaries newsgroups for hidden terrorist plans to invesitgate whether displaying fake images of cats in confined spaces is a federal crime. Bizarre isn't the word...
A Guide To Programming Languages describes how various languages cope with the task of shooting yourself in the foot:
APL: You hear a gunshot, and there's a hole in your foot, but you don't remember enough linear algebra to understand what the hell happened.
If Clay Shirky is right, new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell might have a much greater effect on the average citizen of the United States (and beyond, given the extent to which US communications policy affects the internet as a whole) than his father, Secretary of State Colin Powell.
As Napster awaits the appellate court decision which could either kill it stone dead or grant it a new lease of life, Bob Cringely has some pretty impressive statistics that suggest that, like it or not, Napster really has turned out to be the next killer app.

What Cringely's figures suggest is that the PC industry already makes far more money out of the craze Napster began (through sales of multimedia PCs and hardware for burning CD-RWs) than the entertainment industry makes from the content being ripped off. I'm a tad dubious about the size of the difference in revenue - I suspect that a lot of people who buy a PC to collect MP3s would buy one to access the internet - but you have to wonder which side will run out of money first in funding the court battles and lobbying in years to come. Unless of course they come to some agreement, by building CPRM-style protection into hardware so that we can only use our PCs to play content if we have the permission of the media magnates.
Life plagiarises The Onion. Priceless. [Via the null device]
I never knew that Wonder Woman was so kinky. Here's her creator, William Moulton Marston, quoted in a review of a new book on his most famous character, on his heroine's potential as a role model:
Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world. There isn't love enough in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. Woman's body contains twice as many love generating organs and endocrine mechanisms as the male. What woman lacks is the dominance or self assertive power to put over and enforce her love desires. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force but have kept her loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way.
The wonders of new technology #53: the Ovulation Phone. [Via Memepool]
Friday 9 February 2001, 23:55 GMT
What if Linus gets hit by a bus? For one thing, I hope Bill Gates has a rock-solid alibi. [Via Metafilter]
The meaning of Britney's bellybutton. Is this a high-minded attempt by Britannica.com to use Britney's popularity as a hook for a serious article, or a pathetic scramble downmarket in the hopes of increasing their hit count? [Via the null device]
"Forget the Ferrari," I told him. "If you want to meet beautiful women, get a taxi." [Via David Brake's Blog]
Robyn of Orbyn.com has some bittersweet love hearts for you, just in time for Valentine's Day.
Build yourself a superhero. [Via tom@plasticbag.org]
Dubya's odd strategy for bonding with people. (Yes, it is a joke. I hope...) [Via rc3.org]
Thursday 8 February 2001, 23:25 GMT
They just don't make fascist scum like they used to, says the leader of Combat 18. [Via the null device]
Burma: Grace Under Pressure. A very nice Flash essay by Geoffrey Hiller about his trip to Burma. [Via Memepool]
David F Gallagher writes in the New York Times (free registration required) about the dilemma facing American colleges: can they afford to allow students to soak up their network resources - and especially external bandwidth - for non-academic purposes? There seems little doubt that British universities will soon face similar questions, but charging students directly for bandwidth usage while they're still sore at the notion of tuition fees is going to be politically unpopular.

It seems to me that the practical answer is to extend what's already happening in practice: effectively part of the money universities receive from their students does subsidise the cost of their network, so universities should be more upfront about what this costs. Allocate students a reasonable amount of bandwidth per term, give them a means of monitoring their usage as time goes by, then charge them for over-use at a rate published in advance. Why is this even controversial? [Via Techdirt]
The Greatest Living English Science Fiction Writer, Sir Arthur C Clarke, has just had a Collected Stories published. Thomas M Disch's review for the LA Times sums up quite nicely Sir Arthur's strengths and weaknesses, and how his very English science fiction is refreshingly different to the distinctly American flavour of much post-war written SF.
Go to your office party. Drink a fair bit. Decline your employer's offer to pay for your taxi home and go on to a pub where you drink some more. Drive home drunk and get into an accident. Then sue your employer for causing your injuries by laying on an open bar which wasn't "supervised" properly. And win.

Amazingly enough, this wasn't in the United States of Attorneys. No, this was in safe, sensible Canada. Bizarre. [Via Plastic]
I'm growing to love The West Wing. It manages to be funny, heartwarming and fairly realistic about the day-to-day grind of politics American-style all at the same time.

If you want to talk about the show, you might want to sign up with the UKWingnuts mailing list.
Wednesday 7 February 2001, 23:45 GMT
Chuck Barr recently received a notice saying he owed what must surely be the world record library fine: US$39,949,000,620,214. Yes, just under 40 trillion dollars! Naturally, it was a computer error: the library's lending database had entered the number on the book's barcode in the "amount owed" field.

In that case, the library immediately acknowledged the error and judging by the tone of this story about the incident everyone seemed to have had a good laugh. Compare and contrast the library's approach with that of BT in this case of a less costly, but equally ludicrous, billing error. [Library fine story via Techdirt]
Amazon have launched a micropayment system called the "Honor Plan." Unfortunately, there's a not-so-minor drawback: unlike the email-based PayPal system, Amazon's approach results in their being able, in principle, to log details every time one of their registered customers visits any web page which has an Honor Plan donation box. Note that it doesn't matter whether the customer actually uses the donation box: simply visiting the page is enough to trigger contact with Amazon's servers.

Now you could argue that I'm being a hypocrite about this, because this very web site uses not one but two systems whereby users who come to a page have that visit logged automatically (see the colourful little square and circular icons at the bottom-left of the page). However, I don't have registered users, I'm not building up customer profiles, I'm not offering that information to advertisers and I'm not trying to sell you anything, and I think that's the key distinction.

All the Sitemeter and Stats4all services do is supply me with details of how visitors to my pages find their way here, which pages they visit and some details of their browser and PC specification. I don't get anyone's email address, and with most ISPs allocating their users dynamic IP addresses and many enforcing the use of their web proxies I can't be sure that today's visitor from Freeserve or AOL is the same person who showed up at my site yesterday. If you click on the two icons at bottom-left you'll be taken to the two statistics sites. Stats4all will show you exactly the same information they show me, and the Sitemeter pages have a sample report which illustrates the type of information they provide. In my opinion (and by all means email me if you disagree) it's the combination of content stored on Amazon's servers and their system of cookie-based user registration that endangers users' privacy.
Is Spiked Online going to turn into the British Salon? The articles available while the site is in pre-launch mode are a little less incisive and in-depth than the best of Salon, but on the other hand you have to give the site credit for aspiring to cover the sort of broad range of politics, culture, science and so on that Salon does. I'll be watching Spiked Online with great interest, and not a little hope.
Tuesday 6 February 2001, 22:40 GMT
Deadpan comic genius Bill Murray is the subject of today's profile in Salon's Brilliant Careers series.
In the interests of smoothing hacker-manager relations, Peter Seebach presents The Hacker FAQ. (In the interests of balance, he also presents The Manager FAQ.) [Via Techdirt]
Apparently twenty- and thirtysomethings who rely heavily on computers are in danger of losing their, um, thingummies...

...you know, their whatchamacallits...

What was I saying again...? [Via the null device]
The FBI alerts the world to terrorists' use of steganography to hide their evil plans inside net.porn. Presumably the next step is for Usenet's *.binaries groups to be taken offline in the name of National Security. [Via the null device]
What's next for the Popstars. [Via Haddock Directory]
The Slashdot Story Generator. Brilliant. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Eminem is in town, so the media frenzy is kicking into a higher gear. The Sunday Times gets hysterical, and The Guardian tries the poetry defence. Meanwhile, Peter Baran's view at NYLPM is spot on.
Microsoft have announced that the next version of Windows, the one that finally unites the Windows NT/2000 and Windows 95/98/Me lines, is going to be called Windows XP. (As in "Are you eXPerienced?" The estate of Jimi Hendrix is no doubt awaiting a phone call from Redmond.) The idea, according to The Register, is that the name reflects the wonderful range of multimedia eXPeriences we'll all be able to have with our new toy.
Monday 5 February 2001, 23:00 GMT
I love finding a parcel waiting for me when I get in from work. Today, I found the DVD of Ultraviolet lying in the porch when I arrived home.

For those who don't remember it, Ultraviolet was a six-episode Channel 4 series from a couple of years ago about a secret organisation fighting modern day vampires, starring Jack "Miles from This Life" Davenport, Susannah Harker and Corin Redgrave. Very gripping stuff, and not remotely like Buffy.

(Not that there's anything whatsoever wrong with Buffy, which is probably the best-written show on TV right now, slightly ahead of The West Wing or Farscape. It's just that the Buffy mix of Slaying and magic growing pains and comedy is a different beast than the gritty, apocalyptic storyline of Ultraviolet. Each has its place, but I can see why the US remake of Ultraviolet didn't work: too downbeat, and too little soap opera.)
Andrew Leonard writes for Salon about the hacker work ethic, and posits that the playfulness of hackers is very admirable and has produced some amazing results, butisn't terribly practical for those of us whose skills are more disposable. (And furthermore, much open source software is distributed at no charge by people whose dedication to such a generous practice is only practical because their days jobs are lucrative enough to subsidise their hobby.)
The Mega Babes' Guide to the Linux Operating System, incuding the Jennifer Love Hewitt Linux Hardware Selection Tutorial (with pictures, yet). [Via NTK]
Not at all influenced by the above link, (honest!) I ordered a copy of SuSE Linux 7.0 Professional Edition today from those nice folks at The Linux Emporium.

I've flirted with Linux three times over the last few years, but in each case failed to make the leap to running Linux as my main OS. This time I've finally had enough of fighting with Windows, and I'm determined to give it a serious go: I'll probably write up a diary of my progress installing and configuring Linux, for the instruction (and amusement, if I make as many boneheaded errors as I did the first time I played around with Linux) of anyone thinking of following in my footsteps.
Sunday 4 February 2001, 21:30 GMT
Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People. Another classic from those nice people at The Onion.
Tim O'Reilly and Richard Koman talk to Lawrence Lessig about copyright law online and the attempts by the recording industry to "guarantee that no venture capitalist invests money in new modes of distribution unless Hollywood signs off." [Via Tomalak's Realm]
Tanya Headon on the Ten Smuggest Pop Stars.
Microsoft Says Rival Linux Has No Future, So Linux Industry Will Stop Now.
"If we don't have Microsoft's blessing, then what's the point?" said a shaky Larry Augustin, CEO of VA Linux.
Greg Knauss has written some terrific pieces for Suck (such as the anti-WAP rant I linked to the other day) and for TeeVee, but it was only today that I found out about his personal site, An Entirely Other Day. It's well worth a look - check out the entry for 2 February about the Big Bird toy. [Via BlogJam]

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