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Saturday 24 February 2001, 23:55 GMT
This year's Darwin Awards may already have a runaway winner:
Zoo keeper mauled to death 'after defecating on tiger.'
Beat that. [Via Metafilter]
The Best "404 - File Not Found" Message In The World, from a web server which is apparently channeling Marvin the Paranoid Android. [Via Windowseat Weblog]
Oh good, now Jack Straw has decided we all need protecting from "hate emails." How long until he insists all uk.* newsgroups are moderated, just to make sure that nobody hurts anyone's feelings or says anything subversive. (And how long before a senior executive of Thus plc comes out and supports this, saying it's time the UK internet community "grew up"?)

There was a short segment on this subject on Tonight With Trevor McDonald earlier this week which suggested that SMS messaging is being used to send anonymous messages which can be most upsetting. Isn't this essentially an incentive for the suppliers of mobile phones to supply better tools for their users, so they can bounce messages unread if they're from an unwelcome source? I don't know whether there's some problem with whatever protocol is used for SMS messages which makes this impractical, but if so then I'd suggest they start thinking about revising the protocol.
The somewhat delayed postcard I mentioned yesterday is now Antipodes-bound once more, as a descendant of the original addressee has turned up.

Of course, this sort of thing won't happen with new technology. A hundred years from now when some venerable mail server finally clears that long-lost mailqueue and spits out a century-old email, all it'll get is an error message from the IPv27-compliant router saying that the domain wouldn't resolve as it lacked an appropriate .[earth|luna|ISS] suffix.
Hacker Plays 'Jump' on Police Radio. And yes, as it happens the officers were trying to talk down a guy threatening to leap to his death... [Via Metafilter]
Just a quick mention that I've added a Site Search facility (see the Search link in the navigation bar at the foot of each page), so if you arrive at this page via a search engine and you're looking for an item which has slipped off the main weblog page and into the archives, or if you just want to check back and see how many times I've borrowed links from, say, Metafilter (I'll save you the bother - the answer is "lots of times"), you can find out by going here.
Friday 23 February 2001, 23:55 GMT
The LA Times reports that various companies are developing hardware which can detect people trying to exchange copyrighted material without appropriate authorisations and either interrupt the transfer or notify details of the exchange to third parties. Get this software installed at appropriate points around the infrastructure of the internet and even peer-to-peer file sharing will suddenly cease to be much of a problem for copyright owners. It remains to be seen whether these tools will actually work in the field: how will the system cope with files being split or encrypted? [Via the null device]
My Internet love is a corpse-hoarding granny. Enough to put anybody off online dating...
Bringing new meaning to the term "snailmail."
No matter how many sentimental profiles we read as Tony Benn's last day as an MP approaches, the truth is that the old standard-bearer of the Labour Party's hard left is not, and never was, "cuddly." As usual, this interview in The Independent illustrates the way that Benn proffers a bewildering mix of acute analysis (eg his recognition that repealing every law Mrs Thatcher's governments passed wouldn't undo what she did because she changed the terms of political debate for three decades) and soft-minded wishful thinking of the sort that helped to keep Labour out of power for the best part of two decades. [Via linkmachinego]
Thursday 22 February 2001, 23:55 GMT
Rebecca Schuman, writing for Ironminds, relates a tale of woe in the wake of her credit card being stolen. It's not the money, it's that the thief had no taste and as a result Schuman is now on the mailing lists of so many suppliers of awful clothing!
Spiked is still officially a test site, but it's shaping up nicely as a UK version of Salon. Recent highlights include a look at the art of subtitling film and TV programmes, and a plea that the public services not sour the atmosphere in public spaces by treating every customer like a potential assailant.
Posting about Demon's volte-face on carrying certain newsgroups yesterday, I mentioned that hackers can now be classed as terrorists. In case anyone was wondering, I was referring to the effects of the new Terrorism Act. The Independent points out that the new Act's provisions could have a chilling effect on protest of all sorts: had they been in place in the 1980s could easily have been used to stop all anti-apartheid protests. The Register considers how vague the Act's provisions are, suggesting that anyone disrupting government systems or attempting to influence the public while pursuing "a political, religious or ideological cause" can be treated as a terrorist. That's just a tad too vague: if Microsoft allege that some pro-Linux cracker who brings down their site to demonstrate how crap Microsoft's server software is was pursuing an "ideological cause," will the cracker be subject to the same law as a terrorist who plants a bomb in a railway station?

The bottom line is no doubt that governments and their agents will make a case-by-case assessment of whether a given threat is serious enough to warrant the full application of this law. If you're protesting against someone the government of the day doesn't like - Saddam Hussein, to name an obvious target - then protest away. If you want to let the Prime Minister of the People's republic of China know that you don't like what his government is doing to Tibet then you'll be liable to be swept off the streets.
As the Russian space agency prepares to bring the Mir space station down to earth, it looks as if the South Pacific is the likely target area. Mir is far and away the biggest man-made object to be crashed into the ocean like this, and it should be pretty spectacular. Needless to say, one entrepreneur is arranging a flight to the landing zone and selling tickets. I hope someone gets some good pictures: the crash landing of Mir's remains should be pretty spectacular.
The Royal Navy has a long history, and many of their vessels proudly bear the names of past ships which played an important part in history. The Ark Royal, the Trafalgar, the Bulwark. Given the much reduced number of vessels the navy operates nowadays, you'd think that they'd have plenty of names with glorious associations to re-use. So why are they calling one of their newest vessels HMS Largs Bay? [Via the null device]
"None of the music I like comes with Parental Advisory stickers and I guess this is my way of knowing I've died. I'm supposed to go quietly." Hank Stuever reflects on what it means to be on the wrong side of the musical generation gap, and makes a genuine effort to understand why today's teens like the music they do. [Via NYLPM]
The whining about Google's purchase of Deja.com's Usenet archive continues. In the wake of Wired's latest report on how upset everyone is, I can do no better than quote with approval Rafe Colburn's rant from yesterday on rc3.org:
The continued bitching about Google's purchase of the Deja archive frankly amazes me. I don't know whether any of the whiners have noticed, but deja.com is gone. So it looks like the site was going to be taken over by Google or by nobody. There's no question that Google's search interface needs to get better, but if it doesn't, what right have they to complain? It's not like they're paying Google for the service. And the demands that Google turn over the source code to Deja's site or the archive itself to a public body are completely laughable. All the ongoing ranting about how the Usenet archive should be a public resource is moronic. Yeah, maybe it should be, and it would be if anyone had bothered to get off their ass and archive all of the postings over the past 5 years or so. Nobody did, though, did they? And in fact, Usenet was used for an awfully long time without anyone archiving any of it. It's only since Deja started doing it that Usenet users even expected to have such an archive. So, if you're one of the complainers, get over your sense of entitlement and move on.
One point I would add is that proposals that the US Library of Congress should look after the archive seem to overlook the minor point that Usenet doesn't belong to the United States. No, not even the "Big 8" hierarchies which were the core of the original Usenet. The only US-specific hierarchy would be us.*, which had 18 newsgroups on it last time I looked.
Wednesday 21 February 2001, 23:55 GMT
Further to Sunday's link to Toby Lester's article on privacy from The Atlantic, here's a marketer's take on the same topic. As Ray Simon notes consumers who don't feel their privacy is being respected will have a huge incentive to give marketers false information, thereby making all that marketing information worthless. That's not the whole story, of course - you can't give false information where you have to give accurate information in order to pay by credit card or arrange mail order delivery - but the attitude that trust is the key is to be encouraged in any case. [Via Slashdot]
IceStock. What a cool idea...
After Airliner Porn the other week, now it's time for Warplane Porn. This is neat, but this one is amazing. Then again, this looks astonishing. [Via Memepool]
Mister Men Who Didn't Quite Make The Cut. [Via Orbyn.com, which I had unaccountably and quite unjustifiably omitted from my list of Weblogs Worth Watching.]
Back in 1996 UK ISPs, most prominently Demon Internet, resisted attempts by the police to persuade them to remove a list of newsgroups which, the police alleged (in the infamous "French letter"), were "obviously" illegal on the basis of their name and content. In the wake of Operation Cathedral, a senior policeman argued the other day that UK ISPs should take steps to remove paedophile material, and within days a senior executive of Thus, owners of Demon Internet, agreed very loudly and publicly, and now Demon have removed a bunch of alt.* groups from their news servers without even notifying their change of policy to their customers via the mailing list and newsgroup they normally use for such announcements. One wonders how many of the longer-standing Demon employees (and customers, for that matter) are "considering their position" in the wake of this decision.

Since Demon have always had one of the most complete newsfeeds in the UK and have argued very strongly that ISPs couldn't possibly police newsgroups and should have some form of "common carrier" status, this is one hell of an about-face. The Register thinks this is all down to Thus ordering Demon to "grow up" and drop their traditional defence of civil liberties on the internet, but given that Demon have been owned by Thus for a couple of years now and have been left alone this long I can't help wondering whether it's more of a case of Thus seeing which way the wind is blowing regarding ISPs monitoring internet content and deciding to get out in front of the stampede. Problem is, once they start down this route where does it all end? Now that hackers can be classified as terrorists, will Demon be expected to block access to Slashdot?
Looks as if Oftel won't need to throw a dice to decide which telcos get access to BT's local exchanges after all. Whereas a year ago we were being assured that "local loop unbundling" would lead to alternative telecoms suppliers clamouring to offer customers broadband services at competitive prices, now it appears that with nine telcos dropping out of the bidding process BT's profits are safe for a while yet. So much for the government's aspiration that Britain should have widespread broadband access by 2005.
Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass. That's how you write up a lab experiment. [Via Metafilter]
Got a science-related question? Ask a Mad Scientist. [Via BlueEar Links]
Monday 19 February 2001, 23:40 GMT
Looking for an educational day out? Why not take a trip to Stalinworld? [Via the null device]
Now that screenshots of Windows XP have been released, Apple advocates are noting that (yet again) there's an uncanny similarity between Microsoft's latest user interface and that of an Apple product.

In fairness to Microsoft, I think this is really just a case of similar design goals being met by the use of similar technology in similar ways. Big colourful icons, lots of help for non-techie users and a concerted attempt to hide as much technical detail as possible from the end user is the norm nowadays. That said, I did note that once again Microsoft's spokesman rolled out the old "We've done what customers said that they wanted" excuse. Yeah, and your customers told you they wanted Netscape crushed too...
If you pay attention when you watch any film or TV show set in the USA, you'll probably have noticed that the area code used for any telephone numbers quoted is normally a fake area code, 555. Now Michael Thyen and friends have compiled a list of all the 555 numbers they've seen used on-screen, complete with details of what show and which character used them. [Via BlueEar Links]
Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is rather striking. This time the spectacular image isn't some heavenly body, just a very spooky coincidence of shadows and angles.
Notwithstanding yesterday's little joke, Microsoft actually have just launched a new product aimed at providing truly secure internet access for organisations. Persuading anybody to buy a firewall from the folks who brought you Internet Explorer and BackOffice could be a tough sell: you have to assume they're going to end up providing a really sweet bundling deal with Windows 2000 to make this one sell.
Did NASA fake the moon landings? Not particularly topical I know, but this site does a pretty decent job of debunking the conspiracy theories. Not that everyone's convinced, mind you... [Via Slashdot]
Sunday 18 February 2001, 23:15 GMT
Mankind's Knowledge Of TV Trivia Doubling Every Three Years:
"In 1987, only 16 percent of Americans could sing the entire Family Ties theme song, including the 'Sha-la-la-la' ending, compared to the 67 percent able to sing the Friends theme today. If we continue at our current pace, it is not inconceivable that by 2010, there will be a TV theme song that achieves 100 percent saturation."
The Onion, reliable as ever.
Toby Lester on the reinvention of privacy. A pretty good, non-technical article which takes in a variety of approaches, from intermediaries who'll help make sure you get what your personal information is worth to cypherpunks determined to allow you to anonymise your every move online to government officials hoping to enscourage adoption of responsible attitudes to privacy to advocates of anonymous, untraceable cybercash who hope to see the State wither once it can no longer tax effectively.

I think the latter group will be disappointed. If governments find they can't tax your income effectively, they'll just tax your property or purchases instead. The first group of workers - probably high-tech professionals - which can be identified as making use of this new "freedom" is going to be very easy to villify as "selfish", which is exactly that they'll be if they wish to live in a state where the majority of us still have to pay tax the old-fashioned way. If you really don't believe that the State and the services (in the widest sense of the term) it provides is of any relevance to you, go and live on Sealand.
The latest Netsurfer Digest arrived yesterday night, and as usual there were several items worth mentioning. This issue's highlights included squirrel fishing (aka what all those bright people at Harvard get up to when they should be studying), a scary look at the extent to which the Chinese government has non-technical means of controlling unauthorised/unsavoury internet use, and a rather amusing story about what happens when you try to apply "community standards" to what people do on the internet. Oh yes, and a link to the Slide Show Search Engine, which shows you thumbnails of the hits it finds rather than a textual summary: their database isn't all that great, but if Google would just adopt this idea and apply it to their database it could be seriously useful. [All via NetSurfer Digest Volume 7 Issue #04]
Microsoft Obsecurity, a seriously secure piece of internet server software. (Now with double ROT-13 encoding!)
Yahoo UK & Ireland has quietly moved to stop users of its portal from gaining access to adult chatrooms hosted at the main Yahoo site. This is painted in this article as "blocking access" for users of the Yahoo UK & Ireland site, but I don't think the facts bear out that interpretation, since UK-based users can still access the US chatrooms if they just go via the main (ie US) Yahoo site.

It strikes me this is really about attempting to head off demands that Yahoo tailor its services to suit the legal requirements of particular jurisdictions (as with the recent lawsuit in France regarding auctions of Nazi memorabilia). If there's a Yahoo UK chatroom available to UK users which is linked to Terms & Conditions which comply with UK law, then Yahoo are probably able to argue that they've done what they can: if someone insists on using their US site even if there's a UK equivalent then (they'll argue) what else can they reasonably be expected to do? [Via cyber-rights-UK mailing list]
Margret: (from the German "M' Argr et" meaning 'to be dangerously insane'). An hilarious site, though sadly thanks to the antics of a British "newspaper" there won't be any more updates.
Nuclear launch website slammed:
Nielsen identified several glaring errors in the fundamental design of the site which, he says, may have prevented full-on global thermonuclear war from breaking out on more than one occasion.
[Via Haddock Directory]

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