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Home > Weblog w/e 17.3.2001

Saturday 17 March 2001, 23:55 GMT
David Chase, the man behind Tony Soprano, talks (among other things) about why TV isn't always a good medium for telling stories. I see his point about the way that we all know that the lead characters in a TV series are going to be around next week, but I think that's a cop out. Do stories have to involve a risk of death to be engaging and appealing? Was the story of Angela Chase (Claire Danes' character from My So-Called Life) less interesting just because the biggest crisis she faced was whether Jordan fancied her? [Via Guardian Weblog]
Is this prime number illegal? [Via NTK]
Bob Frankston isn't convinced that the drive by companies to narrow the range of options available to users is a good idea. I do think that set-top boxes have their place - I'd estimate that around 30% of the people I know who access the internet don't really need much more than the ability to write email and look at web sites - but they're not for everyone. The day that most of us access the internet via a set-top box is the day that the internet gets boring. [Via Dan Bricklin's Weblog]
Tax returns, dot-com style. [Via rc3.org]
Thursday 15 March 2001, 23:50 GMT
Will Kreth wonders whether it isn't time for all those e-commerce sites to stop being so niggardly about sharing all that data they collect about their customers and their preferences.

Kreth's approach is reminiscent of the argument David Brin used in The Transparent Society: rather than fight a losing battle to retain our privacy, with legal sanctions always lagging behind technological developments, why not look for ways to turn a situation where there's tons of information being collected to everyone's advantage?
Tuesday 14 March 2001, 23:30 GMT
Sky diver crashes into beer server at cole slaw wrestling event. Now that's what I call a surreal headline. [Via Looka!]
Anything Perl can do, C can do better. Or at any rate, shorter. [Via the null device]
I Dig Your Wig. Suck contemplates Samuel L Jackson.
Julie Burchill on Celebrity Big Brother. Apparently the career of Vanessa Feltz is a consequence of the punk era... [Via linkmachinego]
I've started looking hard at the possibility of applying Cascading Style Sheets to the design of this site. I've started working my way through Eric A Meyer's excellent Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide from O'Reilly & Associates, but I generally find that it helps to look at how others have applied the concept in real-world situations. As it happens, in the last week I've come across a couple of sites which aim to help CSS beginners by supplying attractive templates to demonstrate what's practical: Glish.com's CSS Layout Techniques and The Layout Reservoir. [Via Metafilter]
Tuesday 13 March 2001, 23:55 GMT
InTether, a new digital rights management system being touted by its makers as a "military-strength" solution to unauthorised copying of files, is getting a lot of attention following an article at Inside.com. My first instinct is to agree with the more clued-in posters at Metafilter, who suggest that any piece of software running on current PC hardware and operating systems is going to be vulnerable, so this isn't really that big an issue. What is worrying is that the demand for this product from large commercial content producers is such that we're going to reach a point where either Microsoft add something like this to Windows itself, or else the hardware makers build it into the technology. At that point the game goes to an entirely different level. [Inside.com article via the null device]
The Museum of Hoaxes. A pretty decent compendium of April Fool jokes and stunts, well worth a browse. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Monday 12 March 2001, 22:45 GMT
Barbecuing birds in Nottingham. [Via Metafilter]
CDpage.com: everything you ever wanted to know about audio CDs, DVDs, DVD-ROMs and practically every other laser-based disk storage format out there. [Via BlueEar Links]
The Last Game of Cricket and other sysadmin horror stories. Essential reading for the BOFH in all of us. [Via Memepool]
Donkeys Can Talk, People Can Fly, And A Man Named Jesus Lives Up In The Sky! (Creation Science For Teens). The Landover Baptist team do it again. [Via pancakelizard]
Sailing through space. If it works, it could prove to be an elegantl way to potter around the solar system. Yet another Arthur C Clarke story idea brought to life. [Via Frownland]
Fireflies starring in blue movies. Yes, really.
A pretty good essay on Hannibal. (NB/- link will expire in the next month: look for the Film & TV article dated 6.3.2001.)

If I weren't in such a lazy mood and the weather was a bit better it might even have persuaded me to venture out to the cinema tonight. I'm getting awfully lazy in my old age.
Sunday 11 March 2001, 23:40 GMT
Convicted drug smuggler puts up unusually frank Job Wanted ad, gets positive response. He's taking society at its word: if you've done your time and served your debt to society, why should you have to act as if your past misdemeanours don't exist? [Original ad via Metafilter, update via Memepool]
Cyber Patrol is blocking access to The Register. But that's OK, because it's to protect the kids.
Phil Agre has posted a first draft of a highly informative paper on the strengths and weaknesses of European and American research on the Information Society to his Red Rock Eater mailing list. I just wish I had time to follow up all the papers he cites.
What Linux Must Do To Survive, by Emily K. Dresner-Thornber, or, more accurately, Why Linux Still Isn't A Great Desktop Operating System. The reader comments that accompany the article, and those in the Slashdot thread it spawned, are interesting in that they suggest that an awful lot of those readers really don't want to make Linux easy to use and look down their noses at anyone who doesn't get a kick out of editing cryptic ASCII configuration files. For a server operating system that's all well and good, but it would be nice to think that we could all benefit a little more directly from Linux, which is where Dresner-Thornber came in.

In fairness to Linux vendors everywhere I have to note that the installation routines seem to be getting better: certainly when I installed SuSE Linux 7.0 the other week I didn't need to look up how many cylinders my hard drive has, though I did need to look up the horizontal and vertical sync specifications for my monitor.

Beyond that, I think that some of the things Dresner-Thornber asks for at the end of her article are unnecessary. Having everyone use a single window manager will be nice once one is clearly superior to its rivals, but until that point as long as all the major ones (i.e. KDE and Gnome at present) are available on the distribution that's fine. Ditto with regards to shells: why shut out users who have a strong preference? Why create a desktop that isn't configurable beyond setting up a different wallpaper pattern? All these issues are really distractions compared to the two real problems with Linux for desktop/SOHO users. The biggest one is that home users who want to use Linux have to install it themselves, which often involves repartitioning their hard disk. Get Linux installed by your PC's manufacturer and it becomes much more acceptable. The next-biggest (which Dresner-Thornber notes) is the lack of useful help for end users. Yes, techies can read man files and HOWTO files and pick out what they need to know, but end users need more consistent, less fragmentary help system. That said, a lot of the time what users need isn't help with their OS, it's help with the application they're using. Which brings me onto the other major lack in modern Linux distributions: a widely-used, robustly MS Office-compatible office suite. (And no, StarOffice, nice as it is, isn't good enough at dealing with MS Office files. Not if you want to repeatedly take them back and forth between MS Office and StarOffice.)

Many of the other issues the article highlights can be dealt with by setting up a simplified installation script and a few customisations of the KDE desktop menus. You aren't going to get all the major distributions to agree on one set of "desktop user-friendly" optimisations, but as long as each distribution sticks to its choices corporations wishing to use Linux on the desktop can simply standardise on Red Hat or SuSE or Mandrake or Caldera or whatever. [Via Slashdot]
Jon Ronson on the trail of the secret masters of the world. Did you know that Henry Kissinger really has an American accent if you can just catch him by surprise?
The Moaning Goat Meter ... that's one truly evil piece of software! Read the FAQ. [Via NTK]
Yesterday I linked to a vintage rant by Harlan Ellison, today it's the turn of Hunter S Thompson, who isn't at all impressed with the way production company executive Holly Sorensen is handling his work:
Dear Holly,

Okay, you lazy bitch, I'm getting tired of this waterhead fuckaround that you're doing with The Rum Diary.

And that's just HST getting out of first gear - from there on he gets really aggravated. [Via Metafilter]
Lawrence Kaplan makes a pretty good case in favour of the US deploying a Nuclear Missile Defence systems, albeit not the version favoured by Bill Clinton and George W Bush Jr. I'm not so sure that he's right that all America's European allies have "rolled over," but at least he makes a case for their supporting some limited variety of Anti-Ballistic Missile system. [Via rc3.org]
This is what the ALL YOUR BASE... craze leads: total anarchy in the classrooms of the nation. [Via pancakelizard]

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