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Home > Weblog w/e 7.4.2001

Saturday 7 April 2001, 23:30 BST
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away George Lucas offered the job of directing Return of the Jedi to David Lynch. Lynch turned the job down in order to make his own SF epic, Dune, but imagine what could have been. How would the Ewoks have turned out in Lynch's take on the Star Wars universe? Supposing Lynch had used some of his favourite actors: I can't quite Kyle MacLachlan playing Luke Skywalker, but I'm willing to bet that Dennis Hopper would have made a memorable Emperor, Jack Nance would have been an interesting Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Isabella Rossellini would have been fun as Princess Leia. Dan Greensmith has some other ideas on the subject...
Basildon Man isn't quite what he was ... but then, Alan Hudson and Dennis Hayes have evidence that he never was.
Richard Stallman has been in the UK recently. Get past the needlessly sensationalist headline on The Register's report on his visit and it's actually an interesting article. On the other hand, not everyone appreciates RMS', er, unconventional personal habits - just ask Mae Ling Mak. [Mae Ling Mak link via NTK]
CNet reports that Microsoft's solution to Outlook's habit of executing code in email attachments is to stop Outlook from accepting a wide range of common attachment types. That this will also stop users from legitimately using email to transfer certain types of file is just tough luck, apparently. So what will users do if they can't attach files? They'll probably post a URL for the file's location on some web or ftp site, and suggest their friends click on that. Which will fire up a web browser, which will in turn try to execute the code, or at least save the file so that the user can run it manually.

The problem here isn't that Outlook can be used to transmit and/or execute certain types of files: it's that the Windows operating system in which it operates is so fragile, since it allows just any user to execute a file which will modify Windows itself. Microsoft don't need to apply a band-aid to Outlook: they should be beefing up the security in Windows itself so that the very worst thing that can happen is that a user can delete their own data files. I'd hope that Windows XP, the mutant offspring of Windows ME and Windows NT/2000, will allow users to resolve this problem, but I have a horrible feeling that the defaults will be set up to make it easy to use, rather than secure. [Via Looka!]
Ask a silly question and you'll get what? [Via Yet Another Web Log]
Tony Soprano's going to be so pissed...
Pure 80s nostalgia on TV tonight, courtesy of Channel 4's Top Ten: Electropop. Vince Clarke's various acts, OMD, Bronski Beat, Pet Shop Boys, even a snippet of Heaven 17's glorious Temptation.
You thought taxes were voluntary? Yeah, right!
Britney's plans for Continued World Domination. [Via Metafilter]
I must have missed this at the time. According to Ann Furedi, Comic Relief agreed to demands from the Catholic Church that it should be possible to make donations which wouldn't be used to fund family planning, and even issued a statement referring to "the grievous damage done to young women by abortion." Another reason to simply give your charitable donations direct to the charities of your choice and cut out the middleman.
Fandom.com, whose aggressive hounding of genuine fan sites I mentioned last year, are in financial trouble. Bwahahahahahahaha... [Via Ansible 165]
Friday 6 April 2001, 23:55 BST
Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, went just a tad over the top in his attempts to persuade a Senate committee to protect the poor, defenceless film industry from all those nasty internet users. I particularly liked the part about the 32 second movie piracy demo.
Although I linked to James Lilek's Interior Desecrators the other day, I hadn't actually had time at that point to check out every page of the catalogue. Now my attention has been drawn to an even nastier room than the one I linked to last Sunday: take a look at this. [Via Lindsay Marshall, posting to the ukbloggers mailing list]
There's always another idiot.
3 - The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat- cutting machine and, after a little hopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company, suspecting negligence, sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine out and lost a finger. The chef's claim was approved.
Thursday 5 April 2001, 23:10 BST
MIT has announced plans to start putting "nearly all" of its course materials online, available free of charge to all-comers. Admittedly this is a long-term aim - they're talking in terms of a decade to finish the project - but it's still a laudable objective. [Via Bump]
Spiked is proving a welcome addition to the UK's roster of independent news sites. Articles like Brendan O'Neill's, contrasting press coverage of the 1967 foot-and-mouth crisis with that of the present difficulties, or Mick Hume's column about the state of hysteria and insecurity that appears to have gripped the nation - or at least the press - are well worth a look. Although the early word about Spiked was that it would be a UK version of Salon, the newcomer hasn't the same breadth of coverage as yet, with little to no coverage of entertainment, but there's no shortage of that type of thing elsewhere so that's hardly a disaster.
Rich Horton considers the candidates for the 1950 Retro-Hugos. I think that, like Horton, I'd vote for Cordwainer Smith's wonderful, strikingly original Scanners Live In Vain as Best Novelette.

What's interesting when you look back half a century is the extent to which the strength of the science fiction field lay in shorter fiction: half the best-remembered novels from 1950 were really collections of linked short stories, and some of the others - most obviously Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles - were borderline SF at best. For all that I enjoy a good SF novel, for me there's something about a cracking SF short story that takes just as much space as it needs to in unwrapping some neat idea or delivering an incisive comment on human nature. It's a pity the novel is the only viable form of professional SF publishing nowadays, with the various SF magazines suffering distribution problems and declining readerships as professional writers find that it's almost impossible to make a living selling short stories.

Of course, this ignores the one growth field in modern science fiction: film and television. A goodly chunk of the last couple of decades' blockbuster films have been science fiction, but sadly spectacle outweighs subtlety and characterisation in most cases. Thankfully the situation on the small screen is somewhat better at present, if far from ideal.
Peter Swanson writes for The Atlantic about the coming-of-age of the graphic novel. A decent roundup of the Good New Stuff, but I do have just one (not-so-minor) question: how the hell did he contrive to omit the words "Neil Gaiman" and "Sandman" from an article about the best graphic novels of the last couple of decades? I know Swanson was seeking to highlight the way the form has escaped the confines of the superhero format, but if they could mention Frank Miller and Alan Moore then they should have mentioned Gaiman.
Faith In The Baby. A touching story about a "special" son.
Is that corpse dead? Tales of smoke enemas and security coffins. Scary! [Via the null device]
Transparency, not wizardry, is what we need. Dan Bricklin expands on his thoughts from the other day about why computers should be tools, not semi-autonomous servants trying to anticipate our needs.
Civil servants with a sense of humour. The Ku Klux Klan in Missouri has been in court recently, trying to force the state government to allow it to sponsor a section of freeway in return for erecting signs trumpeting the fact that scary guys in white sheets care about keeping the freeways in good repair too. This was a controversial issue, since opponents charged that the Klan shouldn't be allowed to "advertise" via a state-run program. The Supreme Court ruled in the Klan's favour, but the Missouri Department of Transport retailated by renaming the stretch of freeway in question. Now the Missouri Klan has the right to advertise that it is working to preserve the Rosa Parks Freeway... [Via Yet Another Web Log]
Tuesday 3 April 2001, 23:10 BST
FilmWise: look at the terrific Photoshop work in the "Invisibles" quiz. I only know one out of the eight, but I did better with this quiz (8/12, and I hadn't seen two of the four films I couldn't identify). [Via Metafilter]
NME reports that "Eminem is a better thinker than Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to a survey of British teenagers just published by the Design Council in the UK." For what values of "better", pray tell...
Are the days of "free" content over? [Via BlueEar Links]
Wired News reports that we're invited to vote for the New Seven Wonders of the World. I don't think much of some of the candidates: for one thing, the Leaning Tower of Pisa isn't terribly special, notwithstanding the effects of subsidence. There's also too much of an emphasis on sheer scale and spectacle: is it more impressive to build a particularly large city (Kyoto) or a computer network which routes enormous volumes of data around the world and delivers it to everyone from private individuals to governments and large corporations?
Pirate MS software sales 'fund global drug terror gangs.' Yeah, right...
Yahoo! News finds that many Americans who post messages to web sites promoting the benefits of human cloning don't appear to understand the most basic aspects of what cloning would involve, or what the results would be. For much, much more on this, read the pro-cloning story from a recent edition of Wired.
Kremlin Fried Chicken:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of struggle. For the proletariat, that is to say, the oppressed, that struggle has primarily taken the form of one central battle: finding foods that will fill one's proletariat stomach without compromising one's ideals.
[Via Metafilter]
Monday 2 April 2001, 23:15 BST
Yet another stunning Astronomy Picture of the Day. I could look at images of aurorae all day. I just wish I lived far enough north to see the damn things in person.
Talking of matters astronomical, The Accretion Disk is an impressive directory of online astronomical resources. Not just the usual displays of spectacular images, but educational sites, support for amateur astronomers and astronomy freeware. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Also found via a mention in Lindsay Marshall's excellent weblog, take a look at xrefer, a very handy and quite fast search engine for cross-referencing quotations, dictionary definitions, place names and more besides. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Salon has a worthwhile interview with John Boorman. Most of the interview concerns his latest film, an adaptation of John Le Carré's The Tailor of Panama, but Boorman also discusses one of his projects which didn't come off: a live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I was vaguely aware of Boorman's having been involved in the latter project, but I didn't realise - obvious though it is, when you think about it - that much of the work Boorman put into figuring out how to present a convincing version of Tolkien's world was put to good use a couple of years later when Boorman directed Excalibur (still one of my favourite fantasy films for the glorious cinematography, the array of British acting talent on display and, above all, Nicol Williamson's barking mad but utterly compelling Merlin).
The Jonestown Re-enactment. Not a joke but an art project, and - as the depth of information available at the site makes abundantly clear - one with serious intent. [Via Metafilter]
Following on from yesterday's addition of umpteen new weblogs to my list of links, thanks to Simon J Fraser for bringing little. yellow. different. to my attention. Another one for the list...
Sunday 1 April 2001, 23:30 BST
Seen any good April Fools today?

I can't wait for the premiere of Pardon My Zinger, a Hollywood "romantic comedy that bytes", and long-time science fiction fans everywhere will agree that the unveiling of the Harlan Ellison Award is long overdue. [PMZ via Metafilter, HE Award via a posting to rec.arts.sf.written]
The Register on Microsoft's latest plan to kill of the Linux challenge in the server market. An astute analysis of what Microsoft needs to do to win the server market, and why the required strategy is so alien to The Microsoft Way.
UK Television Adverts. A pretty impressive resource for all those times you wondered who that was in the ad for that car... [Via pancakelizard]
A cloud of colourless CO2 sweeps down a hillside, silently killing everything in its path. A very scary natural phenomenon, believe it or not. [Via As Above]
Grandma's PC, revisited. Bill Machrone on the pitfalls of introducing the older generation to fragile modern technology. The problem isn't with the old folks, it's that all modern operating systems - yes, even MacOS - are too brittle and user-unfriendly until you get used to their little quirks and conventions. [Via The View From Here]
Real Oscar acceptance speeches, courtesy of Fametracker:
"Hi, I'm Cameron Crowe. Well, gee, thanks for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, or, as its known in the industry, the Booby Prize. Sorry my life story wasn't interesting enough to merit a nod for Best Picture -- I guess I'll just have to try harder in my next life. And judging from the box office receipts for Almost Famous, it would help if next time around my life story involves Tom Cruise in some way."
Where have all the dot.coms gone? [Via Techdirt]
US Suspects World Not Putting US Interests First.
Interior Desecrators, by James Lileks:
If you had a persistent rash, this would be a good room. If you wanted a decor to blend in with the exploded capillaries on your alcoholic schnozz, this would be a good room. If you wanted a decor that contained so much red and so many candles that you could just blame the sudden appearance of Satan on your furniture - "well, I certainly wasn't planning to have orgiastic relations with the cloven-hooved embodiment of evil and fear, but when he's standing there in the fireplace shouting YOU HAVE SUMMONED ME, what are you going to do?" then this is a good room.

Note: this is not a good room.
Weather forecasts on toast. This is not another April Fool, honest. The scariest aspect of this story from The Register is that if this device ever became a serious product there's no doubt whatsoever that the prediction in the last paragraph would come true. [Via the null device]
Evil Facts about Superman:
(5) Superman could use his x-ray vision to find fornicators, homosexuals committing sinful acts in their living room; he has never done so.
[Via linkmachinego]
I've added a batch of new (to me) weblogs-cum-journals to my Weblogs Worth Watching section: bluishorange, CamWorld, Cynical 20 Something, Enchilada Sunrise, Frequently Uninspired, Grayblog, Groke, Hypster, overly critical, overyourhead, pancakelizard, pie in the sky, qwertyuiop, The View From Here and timewasting.

Some are new and some have been around in one form or another for quite a while. A few are British-based (mostly found via the excellent GBlogs site) and others are from further afield. All are highly recommended.

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