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Home > Weblog w/e 15.9.2001


Saturday 15 September 2001, 23:10 BST
Robert Fulford wonders whether, after Tuesday, it's time for America's allies to drop the casual anti-Americanism? On the contrary, I think a degree of scepticism about the benefits of American influence is entirely healthy. It by no means negates the fact that many Western democracies share a significant number of basic political and cultural values with the United States. [Via MetaFilter]
The Cephalopod Page is packed with information about some of the less familiar animals living in the planet's oceans. There are some gorgeous pictures: this image of Sepioloidea lineolata is a particular favourite. [Via Honeyguide]
The Dial-up fight for justice! End discrimination against 56K modem users now! [Via Azzorz Blog]
Scumbag marketing types try to cash in on the post-WTC/Pentagon calls for vengeance. [Via blogjam]
Dan Bricklin observes that the internet is finally becoming a "dominant tool" for regular people. As he sees it, the important lesson to be drawn from the rise of the internet is that giving users the flexibility to find their own uses for technology is the way to go. Bricklin saw exactly the same phenomenon when VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for microcomputers which he co-wrote with Bob Frankston, single-handedly created a market for Apple II computers in small businesses precisely because VisiCalc was flexible enough to allow end users to manipulate figures the way they wanted to.
Friday 14 September 2001, 23:15 BST
Jon Carroll talks a great deal of sense about this week's calamitous events.
This is a new century, and the thing to remember is that many people live this way already. Psychologically, every day in Israel is like Sept. 11 in the United States. Every day in Chechnya is like Sept. 11 in the United States. Non-declared non-wars with heavy civilian casualties are the dominant mode, the Next Big Thing.

We have now officially joined the global village. It doesn't look a lot like those Intel ads, does it?
Physicists Strive to Build a Black Hole. (New York Times - free registration required.) The most striking point in the article is the suggestion that over 100 tiny black holes may be created in Earth's upper atmosphere due to cosmic rays. [Via Yet Another Web Log]
A wonderfully catty commentary, courtesy of Mighty Girl:
Me: Whoa! Check that out.

Him: Somebody needs to give that girl a sandwich.

Me: What's up, Halter Top? She's definitely wearing last night's clothes. Walk of shame, baby.

Him: That's a total walk of shame. She's even walking sore.

Me: I think her clogs are bugging her.

Him: Or she just stopped having sex twenty minutes ago. Now she has to go to work wearing that. She's looking for a company T-shirt anywhere she can find one.
Thursday 13 September 2001, 21:40 BST
"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Yes, because that would definitely solve the problem. [Via MetaFilter]
When computer scientists become parents. [Via In Passing...]
I've bought myself a little Xmas present. The Region 2 DVD issue of The Blue Planet is released in December: Play247 have my advance order already. (Yes, the first episode was that good.)
Wednesday 12 September 2001, 23:35 BST
In the aftermath of yesterday's tragic events in the United States, what can you do? [Links via Frownland, kottke.org, David Grenier, plasticbag.org, the monkeyfist collective, Bifurcated Rivets and Windowseat Weblog]
After another day of watching carnage captured from sixteen camera angles and talking heads filling a vacuum with speculation about who and why and what next, it was a relief to escape for an hour this evening into the first part of David Attenborough's exploration of The Blue Planet on BBC1. A beguiling mix of stunning images and lucid explanations of the lives of the ocean's inhabitants: the DVD release is on my To Buy list after just one episode.
Tuesday 11 September 2001, 22:40 BST
Today really isn't the day for rants about software or links to funny stories. Look here, here or here for more news.
Monday 10 September 2001, 23:05 BST
A glorious example of corporate marketing-speak.
Q37. Why is Compaq changing the colors of its ProLiant servers and racks?

A37. Rather than changing colors, we are leveraging a portion of our color palette-which includes Graphite, Carbon and Silver-across our Compaq ProLiant, AlphaServer, Himalaya and StorageWorks product lines. This new consistency is the culmination of our strategy to integrate the three heritage businesses of Compaq, Tandem and Digital Equipment Corporation in the enterprise customer space.
[Via NTK]
Artist Greg Brown has fashioned a series of striking murals which are dotted around Palo Alto, California. Here's a photographic tour of his work. [Via Electrolite]
As a follow-up to my comments the other day about Microsoft replacing the 404 error message with a MSN Search page, here's an interesting article by John S Rhodes which suggests that what's really being challenged - and not just by Microsoft - is the idea that the browser is dumb and the server is where the smarts are. Rhodes has no problem with browsers taking on more of a role in helping users, but thinks that what's really important is that users have control over how errors are presented to them. I think he's right: the CNet article I linked to said this new IE feature could be turned off, and for me that's a good starting point. If enough clueful users habitually turn the feature off, MS will either drop it or improve it, ideally by making it as easy as possible to customise it so that other search engines can be used. (Which is possible with the Search facility built into IE, so it's not as if MS never, ever allow anyone to use their clever features with other search engines. They just need a nudge in the right direction.)

It's reasonable to suggest that what we really need is cleverer browsers which do more for users, and I like his idea that Google could build a mini-browser which is really focussed on helping users search rather than being a general-purpose HTML-rendering tool, but I don't entirely buy Rhodes' criticism of Microsoft's behaviour. Or rather, he's entirely free to complain about Microsoft's browser's behaviour, but he rejects the most obvious solution, namely changing browsers. He rejects the possibility of switching to Opera, saying that he doesn't want to view ads in the free version of Opera or spend money registering it. I think Opera is a fine browser, so I think it would be an excellent solution to his problem - it works for me! - but if you insist upon using a free browser it's not as if Opera is the only alternative. Why not install Netscape 6 or Mozilla? If you think they're too bloated, install Mozilla but use K-Meleon or Scope to actually fire up the Gecko HTML engine. Or, if you want to continue using IE, just turn this particular feature off.
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. An interview with anti-PR activist John Stauber. [Via David Brake's Blog]
Waffle Woman goes for a job interview:
At 9:00, after Pancake Boy had already gone in and ordered, I got out of the car and strode boldly into the restaurant. With a bold flurish of my cloak I struck a heroic pose. Unfortunately I had not sewn my waffle securely enough to my chest, and it chose that exact moment to fall off and plop onto the floor.

Undaunted, I ignored my former ornament, walked over and sat down at the bar and asked the suspicious waitress for a waffle and a job application. After a brief discussion as to wether or not I was serious, she gave me the job application, ordered my waffle, and politely excused herself to the back room before she fell down laughing. I promptly took out my favorite black glitter crayon and cheerfully began filling out the application.
[Via Memepool]
Sunday 9 September 2001, 22:10 BST
Google buys Usenet, apparently. When I read comments like this, from newsletter author/consultant/professional fuckwit Gerry McGovern...
Usenet, with over 500 million messages posted since 1995, is the prototype of the online community model. It is a collection of thousands of groups discussing practically every topic under the sun. Largely unmoderated, often unruly and certainly unprofitable, a financially unviable Usenet was recently acquired by the Google search engine.
... it brings to mind Russ Alberry's classic rant:
And to all of the spammers and database dumpers and multiposters out there, I say this: You want to read that stuff, fine. You want to create a network for such things, fine. You want to explore the theoretical boundaries of free speech, fine. But when it starts impacting *people* trying to *communicate*, then that is where I draw the line. This is not a negotiation and this is not a threat; this is simply a fact. I've been through pain and joy with this network, I've seen communities form and wither and reform, I've met friends and lost friends here, I've learned things and discovered things and created things. I've seen people make a home here when they didn't have any other, not on a newsgroup, not with a bunch of electrons, but with people that they've met and communities that they've found and support that they've received from people who had just the words they needed to hear and would never have known they existed, and by God I *KNOW* what this network is for, and you can't have it.
Anyone who has ever read Usenet really should read Russ Alberry's news posting in full. [McGovern quote via NTK]
Give Order! Chris Diamond remembers a comedy/variety show from a very different era.
The Moon Occults Saturn. Not as spectacular as some Astronomy Pictures of the Day I've linked to, but still highly satisfying.
I can't resist the pun: what a cheesy picture. [Via lgf]
Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names. There isn't really a mineral called "Cummingtonite," is there? [Via MetaFilter]
Regular readers will have noticed that the sidebar has swapped sides as of tonight. I've decided it'll work better on the right hand side when I switch to a CSS-based layout, since that way readers whose browsers can't understand CSS will see the weblog content (which is most likely what they're here for) first.

Kris recently tried switching sides and her readers were divided about 50-50. If you have strong feelings one way or the other, please email me.

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