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Home > Weblog w/e 13.10.2001

Saturday 13 October 2001, 23:30 BST
Amazon have added a new element to their site, allowing users to view previews of the covers and some of the content of some of the titles they sell. Take a "Look Inside" Alan Moore's Watchmen to see how effective the new feature is. It's not quite the same as being able to pick up the book and flip through pages at random, but it's still pretty impressive.
I heard about MIT's Bathroom Server a couple of weeks ago, but it was only when I took a look this morning and saw just how real-time the updating is that I realised just what a neat system it is. Could this be the killer intranet app for busy offices? Then again, maybe not: how long before some manager starts collecting statistics on average cubicle occupation times and setting targets?

Worse yet, picture the scene a few years down the line, when we're all carrying smart cards which transmit our ID details via Bluetooth so we can access our files wherever we are. Who wants to bet that we won't end up with personalised toilet use statistics and "personal developmental objectives" aimed at reducing toilet occupation times by 10% next quarter? [Via BBspot]
It's easy to be sceptical about claims that "everything changed" on September 11th, and that's by no means unreasonable when you're talking about wider geopolitical issues: take a look at Martin Walker's article I linked to the other day. However, it's all too easy, especially on this side of the Atlantic, to lose sight of the impact of that day's events on a smaller, more personal level. Michele's account of a memorial service for a New York Bomb Squad member reminds us just how much has been lost:
For as long as I live I will never forget the sight of sharpshooters poised on the roof of a church school, guns in hand. Two more perched on my neighbor's balcony, dressed in black, rifles ready. There were a lot of images thrown into the mix today, but none so jarring and unforgettable as that.

This is about a memorial service, but only partly so.
Well worth a read.
Jonathan had a bad day at work on Thursday. I hope he at least felt better after getting that off his chest.
I wonder if Peter van Ham would like to rewrite his conclusion to his article The Rise of the Brand State in the light of the Current Situation:
The traditional diplomacy of yesteryear is disappearing. To do their jobs well in the future, politicians will have to train themselves in brand asset management. Their tasks will include finding a brand niche for their state, engaging in competitive marketing, assuring customer satisfaction, and most of all, creating brand loyalty. Brand states will compete not only among themselves but also with superbrands such as the EU, CNN, Microsoft, and the Roman Catholic Church (boasting the oldest and most recognized logo in the world, the crucifix). In this crowded arena, states that lack relevant brand equity will not survive. The state, in short, will have become the State(r).
Regardless of the fact that recent events have disproved the argument of that first sentence rather neatly, I still find the whole thesis that the primary job of politicians is "brand management" utterly idiotic.

It seems to me that this whole marketing-led approach to international relations is essentially an attempt to downgrade the importance of the day-to-day political concerns of people by proclaiming that image matters more than substance. I think the fact that van Ham points to the whole "Cool Britannia" campaign as an indication of the way forward says more than I possibly can about the level of insight and judgement he demonstrates in his article. [Via the null device]
A man's corpse was left on his front porch after a funeral home wasn't paid for his cremation. No comment necessary. [Via world of jill matrix]
I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on DVD the other day. I'm not an afficionado of martial arts films, so I can't say just how original the plot was or whether the fighting skills on display were truly ground-breaking. I can say that I found it entertaining and moving, but it didn't quite live up to all the praise it received on its release last year.
Channel 4's Top Ten TV Sci-Fi shows was a strange mix. Star Trek (the Original Series, rather than the show's various - and mostly superior - spin-off incarnations) came out on top, presumably because of its enormous impact at the time rather than the show's inherent qualities. I'd have put Doctor Who at the top of the pile myself, since that was the show that successive generations of British children grew up on.

As for the rest of the Top Ten...
10. Space 1999
9. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
8. The Tomorrow People
7. Sapphire and Steel
6. Blake's Seven
5. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
4. Thunderbirds
3. Red Dwarf
2. Doctor Who
1. Star Trek (The Original Series)
... I'd say that Numbers 9, 8 and 7 are there purely on 70s nostalgia value, and that it's a very strange Top Ten TV Sci-Fi shows that omits Babylon 5. I'd probably have drawn up a list something like this:
10. UFO
9. Thunderbirds
8. The X Files
7. Star Trek (The Original Series)
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation
5. Blake's Seven
4. Farscape
3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
2. Doctor Who
1. Babylon 5
(NB/- I reserve the right to change my mind completely about the order and content of that list after a night's sleep.)
Friday 12 October 2001, 22:15 BST
Teresa Nielsen Hayden can't help but notice that America seems to lose her innocence remarkably frequently.
Perl Monks try hard to impress women. The comment about writing a perl script to send your girlfriend a daily email complete with fortune cookie quote is a gem. [Via web-goddess.co.uk]
Apocamon Episode Two is up at last. Go view it now.
The Association of Lincoln Presenters. Ready, Willing and Abe L. [Link and appalling pun via Memepool]
Tired Lil' Brit Girl reports that Nasty Nick from Big Brother and Mad Penny from Big Brother 2 are a couple. Imagine the offspring! Ewwwwwww!
Windaz Too Thoosand. No comment required.
Tuesday 9 October 2001, 22:35 BST
Fans of New Order with a reasonably fast internet connection really need to check this out: pretty well all New Order's videos, available for viewing online. [Via /usr/bin/girl]
Yesterday's aurora picture wasn't the half of it: this site showcases a spectacular array of auroral images. [Via Ponderous Ponderings]
"Welcome to my weblog. I hope you enjoy it. I just got fired for it." Now that's what I call an opening line. [Via MetaFilter]
Bush's Choice: Athens or Sparta. Martin Walker surveys the choices that face an American (trading) empire at the peak of its influence.

Although the article was clearly written before the Current Situation - the word "Taliban" shows up precisely once - every single challenge Walker describes is still going to be around long after Osama bin Laden has met his fate. A useful antidote to the (completely understandable) short-term focus of much current geopolitical analysis. [Via the null device]
Monday 8 October 2001, 22:20 BST
GPS Drawing. I suppose everyone needs a hobby. [Via NTK]
My Inner Robot is ... Data. How dull. Then again, I could have been C-3PO. [Via a fire inside]
Another spectacular Astronomy Picture of the Day, this time of an aurora over Yukon. I wish I lived far enough north to see this sort of thing for myself.
Learning To Fly by Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham. Read the Guardian's condensed version and weep (with laughter.) [Via linkmachinego]
Orson Welles in Touch of Ego. Or, Orson Welles: Actor, Auteur, Copywriter? How the mighty are fallen. [Via NetSurfer Digest #7.32]
Nice information, shame about the web site design. So many animated .GIFs it'll make your eyes bleed. [Via Making Light]
Sunday 7 October 2001, 22:50 BST
The Tolkien Sarcasm Page is home to all sorts of amusing Tolkien-related humour, from a scathing review of Ralph Bakshi's animated version of the story to an excerpt from Saruman's Diary:
3 March 3019: This has been a really wretched day. I no sooner finish sending my armies after Edoras when what happens? Some psychotic tree comes and starts hammering at the Gate and yelling like hell. And when my stupid ineffectual guards can't get rid of it - what the hell's wrong with them? Aren't they fed well enough? - it calls more trees, and they all start tearing apart the Ring! The whole damned Ring of Isengard! One of them got in and tried to kill me! The damned monstrosity chased me all the way back to the Tower, screaming that I was a "tree-killer"; I was lucky to make it back in alive! What the hell is this? Why are they so upset over one lousy desk?!
In a similar vein, over on rec.arts.sf.written there's a discussion of Lord of the Donut, a Simpsons version of Tolkien's tale:
Burns is Sauron, and Smithers, obviously, the Mouth of Sauron. Sideshow Bob ("Ronnie to his Nancy") is Saruman. Ringwraiths played to comic effect by Lionel Hutz, Squeaky Voice Teen and Bumblebee Man.
[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
Remember the story of the penis in the bottle of fruit punch? It turns out that it wasn't anything of the sort. This article even has a thoroughly revolting picture of the item in question. [Updated stories via Davezilla and Lots of Co. respectively]
I watched Heartbreakers last night. It badly wanted to be a distaff Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but the script was a bit weak and the attempt to mix comedy and romance didn't quite come off. It was obvious that Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta and Jason Lee were all having a good time (with JLH and Gene Hackman being particularly good sports, considering some of the physical comedy they were asked to bring off) and that all concerned were giving it their best shot, but somehow the ingredients didn't quite gel. I laughed a few times, but that's not really a good enough return on two hours of my time.

Still, I'm happy to report that both female leads looked terrific: in particular, JLH looked good enough to eat in a succession of rather tight outfits.
Clash of Symbols.
Jonathan Coleclough reports: `After about 2 1/2 years' deliberation, the Unicode Technical Committee turned down the proposal to include Klingon in the Unicode Standard (unique codes for every character of every language in the world), with the rather po-faced "determined to be inappropriate for encoding".' However, Bernard Shaw's little-known, less-used phonetic alphabet `Shavian' made it into the Standard, and Tolkien's Tengwar is still `under investigation'.
[Via Ansible 171]

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