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Home > Weblog w/e 29.12.2001

Saturday 29 December 2001, 23:50 GMT
Things That Have Been Sold In Vending Machines. Raphael Carter, whose Honeyguide weblog is always worth reading, also put together this rather strange list. Relief images of tornados? Worms? Software? Whatever will they come up with next? [Via /usr/bin/girl]
MacOS X versus BeOS. A BeOS user takes a long, detailed look at MacOS X and likes what he sees. Well worth a read, especially if (like me) you're currently contemplating walking away from the wonderful world of Windows when you buy your next PC. [Via the null device]
Friday 28 December 2001, 23:55 GMT
Following up yesterday's posting about ISPs filtering email on their users' behalf, AOL have just provided a perfect illustration of exactly why ISP-level email filtering is a lousy idea. Harvard University sent out acceptance notices by email this year, and they somehow triggered AOL's email filtering system and were bounced.

If the end user had done this for themselves, they'd at least have a chance to check their logs and see the source of the email and realise what had happened. In this instance, the intended recipients were completely in the dark as to what had happened. As it turned out the acceptance emails were expected to arrive on a particular day, so when the applicants didn't get an email they contacted Harvard by other means. If email had been used to send a message the recipient wasn't expecting, presumably they'd have been none the wiser to this day that Harvard was trying to contact them. [Via NewsScan Daily]
The West had better look out. Following a decade of utter chaos, Russia's entrepreneurs and civil society may soon emerge in much better shape than anyone could reasonably have expected, according to Susan Richards. I'm unconvinced that this development will affect the daily lives of many ordinary Russians, but even so the prospect of a newly vigorous, capitalist Russia is fascinating, not least for what it suggests about the future of Europe. [Via Arts & Letters Daily]
Thursday 27 December 2001, 23:45 GMT
I've linked to the Polish Posters Shop before, but I was back there the other day after I read a mention of the site at tajmahal and I saw this wonderful poster for Ron Howard's Willow that I just had to share with you.
Brent Simmons reckons that so much email is bounced, filtered for content and barred by virus scanners that email is no longer the semi-reliable medium it was a few years ago. He thinks email clients should try to implement features that warn a writer if the email is likely to be bounced, such as for including a "!" in the Subject: line. It would be a small step forward, a bit like the way a good Usenet client will warn you if you try to cross-post an article, but sadly it's not nearly enough.

My solution? For one thing, give users control of their email again. Let ISPs deliver all email the user hasn't specifically rejected, and give the end user the ability to decide whether to reject mail according to someone else's criteria, be it that of a specific software vendor (as Brent Simmons suggests) or something like MAPS/ORBS, or indeed the user's own chosen criteria. (For example, my mail server rejects all email sent to addresses other than postmaster from the .tw top-level domain, because I've never received a single email purporting to come from that country that wasn't spam.) Another thing: let the user know what email was rejected and why, so that he or she can see which rules are working and whether he's catching anything that should have got through.

I know, this is totally impractical because it assumes users will want to put the time into figuring out what email they want rejected. I can dream, can't I?
Michael Bay directs The Lord of the Rings. With Sean Connery as Gandalf:
Wait! I have found thish tome, a record written by Balin of the eventsh leading up to the fall of the dwarvesh in Moria! I will now read it, thush adding considerable depth and thematic weight to thish movie!

Depth? Thematic weight? Not on my watch, mister.

The musty old tome EXPLODES. The battle continues, with thousands of ORCS dying and approximately 10,000 cuts.
Also featured: Kevin Smith's take on the Council of Elrond. [Via Boing Boing]
Wednesday 26 December 2001, 22:40 GMT
An exquisite Flash-based Xmas card. (I know it's a bit late to point at this now, but it's too pretty not to mention.) [Via Haddock.org]
Sir Nigel Hawthorne, Rest In Peace.
Wired News reports that despite the failure of several e-book publishing efforts from major publishers, smaller projects are thriving. I'm a devoted customer of one of the companies mentioned in the article, Fictionwise, and I'm delighted to read that they're doing so well.

So what are Fictionwise doing right? Three things. First, they don't tie you to a proprietary format: you can download a publication you've bought in a range of formats including PDF and Palm's PDB (plus several others including Microsoft's LIT format, but PDF and PDB are the ones I have a use for at present). You can even download them in one format at the time of purchase, then again later in another format for no additional charge - essentially, you buy the right to read the material in whatever format you choose. Second, the Fictionwise site is very easy to use, with most of the conveniences that make using Amazon so useful. The site even remembers what you've already downloaded and ensures that you don't inadvertently download (and pay for) a story again. Third, they're concentrating on satisfying a niche market: not just by covering particular genres, but also by republishing plenty of older, sometimes out-of-print material.

I'm not for a second suggesting that Fictionwise will be buying up Random House any time soon, or that we should all burn our paperbacks and buy Palms or Pocket PCs, but it's gratifying to see that smaller e-book publishers can thrive even in the wake of the dot-com crash.
A wonderful overheard conversation:
Woman: 'Have you seen my face?'
Man: 'I don’t know how to answer that question without getting slapped.'
Woman: 'No stupid! That’s what I call my makeup case.'
Man: 'You have a case of makeup?
Woman: 'Ready for that slap Michael?'
[Via Davezilla]
The Economist demonstrates that economics really is the 'dismal science' by analysing whether giving Xmas presents makes economic sense. [Via David Brake's Blog]
Fad vs Intrinsic Property. Dan Bricklin on how people confuse the flash and the substance when new technologies appear.
Tuesday 25 December 2001, 23:45 GMT
One for my .sig file:
"For sale by owner. Complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 or best offer. No longer needed. Got married last weekend. Wife knows everything."
[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
Over at dutchbint.org, Marcia posted a wonderful picture of a truly evil cat.
Holiday Songs by Suburban Children.
21. "I Don't Know Why She's Crying, It Was Just A Little Snowball"
(Why does this one remind me of Calvin?)
I meant to post this yesterday: Michele has just taken her kids to the Worst. Party. Ever.
Researchers are working to develop a breed of genetically-engineered fish which will change colour according to the level of pollutants in the water. Just one small question: wouldn't it be funny if the fish change to a colour which makes them more visible to their natural predator? [Via the null device]
Monday 24 December 2001, 22:45 GMT
I suggested yesterday that Europeans feel powerless in the face of legislative moves in the US that shape the global PC business. Charlie Stross points out (no permalink - see entry dated 24.12.2001) that one way for Europeans to bolster the fight against measures like the DMCA and the SSSCA is to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Scientists have discovered a new species of squid. What makes it so distinctive is that it has incredibly long arms (which account for the majority of its 21-foot length) which apparently extend radially from the body before turning through 90 to point backwards. This page has both still images and a number of Quicktime movies of the beast in action.

All this undersea wildlife makes me all the more eager to watch my Xmas present to myself (the DVD of David Attenbrough's Blue Planet) ASAP tomorrow. [Via Honeyguide]
The Smoking Gun reveal their Document of the Year Awards. My favourite is the Tackiest Police Press Release.[Via /usr/bin/girl]
Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times really liked The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Trouble is, he's determined not to let his total lack of knowledge of the original novel get in the way of his determination to give Jackson credit for all the film's virtues.

Somehow I don't think a scholar of medieval literature had to crib the plot of his novel from Wagner. Isn't it more likely that Wagner was in fact drawing on the same ancient north European mythology that Tolkien spent his life studying? [Via rec.arts.sf.written]
Sunday 23 December 2001, 23:30 GMT
Financial Planning for Slayers. Who knew stakes were deductible items? (Note: article contains spoilers for Buffy fans watching in the UK, and major spoilers for those of us watching on BBC2.) [Via MetaFilter]
Anarchies, States, and Utopias. Ken MacLeod interviewed. [Via the null device]
Given the spectacularly rapid and complete collapse of Enron, Bruce Sterling reckons the company's logo needs revising. Who better than the Viridians to come up with something appropriate?
Coming Soon: Hollywood Versus the Internet. Mike Godwin sets out the battle lines in the coming conflict.

What's particularly frustrating for us Europeans is that the single nastiest outcome - the passage of the SSSCA, or something very like it - isn't something we have any real influence over, even though it'll potentially affect the base specification of PC designs around the world. Granted, motherboard manufacturers could produce different designs for world markets and Microsoft and Apple could produce versions of Windows and MacOS for sale outside the US market, but given the possibility that such hardware and software would find its way into the US market and the extent to which they'd have to embed the SSSCA-compliant routines into the guts of their systems to make disabling them a non-trivial act, would they bother? [Via the null device]
Google Zeitgeist 2001. The timeline is particularly interesting. [Via t-melt.com]
Fuzzy From The Bottom Up. Cory Doctorow on why the internet was never going to satisfy the MBAs and CEOs who wanted a reliable network they could conduct ecommerce over. [Via charlie's Journal]

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