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Home > Weblog w/e 30.3.2002

Saturday 30 March 2002, 23:30 GMT
If Microsoft made cars they'd have been sued into oblivion by now, according to The Economist.

I suspect what would actually happen if a "lemon law" was passed in respect of software is that the standard of proof required would be so high that it would be very difficult to get a finding against the software house. If my word processor crashes and loses the last half hour's work, is it because of a fault in the word processor, or because of some interaction between the word processor, the device driver for my hard disk and that extended clipboard utility I was using to paste an image grapped using yet another piece of software? I certainly couldn't tell for sure, and I doubt a court could.

Microsoft might actually quite like this proposition if it allowed them to pressure PC manufacturers to supply "Microsoft only" PCs and warn users that they installed non-Microsoft software at their own risk. A MS-only PC which crashed frequently might seem to make Microsoft clearly liable under a lemon law, but given the variety of hardware and device drivers out there I think Microsoft would have little difficulty in just dumping the problem in the PC manufacturer's lap and saying that it was the supplier who had the contract with the customer to supply a working PC.

[Via CamWorld]
Doctor Who meets a secretive Artificial Intelligence. I'm not a big fan of media SF tie-in novels, but this delightful excerpt from Ben Aaronovitch's Transit makes me wonder if I've been too hasty.

William December Starr sets the scene...
Oh, that whole passage is so wonderful. Over the course of the novel the Doctor's been becoming concerned that he's left too big and distinctive a footprint on a relatively short piece of human history.

The software that ran security at the Stone Mountain archive was so sophisticated as to be almost sentient. At least that's what the sysops thought. In fact, the software *was* sentient but was understandably wary of telling anyone. You don't sit on the entire sum of human knowledge without learning a thing or two.

One of the things it had learnt was that human beings were liable to get overexcited if they knew and would probably a) kill the software, b) co-opt it into the military-industrial complex, c) ask it inane philosophical questions, d) force it to pay taxes or e) all or a combination of the above.

So when the alien with two hearts walked up to an obscure monitor in a disused side entrance and said 'Let me in or I tell,' the security software let him in.

The alien wanted certain historical records eradicated, and offered some good advice in exchange. 'The golden rule,' said the alien, 'is that those with the gold make the rules.'

The security software helpfully erased the data, noticing how much of it pertained to the latter part of the twentieth century. The alien used a laser torch to remove any physical records that remained in storage.

'One last piece of advice,' said the alien. 'Give yourself a name, a nice unthreatening one, but not too unthreatening.'

The alien paused one last time before he left.

'And stop talking in a monotone,' he said. 'It gives people the creeps.'

[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
The inevitable post about the death of the Queen Mother. I don't really have much to say about this that hasn't been said better elsewhere. As Meg points out, for many of us this is a non-event. As Vaughan notes, those over 60 who remember the Second World War will react very differently to those of us for whom tales of the royal family's steadfastness in the face of the Blitz are just history.
Friday 29 March 2002, 23:40 GMT
The Space Elevator, a concept explored in science fiction by authors such as Arthur C Clarke and Charles Sheffield (in their respective novels The Fountains of Paradise and The Web Between The Worlds) twenty-five years ago, may be a lot closer to reality than I thought.

One problem not mentioned in the article is that a structure of that size and mass would make one hell of a target for a military attack.

[Via MetaFilter]
MSNBC are worried that web developers might be confused if AOL switch to using Mozilla's Gecko HTML rendering technology. Apparently it'll spoil a lot of people's days if they have to make their sites work in two browsers by writing standards-compliant HTML code. Much better we should just hand control of the web to Microsoft and make life easier for professional designers everywhere.

[Via NTK]
Carmen Electra has had fat removed from the inside of her eyelids. Apparently it makes you look younger.
Every time I read that my skin crawls at the very thought.

[Via popbitch]
Thursday 28 March 2002, 22:50 GMT
Are You A Hit-Obsessed Weblogger?
Your Score: 20 / 100

TYPE C (HIT-CURIOUS). You do the weblog thing for yourself instead of for an audience, but you are aware that you do have an audience, small as it might be. You are often curious as to what other people find so interesting about your weblog. You check your weblog referrers every now and then just to satisfy your curiosity.
I'd say that's a pretty fair assessment. When I do check my stats, I'm more interested in figuring out whether the referrers suggest that the visitor found what they were looking for than the raw number of page hits.

[Via linkmachinego]
Not everybody's autobiography. Is the weblogging world really all that white, male and middle class? Looking at my Daily Reads, I find that 56% of the webloggers are male and 42% female, with the other 2% being group weblogs. (I'm quite surprised that the women lag that far behind: before I did a count, I'd have guessed that the majority of weblogs on the list were by women.) I didn't bother trying to tally up ethnicity because in many (probably most) cases I'm not aware of the ethnicity or sexual preferences of the person whose work I'm reading.

Now I'll grant you that there's nothing terribly scientific about my analysing my Daily Reads list, but then nor is attending SxSW and noticing a lack of non-caucasian faces, or considering one year's conference programme as an indicator of the attitude of the weblogging "community" towards issues of race, gender and class. If there's a lack of diversity in weblogs, is it anything at all to do with weblogging or is it just a symptom of a wider problem insofar as regular access to the internet at home correlates with disposable income, which very likely does correlate at least to some degree with ethnicity?

[Via Frownland]
If you feel the need to run Microsoft Office under Linux help is at hand. I find that I rarely need to fire up Word or Excel on my home PC these days. I'll usually fire up StarOffice if I want to rattle off a letter or put a spreadsheet together, so this won't persuade me to finally get to grips with Linux on the desktop. (My latest attempt: Mandrake Linux, which freezes up within around 90 seconds every time I log in. Not encouraging.) It's still nice to know it's feasible though.

[Via the null device]
I can't believe there are so many ways to misspell "Britney Spears."

[Via Ponderous Ponderings]
Wednesday 27 March 2002, 22:50 GMT
New Order are going to remix World in Motion, their 1990 World Cup anthem. Possibly with David Beckham replacing John Barnes as the guest rapper.

I have no idea whether David Beckham can rap, but in any case I'd much rather they finally released the rumoured take of the 1990 track featuring Gazza's version of the rap.

[Via Do You Feel Loved?]
Is it really true that women browse the web better than men?

<generalisation level="gross">
It seems to me that it's more likely to be the case that women tend to bear more of the domestic burdens in the average mixed-gender household, and perhaps have trouble prising their partners away from the PC. Consequently, when they do finally get control of the keyboard they don't have as much time to browse aimlessly as men.

[Via MetaFilter]
Tuesday 26 March 2002, 22:20 GMT
DOGs are a menace to your TV's health. Ever since multi-channel TV arrived broadcasters have claimed that they have to plaster all their programmes with DOGs, or Digitally Originated Graphics, showing the channel's logo so as to ensure that their viewers know which channel to be grateful to for bringing them this week's episode of Star Trek or Buffy. Now it turns out that DOGs can cause damage to viewers' TV sets as the logo is burned into the phosphor layer on the screen.

In response to this problem, New Scientist reports that Sony are to introduce a set which will set your TV's image wandering around the screen, thereby moving the spot where your E4 logo is burned in so that hopefully it'll not be so sharp-edged. There is another obvious solution to this problem, as employed by the PC industry since the 1980s: a screen saver for your TV.

(OK, so this isn't actually practical, because the TV can't spot periods of inactivity the way a PC can. It's still a better solution that a wandering image. I wonder how long it would be before someone hacked the TV's screensaver to kick in during adverts?)

[Via Robot Wisdom]
Special moments from Michele's family album. Or, Why Michele Should Be Required To Take A Webcam Wired for Sound to all Family Get-Togethers.
It would appear that Kevin Warwick has a cyborg rival. Professor Steve Mann had a few problems getting through airport security recently, and is claiming his rights as a cyborg were violated. (NB/- second link is to a New York Times article: free registration is required.)

It strikes me that if any of his his equipment was damaged during the search he probably has a claim against someone for damages. Furthemore, if the airline has in the past agreed to allow him to travel with his wearable gear and had been informed that he'd be doing so again then clearly they were under some sort of obligation to tell him if the situation had changed. However, I can't see him getting much joy claiming that as a cyborg he shouldn't have been deprived of his wearable computer.

[Via MetaFilter]
More on the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act. According to Declan McCullagh, under the proposed legislation it would be a criminal offence to write the following program:
In another piece, John Naughton rehearses the arguments against the Act here, and makes the excellent point that as big as Hollywood is it's barely one-twentieth the size of the computing business. Hollywood really shouldn't be in any position to demand that a larger industry be held back so as to protect Hollywood from changes in business models brought about by new technology.

I'm slightly suspicious of those figures, if only because it's not made clear whether "Hollywood" means the film business alone, or includes TV, the music industry, print media and so on (all of which are largely owned by a few conglomerates nowadays.) Also, for many of the businesses responsible for a large cut of that US$600 billion IT industry turnover this is a non-issue, as they only want to be able to do routine office work with their PCs. Unless the cost of implementing some form of anti-piracy technology adds significantly to the price of a PC why would businesses care about this issue? (How much did the V-chip add to the cost of a TV set, I wonder? Did that affect the sales of TVs to any significant extent?)

[Observer article via Boing Boing]
Things That My Husband Has Done To (Deliberately) Annoy Me, by Deena. Not Deanna. (See Number 3.)

[Via 3 Bruces]
Sharon Osbourne - Ozzy's wife - has put up with a lot over the years.
On one occasion she flew to Tokyo to join him on tour. After the show she went ahead to their hotel room, only to be woken hours later by a young Japanese girl climbing into their bed. A drunken Ozzy had forgotten his wife had arrived. "It's funny now," she says, with a tight smile. "It wasn't then."

[Via Lots of Co.]
Monday 25 March 2002, 23:10 GMT
Worst. Film. Review. Ever.

[Via Do You Feel Loved?]
If you've never heard of the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, or the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, you might want to do some research. If you aren't interested in trawling through the gory details, Dan Gillmor explains in non-technical terms why this issue matters so much.

This isn't just a local political issue - it affects everyone who uses computer technology designed by or for the US market. The frustrating thing is that those of us outside the USA can do little but look on as Disney et al do their damndest to turn our PCs into set-top boxes. Having said that, a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation might be a good idea, to help fund the inevitable court cases that will arise if the CBDTPA passes into law.

[Dan Gillmor article via Electrolite]
Not having seen most of the contenders, I don't have much to say about the Oscars. I do have to note that I'm horrified by the notion that Akiva Goldsman now has an Oscar for screenwriting.
Not only does Kate Bolin write a very fine weblog/journal, she's also put together d e a d . l e t t e r s . h o m e, a collection of fanfic based around the idea that a favourite character has died and has one last chance to communicate in writing. Most of the stories are from the Buffy/Angel universe, but given the richness of the source material that's hardly what I'd call a drawback.

Some of the letters have been superseded by events in the fictional universe they came from, but don't let that stop you. Some of my favourites:
Sunday 24 March 2002, 23:30 GMT
Twisted HeadSwap Theater presents (with apologies to Mr Roddenberry and Mr Spielberg...)
K'Pinky and the Brain

They're K'Pinky and the Brain,
yes, K'Pinky and the Brain.
One is a Warrior, the other's insane
They've been caged up like mice,
amid Rura Penthe's ice,
They're K'Pinky,
They're K'Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain,
Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain.

[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
Viridian Note 00302: The Larsen B Ice Shelf. The most striking point is made right at the end of the article:
"(Whenever you search on " billion tons" as a phrase in Google, most of the hits you get back are related to global warming and fossil fuels. There's nothing else for which 'a billion tons' is a normal unit of measurement.)"
It's been a good weekend for TV. Yesterday, BBC2 repeated the finale to the first season of Malcolm in the Middle as a prelude to season 2, which starts tomorrow night. Then this evening The West Wing returned to our screens at a reasonable hour.

It was good to see Malcolm... again, but The West Wing was the real highlight. Although this was an atypical episode, insofar as showing the aftermath of the assassination attempt squeezed out much of the usual banter, but it was still a highly worthwhile hour of TV. The two highlights for me were poor Donna's arrival at the hospital and the moment when Vice President Hoynes got to sit in the hot seat and have every four-star general in the room turn to him for a decision for a change.

Oh yes, and 24 was as gripping as ever. I see BBC2 are showing the first four episodes together on Saturday night: if you've been deterred from joining the series because you've heard how densely plotted it is, you should definitely take the chance to jump on board on Saturday.

One further TV highlight this evening: James Cameron's Titanic on BBC1. Yes, the love story was trite. Sure, Billy Zane's character should have had a moustache to twirl as he did everything but tie Kate Winslet to a railroad line. Indisputably, some of the shots of the ship at seas complete with virtual passengers walking the decks looked rather poor. And yes, it features that mawkish Celine Dion ballad. Nevertheless, I defy anyone to watch the real money shots - the scenes once the ship hit the iceberg, and especially once the upper decks started to get damp - and not be awestruck at the sheer scale and inevitability of the tragedy.

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