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Saturday 27 April 2002, 21:30 BST
Ester Bloom, sitting in as guest blogger at dust from a distant sun this week, poses the question: did Ally McBeal succeed because she failed, or fail because she succeeded?

I do understand the desire to present the show's rise and fall in terms of changes in the fortunes of feminism, and I'm not suggesting that there aren't lessons to be learned from the media's reactions to the show, but I don't think that one should entirely discount the possibility that the show's fortunes changed in part because the show didn't.

I enjoyed Ally McBeal for the first season or two, but after a while it became clear that Ally was never going to be anything other than intensely whiny and self-centred, that the writers were going to turn The Biscuit into a quivering heap of quirks, and that the court cases were going to get even more outlandish. By the start of the third season I'd concluded that the writers had over-egged the pudding, so I became at best an occasional viewer, and then not even that.
History Lesson: a Slayers archive. Much like the Tales of the Slayers graphic novel collection which I enjoyed so much earlier this year, this site collects fanfic about Buffy's predecessors. Of my favourite, I'd read Roz Kaveney's story about the First Slayer, Bed of Bones elsewhere, but Vita Detestabilis by Twinkledru J and Step Back in Time by Dolores Labouchere were new to me.

As an aside, the latter story made me wonder whether there's canonical evidence as to Joyce Summers' maiden name. It would be just perfect if it happened to be "Collins."
DJ Gets It Right. Michele is raising two very cool kids.
Friday 26 April 2002, 22:55 BST
Another reason why I need to see The Scorpion King. From Cindy White's review for Science Fiction Weekly:
The Rock runs around looking like a glazed doughnut, taking out an entire armies of men all by himself. At one point, he pulls an arrow out of his own back and shoots it at his foe.
How can I not see this film?
Waiting for Godot: The Interactive Adventure.

[Via the null device]
Xcor Aerospace are trying to develop a commercially viable reusable manned rocket. In the meantime, they're developing a nice little side project: a modernised version of the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket-powered fighter aircraft, as flown by desperate German pilots in the closing stages of World War II. Not the most practical private aircraft ever built, but insanely cool nevertheless.

[Via Charlie's Diary]
The Filming of Philip K Dick. A decent overview of the history of Dick's work as adapted for the big screen.

The strange thing is that not one of the films of Dick's work has come close to capturing the feel of his novels. Blade Runner came closest, but it really didn't share an awful lot with the source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep beyond lifting the bare bones of the setting. (Which is not to say that Blade Runner was anything but a very good science fiction film. And for what it's worth, I'm one of those strange people who likes Harrison Ford's narration.)
Thursday 25 April 2002, 22:25 BST
Jim's Ten Rules of Parenting.
Jim's Fifth Rule of Parenting
Never. Ever. Disturb. A. Quiet. Safe. Child. Ever.

Not even to ask how they're doing. Not even to praise them. Not to tell them it's lunchtime. Don't say anything. Just peek. Acknowledge to yourself that the child is safe. And go about your business.

If you disturb the child you run the very real risk of upsetting the Cosmic Equilibrium and altering God's Unknowable Plan. All hell will break loose. Your morning/day/evening (yes, all three) will be ruined. And you'll probably lose sleep and argue with your spouse.

It's not worth it. Leave the kid alone.
Jim's Second Rule is pretty sound advice too...
Take a close look at that burger 'n' fries.

[Via MetaFilter]
American politician Michael Williams has come up with an interesting way to fund NASA: tax science fiction. Oddly, Williams only wants to tax books, toys and games. Why not just tax films, and let the cumulative income from Attack of the Clones and the two Matrix sequels and give NASA the funds to colonise the entire outer solar system in one fell swoop?

[Via Electrolite]
Stylish. Now that's what I call a cool case for a PC.

[Via MetaFilter]
Canada Makes Formal UN Apology for Lexx.

(It's a nice joke, but in fairness I have to point out that they also deserve a vote of thanks for bringing us a magnificantly kooky, bizarre, filthy-minded first couple of seasons.)
Wednesday 24 April 2002, 23:15 BST
All You Need Is Love. The Queen - yes, Elizabeth Windsor herself - is going to lead the nation in a Beatles singalong on 3rd June to mark her Golden Jubilee.

It's entirely possible this could be the most embarrassing royal moment since It's A Royal Knockout.

[Via Lots of Co.]
Defending democracy - against the voters. Josie Appleton thinks that mainstream parties which react to Jean-Marie Le Pen's electoral success by refusing to debate his ideas are doing democracy a disservice.
The point about a democracy is that people can vote for who they like; it was French people who voted for Le Pen, not aliens from outer space. The French people have spoken; politicians' response is to tell them to do better next time.
Interface Hall of Shame: Lotus Notes. My favourite bizzare feature is described right at the end of this article. The designers of Notes went to great lengths to protect users from password snoopers:
The login window for the Lotus Notes utilizes a security "feature" to defeat would-be onlookers from learning your password. Never mind the fact that the password characters are not displayed (as with all login windows), the designers decided to add further "protection" by adding extraneous characters to the password field, so would-be onlookers cannot determine how many characters are contained in the password (in the above example, a six-character password is being entered). Further, as groups of characters are typed, the images on the dialog change to distract the would-be onlooker from observing the number of (extraneous) characters typed. Now if Notes could somehow mask the sound of keypresses at the keyboard, all this programming effort might be worth something.

Who cares.

This is not the login window for a weapons targeting system; it is an e-mail application. We wish the designers had spent their time improving the usability of the application itself rather than wasting it on useless diversions.
[Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Have you ever been at home and fancied a ride in a roller coaster? John Ivers did, so he did something about it.

[Via Boing Boing]
Tuesday 23 April 2002, 22:45 BST
Stacy, writing over at Blogatelle, provided the perfect comment on this charming image, which has been popping up on weblogs everywhere this week:
I guess it's not true what they say about women golfers...
One for the politics junkies among us: Matt Welch thinks Ralph Nader is in danger of turning into a real politician.

[Via Oliver Willis]
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet returns to our screens this Sunday. Just walking past a billboard advertising the show on my way to the station every day makes me grin as I remember the original series, so you can rest assured I'll be watching. Mark Lawson is right to wonder whether it's a good idea for Clement and La Frenais to return to the scene of past glories, but it seems to me that if Messrs Nail, Spall, Healey, Whately, Roach and Fairbank can recapture half the magic of the original show then it's going to be a highly worthwhile effort.

I just hope they haven't turned Oz into some sort of sensible, mature character just because he's a bit older...
Roll up! Roll up! Get Your Dog-In-a-Shell here! Or, if you prefer, a Cat-In-a-Shell.

And there I was assuming this was some sort of Bonsai Kitten deal...

[Via Davezilla]
Sunday 22 April 2002, 22:30 BST
Raising Hell. Michele and friends bring us what will unquestionably become the finest source of commonsense child-rearing advice on the Net of a Million Lies.
The Thoughts of Chairman Bruce. Bruce Sterling's closing address to the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2002 Conference.
Key concepts: Computers Freedom and Privacy conference, Bollywood actresses, Swiss Army knives, Mickey Mouse, email spam, free beer, nuclear terrorism.
[...]

It's the Wintel Gates OS versus Hollywood and the music industry, and as elephants fight, the grass is trampled. This is one of those new kinds of war, where the soldiers are perfectly safe and the consumers supply all the casualties.
[...]

This is what the "Axis of Evil" is about. Of course they're not actual allies. North Korea isn't a radical Moslem state. Iran and Iraq hate each other's guts. What these nations have in common is nuclear ambitions and the fact that they manufacture Scud missiles in large numbers.

They don't have to imagine a way to destroy Washington and its imperial ruling class. They can read Donald Rumsfeld's own pronouncements in his "Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States." You put the Scud inside a tramp freighter -- probably hiding it under several convenient tons of heroin -- and you park it in international waters. You launch a nuclear-tipped warhead into Washington. In the resultant horror and confusion, you act just as surprised as everyone else.

That is the source of the Bush Cabinet's discontent with the Axis of Evil. They don't want to be killed en masse with surreptitious, cheap, covert, untraceable, weapons of mass destruction.
I was a bit taken aback after reading Sterling's recent Wired article extolling the wonders of US Space Command, wondering whether a mix of technophilia and patriotism had overwhelmed his critical faculties. This is much more the old Chairman Bruce.
filmfodder.com reviews The Scorpion King.
By making the leap between 3 minutes of screen time in "Mummy Returns" to carrying a 90-minute feature, The Rock acquits himself nicely to the leading role. Not much is required of him besides a good body and clear enunciation, but since we haven't even gotten that from Seagal, Schwarzenegger or Van Damme over the years, The Rock is welcome company. He will overcome this film with ease, as it seems after "Mummy Returns" that he was forced to star in this. But if this is the birth to a more complex action hero, then I welcome the wrestler to the world of poorly-conceived action films. Also of note is Kelly Hu, who manages to overcome her ladybug's teardrop sized outfits and is believable enough spitting out witch gobbledygook that I doubt even the screenwriters scrutinized. In this film, the simple act of not breaking out into laughter can be considered a good performance, but Rock and Hu, whatever chemistry they lack between them, do just fine on their own.
Perversely, this sort of review actually makes me more interested in seeing The Scorpion King. I really enjoyed Arnie's two Conan films - particularly the first one - and I can imagine this being an acceptable substitute. (I'm less convinced than the reviewer that the third Conan film will be any good, so I'm not inclined to wait a couple of years to find out for sure.)
Objective: Creation Education explains why Apple is such a satanic company.

You know, I'm almost sure this site is a spoof. Not only do they fall for all the old jokes about links between computers and satanism/evolution - "chmod 666", "Dæmons" and the fact that Richard Dawkins used a Macintosh to produce The Blind Watchmaker - but they're worried that "Hypnotically encased iMacs trick unsuspecting computer users into accepting Darwinism." They cannot be serious!

Coincidentally, Keith Berman quoted the perfect response to creationist nonsense today:
"I don't understand all these people who insist on teaching creationism in school. I mean, look -- fossils. I win!!"
[Via the null device]
Worst Date Ever. (No 7)
Sunday 21 April 2002, 21:00 BST
Just a little something else to worry about next time you're flying in/through the UK's airspace.

[Via Pigs & Fishes]
May The 4th Be With You. Consider the date of the premiere of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Looks as if George Lucas missed a trick...

(NB/- the permalink for the entry at inkiboo.com which pointed out this oversight doesn't seem to be working - scroll down to the entry for Saturday 20 April 2002.)

[Via inkiboo.com]
Introducing the new iToilet. Clearly written by a Windows fan. Bad as the iToilet might be, it pales into insignificance by comparison with the effect of a General Protection Fault in Urinal XP!

[Via MetaFilter]
In the wake of the Enron scandal, even the most blinkered supporters of capitalism can't easily dismiss the proposition that the interests of management and their workforce don't necessarily coincide. However, even in the post-Enron environment, the story of Bernie's Bad Idea is just astounding.

Bernie Ebbers, the CEO of telecoms giant WorldCom, had bought US$800 million of the company's stock. Then as the company's share price nosedived he couldn't meet his margin calls. For ordinary shareholders this would mean bankruptcy. Instead, Ebbers persuaded the board of the company to lend him US$430 million (yes, that's US$430,000,000 - count those zeros) at a lower interest rate than he could possibly have obtained borrowing the money as a private individual, and with no collateral for the loans. (Ebbers has, however, "assured" the board that he has the assets to cover the loans. Which makes you wonder why he didn't liquidate said assets to pay his margin calls in the first place.) Amazingly enough, WorldCom presents this deal as being in the interests of the shareholders.

How the United States lacks a viable Socialist Party is beyond me...

[Via Techdirt]

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