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Friday 11 May 2002, 23:55 BST
Have you ever come across a goldfish swimming in a toilet cistern? Lyssa has.
Not many links today, I'm afraid. I've spent much of the last couple of days watching DVDs and reading, and I didn't do any web surfing at all this evening.

I've just finished Lois Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity, the latest novel in her long-running series of novels featuring Miles Vorkosigan. This is solid, highly entertaining stuff - not right up there with the very best of the Vorkosigan novels, but comfortably towards the top end of the range. Bujold is very good at putting Miles in delicate situations and then turning up the pressure, and Diplomatic Immunity is a prime example of this, with what looks like a fairly routine diplomatic problem shifting into top gear about a third of the way through, and then the turbocharger kicking in for the last third as Miles is faced with several very nasty interlocking, and in some cases highly personal, dilemmas. As with any long-running series there are a few nods to the fans, with characters alluding to events detailed in earlier volumes, but Diplomatic Immunity would be perfectly accessible to a newcomer to the complicated life of Miles Vorkosigan. Highly recommended.

I spent much of my day working my way through season 1 of Futurama. This is exactly the sort of progamme that works well on DVD, with all sorts of sight gags and scenes that reward a quick rewind and a closer look, as well as a lot of deleted scenes, sketches for the characters and plenty of behind the scenes material. Oh yes, and it's also a very, very funny show.

I collected yet another parcel from Amazon this morning, this one containing the DVD box set of From The Earth To The Moon, a miniseries which showed up on Channel 4 on Saturday mornings two or three years ago. It tells the story of the Apollo programme, using each of the twelve episodes to focus on a particular mission. If you liked Apollo 13 you'll almost certainly enjoy this. With a dozen hour-long episodes to cover the story the writers were able to explore different aspects of the space programme, from an episode which concentrated on the impact on the astronauts' partners of their heroics to an episode placing the Apollo programme in the context of 1968, one of the more turbulent years in American domestic history. It's not quite up there with The Right Stuff, which is still my favourite fictionalised work about the US space programme, but it's a close second.

After all that, I' spent some time this evening watching some season 2 Angel. I finished for the evening with Reunion, the sort of episode which causes me to sit there alternately cursing Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear & Co for turning Angel's world upside down so bloodily and applauding the writers for setting up such a nasty, dark situation for Our Heroes in episodes to come.

Oh yes, and I got an email from Amazon today saying that my Buffy season 4 box set is on the way. I very much need to watch Restless again, now that I know what happened in season 5.

I really need to lay off buying DVDs for a few months to let my bank account recover from the strain...
Friday 10 May 2002, 23:30 BST
Building a Life-Size Millennium Falcon in your friend's back yard. Now that's what I call being a Star Wars geek. Never mind standing in a queue for a few months, this is the real deal. My hat's off to you, Sir!
"Starting to take form"

It was at this point that the neighbors started to get alarmed as to what we were building in our backyard.  Our favorite thing to tell them was we were building a tool shed.  And then if they were really snotty and asked about the huge ramp we would tell them it was to make the tool shed handicapped assessable.  It was also at this point that Jeff was starting to get nervous about this being in his backyard.
[Via Off On A Tangent]
OpenOffice 1.0 was released yesterday. I downloaded it last night and installed it this evening, and after a brief play it looks good. It takes a while to load on my P-166, but once loaded it seems fairly comparable to MS Office 95 in terms of responsiveness. I'll have to give it a more serious workout this weekend.
Today saw the broadcast of the 4,000th episode of Neighbours in Australia. I can't believe it's been going that long. I know it's no Hill Street Blues or Buffy, but the show has earned a place in my affections over the years, despite its having acted as the launchpad for so many uninspired wannabe pop stars.

{I have to give them credit for occasionally bowling their loyal viewers a googly, as at the close of today's episode on BBC1 when it was revealed that Karl may be Elly's father. That's going to liven things up in the Kennedy household for a few episodes.)
The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society.
The basic problem can be stated very simply: A student's grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year.
Serious stuff.

[Via Ben Hammersley.Com]
Thursday 9 May 2002, 22:00 BST
Beware The Lions.
Inspector Clouseau's rules of speech.
Rule #1: Any word with a 'ah', 'oh', or 'oo' sound, you must add a short 'eh' sound before it.

Examples: bomb = "behm", phone = 'pheone', room = 'rheum'

Rule #2: Any word with a 'uh' sound, you must replace it with a 'ih' sound.

Ex. monkey = 'minkey'.
[Via Jejune.net]
Smog, Glorious Smog. How does anyone breathe with all that junk in the air?
Wednesday 8 May 2002, 21:00 BST
The European Union is thinking about adopting a rather undistinguished new logo. I quite like the blue flag with gold stars, myself. The new logo looks too fussy to me.

[Via plasticbag.org]
Delete, Baby, Delete. We aren't as good at destroying the evidence as we'd like to think.
There is no denying that human beings have laid waste to a great many things in the course of time: cities, species, vast amounts of cultural heritage. What seems more remarkable, though, is how often attempts at destruction go awry.

On the eve of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran, in 1979, American officials desperately fed secret documents into the embassy's paper shredders. Over the next several years, while waiting for satellite dishes and Baywatch to arrive, the Iranians painstakingly stitched the documents back together. They ultimately published the reconstituted intelligence files in some sixty volumes, under the overarching title Documents From the U.S. Espionage Den.
[Via MetaFilter]
Tuesday 7 May 2002, 22:20 BST
Dude looks like a lady. Over at Raising Hell, Michele and Justin win another round in the never-ending psychological war against their kids. "Ok," said Justin. "Suit yourself. Just don't come crying to me in the morning." That's evil...
A TV Show Called Hope. What if Bill Clinton really did turn his hand to a talk show?
CLINTON: Hey, America. I want to welcome you all back to A Place Called Hope. Before we get started, I wanted to give you an update on a show we did last week. A young girl named Tiffany was trying to work her way through college by stripping and she hadn't told her parents yet.

[Clinton pauses. Lower lip pressing hard against his upper lip, his mouth curls into an upside down "U." HE brings his hand up to his heart.]

CLINTON: It was a gut-wrenching display of what young children are forced to do to afford college during this administr... during this day and age. Well, I'm happy to report to you that I was able to help this poor girl. I have given Tiffany a job, working in my Harlem offices, right here in New York.

[The audience cheers Clinton’s benevolence.]

CLINTON: That's right. She'll never have to take her clothes off in public again. ... Now let's see whose life I can make better today.
The Booksellers Association is considering ways to reduce losses from shoplifting. One of the options is adding an electronic tag to every book printed in this country, so that the book can be tracked not just at the point of first sale, but throughout its life. Because tracking every change in ownership throughout a book's life is far more important than the minor matter of protecting the consumer's privacy.

Charlie Stross - who is, remember, a published author and might reasonably be expected to have an interest in selling more books - is not impressed.
When inventory control systems go bad.

[Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Monday 6 May 2002, 21:45 BST
My Mother, the Scientist by Charles Hirshberg. An engaging tale of what it's like to live with a science-mad mother.
My introduction to chemistry came in 1970, on a day when my mom was baking challah bread for the Jewish New Year. I was about 10, and though I felt cooking was unmanly for a guy who played shortstop for Village Host Pizza in the Menlo Park, California, Little League, she had persuaded me to help. When the bread was in the oven, she gave me a plastic pill bottle and a cork. She told me to sprinkle a little baking soda into the bottle, then a little vinegar, and cork the bottle as fast as I could. There followed a violent and completely unexpected pop as the cork flew off and walloped me in the forehead. Exploding food: I was ecstatic! "That's called a chemical reaction," she said, rubbing my shirt clean. "The vinegar is an acid and the soda is a base, and that's what happens when you mix the two."

After that, I never understood what other kids meant when they said that science was boring.
The article also, in places, serves as a reminder of the casual sexism faced by women wanting to make a career in science even as recently as the 1970s. Even if they were Richard Feynman's sister.

[Via nocto]
Responding to FUD. The Register has what purports to be a translation of a letter sent by a Peruvian congressman in response to suggestions by the local Microsoft representatives that his government's plans to mandate that government departments use open source software will destroy the Peruvian software industry and are unfair to vendors of commercial software.

It's quite the most detailed, elegant, non-techie rebuttal of the standard Microsoft anti-Open Source tactics I've seen in a while. In particular, the points about the importance of government data not being locked into proprietary formats. Although some have suggested the letter may not be genuine, that doesn't invalidate the arguments contained therein against the criticisms Microsoft have repeatedly made of the adoption of Open Source software.

[Via Techdirt]
Megaton Man. Alan Lightman on a new set of memoirs by Edward Teller.
Sunday 5 May 2002, 22:25 BST
Windu's Saber Size Envy of Other Jedi
Senator Padmé Amidala proposed legislation to the Senate which would outlaw light sabers of a certain length. "Sure I get a bit tingly when he unleashes it, but I'm also a bit frightened. I don't think the Republic is ready for something that size. We're still talking about his light saber, right?"
Maoist Movie Reviews. They loved The Matrix, but they weren't at all keen on Groundhog Day.

[Via MetaFilter]
I have a feeling the Maoist Movie Reviewers wouldn't like Spider-Man much either. I'm more inclined to trust Oliver Willis, who says Spider-Man is the best superhero movie of the past 20 years.
Top Ten New Copyright Crimes. If Jamie Kellner is right that those of us who fail to pay attention during commercial breaks are thieves, how many other ways are we depriving our commercial masters of their rightful revenue-generating opportunities?
9. Changing radio stations in the car when a commercial comes on.

Future radios will prevent listeners from changing channels when a commercial comes on. The RIAA has not yet taken a position on whether it is permissible to switch channels when the listener doesn't like the song.

[...]

2. Watching MTV if you are older than 35 or Matlock reruns if you are younger than 40.

Advertisers buy ads to reach a particular demographic. If you aren't part of that demographic you are, effectively, a thief.
[Via the null device]

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