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Saturday 25 May 2002, 23:35 BST
Magnets are dangerous! Apparently a craze for using industrial-strength magnets to hold simulated piercings in place swept Sheffield a couple of years ago. Trouble is, the magnets were so strong that they pinched the surrounding blood vessels shut and caused loss of circulation.

Ban all unlicensed magnets now, I say. Won't somebody please think of the children!

[Via Boing Boing]
AT&T Broadband provides customers with a spam filtering service so good it even stopped AT&T's own mass e-mails to customers about price changes. AT&T say the messages will be re-sent once the "glitch" is fixed.

[Via Risks Digest 22.08]
Do you need the Nerd Gym?
To others you appear to have reached the pinnacle of your chosen lifestyle; mastery of the dark programming arts, total memorisation of Sci-Fi scripts and the ability to fall apart completely in social situations. But you have a terrible dark side, which you need to express in sordid acts of exercise behind closed doors, that leave you glistening with sweat and gasping for air. Yes, secretly you want to get healthy; Even though it might shatter your nerd lifestyle into a thousand polygonal shards, as if rendered in glorious 3D. But there is hope! Now you can, whilst maintaining your trendy monitor worshipping life style, using the patented MeatJam.co.uk exercise techniques!
[Via dutchbint.org]
How to spoof a fingerprint reader using just US$10-worth of household supplies. Perhaps we're going to have to keep on remembering passwords for a bit longer than we'd been promised.
Friday 24 May 2002, 22:55 BST
Courtesy of In Passing..., Nikki has a little advice for Lisa:
"Hi, is Lisa there?

Oh, hi... sure, tell her that Nikki called, and that I said 'hi,' ...oh, and could you tell her that her stupid aphrodisiac isn't going to work on my boyfriend? Thanks.

*hangs up phone*

I think that was her mom."
-- A teenage girl talking on a cell phone, surrounded by a couple of other teenage girls gasping in horror, on an AC transit bus.
Eyeballing the Kennedy Space Center. A fabulous set of images of a place most of us only ever see from ground level.

[Via Making Light]
New Rules for the New Advertising Economy. Or, "How to annoy as many people per day as possible."

[Via Techdirt]
Big Brother is back. And after watching half of the first show earlier this evening I find that I couldn't care less.

I was an avid viewer of the first two seasons, but somehow this year it's different. Within three minutes flat Davina lost me this evening. When she was showing viewers around the interior of the house she she barely opened the door to a bedroom, justifying her not actually showing us anything by saying that "you've all seen the pictures." Well actually Davina, since I'm planning on just following the show on TV rather than buying the special souvenir edition of Heat magazine or the coverage in the tabloids I haven't seen anything of the new house, so I'd have quite liked to see the interior properly. Then there's the plan to vote a houseguest off the show this evening, which just seems to be cruelty for the sake of it. And finally, Davina's mannered presentational style grates on me more this year than it did last time round.

In the end none of these gripes are sufficient justification in themselves for my loss of interest. It's perhaps just that the format worked really well once, then moderately well a second time, but third time round I can't see how the houseguests can be other than wise to the way the show works, so I don't feel like devoting the time required to get to know them.

Of course, if I find myself reading lots of blog entries about how this is the best season yet I reserve the right to change my mind...
Thursday 23 May 2002, 22:10 BST
Geeks go hack to the future. A horrible pun, but a fascinating report - particularly the last half, on why clever software should emulate dumb insects - from journalist/blogger Ben Hammersley on last week's Emerging Technologies Conference.
She's back! A couple of seasons ago Buffy fans had a narrow escape, as scheduling conflicts prevented Britney Spears from guesting on her friend Sarah Michelle Gellar's show. As it happened Shonda Farr, who replaced Britney in the role of April in I Was Made To Love You, turned in a really affecting performance in one of the better season 5 episodes, so everyone was happy.

Now rumour has it that Britney is going to appear in season 7, in a recurring guest role over half a dozen episodes. I can only hope that the source quoted in the Sky News article I've linked to (ie the Daily Star) is living down to its usual standards of accuracy. It's not so much that I think Britney won't be able to cut it acting-wise - not having seen Crossroads, I have no idea whether she can act - but that it's the sort of stunt casting that helped destroy Ally McBeal and is bound serve as a distraction from the show's established cast.

[Via Found]
Astronomers have long thought that Europa, the Jovian satellite known to have a liquid ocean, would be worth searching for signs of life. Admittedly the oceans are covered by ice, but the plan was to land a probe which would pierce the moon's icy crust and sample the ocean underneath.

Unfortunately, as Wired News reports, the latest estimates suggest that the ice may be twelve miles thick, rather than the half a mile or so scientists expected. That'll take a lot of burrowing, or else some very careful survey work beforehand to find a spot with a thinner layer of ice.
Sometimes, Microsoft is Right... I'm going to grab a screendump of that Slashdot headline, just to prove it really happened.

Naturally, one poster couldn't resist suggesting some other highly implausible Slashdot headlines:
10. Natalie Portman tops world's ugliest people list.

9. Beowulf clusters aren't so useful after all

8. IIS beats Apache in recent security audits

7. JonKatz reviews _______ in less than 1000 words

6. [Lucent | IBM | Intel] [invents | patents] [single molecule | [carbon | other element] nanotube | really small] [transistor | hard drive | computer] (wait... maybe we have seen that one before...)

5. CowboyNeal read this (marry me)!

4. 133t k1dd13z h4x0r3d /.

3. BeOS returns, outperforms Linux

2. Sometimes, Microsoft is right...

1. Bill Gates buys U.S. Supreme court, clears M$ of all charges.
Shower Shock Caffeinated Soap. If you feel that you need this product, seek professional counselling for your addiction now!

[Via /usr/bin/girl]
Wednesday 22 May 2002, 23:55 BST
Contrary to earlier reports, it turns out that the Chinese government is not planning to put men on the Moon by 2010. They're planning to prospect for minerals using unmanned probes, with a view to eventually setting up a lunar base.

This is good news for the future of manned space exploration. While it would be great to see men walk on the moon again within a decade, it's difficult to see such a short-term approach as anything more than a repeat of the Apollo missions. (I don't for a second doubt that Apollo was a stunning technical achievement, but it was a dead-end programme that was wrapped up as soon as it was clear that the Russians had given up on any thoughts of a manned lunar programme.) At least if the Chinese find mineral deposits worth mining there's a chance that whatever manned expedition eventually arrives will have a clear, long-term goal and could lead to a permanent presence in space.

[Via plasticbag.org]
Teacher displays porn during exam. Teacher is presently on sick leave. Teacher is doubtless trying to figure out how to explain his impending resignation at his next job interview.

[Via Amygdala]
Tuesday 21 May 2002, 22:45 BST
Stephen J Gould, renowned evolutionary biologist and writer, RIP.
Brilliant Sri Lankan novelists, go home.
The next time I see a work of fiction described as "an inquiry into the consequences of colonialism" invoking the "rich spiritual traditions of a mysterious sub-continent" with a "postmodern sensibility" I'm going to personally seek out the Berkeley apartment building where all these writers-in-residence sponge off the Rockefeller Foundation and assault it with a sound truck blaring Nine Inch Nails at 3 a.m. Please make a pilgrimage to New Delhi in search of a PLOT, people.
[Via Making Light]
Frustrated that patenting DNA sequences is a legal and ethical minefield, not to mention not very cost-effective given that the patent only protects the work for 17 years, one US biotech company has come up with a genuinely innovative - albeit morally bankrupt - solution: encode the DNA sequence as an MP3 file, and rely on the 95 year copyright protection accorded to musical works.

[Via Boing Boing]
Microsoft's attempts to escape punishment for their monopolistic actions continue. This time, Jim Allchin has testified that releasing the Windows source code or details of all their APIs could result in a risk to "national security" because government and military computers use Windows too, and terrorists might find the security holes still lurking in Windows even after all these years.

On another front, a US Department of Justice official has suggested that one of the theories underpinning the EU's anti-trust investigation of Redmond's finest might not be considered acceptable in the United States. The Register has an analysis of the ramifications of this line of argument.

[Via the null device]
Now it can be told (or, how I landed my new client). AccordionGuy tells the story of a very odd date.
I spent much of last night watching the last third of season 2 of Angel on DVD. I'd planned to watch a couple of episodes a week, but by the time Angel reached his lowest point I simply couldn't wait another month to see how Joss & Co would wrap things up.

I still think that Buffy is the better show, primarily because in my opinion it's been more inventive and has more engaging characters, but there's no denying that Angel is a highly entertaining show in its own right. I wasn't very taken with the whole Pylea storyline that closed the season, but that shouldn't detract from the power of the preceding nineteen episodes. Angel was really put through the wringer, and Wesley, Gunn and Cordelia - Cordelia most of all - became fascinating characters in their own right.

Now, unfortunately, I'll have a long wait before I get to see either Angel season 3 (on DVD - I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for Channel 4 to get to it) or Buffy season 6 on BBC2. Oh well, it's just as well I've got a couple of other DVDs to watch in the meantime...
Monday 20 May 2002, 21:30 BST
Deadline Journalism. James Ledbetter considers the different approaches of American and British newspapers towards obituaries.
Of course, the insistence on subjective obituaries sometimes contributes to a nostalgia that to the American ear sounds tinny and unnecessary. Hence the Guardian's recent sendoff to a not-exactly-famous Oxford University Press editor named Kim Walwyn, who died young of breast cancer: "She continued to be avid for new experiences, in her 40s learning to ice skate, and becoming a competent and graceful horserider." Let us not speak ill of the dead, certainly, but one can almost hear the New York Times copy desk querying: "How do we know that she was graceful?"
[Via The View From Here]
Additional dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back:
Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father...

Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!

Vader: No... Luke......I AM YOUR FATHER!

Luke: No! It's not true! It's impossible!

Vader: Search your feelings... You know it to be true...

Luke: NOOO!!!

Vader: Yes...it is true. And you know what else? You know that brass droid of yours?

Luke: Threepio?

Vader: Yes...Threepio. I built him......when I was only seven years old...

Luke: No...

Vader: SEVEN YEARS OLD! And what have you done? Look at yourself -- no light saber, no hand, no job...couldn't even levitate your own ship out of a swamp...
[Via Amygdala]
Beating Bill. Business 2.0 looks at the companies which have repelled the Microsoft juggernaut.

I have some quibbles about the article's description of Microsoft as a company which:
[...] has figured out how to execute on things that other companies talk about but often don't do: It innovates relentlessly, strategizes tirelessly, and, when the time calls for it, shows limitless patience.
(Emphasis added.)
Microsoft famously doesn't innovate: it imitates. The one case the article considers in which it accuses Microsoft of commiting innovation is that of PalmOS versus Windows CE/Pocket PC. In practice Microsoft and Palm aren't really serving the same market: the system specification the article cites are for a Pocket PC which costs 62% more than the Palm device it's supposedly being compared against. Of course the Pocket PC is going to have more features and higher processor speeds, but it's also going to need that extra memory and processing power to handle an operating system which soaks up more processor cycles before it starts to think about doing what the user wants. Microsoft aren't innovating so much as they're choosing a different trade-off between features and hardware requirements to Palm.

Microsoft are betting that the extra features will compensate for the radically reduced battery life and increased bulk of the Pocket PC compared to PalmOS devices, and that in the long run Moore's Law will reduce the cost of the hardware required to run a Pocket PC to the point where it'll mop up the market currently served by PalmOS. This assumes that Palm, Handspring et al do nothing to react to the Microsoft assault, and it's just too early to say.

Still, it's an interesting article. The bottom line is that Microsoft aren't unbeatable, especially once they move away from the desktop PC market. My favourite example is Intuit, a company which not only beat Microsoft but had a product (Quicken) which was so superior to the Microsoft equivalent that Microsoft offered to buy Intuit and sell Microsoft Money to a competitor in order to facilitate the deal.

[Via CamWorld]
Six Blind Men.
Sunday 19 May 2002, 20:30 BST
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space? Oh go on, you know you're curious...

[Via Making Light]
Have you seen the Enrob Annual Report?
Who we are. Until recently . . . Enrob was more than just the greatest multinational corporation in the history of capitalism. Enrob became a wealth-generating juggernaut fueled by a boundless synergy of courageous investors, third-world labor, reckless investment banks, and accounting practices of unmatched creativity. Thanks to our mix of pathologically aggressive management and political patronage, Enrob devoured its competitors, and as soon we settle a few little problems, we will continue to diversify into every industry on the planet. Really! For sure!

What we sell. Again and again, people have asked me to explain how exactly Enrob makes its money. I try to be polite when I hear this irritating question, but it’s symptomatic of 1980s inside-the-box thinking that has no place in the New Economy. Enrob is a dynamic but robust innovator in resource processing and scalable connectivity, using broadband network paradigms to enrich the global data stream and minimize friction in leveraged wealth transfer models. We specialize in volatile risk assessment facilitated by an unmatched logistics skill set. What’s so hard to understand about that?
[Via Viridian Note #312]
Bruce Sterling on Attack of the Clones: A Very American Movie.

(NB/- New York Times article - free registration required.)

[Via Amygdala]
Channel 4 are doing their usual bang-up job of telling the public that one of their better US imports is back. This time they've been keeping deathly quiet about the return of the bloody, brilliant prison drama Oz to our screens.

Commendably, they've given the first episode a relatively early timeslot: 11:05pm on Tuesday 28 May. How long it'll be before the show drifts back into the post-midnight twilight zone remains to be seen.
Meatmarket.com. Heather Havrilesky says this is the golden age of online dating.

[Via the null device]

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