A Site For ... S o r e   E y e s

Home > Weblog w/e 1.6.2002

Saturday 1 June 2002, 23:55 BST
Charlie Stross points out an interesting analysis by Eric Raymond of the science fictional worlds of Ken MacLeod and Iain M Banks. Interesting, but utterly wrong-headed, because Raymond sees the word "socialism" and sees "communism," and assumes that Banks and MacLeod are also unaware of the distinction. See the posting at Charlie's Diary for a more detailed rebuttal.
Is everything changing at Channel 4? I'm puzzled. First they show the fourth season of Oz in a timeslot starting on the right side of midnight. Then they schedule season 2 of Angel for Saturday nights at 10.30pm. And they even run plenty of trailers telling us Angel is back. Could it be that they've finally figured out that there's no point buying quality grown-up US drama and putting it on after midnight or at teatime?

The BBC have reacted to the return of Angel by putting up a mini-site devoted to the show, complete with the usual episode guides and quotations.

Sadly, the quotations are relatively short so there's no room for the finest passage of dialogue in the first two seasons:
[Spike watches the aftermath of Angel's rescue of a young woman and extrapolates the out-of-earshot dialogue]

[High voice]
"How can I thank you, you mysterious black-clad hunk of a night thing?"

[Deep voice]
"No need, little lady, your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was once a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me. Now I'm just a big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth."

(Woman moves closer, and Angel steps back raising his hands to ward her off)

[Deep voice]
"No, not the hair! Never the hair!"

[High voice]
"But there must be some way I can show my appreciation."

[Low voice]
"No, helping those in need's my job, and working up a load of sexual tension, and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough!"

[High voice]
"I understand. I have a nephew who is gay, so..."

[Low voice]
"Say no more. Evil's still afoot! And I'm almost out of that nancy-boy hair gel that I like so much. Quickly, to the Angel-mobile, away!"
Mind you, it gains enormously from James Marsters' delivery...
Friday 31 May 2002, 23:15 BST
Coming to a bank near you: an ATM which can read your mood. Apparently if the ATM can tell that you're squinting it can adjust the font size or the contrast to suit. That would certainly be useful, though surely it's simpler to just add a couple of sliders or rotary controls and allow the user the adjust those settings to suit themselves?

The downside is that - you guessed it - the banks hope to use this information about your emotional state to decide what adverts the ATM should display. I can't wait for my ATM to start trying to cheer me up after a long day at the office.

[Via Techdirt]
Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction presents: Cadmium.
Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh was one of those rare (one could hardly say fortunate) individuals who are natural receivers of cosmic messages. Like those people living so close to radio towers that their fillings can pick up rap stations, he was constantly bombarded by alien transmissions—messages that made little sense to him, and none at all to those he tried explaining them to.

On a starry night, he could hear the ships sifting from star to star, and their aeons-old navigators singing to each other across the spaces between galaxies.

It left its mark on his art. Don't think it didn't! Those twisty country roads, like wormholes twisting through space and time as seen from within … do the tiny figures down toward their ends look human to you? Those loud, crystalline stars caught up in turbulence born of supernovae and black holes … coincidence? Not bloody likely.
Europe votes to end data privacy. Not a major surprise, but disappointing nonetheless.

Once the British government passes the enabling legislation, I give it about three years before the data is made available to the Inland Revenue, the Benefits Agency and the Child Support Agency. After all, if you're doing nothing wrong you've no reason to resent being spied upon. Have you?
Thursday 30 May 2002, 22:50 BST
Anja says you should definitely acquire a cat if you...
  • enjoy being stared at for hours on end
  • like being ignored
  • don't mind a little company when you're in the bathroom
  • think windows look better with greasy paw prints
  • like your food with a little cat hair
There's more - now go and read the full list
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Yes, they appear to be serious.

Do I really need to add a smart-alecky comment?

[Via MetaFilter]
The Daily Telegraph has published a rather wonderful obituary for the late 4th Earl of Kimberley which has to be read to be believed.
The 4th Earl of Kimberley, who has died aged 78, achieved a measure of fame as the most-married man in the peerage; once known as "the brightest blade in Burke's", he worked his way through five wives in 25 years before settling down contentedly with a former masseuse he had met on a beach in Jamaica.

Johnny Kimberley was a jovial extrovert whose interests included shark fishing, UFOs and winter sports - for much of the 1950s he was a member of Britain's international bobsleigh team.

There was a serious side to him too: he played championship tiddlywinks, bred prize pigs, and as a Liberal spokesman in the Lords advised the electorate to vote Conservative, whereupon David (now Lord) Steel sacked him. Once on the Tory benches, he took a keen interest in defence and foreign policy, although not in social reform. "Queers," he declared, "have been the downfall of all the great empires."

However, it was his frequent trips to the altar, and those shortly thereafter to the divorce courts, that most naturally caught the eye of the public. His first marriage, in 1945, was to Diana, daughter of Sir Piers Legh, Master of the King's Household and a former equerry to Edward VIII; Kimberley had met her on a blind date at the Ritz.
Update: It has been brought to my attention that the family of the late Earl are very unhappy with the picture presented in the Telegraph's obituary. I am advised that The Times printed an obituary which presented a very different picture of the 4th Earl. Unfortunately, said obituary was only available to non-subscribers to the Times web site for seven days, so it is not possible for me to post a link to that obituary.

[Via Haddock.org]
Ari Fleischer is a big fat liar, according to Jonathan Chait. Fleischer is President Bush's Press Secretary, and as you'd expect given the Bush administration's paternalistic approach he's not very popular with the White House press corps.

The interesting question, it seems to me, isn't how good Fleischer is at twisting questions and avoiding politically inconvenient answers - there are, after all, the skills of any press spokesperson operating in such sensitive areas - but how it is that the press sits still for this treatment. Has anyone ever tried doing a Paxman (see below) on him? Granted, in a formal press conference it would be hard to pull that trick off because no one correspondent can hog the floor to repeat a question well past the point of embarrassment: there would always be a pro-administration journalist in the audience to whom Fleischer could turn for another question, claiming the persistent journalist was hogging the floor. Even so, if Fleischer (or rather, the administration he works for, and which condones his tactics by letting him keep his job) is as bad as he's painted then isn't it worth a try? Or is it just that, as with complaints in the UK about spin-doctoring by the Blair government, the real problem is that the press are far too reliant on being granted access to officials and admission to sanitised press events, and prefer to whine about being "manipulated" or "stonewalled"?

(For the benefit of non-British readers, towards the end of the last Conservative government's period of office BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman famously embarrassed then-Home Secretary Michael Howard by refusing to allow Howard to change the subject in an interview and simply repeating the same question 14 times. Howard stuck to his answer, but Paxman's persistence made Howard look every bit as evasive as he unquestionably was being. I wish I had a URL pointing to a video clip of the incident, because my description doesn't remotely begin to communicate just how bad Howard was made to look.)

Update: thanks to James Haigh of The View From Here for pointing me in the direction of a RealVideo of the Paxman-Howard clash. I should have known the BBC would have Paxman's finest hour to hand. The fun starts about four minutes in.

[Via MetaFilter]
Wednesday 29 May 2002, 23:15 BST
Having managed to release a really effective spam filter, AT&T have blotted their copybook within days by inadvertently spamming a host of newsgroups. The word "Oops" hardly seems strong enough.

[Via Techdirt]
Music Industry Unveils New Piracy-Proof Format: A Black, Plastic Disc With Grooves On It.
Even Shawn Fanning, the man who invented Napster, admits the new format will make file swapping much more difficult. "I've never seen anything like this," he told reporters. "How does it work?"
All of a sudden I feel very old ...

[Via /usr/bin/girl]
Dan Bricklin has been using his Handspring Treo for a couple of months now. He's still very impressed with the Treo's abilities as a mobile phone and PDA.
Revolution SF has a highly worthwhile interview with Neil Gaiman. The interview ranges over his comics, his novels and his feelings about adapting his work for other media. The highlight for me was his comment on what he left out of American Gods:
Richard Dorson, in another essay, talks about the Japanese interment camps, or the American internment camps in which the Japanese were put. And how, several years in, with all these Japanese people in one place, you started getting cases of fox possession. You got people seeing Japanese shape-shifting badgers and so forth. There were all these odd phenomena reported, which were fundamentally Japanese magical phenomena. Which didn't happen until you put several thousand Japanese-American people into a small part of America and made them be Japanese again.

I wanted to do a story about that. I think the thing that eventually dissuaded me was my slow realization, having done all the research on this, that I was probably looking at a 15-20,000 word story in a novel that was already way too long. So very regretfully I put it all on one side.

I have kept all the research materials. I may write it one day, I may not. I think it's going to be a very Bradburyish short story. It's going to have that flavor, at least in my head.
I look forward to reading that story some day.
Tuesday 28 May 2002, 22:40 BST
What is it about Peru and IT? Yesterday it was a congressman cutting Microsoft down to size, today it's a story about the Ashaninka Indians, who have been setting up web servers and internet kiosks in distant villages so as to bind communities together.

Readers of yesterday's article will probably not be completely amazed to learn that the web server used by the Ashaninka Indians' web site is Apache, running on a BSD Unix system, rather than, say, Microsoft's IIS on Windows NT.
Guimp.com: the World's Smallest Web Site?
Face Recognition Software in action. It turns out that Bruce Schneier was being extremely generous in assuming a 99.99% recognition rate when he rubbished the very idea of deploying such systems last September.
Monday 27 May 2002, 23:20 BST
Do you remember the story I mentioned a few weeks ago about the Peruvian Congressman who dissected Microsoft's standard anti-Open Source arguments so effectively? Linux Today has followed up the story and interviewed Congressman Villanueva, as well as providing more background details and some information about developments since the original exchange of correspondence. Fascinating reading.

It would be nice to think that somewhere a British MP - heck, why not a government minister? - is reading all this and thinking carefully about just how sensible it is to hand over the machinery of government to Microsoft. (Yeah, I know. Just let me entertain the fantasy for a little while longer...)

[Via Red Rock Eater]
Wolfgang Petersen has announced plans to film Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel about a child's role in a future war.

I remember there being some talk about this project in the run-up to the release of The Phantom Menace, mostly based on the notion that Jake Lloyd was a terrific young actor who could do justice to the complex, sometimes downright scary role of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. Well, we all know what audiences thought of young Jake after they'd seen The Phantom Menace.

I thought then, as I do now, that the story's reliance on not just one gifted child actor but a whole posse of them would make it very, very difficult to film. I suspect that the film's version of Ender will be somewhat older than the character in the novel, but unless Petersen can find a whole bunch of gifted child actors I can't see the original story surviving the transition to film.

Besides, if a film of Ender's Game turns out to be a success there's a chance that one day some fool will make a film of Card's sequels: Speaker For The Dead could be interesting, but making a film of Xenocide or Children of the Mind would just be wrong!
'Chickens have feathers, it's just one of those things.' Ray Crowley has noticed that every news story he sees nowadays seems to have been written by Chris Morris. Well, duh!
Over at Apothecary's Drawer, Ray Girvan has put together links to some fascinating articles about the lamentable inaccuracies which plague films allegedly based on historical events.

Mind you, this sort of thing can be taken too far. I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea that Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ should be criticised because "The portrait of Jesus that Willem Dafoe gives is wrong in every way. He is sort of a mumbler and a bumbler and he's cowardly. Judas slaps him around. According to what we know, he was not like that at all", given that we're talking about a figure whose very historicity is open to doubt.

Equally, criticising Citizen Kane for not being an accurate portrayal of William Randolph Hearst is rather missing the point of the film. However, that's not to say that we shouldn't be aware of the tendency of films like Zulu Dawn or Cromwell to filter a story through modern sensibilities and mangle history in the process. And to be sure, Oliver Stone should never again be allowed to make a film about a politician.

That said, films about historical events shouldn't be judged solely on the basis of their worth as accurate recreations of history. I'm pretty sure Philip Kaufman's wonderful adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff could be faulted in terms of the details of what happened when and with whom in attendance, but it's still a wonderful evocation of the spirit of the US manned space programme before the Apollo era, and worth ten Apollo 13s in my book.
Sunday 26 May 2002, 20:40 BST
Dinomania. The late Stephen Jay Gould, prompted by the release of Jurassic Park, ponders the grip dinosaurs have on the imagination of children of all ages.

[Via linkmachinego]
112 Reasons to Lead a Barren, Childless Existence That Ends in Your Death. Or, Why Kids Are Not For Everyone.

[Via web-goddess]
Groom Loses All Memory of Marriage.
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The bride wasn't left waiting at the altar -- she was left waiting at the airline terminal.

Honeymoon plans for a Texas couple came to an abrupt end when the groom suffered a case of amnesia, went missing and lost all memory of being married, police said on Wednesday.
[Via smartass.nu]
Bob Cringely explains why your car isn't likely to have a built-in PC any time soon.

It's an interesting essay which makes good points about the differences in the mindsets of the computer industry and the car manufacturers. I'd pose one more question: as more people carry round laptops, mobile phones and PDAs which are capable of wireless internet access, will they really need PC-like facilities in their car? And if they do, are they going to be expected to upgrade or replace their in-car PC every 18 months?
Writing for an American audience, Simon Kuper explains that soccer is not just a game.

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

[Via MetaFilter]

Weblog archives

This page was created using UltraEdit-32. It should display properly in any W3C standard-compliant browser.

If you have any questions about this web site, please email me