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Saturday 15 June 2002, 22:50 BST
This Weblog Was Brought To You By Mozilla 1.0. I've finally decided to give Mozilla an extended trial as my browser of choice.

Mozilla 1.0 is at least as stable and standards-compliant and feature-packed as Opera, my long-standing favourite, but in the past I've always been persuaded to return to Opera after trying out pre-release builds of Mozilla because I'm so used to the way Opera works. However, Opera 6 is the first version of Opera I've decided not to use as my regular browser, since it exhibits a few odd glitches,such as randomly choosing to display some bitmap images upside down, rendering some pages almost unusable.

On my fairly low-spec PC (Pentium 166 with 64MB of RAM, running Windows 95 OSR2) Mozilla is about as fast as Opera at rendering pages, and now that I'm starting to get used to the keyboard shortcuts and so on I'm starting to get up to speed and finding the Mozilla experience quite satisfactory. Oh yes, and the Orbit theme looks simply gorgeous.
Britons Chafe at Giving Americans a Shot at the Booker Prize. (NB/- New York Times article - free registration required.)

I meant to post about this a few weeks ago when The Guardian and The Observer ran pieces on the proposal to "open up" the Booker Prize. Following a concise but basically fair survey of the contrasts between the self-images of the US and British publishing businesses, Michiko Kakutani concludes that there's so much cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques between writers throughout the English-speaking world that merely national awards ceremonies are meaningless. A view which I suspect the Pulitzer Prize committee or the judges of the National Book Awards would disagree with. Or rather, they'd praise the cross-cultural influences that have enriched the modern novel, then continue to hand out awards solely to American authors.

In the end the sponsors of the Booker Prize have every right to do whatever they wish to with their prize, but it seems to me that they should keep in mind the example of the BAFTA film awards. The BAFTAs moved their award ceremony a couple of years ago so that it fits into the pre-Oscar awards season. Since apparently pretty much any film is eligible for the main film awards, provided only that it was shown in Britain for seven consecutive days in the year in question, the entirely predictable result is that the major nominations were dominated by Hollywood product. Not that there was anything particularly objectionable about the films so honoured, but you have to ask what the point is of a "British" awards ceremony which duplicates the results of half a dozen US-based ceremonies which also cram themselves into the narrow window between the Oscar nominations and the Oscars ceremony itself. Other than to persuade a few more Hollywood stars to show up in London in February, that is.

[Via MetaFilter]
Which Footballer Are You?
You are Rivaldo

You're one of the best players on the planet. You lead by example and you're way too refined to rake your studs down anyones shins. You do sometimes have trouble passing the ball to lesser players, though.
You're not too refined to feign being hit in the face by the ball, though...

[Via [parallax view]]
Some prominent members of the US recording industry have floated the idea that sales of used CDs should be subject to a 6% royalty, to compensate the industry for the lost sale of a new CD. Because after all, getting paid only once for your product is just not fair.

[Via Boing Boing]
Friday 14 June 2002, 23:50 BST
Rumour has it that Babylon 5 season 1 will be released as a 6-DVD box set this October. My credit card is in for a bashing, particularly if Buffy season 5 comes out around the same time. The story arc in Babylon 5 was developed over the whole five seasons in a remarkably subtle way, and I'd dearly love to catch it from the start and experience the tale at my own pace.

(In fairness, there was a bit of a hiccup in seasons 4 & 5: when it looked as if the show might not get the fifth season required to end the story as planned, the show's writer had to bring forward many of the story elements originally intended for season 5 so as to wrap up the story in a satisfactory manner. This meant that season 5 had to be padded out a bit, and spent some time showing viewers events we already knew about. But then, quite often we didn't know everything we thought we did, so the fifth season still had its moments, not the least of which was an episode written by Neil Gaiman. There were also problems in season 5 because one of the regular cast dropped out for reasons which are still disputed by the parties involved to this day. But this is now officially the longest parenthetical digression in the history of this weblog, so I'll stop rambling. Suffice to say that unless the price is outrageous or the transfer to DVD is totally crappy, I'll be treating myself this October.)

[Via Dark Horizons]
Jason Kottke relates the story of a brilliant chemistry hack:
When Germany invaded Denmark at the beginning of World War II, exporting gold became a crime. Niels Bohr, entrusted with the Nobel Prize medals of Max von Laue and James Franck, didn't want those gold medals to fall into German hands or risk smuggling them out of the country. He and a colleague hid the medals for the duration of the war by dissolving them in acid, each medal in its own jar. When the war ended, the gold was recovered from solution and recast by the Nobel Foundation. (from The Making of the Atomic Bomb)
I find that story appealing on so many levels.
More FUD than Microsoft? Anti-virus "experts" like MacAfee and Symantec are every bit as brazen about scaring their customers into line as our friends in Redmond. The latest scam, which is being commented on everywhere this evening, is to try to convince users that there's code out there which could form the basis of a virus spread via JPEG files.

The idea appears to be that the virus stores its payload in JPEG files. Trouble is, that data can't possibly be activated unless an executable file is run which will read the data and execute the virus code. It's just plausible that a specific (really incompetently written) application or library (running on a particular version of a specific operating system) might - that's might - suffer from a buffer overrun which a JPEG could take advantage of to execute code embeded in the JPEG file, but it's also highly unlikely.

It's slightly more plausible that a virus might hide its payload in JPEG files, so that another executable file (which would in effect be the virus, not the JPEG) could find the payload and execute it. Trouble is, that means that the virus now relies not just on a user executing an unknown program, but on the PC the virus arrives at having a JPEG with the payload in place. Furthermore as the virus supposedly infects existing JPEGs, rather than simply placing a specific JPEG file in a particular location, this implies that the virus is going to have to scan every JPEG on your system trying to find its payload: inconspicuous it ain't!

In the absence of some indication that a named widely distributed application is vulnerable to something like this, I think it's safe to assume that this is just an attempt to keep us all scared. Classic FUD.
Thursday 13 June 2002, 22:55 BST
Joss Whedon has been talking about Buffy season 7. Sounds to me like a man preparing to wind up the show for good with a big finale.

(NB/- the article contains some spoilers for Buffy season 6, but they're couched in fairly vague terms and beyond revealing the names of some characters who will still be around in season 7 there's not much that would bother a fan watching on BBC2.)
When Salon started hiding many of their articles behind their "Salon Premium" subscription scheme I soon lost interest, particularly given that the site made heavy use of intrusive, cumbersome interstitial ads.

Recently a couple of sites I read linked to stories at Salon and I've started visiting daily again. Much of the Premium content covers American domestic politics, and I can find plenty of that elsewhere. What Salon is still good at is articles like this one, about how economist Stan Liebowitz is changing his mind about the effects of file sharing on the record industry.

Liebowitz had originally suggested that file sharing would severely damage music industry revenues, but he's sufficiently open-minded to admit that if that theory were valid he'd expect to see much more significant drops in revenue than anyone is reporting. Liebowitz still isn't going to be a hero to the Slashdot crowd - he sees no problem with the introduction of strict Digital Rights Management software, and he's sceptical of the claims from the likes of Lawrence Lessig that the Content Faction's attempts to roll back the boundaries of fair use are such a a big deal - but it's good to see an economist admit that the facts don't back his theory, and that the dynamics of the situation might be more complex than was previously thought.
Another pleasure of reading Salon again is that their coverage of the World Cup. Like most American commentators, Andrew O'Hehir has a very different perspective on the Bizarro World Cup.
Germany is a mentally and physically tough team; the U.S. cannot and will not beat them in such a high-pressure game. The Spaniards, on the other hand, are the perennial choke artists of world soccer. Fumbling away a huge match to an overmatched U.S. team would be precisely the sort of ignominious flop for which they're celebrated. A bad call in the penalty box, a sneaky Mathis goal, more of that "When Chickens Attack!" offense from Donovan and Beasley and there you have it: The U.S. plays in the World Cup's final four while the male populations of Europe and South America commit ritual suicide.
OK, it won't happen. What will have to happen eventually -- to avoid an upset of outlandish proportions, that is -- is that someone will have to beat Japan, with its surprisingly elegant rabid-Smurfs attacking style, in front of 10 bazillion screaming Japanese fans. Nobody wants this job, which is why Japan will overwhelm whoever they play in the second round (Costa Rica or Turkey) and could pose a real threat to the Arctic composure of the Swedes in the quarterfinals. You really, honest to God, might see Japan facing Brazil in one semifinal while Germany plays Spain in the other.
Wednesday 12 June 2002, 22:55 BST
Mark Leyner's Family History is a treat. Leyner and his father have set out to videotape an oral history by Leyner's 94 year-old grandmother:
The video camera is placed on a pile of books; my grandmother, framed in a medium shot, sits on the couch in her room. In response to initial questions, she shrugs, almost flippantly dismissive. "How can I be expected to remember these things? I was a little girl."

As each interrogative fails to provoke some quaint Isaac Bashevis Singerstyle vignette about life in the shtetl, my father starts to panic. It's understandable—the clock is ticking away. With each passing moment, a name, a genealogical link, an anecdote is deleting itself from the poor woman's hard drive. When she can't recall whether her birthplace was under Austrian or Polish sovereignty, my father pounces, unleashing his full armamentarium of cross-examination techniques, honed over a forty-year career.

Q: You're telling us now that you can't remember whether Stralisk was Polish or Austrian?

A: I can't remember.

Q: You can't remember? [He shakes his head and whistles with incredulity.] Is it not a fact that Stralisk was then under Austrian control?

A: I don't know.

Q: But did there not come a time when you learned that Stralisk was no longer considered a part of Poland?

A: I might have heard that . . .

Q: Did you speak Yiddish or Polish at home?

A: [Shrugs.]

Q: That's not responsive! You spoke Yiddish—IS THAT NOT CORRECT?

He is now slashing the air with his finger, pouting and glowering, and I fully expect him to brandish a fossilized piece of flanken or some petrified pierogi in a sealed plastic evidence bag. "Do you recognize THIS?"
I note that there are other stories in this series by the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Jonathan Lethem, both of which I've bookmarked to read later.

[Via MetaFilter]
Akane Kawakami has been following the TV coverage of the World Cup with some interest. Kawakami points out that the depiction of Japan and Korea in ITV's programmes has concentrated a lot more on old-fashioned imagery than the BBC's manga-style promos and programme intros, which is fair comment.

I do have my reservations about criticism of the title sequences for the coverage on the grounds that both BBC and ITV employ stereotypical imagery: we're talking here about perhaps thirty seconds of non-narrative imagery, so I'm not sure there's a lot of scope for the broadcasters to do much more than throw a few evocative images on the screen before Messrs Lineker or Lynam show up, or indeed much need for more than that. Perhaps the broadcasters should have just put up a plain text title sequence and be done with it?

[Via I Love Everything]
Lost Dick-McCaffrey Collaboration Found.
Paul Williams' eyes sparkle as he remembers the day he made the discovery. "It was in the last box of Phil's papers," he recalls. "On the outside, he'd written 'Receipts' in magic marker, and sure enough, it was filled with receipts. I don't even remember why we were bothering to look through it."

He smiles a great big grin. "I was halfway through them when we spotted something else."

The "Phil" in question is Philip K. Dick, the late cult writer, and Williams is the executor of his estate. The "something else" Williams discovered was a manuscript: Dragonvalis, Dick's long-rumored, long-denied collaboration with the popular science-fiction writer Anne McCaffrey.

"As soon as I started reading it," continues Williams, "I realized I'd found something amazing. This wasn't just a lost manuscript. It was the weirdest chapter in science-fiction history."

[...]

McCaffrey refused repeated requests that she comment on the manuscript, but Atwood remembers vividly her reaction back in 1980. "She despised the book," he says. "She was livid. I still remember her calling me right after she read what Dick had written. 'What the hell is this?' she yelled. 'There's no way I can make this shit publishable. It's supposed to be a goddamn horsey book!'"
I'm not the world's greatest Phil Dick fan, and Anne McCaffrey's work does nothing for me, but I can assure you that I'd pay good money to read Dragonvalis.
Tuesday 11 June 2002, 23:10 BST
Mysteries Under Moscow. A wonderfully evocative article describing the vast array of tunnels and catacombs under the Russian capital.
The Diggers' concern has been heightened by sightings of groups of people dressed in camouflage uniforms. In a tunnel under the Centrobank building, the Diggers observed uniformed people in masks equipped with powerful halogen lamps. The Diggers were afraid to follow them lest they should come under fire. So far, security services have not taken the Diggers' reports of these sightings seriously.

[...]

A 3,000-seat bunker located under the Cathedral of Christ the Savior is another unsolved mystery. (The cathedral was demolished by the Bolsheviks in the 1930s; it is now being rebuilt.) "We were not allowed to go there, although the cathedral dean asked us to take out a sealed container with communist slogans on it," says Mikhailov. The dean called it the "anti-capsule," in the same tone he would use to speak of the anti-Christ. Mikhailov would have liked to explore, but "officers from the Kremlin guard said that nothing under the church threatened the safety of the building, and so they did not allow us to go down."

Under the Skliffasovsky clinic the Diggers encountered people dressed in monk's robes, carrying torches around a strange-looking altar made of stone. They were performing some sort of service and singing. When they saw the Diggers, they hurriedly disappeared.
Amazing stuff. The whole situation sounds like a combination of a Neil Gaiman short story, an episode of Angel, and the sections of Neal Stephenson's The Big U set beneath the American Megaversity.

[Via Looka!]
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics. I do like their description of Titanic as "a three right hand thumb movie."

[Via Sashinka]
Government sweeps aside privacy rights. That pretty much says it all. This extension of surveillance is overkill on so many different levels that it's positively scary. First of all, the list of organisations that can be granted access is breathtakingly long. Why, exactly, would the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Food Standards Agency need to know which web sites I've viewed, or who I've emailed? Second, these demands for access to information from ISPs are purely administrative affairs: no need to convince a judge of anything, just get a sufficiently senior civil servant to rubber-stamp your request to go on a fishing expedition and off you go.

For more on this topic, see Stand and the Foundation for Information Policy Research. I think Stand's Fax Your MP service is going to get a bit of exercise over the next few days.

But of course, I'm being silly. I mean, why should I worry if multiple civil servants get to find out what newsgroups I download and who I email? Anyone would think I must have something to hide...
The Cityscape Project demonstrates - in considerable detail - how to revamp the view from your window. Endearingly batty, but very impressive if you go to the lengths this guy did.

[Via /usr/bin/girl]
Over at Making Light, Teresa Nielsen Hayden ponders the question: just how ignorant is George W Bush about the rest of the world? I particularly liked the last sentence - but please don't jump straight to it, because the entire article is a joy.
The Ancient World Web. A terrific resource, including a particularly useful Breaking News page.

[Via Anita's LOL]
Monday 10 June 2002, 23:00 BST
The Digital Rights Management Helmet: A Modest Proposal from Gordon Mohr.

[Via Techdirt]
Geek humour:
There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't.
[Via Ponderous Ponderings]
Yes, it's yet another fabulous picture of a solar eclipse, courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day.
A Chat With Scooby-Doo Screenwriter James Gunn. The more I read about this film, the worse it sounds.

The only positive outcome of Scooby-Doo turning into a fiasco the like of which hasn't been seen since George Lucas gave a waiting world Howard The Duck is that such a catastrophic failure might persuade Sarah Michelle Gellar that she'd be better off signing up to play Buffy for another couple of seasons.

[Via feeling listless]
As if to underscore the importance of Scooby-Doo flopping, I caught up with some season 2 Buffy over the weekend. I started working my way through season 2 a while ago, but put it to one side when Angel season 2 arrived on DVD. At the weekend I treated myself to a double-bill of Buffy: the two-part story consisting of Surprise and Innocence. (For those who can't remember, that's the two-parter where Spike 'n' Drusilla plot to resurrect The Judge and kill everyone, Buffy and Angel finally get it on, Angelus returns, Jenny Calendar's true role is revealed, The Judge asks "What's that do?" and Angelus gets a mighty kick in the balls.)

This storyline set up the last half of season 2, which ended with what has to be (by a small but very significant margin) the best Buffy season finale of them all. (Season 5's finale came very, very close, but the season as a whole wasn't quite as good as season 2 and Glory wasn't as much fun as the Spike/Dru/Angelus trio.)
The Scientific Method can be used to solve any problem, even to find a date for Friday Night!

[Via Memepool]
Sunday 9 June 2002, 19:35 BST
The Periodic Table Table. Beautiful and educational. I want one. The web site's rather nice too.

[Via MetaFilter]
"A major in-store piece of theater." A US food manufacturer has announced plans to introduce margarine tubs that wiggle to attract your attention and call out as you pass them on the shelf of your local supermarket.

If this gimmick ever takes off in the UK I'm going to start listening to my WalkmanTM as I do my weekly shop. Either that, or take a cricket bat with me, so I can permanently silence that obnoxious tub of Flora!

[Via Techdirt]
Do No Harm. Let Crazy Tracy tell the tale:
When I was in nursing school I met what would turn out to be the craziest person I would ever come across in my entire career up to this moment. He was not a patient. He was not a fellow nurse. He was not a social worker or any one of the numbers of employees that filter through the ancillary departments of psychiatric necessity. There are many such departments, you know, i.e. occupational therapy, creative/social arts, group dynamics and the like. He was a doctor. He was a Psychiatrist.

Every once in a while I have a nightmare about him, which I think might have just bolted me out of a sound sleep and which pushes me to write about him now. Each time I must write him out of me. It is the only way to exorcise him. He is that vile.

[...]

He once threw a huge birthday party for his wife and had it catered by Prozac. All I could think about was the little green napkins and the big pill-shaped cake.

She eventually left him...for another woman.
Scary stuff.
Two perspectives on the modern music business. Dave Pell of NextDraft describes the workings of The Machine, smoothly easing a new artist into the upper reaches of the charts. Meanwhile, Michael Wolff thinks that the music business died two decades ago and is about to turn into the book trade.

[Michael Wolff article via Boing Boing]

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