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Saturday 6 July 2002, 23:55 BST
Looking Upwards II. A striking combination of heavy engineering and light, courtesy of pixeldiva (aka Ann Elizabeth).

I hadn't come across the deviantART site before Ann pointed it out. Definitely one for the bookmark file.
Ryan Lackey, one of the founders of HavenCo, spells out in detail just how dangerous Microsoft's Palladium initiative could be for, well, everyone. More to the point, he discusses the pros and cons of strategies which might be employed by opponents of the Content Faction.

Danny O'Brien wonders whether the Tech Faction have taken the "openness" of the Wintel platform for granted for too long, which is an excellent point. Educating both politicians and the public at large about why Palladium is a horrible idea promises to be very difficult, especially if the Content Faction can persuade users that they gain something from the transition to an environment where Palladium-enabled hardware is the norm.

[Via Oblomovka]
A couple of articles about the burgeoning crisis of confidence in market capitalism. First, Frank Rich lambastes a US administration which is far too close to the "wrongdoers" to effectively act against former friends in the private sector. (NB/- New York Times article - free registration required.)

Second, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz explains to Damien Cave just why the Washington Consensus (summed up by Cave as "everything bad in the economy can be laid at the government's door, while everything good stems from the market") is - to put it mildly - a dangerous oversimplification.

[Frank Rich article via rc3.org]
Friday 5 July 2002, 22:55 BST
The Little Endless Storybook sounds like an enchanting little curio. I adored brief glimpse of 'Lil Dream and his slightly older sister Death from Neil Gaiman's original Sandman series, and judging by Amy Harlib's review I think Jill Thompson's spin-off will be right up my street. Had I been able to find it on Amazon when I looked earlier today after reading the review, a copy would be on order already.

By way of a contrast with the cute, fluffy versions of the Endless Thompson writes about, I've spent the earlier part of this evening with a graphic novel on a rather different theme. Alan Moore's Top 10 is an extremely droll cross between Hill Street Blues, Planetary and Watchmen. In a good way.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies presents Biological Warfare and the "Buffy Paradigm."
The US must plan its Homeland defense policies and programs for a future in which there is no way to predict the weapon that will be used or the method chosen to deliver a weapon which can range from a small suicide attack by an American citizen to the covert delivery of a nuclear weapon by a foreign state. There is no reason the US should assume that some convenient Gaussian curve or standard deviation, will make small or medium level attacks a higher priority over time than more lethal forms.

Any structured intellectual approach to describing this situation – and planning for it -- is so uncertain that a valid structure can only be developed as an exercise in complexity or "chaos" theory. I, however, would like you to think about the biological threat in more mundane terms. I am going to suggest that you think about biological warfare in terms of a TV show called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," that you think about the world of biological weapons in terms of the "Buffy Paradigm," and that you think about many of the problems in the proposed solutions as part of the "Buffy Syndrome."
So, that's Giles for Director of Homeland Security and Willow as Secretary of State. And Faith in charge of black ops at the CIA. (Hey, this sounds like one helluva spin-off.)

[Via NTK]
Ease of Use?
I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.

-- Bjarne Stroustrup (originator of C++ programming language)
[Via rc3.org]
Rebecca Blood has a flash of inspiration regarding casting for the new TV version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
One more thing: wouldn't it be hilarious to cast David Duchovny in the role, and have him do Frank-n-Furter in that deadpan, sardonic Mulder monotone?
Come to think of it, Duchovny would make an interesting Morpheus in a Sandman feature film.
Thursday 4 July 2002, 23:00 BST
"See Honey, now you don't have to waste time asking me how my day went..." Nice work from The Joy of Tech.
I didn't get much browsing done this evening, as I (finally) got round to seeing Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. All in all, I'd say it was much better than The Phantom Menace, but nothing like as good as The Empire Strikes Back or the non-Ewok portions of Return of the Jedi. Lucas and his art team did a superb job of putting futuristic cities and gorgeous spacecraft on screen. The overall shape of the plot was reasonably satisfactory, though I'd have liked it better if Count Dooku had genuinely been a disillusioned Jedi who was trying in his own way to save the Republic. The battle scenes in the last thirty minutes were very, very good (subject to one SFX-related quibble mentioned below), and of course Yoda kicking ass was a particular delight. Furthermore, there was nary a mention of midichlorians, and very little Jar Jar Binks. That said, given how spectacularly inept Jar Jar was in Episode I it's no surprise that Senator(!) Jar Jar Binks ended up playing a pivotal role in handing Chancellor Palpatine emergency powers. Goodness knows how he'll screw up in Episode III.

The film's biggest problems were linked, as many reviewers have noted: the script and the acting. Talented actors like Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor struggled to make Lucas' script work and failed miserably, while poor Hayden Christensen just sunk without trace and had no chemistry whatsoever with Natalie Portman. I wish someone had the power to forcibly remind George Lucas that the best Star Wars film was one he didn't direct, and where he had considerable help with the script (not least from the late Leigh Brackett.) Some of the clunky foreshadowing in dialogue ("I've got a bad feeling about this." and "Why do I get the feeling you'll be the death of me?") and the "humour" ("I'm beside myself." and "This is such a drag.") was extremely jarring.

The other major disappointment - which is ironic given the excellence of the SFX shots of alien landscapes and spacecraft - was the CGI animation of human figures in action scenes. I realise that moments like Padme's leap onto a passing monster's back, or Obi-Wan hanging on a couple of hundred feet above the ocean during his fight with Jango Fett, are extraordinarily difficult to pull off satisfactorily using CGI, and that they were probably done about as well as the job can be done using CGI at present. The problem is, if it's not good enough it's not good enough. Better to have cut the scenes so that you don't need to attempt a CGI simulation of full-body motion.

The best summation of the film I've seen came from Patrick Nielsen Hayden:
Let me just say that Attack of the Clones is an intelligent, well-considered, complex, and artful piece of work that keeps being mysteriously interrupted by actual human actors wandering into the screen and speaking terrible lines of dialogue.
Robodoc. The operation was a complete success, but it came too late to save the patient.
Wednesday 3 July 2002, 23:30 BST
The Death Beat. Mark Singer finds out what happens when a bunch of obituary writers (what is the proper collective noun, I wonder?) get together.

[Via Amygdala]
Contrary to earlier reports, Salon's Nothing Personal column cites the following comments from Sarah Michelle Gellar which will give hope to Buffy fans everywhere:
Gellar tells the U.K. Sun that she personally put the old kibosh on talks between Spears and the producers of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" about Spears appearing on the show.

"She was floating a lot of ideas," Gellar tells the British tab. "Our producers were saying she was gonna do it and I was saying, 'I don't think so.'" Easy there, killer.
(I couldn't find this quote on The Sun web site, but it's so poorly organised that I'm not going to let that worry me.)

On the other hand, there's a really unpleasant possibility lurking in the background. Gellar may be blocking Britney's appearance on the show, but what if SMG quits at the end of season 7 when her current contract expires? That could leave a vacancy for a blonde actress to step into the role of the Slayer. I don't really think that's likely - even for a really gifted actress stepping into Sarah Michelle Gellar's shoes would be the most thankless task on TV, and in any case I can't imagine Britney would put her musical career on hold to spend nine months a year shooting a season of TV episodes - but isn't it a much more terrifying prospect than, say, a tag-team match against the combined forces of The Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins, Adam and Glory?
ICANN chief executive Stuart Lynn has responded to criticisms of his organisation. Apparently "ICANN is not an experiment in online democracy" and critics are paying too much attention to the processes by which policy is made and not enough to the bigger issues.

Funny, I thought people like John Gilmore and ICANN director Karl Auerbach were paying attention to the way ICANN "works" precisely because they felt the pro-corporate, high-handed, secretive approach adopted by ICANN was hindering its ability to tackle the real issue, which is to say finding a way to defend the interests of the online community in the face of an all-out assault by the Content Faction.

[Via Techdirt]
Aaron Swartz has published a wonderful HTML-to-Text converter which does a magnificent job of representing a web page in plain, email friendly ASCII text, complete with formatting and footnotes representing hyperlinks.

See, for example, the plain text version of this page.

[Via Boing Boing]
Tuesday 2 July 2002, 23:55 BST
Til cancelled tv shows do us part. Michele looks forward to her marriage ceremony later this year.
Michele: Oh yes. Justin, I promise to love you through good times and bad. Even when our favorite shows are cancelled, I will still love you. Even when our favorite bands break up, I will still love you. Even when the cable modem goes out and our favorite websites get hacked and George Lucas ruins another episode of Star Wars, I will love you still.

Justin: And I will love you even through every re-released, re-edited edition of The Matrix. I will love you even when they run out of ideas for Friday the 13th sequels. I will love you through every new genre of punk rock, every unsubstantiated terrorist warning, every Microsoft upgrade security patch.

[...]
Judge: I now pronounce you husband and wife. We will take a short break while the bride goes home and blogs.
It's time for ICANN to go says John Gilmore. Gilmore has been watching the process that led to the formation of ICANN from the start, and his criticisms (which encompass not just ICANN, but Network Solutions/Verisign and the various "alternative roots" which sprung up a few years ago) are worth listening to.

Now it's reached a stage where ICANN has abandoned direct elections to the board and refuses to allow one of its directors access to the organisation's accounts, it's hard to disagree with Gilmore's conclusion that ICANN has failed utterly. Things have come to a pretty pass when having control of the root name servers revert to the US government comes to be seen as a step forward.
Consumers and Creators. Alana Kumbier wonders where she fits in the spectrum of fandom: is she a passive consumer or an outright obsessive? More importantly, what does the urge to create works of fiction using the toys created by the likes of Messrs Lucas, Whedon and Roddenberry say about the depth of one's obsession?

Yes, it's another account of fandom, with particular reference to the concept of fanfic and the way that fans now feel that they can play in the fictional universes of their favourite shows. I do want to quibble with one point in the article. Kumbier remarks:
While I don't want to create a hierarchy of fan behavior by suggesting that it's better to be one sort of fan than another, I do believe that those on the further-out end of the fan spectrum are the most interesting, because while they’re actively consuming popcult product, they’re also creating it. Instead of solely behaving in the appropriate, good-Lucasfilm-fan-way (consuming, collecting, appreciating), these fans are putting their consumption to work, making their preferred cultural product meaningful in different contexts and mediums.
I enjoy a well-written piece of fanfic, but I don't agree that someone who confines their activity to consuming a piece of fiction and discussing it with like-minded fans is inherently less "interesting" than the person creating an alternate version of season 5 of Babylon 5 (where, say, Ivanova hadn't been pushed off-stage) or a cut of The Phantom Menace minus Jar Jar Binks.

As a perusal of a discussion forum like rec.arts.sf.written will demonstrate, fans who read and discuss their favourite works bring every bit as much critical acumen, thematic understanding, inventiveness and wit to the table as a fanfic author who methodically works their way through every viable pairing within the Scooby Gang. If a fanfic is good, it very often owes rather more to the author's understanding of what drove the original characters and the thematic concerns of the original author than to the sparkling prose of the fanfic author. Of course, a piece of fanfic which demostrates that the fan has both a good grasp of the characters and themes of the original work and an ability to write well is a joy. My favourite example is outside the field of science fiction: Eric Holdridge wrote "scripts" for another eleven episoded of My So-Called Life which really nailed the characters and developed them in interesting but believable ways. (I wanted to provide a link to Eric's stories at this point, but the site where I found them doesn't appear to be up any more and a quick google doesn't reveal any other site that have them. I have archived copies of the eleven stories from back when I read encountered them: if I can't find them online I may try to contact Eric Holdridge to ask if he minds my putting them online - they're so good that it would be a real shame if the apparent demise of MSCL.com led to them dropping out of sight.)

To sum up: writing good fanfic is indeed interesting, but I submit that writing a good critical piece on why Spider Robinson ruined Callahan's Bar, or how Miles Vorkosigan has changed over the course of a dozen novels, is every bit as interesting. "Interesting" is a function of insight and ability, not format.
It's time to get on the Gluetrain.

I realise that a link to a parody of the Cluetrain Manifesto doesn't exactly qualify as a topical post, but the Gluetrain Manifesto made me laugh out loud before I set out for work this morning, and I think that's reason enough.

[Via Lawrence Person, posting in rec.arts.sf.written]
Monday 1 July 2002, 22:55 BST
Ali G presents The Top 10 Films of All Time.
6. Waterworld
When dis woz made it woz da most hexpensive flim ever and cost 300 billion squid. Da majority of dis went on payin' to flood an ocean and da ovver 250 billion woz Kevin Conster's wages. It woz well worf it. Conster iz perfect for da role him play in it, not only coz he iz brilliant at actin', but also him woz lucky enuf to 'ave been born wiv webbed feet.
[Via web-goddess]
"What drugs have not destroyed, the war on them has." David Simon, journalist and creator of The Best Detective Show of All Time, talks to Ian Rothkerch about his new series The Wire.
Did you know that an asteroid can have a little moon of its own? See for yourself.
I was right, says Bob Cringely.

A little less than a year ago he wrote about TCP/MS, the strategy by which Microsoft would supplant the open system of protocols which runs the internet today with a proprietary system more to Microsoft's liking. Palladium seems to be just that:
Under Palladium as I understand it, the Internet goes from being ours to being theirs. The very data on your hard drive ceases to be yours because it could self-destruct at any time. We'll end up paying rent to use our own data!

Can you tell I think this is a bad idea?

What bothers me the most about it is not just that we are being sold a bill of goods by the very outfit responsible for making possible most current Internet security problems. "The world is a fearful place (because we allowed it to be by introducing vulnerable designs followed by clueless security initiatives) so let us fix it for you." Yeah, right. Yet Palladium has a very real chance of succeeding.

How long until only code signed by Microsoft will be allowed to run on the platform? It seems that Microsoft is trying to implement a system that will enable them, once and for all, to charge game console-like royalties to software developers.
If you think Cringely is exaggerating, go and read the TCPA/Palladium FAQ.
Sunday 30 June 2002, 23:10 BST
Bruce Sterling on Ubiquitous Computing. A characteristically witty speech from the Viridian Pope-Emperor.

Cory Doctorow disagrees with Sterling's suggestion that the computer is ultimately just a gizmo and the pace of innovation in the computing industry has slowed. I think it depends where you're standing: if you're in the right place (and have the money and motivation to buy laptops with wireless network cards), technologies like public Wi-Fi networks are no doubt very exciting and bring back a taste of the techie-led internet circa 1993. If you're an average member of the public who sits at home and uses their PC to access the web and read email, has anything really important changed since Microsoft incorporated Dial-Up Networking and an early version of Internet Explorer into Windows 95 and made setting up a TCP/IP connection and browsing the web easy for the masses (or at any rate, easy for their ISPs to set up on their behalf)?

So what's to stop Wi-Fi eventually breaking out in the way that dial-up TCP/IP access did? Well, for one thing a phalanx of lawyers and lobbyists are going to be ready to fight the threat to their paymasters' business models this time round.
Freezing mountaineer saved by telemarketer. I wonder how many prepaid minutes he ended up buying during all those calls while he waited to be rescued...

[Via Boing Boing]
Pamie is back. Yay!

[Via Anita's LOL]
Moonastery. A fabulous image, courtesy of MSNBC's The Week In Pictures.

(NB/- if that first link doesn't work, try this direct link to the JPEG.)
Talking of ubuquitous computing, Gary Farber brings to our attention a very cool potential application for such technology: flocking road cones.

[Via Amygdala]
John Densmore, one of the surviving members of The Doors, refuses to sell his music to advertisers.

Densmore's stance seems to be predicated upon the notion that the use of a track in an advert cheapens the track, that the association between a song and whatever memories a user has of it are tainted by it being put to commercial use.

I see where Densmore is coming from, but I have to wonder how long the "taint" lasts. Anyone watching TV in August 1995 would almost certainly have found themselves associating Start Me Up with the launch of Windows 95, but if you hear the song today does that still hold true? Perhaps a strong piece of music can shrug off the effects of a marketing campaign given time.

[Via MetaFilter]

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