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Home > Weblog w/e 13.7.2002

Saturday 13 July 2002, 23:00 BST
A Space In Time. Writing in The Atlantic, Michael Benson reminds us how amazing it is that we can sit at our keyboards and see what's going on in the universe around us. (Or, to put it another way, one group of clever machines gathers the information, while another lot distribute that data to the world at large.)
The Ex Factor. John Hiler values his online anonymity. As search engines get more and more efficient, his only hope is that his namesake - an Indiana congressman - gets re-elected.
Welcome to The Mesh. How pervasive computing is going to change our lives. Or at least allow us to receive spam targeted according to our location.

[Via Techdirt]
Bike-selling Scots strand Alaskan chicken hypnotist. I think the first comment at Making Light says it best:
"I know what each of those words mean, but I don't understand them all together like that." -- Lisa Simpson.
[Via Making Light]
Friday 12 July 2002, 23:40 BST
If a Tyre Swing Were a Web Site.

[Via CamWorld]
How would you improve the next MS Office? David Coursey has a few suggestions:
1. Take out Microsoft Access
I thought Access was only included in some versions of Office nowadays. If that's no longer the case, this makes a lot of sense. A database management system isn't something the average Office user is likely to make much use of.

2. Include Visio
Sensible, but not likely as long as Visio is streets ahead of its rivals and Microsoft can persuade us to pay up for a standalone version.

3. Add an initial settings wizard
No more wizards, please. Just sensible default settings.

4. Give Outlook better spam filtering
There are a lot of things that need fixing in Outlook. Spam filtering is a long way down the list.

5. Merge the apps
Hell no. Isn't Word big enough already?

6. Make Office a platform for Web-services development
<sarcasm>You mean build on the strength of Word, which is such a kick-ass HTML editor?<sarcasm>

7. Expand "smart tags"
But default to not having them active, please.

8. A universal spelling checker
Definitely. But set up the API so that you can substitute an alternative spelling checker engine for your system.

9. Better media editing
Not really a core Office application.

10. Teach IE how to print
The fact that it's up to version 6 and still isn't there speaks volumes for how lax Microsoft are when it comes to being responsive to their customers' needs. Opera and Mozilla both do much better, and Opera's been doing it better for some time now.
What's really striking when you consider the range of application areas covered in Coursey's list is just what a sprawling, marketing-driven mess "Office" is. It's high time Microsoft produced a seriously cut-down version of Office which concentrates on the core functionality - word processing, spreadsheets and presentation graphics.

[Via Robot Wisdom]
Richard Branson speaks to the readers of The Independent.
Are you a member of the mile-high club?
Elton Roebuck, Southport

The funniest letter of complaint I ever had was from a Virgin Atlantic passenger who complained that the sinks in the toilets of the new Airbus A340 were too small to fit his wife's bottom into when they were having sex on board. It included a drawing of a more comfortable sink for future use.

As to whether I have ever joined the club. Well... certainly not since Virgin Atlantic started flying 18 years ago, but, having said that, we are not the sort of airline that bangs on the door if a couple have been in there for a few minutes.
[Via linkmachinego]
Thursday 11 July 2002, 23:55 BST
Actuality Systems have created a very sexy 3D display. Look at some of the photographs and imagine what fun we'll have when this technology gets cheap enough for home use.

[Via Found]
Elgoog. Very clever. Not terribly useful, but who cares?

[Via Sashinka]
Pamie is missing her DSL connection.
My brain is once again in its Trivial Pursuit fighting weight. It had gotten pudgy and lazy eating Google dripping with IMDB. The lyrics section had gotten kind of dusty. The history zone had been boarded up, renting out room to Bobby Hill impressions. Now I don't have time for fluff. I have to keep all the doors unlocked and ready for anything. I can't just slob around like a DSL lady of leisure. I'm a starving artist, a struggling scientist. I'm the crazed mathematician trying to figure out the millionth digit of pi.

Who played the voice of Fiver in Watership Down? Why are you asking me that? Why are you so cruel? Don't you know I'm a dial-up ho? Slumming it on the 56K?
Scrubs looks to be a promising addition to Channel 4's lineup. It remains to be seen how far the writers can stretch the formula before they feel the need to play up the soap operatic elements, but on the evidence of the first episode we're in for a lot of fun along the way, with John C McGinley's performance as Dr Cox worth the price of admission all by itself.

I just wish they'd run the show at a more sensible hour. Nothing in the first episode suggested this was a show that needed to be run after 11pm. Why not put it on right after ER on Wednesday nights? Goodness knows, after the downer next week's episode of ER promises to be, we'll all need a good laugh. (I wish they weren't going to do what looks to be A Very Special Episode Where We Get To Say Goodbye To Doctor Greene. Leaving it the way they did this week, with Corday faxing them his final letter and everyone coping with the news in their own way, would have worked just fine IMHO.)
Wednesday 10 July 2002, 22:55 BST
Star Wars vs. The Sims. Which style of massively multi-player on-line role playing game would you prefer? LucasArts' classic space opera universe, or the mix-and-match world of The Sims? And will the arrival of two mega-franchises in the world of the MMORPG leave enough room for anyone else to get a share of the market?

Talking of the attractions of immersive role-playing games, James Lileks' latest Bleat points out just how far removed from realism gaming scenarios are, and how narrow a spectrum of roles they offer.
While doing a radio interview about computer-game violence the other day, I came up with a good definition of a "realistic" war game: they ship 45,000 copies, and only 15,000 of the games allow you to proceed past the beach. That's it. No refunds, either. You get off the landing craft; your screen goes black; your computer seizes up and cannot be rebooted. Game over, man.
Commander Richard Farrington, RN, displays that classic English Stiff Upper Lip after his ship ran aground:
He added: "This is not a good day for me." Asked what caused the accident, he said: "A combination of unfortunate circumstances and human error. This is quite the worst thing that has ever happened, quite the worst. Character-building stuff."

Cdr Farrington, who has captained the ship for more than 18 months, faces the prospect of a court martial. Though he was not on the bridge at the time, the navy holds a ship's captain responsible for accidents unless they are considered to be entirely out of his control.

Cdr Farrington told Australian TV: "It is inevitable. The sun comes up in the morning, you run your ship aground, you get court martialled."
You may have thought that a big screen version of Scooby-Doo was a sign of the Apocalypse. You were wrong. I can tell you, I've seen the real harbinger of the Apocalypse and it's much, much scarier than Matthew Lillard as Shaggy.

How do you feel about a cinematic version of Laverne & Shirley, starring Drew Barrymore and Courtney Love?

[Via Blogatelle]
Davezilla and friends bring us The Bible In Five Words.

The Old Testament:
Genesis: God made lots of shit.
Exodus: "Let's get out of here!"
Leviticus: "Moses? Your son is history."
Numbers: Lots of Jews were born!
Deuteronomy: "Damn. It's like ... Africa hot!"
Joshua: "Dude, where's my caravan?"
Judges: "Don't you Jews ever listen?"
The New Testament:
Matthew: Verily, Christ was way cool.
Mark: Verily, Christ was the whip.
Luke: Verily, Christ was the shiznit.
John: Christ was one cute baby!
Acts: "Don't try this at home!"
Romans: "Take a letter for me..."
Tuesday 9 July 2002, 23:00 BST
The story of Naked Boy. A MetaFilter thread about a successful deployment of the "I was sleepwalking, your honour" defence provided one poster with the opportunity to share this wonderful story:
Not too long ago, I woke up to find my neice's boyfriend sprawled on the floor in the hallway outside her bedroom door. Naked as the day he was born. I thought he had passed out drunk on his way to or from the bathroom, and was prepared to give him bloody hell for it after I woke him up. A gentle prod to the shoulder produced no reaction. He was really asleep. (Well, most of him was asleep. One part was wide awake.) I decided I needed coffee before I could deal with this situation, so I went down to the kitchen. Crap. Forgot my cigarettes, and had to go back upstairs. His altogether nakedness was beginning to be a bit embarrassing for me, so I threw a towel over the awake part, and retreated to the kitchen for that cup of java. He was still there an hour later. I (very carefully) stepped over him, and went into neice's room to wake her. When I told her that her boyfriend was taking a siesta on the carpet in his birthday suit, she jumped up, smacked him on the head, and dragged him into the bedroom. Turns out he wasn't drunk at all. Nope. He sleepwalks.

Later, after the redness in his face went away, and she convinced him that he really could be in the same room with me without dying of shame, I asked him if this happened often. "Not much", he said. Once though, when he was in Marine boot camp, he crawled into his Sergeant's bunk. That must have been really interesting! (BTW, my pet name for him now is Naked Boy.)
Have you seen the trailer for Benicio Del Toro's new film, Lucky Star? Looks very stylish, rather cryptic, definitely one to look out for. I was a little surprised that I hadn't heard anything about it on rec.arts.movies.current-films, but I assumed that it must have undergone a change of title somewhere along the way.

There's just one minor problem: it's actually a car advert. I'm not quite as disgusted by this as Tom clearly is, but I do think it's a strategy which should be discouraged. I'm especially particularly offended by the comment from the car maker that they "haven't ruled out" the possibility of really doing a feature film. Yeah, right, like there's a cat's chance in hell that you're going to sink tens of millions into a spin-off from one of your advertising campaigns...

(Of course getting people talking about the campaign is one of their objectives, so in my small way I'm doing their work for them. All I can do is not mention the name of the make of car, fail to link to the campaign's web site, and not mention the name of the well-known film director who was responsible for the ad.)

[Via plasticbag.org]
I'd have written a lot more in today's entry if it wasn't for I Love Everything having pointed me in the direction of a web-based archive of reviews of Angel by Chief Seattle which were originally posted to Usenet as the episodes premiered.

At the time I hadn't seen much of the show, having given up in disgust at Channel 4's inept scheduling about six episodes into the first season, but now that I've seen the first two seasons on DVD I've really enjoyed spending much of my evening reading Chief Seattle's views on the show.

[Via I Love Everything]
Monday 8 July 2002, 22:45 BST
A Goosestep Too Far? In the wake of the Rik Mayall's attempt to link Hitler with the euro in the minds of the British public, Stuart Jeffries asks when it's OK to joke about the Nazis.

[Via linkmachinego]
SF writer Lucius Shepard has put his film reviews online.
If you think Steven Spielberg is a great director, weep at Julia Roberts movies, and have a low tolerance for dark humor, controversy, and language written to a post-secondary-school audience, brace yourself for a moral challenge.
As with almost any collection of reviews, there's plenty to disagree with. But even when he's wrong, Shepard is an intelligent and engaged critic who's well worth a read.

[Via rec.arts.sf.movies]
Sunday 7 July 2002, 23:30 BST
The Jedi Bendu Script Site. If you've ever wondered just how many elements of the Star Wars universe were in place from the start, this site is where you should start. A number of fans have collected early drafts of the story, going back as far as a story synopsis for Star Wars from 1973.

Just to give you a taste of how much the story mutated by the time it reached the big screen, you may be surprised to read that in the 1973 synopsis Luke Skywalker was a rebel general leading his princess to safety, accompanied by two bickering imperial bureaucrats captured by General Skywalker. The synopsis has Skywalker fighting with lazer swords, but nary a mention of a Darth Vader figure, or Han Solo, or even the Force for that matter.

It's fascinating to see the bare bones of the story we're all familiar with under the skin of the synopsis. This is the sort of material that I'd like to see more of on DVDs, rather than wastes of space like "Behind the Scenes" documentaries and cast biographies.

[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
"No one who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes deserves to be called a scholar." Jon Carroll discovers a professor who shows us all how to deal with our mistakes.
The Urinal Game. Too easy.

[Via Grayblog]
I received a nice parcel of comic books from Amazon.co.uk on Friday, so I've spent much of my weekend in the company of various men (and women) in tights.

Alan Moore's Top 10 was probably the pick of the bunch. Deeply funny stuff, a blend of Hill Street Blues and Planetary. I was less taken with Moore's Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, a story which wrapped up the original Superman continuity prior to the mid-80s "reboot" of the entire DC Comics universe. It was a decent tale, and it was probably the only satisfying way to end the story of the Man of Steel, but it was a distinctly bittersweet end. I always thought that Superman was much the most boring of the well-known superheroes, so perhaps this just wasn't my thing.

One flaw The Authority could never be accused of is being boring. The Authority are, in essence, a group of superheroes who have decided to get serious about making the world a better place. Never mind messing around catching individual criminals: these guys have no qualms about telling governments what to do. Oh yes, and then just for a change of pace they have to kill a god with plans to reclaim its retirement home by killing every living being on Earth.

If you're in the mood for the comic book equivalent of a wide-screen, big-budget summer blockbuster movie then Under New Management and the Secret History will most assuredly scratch that itch. If a film producer could muster a seriously large SFX budget and hire a director with a taste for high-tech mayhem on a large scale - James Cameron would be good, if we could just wind his clock back to about 1990 - I could easily imagine The Authority becoming a blockbuster. (Provided Hollywood was prepared to make a superhero film where the Batman-analogue and the Superman-analogue characters were lovers.)

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