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Saturday 27 July 2002, 23:35 BST
Retrosystem: everything old is new again. If you have fond memories of your Atari 2600, Commodore Amiga or Nintendo console (and plenty of money to spare) then you might be interested in owning a modern PC which looks just like your former favourite. Or you might just download an appropriate emulator for your PC and save yourself some money.

[Via the null device]
Relationships of the SI Derived Units With Special Names and the SI Base Units. Every bit as geeky as it sounds, but very nicely drawn.

[Via sylloge]
Meet Meg A Byte, web designer and software pirate. It's OK, she's seen the light now:
Armed with the warranties and technical support that come with her license, Meg feels more powerful than ever.
A subtle, nuanced little parable from the Business Software Alliance.

[Via Blogjam]
The TV Cream Update's Real 100 Best Singles Ever... Some cracking stuff here, particularly for those of us of a certain age:
Number one for one magnificently inexplicable week in 1982, which at least phased Tony Blackburn if nothing else.

'Drink milk!' ad rewrites notwithstanding, this topped a burgeoning pile of Squeeze nominations, on account of that odd squelchy production, and the line "Funny how their missus always looks the bleedin' same". Marvellous.

Points Of View-bothering Fisher-Price funk lambasting "sucker DJs" with The Good, The Bad And The Ugly samples. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Dumb, big-foam-hand sort of record, as subtle as a Superbowl half-time show, but remarkably none the worse for that, or indeed the weird squeezebox noises and cheerleaders 'n' milk-on-drums Entertainment USA staple promo.

Protect and Survive-baiting hi-NRG apocalypse-o-rama, with Patrick Allen on scary vibes. Sounded like it cost ZTT a million quid to make, and probably did.

Everybody's starting to demand recounts by this stage, but ELO scrape in at a lowly no17. Still utterly majestic, mind, just for the way it stops at 3:43, rocks out, goes all mellow and comes back again dead melancholy and melodramatic. Ought to be the national anthem.

Truly ZTT's finest four minutes, and yeah, there is some competition for that title. But Duel storms it courtesy of that exultant piano break. Did lengthy service as theme to the Lombard RAC Rally on BBC2 too.
[Via NTK]
Pop Idol creator eyes Monkees Remake. For the love of god, why?

[Via Grayblog]
Friday 26 July 2002, 23:55 BST
Iain M Banks is interviewed by Nick Gevers in the current edition of Science Fiction Weekly.

One aside from Banks suggests all sorts of interesting possibilities for future novels about the Culture:
One idea I'm coming round to is the notion that the Culture as it's so far been described is just the stage that its own mongrel-human civilization has got to; that this exists alongside somewhere between several and many other Cultures, rooted far enough back in the history and physiology [and physiologically influenced psychology] of their progenitors to be appreciably different from the Culture that I've written about, but sharing enough of the Culture's ideology and morality to be - from a distance, as it were - pretty similar, probably more similar than the UN looks, full of roughly similar nation states.
It's always been clear that the Culture is radically decentralised, but the possibility of meeting non-human branches of the Culture is intriguing.
Best. "About." Page. Ever.

[Via caterina.net]
Hotmail have started deleting the contents of their users' Sent messages file if the messages are over 30 days old. Some users are up in arms, not least because Microsoft have told them the deleted messages can't be retrieved.

According to News.com, this is part of a strategy designed to encourage users to move over to Hotmail's paid service. I don't use Hotmail, but if I did then I can't imagine myself feeling very well disposed towards the company that had deleted messages I'd specifically asked them to save. I'd have thought this move would end up generating more custom for Hotmail's rivals than it will for Hotmail's paid service. Until Yahoo pull a similar trick.

I'm happy to report that I no longer use either Hotmail or Yahoo's webmail service. One of my web hosting accounts includes the use of SquirrelMail, a perfectly decent webmail application. It's not the solution for everyone for obvious reasons, but it works for me.

[Via Techdirt]
Thursday 25 July 2002, 23:55 BST
I saw Minority Report this evening. It's a fairly solid effort from Spielberg, with good production design and flawless special effects married to a solid plot. Some of the hints of how everyday life would be in a society where those who desire security have given up essential liberties were highly effective, not to say chillingly plausible. I thought Tom Cruise was merely adequate in the central role, and his character's wife needed much more screen time early on given the pivotal role the plot assigned her in the last half hour or so. On the other hand, Colin Farrell's Department of Justice agent was terrific, and Samantha Morton's Agatha was appropriately alien and bewildered.

Assuming that you can swallow the whole notion of Precogs in the first place, the film's main failing is the ending. The writers should have wrapped it up about 25 minutes early, ending on a down note that would have made a point about the consequences of the Precog setup.

Despite the critical plaudits, this is no masterpiece. It is a partial return to form for Spielberg, but he's still a long way short of where he was in the first ten years of his feature career.
Esther Dyson Defends ICANN. Damns it with faint praise, more like.
Wednesday 24 July 2002, 23:50 BST
1 February 2019. Make a note of that date in your diary. If we're all very unlucky, it could turn out to be a rather memorable day.

On the other hand, it could be just another day. The BBC headline is just a bit premature given that it's way too early to tell what the asteroid's path is. (But then, it might be that there's something else lurking out there that'll arrive first. As today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows, it's a very crowded solar system we're living in.)
Edward Tufte, an expert in the field of communications, thinks the designers of the plaque affixed to the Pioneer 10 space probe missed a trick.

[Via Kottke]
Leo McKern, actor with a highly distinctive voice and profile, Rest In Peace.
The UK Television Advert Music Database. A straightforward enough title for an invaluable resource.

[Via jdhewitt.co.uk]
Tuesday 23 July 2002, 23:40 BST
The View From Everest. Stunning.
Boris for PM!
Picture the scene. It's 2010. Standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street with his smiling, highly presentable wife and four scrubbed-up kids is the new Prime Minister, fresh from his election triumph.

As he lifts his arm to wave to the jubilant crowds waiting in the sunshine, the shreds of his ripped jacket pocket flap gently in the early summer breeze. A television close-up reveals that his socks don't match, his heavily soiled tie tells the story of that morning's breakfast, and his rumpled, ill-fitting trousers reveal a good inch of goosey white flesh.
I think he'll opt to carry on earning a lot more money as a journalist than he would as an MP, but it's intriguing to picture a political world where Boris Johnson could make it to the top. Slightly scary, but interesting.

[Via linkmachinego]
Monday 22 July 2002, 21:35 BST
The Racial Slur Database. Consisting of 1,356 entries (and counting). Scary.

[Via oh! indeed]
Scientists have used genetic engineering to create mice with significantly larger brains than normal. The scientists claim that they haven't yet been able to determine whether the mice are more intelligent than usual, as " they were all killed soon after birth." Yeah, right...

"Pinky, Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?"

[Via Boing Boing]
Sunday 21 July 2002, 21:05 BST
Downhill all the way. NASA scientist Martin Lo has figured out how to calculate the smoothest, cheapest path between planets throughout the solar system.

Hopefully this will allow space probes (and eventually manned spacecraft) to move around with less effort. It'd be especially nice if this makes solar sails practical. (Call me a romantic, but I read Arthur C Clarke's Sunjammer as a kid and I've loved the concept of solar sailcraft ever since.)

[Via MetaFilter]
Comic Book Universe Battles. If you ever wondered how the Men in Black would do against Marvin the Martian or whether 'Bones' McCoy was a better doctor than 'Hawkeye' Pierce, this is the place to go.

[Via dust from a distant sun]
Since I pointed out Amazon Light the other day the author has received a nastygram from Google's lawyers and changed the user interface accordingly.

I'd imagine that Google would claim that their lawyers told them they had no choice but to protect their intellectual property, but it's still a heavy-handed response for a company that's taken over Yahoo's mantle as the good guys of the web.

[Via Frownland]
True Porn Clerk Stories makes for a somewhat icky (but sometimes very funny) read.
One of my favorite concepts in anthropology is that of the polite fiction. It's something nobody believes, but we all pretend to because it makes life so much easier. My favorite example was of a Pygmy couple. Pygmy divorce involves quite literally breaking up the home: the couple tears apart their house (it's easy - the houses are made of leaves) and once it's down, the union is dissolved. One anthropologist was watching a long-married couple have a fight. It escalated until the wife threatened to leave, and the husband yelled something along the lines of "Fine!" and there was nothing the wife could do but start tearing down the house. She began tearing the roof off, clearly miserable. The husband looked wretched too, but at this point neither could back down without losing face and by now the whole village was watching.

Finally, the husband called out the Pygmy equivalent of "You're right, honey! The roof is dirty! It'll look much better once we get those leaves washed!" The two of them started carrying leaves down to the river, soon with the help of the whole village, and then washed and rebuilt the whole roof. When the anthropologist later discreetly asked how often one washes the roof, everyone looked at him like he was a complete doofus.

The polite fiction of the porn section is that, while people do generally use porn for the purpose of masturbation, there is no reason to believe that this particular customer will be doing so. He could be using them for his Master's thesis. Hell, he may not get around to watching them at all. We all like to believe that. When it becomes all too clear to everyone involved that said customer did, in fact, not only lube up, watch the tape, stroke himself to orgasm, and then grab the goddamned thing without even taking the basic courtesy of washing his goddamned hands first, we all get uncomfortable.
Truly, all human life is there.

[Via Found]
Douglas Rushkoff would like to exact vengeance against fax spammers. He even knows hackers (in the proper, positive sense of the word) who could no doubt tell him how. But they won't, because they know the importance of self-restraint. "With great power comes great responsibility." (Hmmm, where have I heard that before?)
Having missed the midweek debut of Enterprise, I was interested to catch the repeat this evening and find out whether the show lives down to its reputation.

All in all, I thought the pilot was moderately good, but no more than that. The special effects were up to scratch, as you'd expect of the latest show from the Trek franchise. Given that like any pilot episodes it had to simultaneously introduce the characters, set up the basic situation in which they operate (particularly important in science fiction) and cram in enough plot to make a satisfying story, I thought the writers and cast did a decent job. Scott Bakula wasn't allowed to dominate the story, which bodes well for the prospects that the other major characters will get a chance to shine. The contrast between the naivety of the crew of Earth's first starship proper and the smooth professionalism of the crew from later Trek shows was entirely appropriate. The way much of the primitive technology looked like prototypes of the Kirk-era equipment was a nice touch. I particularly liked the idea that the 22nd century humans didn't quite trust the transporter. Or the Vulcans.

So what was wrong with the pilot episode? First, I don't like the sound of a "temporal cold war" storyline. Trek time travel storylines are generally horrible, and I'll need some convincing that this one isn't going to be used to generate fake drama. Second, T'Pol is no Seven of Nine. (Voyager was lucky, in that having brought in a busty Borg they found that Jeri Ryan not only looked good in a skin-tight outfit but could actually do something with the "learning to be human" storylines they handed her. I'm ... unconvinced ... that they'll hit the jackpot twice in a row.) Third, as with any prequel to a long-running series the writers run the risk of tripping over established continuity. I never expected the Klingons to lose the cornish pasty foreheads they've sported in modern Trek stories - though I'd dearly love to see the writers take a swing at explaining what happened to Klingon foreheads between the Captain Kirk and Admiral Kirk eras - but I gather that at least a couple of other familiar races which supposedly weren't encountered until much later on will show up before the season's out. I'm by no means a continuity fascist, but I'd like to think that the writers will keep in mind that this is a prequel story. (If Q or the Borg show up, I'll be seriously pissed off at the writers.) Finally, I'm with the majority on the title sequence: that isn't a Trek theme tune, and I didn't feel that the emphasis on historical exploratory vessels worked at all. Call me a traditionalist, but I want an orchestral theme and lots of pretty images of astronomical phenomena, dammit!

I'll certainly watch Enterprise for the first season. I think the show deserves a chance to show me what it can do with these characters and this situation. But on the evidence of the pilot, it's no Farscape.

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