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Saturday 31 August 2002, 23:55 BST
CHUD reports that a sequel to John Carpenter's marvelous The Thing may be in the works. Let's leave to one side the minor detail that Carpenter's output for the last ten years has been lacklustre to say the least. The real question is why anyone thinks the film needs a sequel. MacReady and Childs waiting in the snow to freeze to death was a perfect ending, and I can't see that finding out that the alien survived and infected the rescue team or whatever would be worth a 20-odd year wait, any more than I want to find out what Rick and Captain Renault did after the end of Casablanca. Besides, this time round they'd use CGI to create the shape-shifting alien, and that just ain't right.

A sequel to The Thing isn't quite as bad an idea as that of remaking Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds as a live action movie, but it's pretty close.
Bob Cringely thinks the PC hard disk business is about to undergo a major upheaval now IBM have pulled out of the sector.

Cringely's suggestion that we'll end up carrying round all our personal data on a key fob-mounted hard disk a few years from now, thereby significantly reducing the need to mess around logging into our home PCs over those always-on broadband links we're all going to have Real Soon Now, is highly attractive. The problem in implementing such a vision isn't going to be the hardware, it'll be arranging to keep all your personal data in a platform-independent, accessible format.

When you're carrying your data around with you rather than temporarily transferring a copy to your PDA or laptop on-demand file conversion utilities just won't cut it. This is why proprietary file formats are such a terrible idea: you only realise the hold that your chosen software vendor has on you when you try to move to another vendor's software and you find all the little glitches in the formatting of your files when you open them. The best bet for word processor documents is RTF, but we need equivalent formats for spreadsheets and calendar/organiser software ASAP if we're not to find ourselves putting up with MS Excel and Outlook as the de facto default formats for such data.
Friday 30 August 2002, 23:55 BST
delta thrives - set the controls for the heart of the sun.

I bookmarked this weeks ago but only got round to watching it today. It's essentially an exquisite cartoon depicting what a far-future weblog entry might look like, but that bare description doesn't begin to do it justice. Go and take a look, but be aware that it's a very graphics-intensive page so it'll take a while to download. I can freely attest that it's well worth the wait.

[Via rebecca's pocket]
Albert Einstein once said:
"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute - and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity."
Now Scientific American can reveal that Einstein actually conducted the experiment.

(In case you're wondering if this is a spoof, consider the acronym formed by the first letters of each word in the title of the "journal" where Einstein published his findings.)

[Via Techdirt]
The release date for the DVD release of Buffy season 5 has been announced. October 28th can't come soon enough.

I heard about the release yesterday, so naturally before the day was out I'd placed my pre-order at Blackstar. Coincidentally, last thing yesterday evening I was trying to find a VHS tape I could recycle and I happened upon the tape I used to record The Gift when it aired on BBC2. I didn't have time to sit and watch it again, but I just had to watch that epic "Previously on Buffy..." segment and the pre-credit fight sequence. Just catching that sequence again reminded me of how fine that whole season finale was. As a mere BBC2 viewer I'm in no position to judge whether Joss & Co should have stopped at season 5, but I can safely say that if the show had ended with "She saved the world. A lot." it would have gone out at the top.

When just seeing three minutes of an episode you first saw a few months ago makes a shiver run down your spine, I'd say that's a sign that the show had something special. A similar line of reasoning explains my having pre-ordered the first season of Babylon 5 on DVD and am patiently awaiting the delivery of the My So-Called Life DVD, which is finally being released - better late than never - on 17 September.
Thursday 29 August 2002, 23:30 BST
Could airbags save the world next time an asteroid threatens to come a little too close for comfort? A scientist from Oklahoma State University thinks so.

Would Bruce Willis have cut such a dashing figure in Armageddon if his pressing a button at the film's climax had deployed a large airbag instead of detonating a nuke?

[Via Boing Boing]
The Ad Graveyard, presented by Jeffrey Zeldman. I have no idea why I hadn't come across this site before. It was mentioned in passing in one of the early chapters of David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined which I was reading on the bus this morning, so I whipped out my Palm and jotted down a reminder to look the site up when I got home.
Prelude: The Advertising Joke:

A COPYWRITER DIES, and Saint Peter offers him a choice of Heaven or Hell. The writer asks to see both. Leading him to a doorway, Saint Peter says: "Here in Hell, we have a room just for copywriters." Inside, the writer sees row upon row of faceless hacks, all scribbling frantically as giant red devils lay into them with heavy whips.

"The meeting's in five minutes! The meeting's in five minutes" the devils scream.

"Uh ... better show me Heaven," the writer says. So up they go.

"Here in Heaven, we also have a room for copywriters," Saint Peter says. Peering into the second room, the writer again sees row upon row of faceless hacks, all scribbling frantically as giant red devils lay into them with heavy whips.

"The meeting's in five minutes! The meeting's in five minutes" the devils scream.

The copywriter protests, "But I thought you said this was Heaven!"

St. Peter says, "Well, up Here, the work gets produced."
The site is basically a collection of advertising campaigns that never got final approval (or, in some cases, which were pulled very rapidly). My favourite is this ad promoting the teaching profession.
Wednesday 28 August 2002, 23:45 BST
A Nation of Thieves. Prince says the entertainment industry are the robbers, not the victims. Not that this is a startlingly new thesis, but despite the irritating spelling it's a comprehensive analysis which does a good job of spelling out the real priorities of the Content Faction.

[Via Boing Boing]
Photo Alphabet. Unfortunately this picture doesn't display in Mozilla - not even in the brand spanking new version 1.1 I downloaded yesterday - but if you're prepared to fire up another browser then prepare to be impressed.
ScotBlog will be of particular interest to any readers who hail from north of the border. Written by Martin of The Copydesk fame and hosted at the BBC Scotland site, it's an eclectic mix of fact and opinion.

Some of the content is probably only of interest to a small percentage of Scots (I'm not entirely clear as to what "the Older Scottish Tongue" is) but other items will be of more general interest. I mean, haven't we all wondered "What exactly is the point of postcards?"
Where are the female directors? Michelle Goldberg gives a comprehensive account of the array of barriers standing in the way of female film directors.

The article is, if anything, too comprehensive. So many theories are espoused and statistics cited that I'm not sure how on earth you can start to get a handle on the problem. I don't doubt that there's as much sexism in the film industry as in any big business, but I think the most interesting statistic comes from Professor Martha Lauzen:
Using a sample of 250 films, Lauzen compared the top-grossing 50 films with the bottom-grossing 50, which tend to be indie films. "We've never found a significant difference in terms of women behind the scenes" in the bottom category, she says.
If female directors don't even get a chance to prove themselves on (relatively) low budget films in the indie sector, doesn't that cast doubt as to the relevance of arguments that "it's all about Hollywood's obsession with action movies" and "Hollywood executives only want filmmakers whose work will appeal to the teenage male audience"?

If some of the barriers to becoming a film director arise from women having greater family commitments than their make equivalents, could it be that potential film directors are finding themselves working in television instead? At least if you're working in series television you don't have to worry about being away from home and family for three months on a location shoot. If you're prepared to live within a reasonable distance of one of the centres of TV production, you may have a shot at any number of directing jobs. You don't get to go to the Oscars, but nor are you dependent upon the success or failure of a single film when it comes to paying your mortgage for the next year.
Tuesday 27 August 2002, 23:30 BST
A couple of interviews with two of Britain's leading authors of speculative fiction.

Iain Banks discusses his "semi-retirement" and Terry Pratchett explains what really constitutes a "masterpiece."

[Iain Banks interview via linkmachinego]
One step closer to Minority Report? Police in Delaware are compiling a list of potential suspects for crimes which haven't been committed yet. What's more, according to the Associated Press report, "The precise grounds for putting a person on the list aren't clear."

I wonder if anyone's noticed any fancy new gesture-controlled computer systems being installed in the local Pre-Crime Unit police headquarters. Or any odd little circular swimming pools, for that matter...

[Via rc3.org]
Monday 26 August 2002, 21:00 BST
CHUD has a review of the Region 1 DVD release of Paul Schrader's Cat People, starring Malcolm McDowell, John Heard and Nastassja Kinski.

It's a reasonably thorough review of one of the more memorable early 80s horror films, but the particular joy is the captions CHUD added to the stills which pepper the review. There are some seriously warped minds at work at CHUD...
Convergent Celebrity Evolution. Take a look at Kylie Minogue & Willem Dafoe - freaky!

[Via Anita's LOL]
I caught Starman on Channel 5 this afternoon. It's always been a favourite, but I hadn't seen it in a while. Jeff Bridges usually collects most of the plaudits for his uncanny performance in the title role, but I think Karen Allen deserves a lot of the credit for her touching performance as a widow who encounters an alien who resembles her late husband.

It's worrying to think that that John Carpenter really only had two more memorable films in him after Starman. Just for the record, I'm referring to Big Trouble In Little China and They Live. The former is just plain goofy fun, and the latter is a rare example of a political horror movie, a sub-genre we didn't see again until Wes Craven's The People Under The Stairs in 1991.
Buying into the American Dream. The Sunday Herald describes the approach of terrestrial TV stations to buying programmes from the US.

The thrust of the article is that Channel 5 is now making a serious attempt to reposition itself in viewers' eyes, and that they're trying to put together blocs of imported shows to emulate the success they've had with the CSI-Law & Order double bill on Saturday nights. In principle this means that BBC2 and Channel 4 now face more competition for the hot new imported shows, which should be a good thing. The more outlets for quality US imports the better. (That said, I can't help but wonder how much good Dark Angel, which has just been cancelled after two seasons, is going to do Channel 5.)

I also seem to remember that when Channel 5 started broadcasting they started showing imports like Twin Peaks, Melrose Place and Xena: Warrior Princess but mucked them around badly. Still, at least for the most part they broadcast the shows in prime time. When ITV broadcast even half-hour shows like Dharma & Greg and Drew Carey in post-midnight timeslots you have to wonder why they're bothering. Channel 4 are prone to the same scheduling nonsense, which is probably one reason why the Sunday Herald can publish an entire article on quality US imports without once mentioning the bleak but brilliant Oz. (Yes, I know I do bang on a lot about how bad Channel 4 are at scheduling my favourite imports. When they stop doing it, I'll stop moaning!)

While I'm on the subject, I should mention that I enjoyed the one-off Law & Order/Homicide: Life on the Street double bill on Channel 5 last Saturday. It was a good story in itself, but seeing Munch, Pembleton, 'G', Meldrick et al made it extra special. Even the fact that they spent far too little time with the Baltimore regulars in favour of pushing Detective Falsone to the fore couldn't quite spoil it for me. If Channel 5 are looking for a quality US cop show to buy and broadcast from the start they could do a lot worse than Homicide.

[Via I Love Everything]
Sunday 25 August 2002, 22:30 BST
I've spent much of the afternoon catching up with articles I bookmarked weeks ago and never got round to reading. A fair number of them deal with the ongoing war between the Content Faction and the Tech Faction.

Doc Searls says the Content Faction is winning the propaganda war. How exactly did terms like "fair use" and "sharing" end up being redefined as "theft" and "piracy"? More to the point, what can we do about it?

Lawrence Lessig has one answer. In his presentation at OSCON a couple of weeks ago, he gave a lucid account of the history of the battle over copyright and pointed out that geeks need to actually put time and money into reminding politicians that there are two sides to the story. Writing weblog entries just won't cut it any more. (Admittedly a lot of the specifics of Lessig's argument relate to pending US legislation. However, that doesn't make it irrelevant to those of us on the right side of the pond. You just know that if the Content Faction gets its way in the States it'll only increase the likelihood of similar legislation being proposed by the EU. If you want to help the fight against the Content Faction, you might want to bear in mind that the Electronic Frontier Foundation will accept donations from UK residents.)

A transcript of Lessig's talk can be found here, or you could download his presentation in various formats here. He's an eloquent speaker and a clear thinker on this topic. Having been impressed by numerous accounts of Lessig's thoughts on cyberspace, the Microsoft case and copyright (see, for example, his various appearances in Wired Magazine, or just google for articles about him) I bought his last two books, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and The Future of Ideas last week. Now I've finished Peter F Hamilton's Fallen Dragon, I'll probably tackle one of Lessig's books next. Unless I decide to go with David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined or Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others instead. (You know, before Amazon came along I used to have a much healthier bank balance!)

[Doc Searls article via Ben Hammersley.Com, Lessig speech via MetaFilter]
All People Are Crazy, according to P J O'Rourke:
Q. You're sometimes referred to as a cynic and a curmudgeon, but your takes on Israel and Egypt in your Atlantic pieces struck me as somewhat optimistic. (For example, you describe Cairo as "a place that should be depressing but isn't," and you describe Israel as a place that's surprisingly cheerful and ordinary, considering that it's constantly under siege by terrorists.) Do you think that your ability to find things that crack you up no matter where you go ends up affecting your overall outlook?

A. I think so. The source of the word "humorist" is one who regards human beings in terms of their humors - you know, whether they're sanguine or full of yellow bile, or whatever the four classical humors are. You stand back from people and regard them as types. And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with.
You can also find more vintage O'Rourke here:
However, if corporate corruption does exist, it has benefits as well as liabilities. Auditing scandals will no doubt improve the sex lives of accountants. Bean counters were previously thought to be drab and unattractive creatures. Now accountants are considered cute - by their fellow prison inmates.
[Weekly Standard article via Arts & Letters Daily]
Vote, vote, vote for the Ugliest Couch in America. (NB/- Voting open to residents of the 50 United States only.)

My money would be on Number 3.

[Via thinkdink]
Cory Doctorow has strong views about What to do about Spam.

He favours a technological fix, based on the principle that your computer only shows you an email because it's following a "suggestion" encapsulated in an message that your email client chooses to interpret as an email and place in your inbox. Your computer doesn't have to show you the email: if the spam-spotting technology is good enough, it should be able to shuffle the spam off into a black hole, having first added the sender's details to a blacklist which other people who don't wish to receive spam can use.

I can see a few problems with Doctorow's argument. First, unless a certain company based in Redmond adds the requisite features to a certain widely-despised email client only a small percentage of internet users will benefit from Vipul's Razor. Second, adopting an email client which is better at spotting spam won't do a thing to stop spammers sending the emails and soaking up bandwidth and disk space at ISPs all over the world: such software solves your immediate problem, but if anything spammers will crank out even more spam to make sure that even if the percentage of responses goes down the number of responses stays constant. Third, Doctorow is way too optimistic about how effective purely technical solutions are. He says that "It's like deep-linking. There's an excellent technical means for stopping search engines from spidering your site - create a robots.txt file at your docroot and biff-bam, you're dark-matter." A solution which only works if all the search engine spiders abide by the rules laid down in robots.txt.

It seems to me that technological solutions can only go so far towards resolving the spam problem. Until it costs more money for spammers to send unsolicited email messages than they can reasonably expect to make from responses to those messages, this problem isn't going to go away. That means a combination of technology and anti-spam legislation, as far as I can see.

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