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Home > Weblog w/e 28.9.2002


Saturday 28 September 2002, 22:25 BST
Further to yesterday's pointer to a profile of Lawrence Lessig, here's a decent summary of what the Eldred case (which Lessig will shortly be arguing before the US Supreme Court) is all about.

[Via Techdirt]
Over at scrubbles.net, Matt offers some casting suggestions for the live-action Thunderbirds feature film.

George Clooney for Scott Tracy is right on the money, and I can definitely see James Brolin as Jeff Tracy. However, I Giovanni Ribisi doesn't match my idea of Brains at all. Also, whilst I have nothing against the idea of Cate Blanchett as Lady Penelope I have to say that if there was any justice in the world they'd give the role to Joanna Lumley. (Especially if they got Bob Hoskins for Parker. He and Lumley would make one hell of a team, and would quite possibly steal the film.)
A couple of highly appealing postings I saw at deviantART today. D r e a m s i g n looks positively supernatural, whereas Remorse is a very nice rendering of a neat idea.
I wasn't going to bother posting about the revelation that John Major and Edwina Currie had an affair. After all, it was fifteen years ago, and it's not as if it's news to anyone that the "Back to Basics" campaign was a stupid idea. But I can't let this zinger of a comment from Mary Archer on Radio 4's Today programme go unrecorded:
"I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie's indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major's taste."
Ouch!
This just can't be. But firing up EyeDropper and checking out the colours used reveals that it most certainly is. How odd.

[Via Swish Cottage]
Ann Elizabeth travels on a train, and gets a reminder that life is good.
Been there, done Iraq.
It has been the habit of his adversaries, and most sane people, to suggest that President Bush's preemptive strike idea is a scary, immature fantasy that bears no resemblance to any successful military strategy.

This is not entirely true.

Hollywood historians recently uncovered a cache of "Star Trek" scripts, written but mysteriously never produced, that give precedence -- and lend credence -- to the American president's plans for Iraq.

Obtained last week from the highest White House sources (OK, OK -- it was Karl Rove), here are summaries of the previously unpublished Star Trek v. Iraq teleplays:

Classic Star Trek (1965-1968): Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet Iraq to hunt terrorists responsible for blowing up a Federation space station, and are promptly captured by rogue warriors led by a menacing guy named Saddam (to be played by Ricardo Montalban).

The trio escapes, but not before Kirk makes it with a helpful local female dressed in traditional desert garb (ripping furiously at her layers of clothing, he gasps, "My ... God ... you ... have ... so ... many ... veils!"). The woman is Saddam's second wife, a glitch that creates a showdown in which Kirk and Saddam punch the snot out of one another in terrain that looks suspiciously like Southern California.

Saddam tries to push Kirk off a cliff but instead misses and stumbles to his own demise. The impressed Iraqis, relieved to be rid of Saddam, sign a treaty with the Federation to make nice, and the show ends with Kirk and McCoy on the Enterprise bridge making fun of Spock for no good reason.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994): Hoping to talk instead of fight, Capt. Picard invites an Iraqi negotiating party to the Enterprise for a peace conference -- and to have the terrorists turned over for trial. To make the Iraqis feel comfortable, Picard creates an exact duplicate of ancient Babylon in the holodeck and stays up all night memorizing Sumerian poetry to recite to his guests.

[...]
Good stuff.
Friday 27 September 2002, 23:10 BST
Look what happens when you google for "go to hell". Who'd have thought it would point there?

[Via my 2p]
Clay Shirky is not persuaded that "half the world's population has never made a phone call."

I'm pretty sure Shirky is right about to be sceptical about the currency of that statistic, but I don't think that debunking an oft-cited statistic which was probably still accurate within the last decade addresses the underlying issue. That is, the question of how far the clever information technologies we're all so pleased with in the industrialised West are of any relevance in countries where for much of the populace the emphasis is on hoping that you can stockpile enough food to survive the next drought, or hoping that your children survive past their teens. It takes more than talking as if anyone who ever cited "the Phrase" is simply blind to the wonders of "economic dynamism" to solve problems on that scale.

[Via Techdirt]
The New York Review of Books has published two excellent articles analysing what's going to happen when China's Fourth Generation of rulers takes office later this year. The first article, from a couple of weeks ago, described the backgrounds of the new generation, whereas the second article discusses the policies China may follow once the changing of the guard takes place.

This article is highly reminiscent of the sort of stories which used to appear about the Soviet Union a couple of decades ago. By definition, it's easier to assess the accuracy of such articles a decade or so down the line. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the world's next superpower.
25 Years of Voyager - A Special Anniversary Feature. I'm a few weeks late posting this, what with the anniversary of the launch of the Voyager probes having fallen in August, but it's such a fascinating site that it's worth a look regardless. A comprehensive look at one of the most successful space exploration programmes ever.

[Via Schism Matrix - see entry for 27.9.2002]
Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown. Steven Levy profiles "the Elvis of cyberlaw." I know that's an awful moniker for Professor Lessig, but the article itself is pretty good.
Daddy! I don't see that much of a family resemblance, myself.

[Via lgf]
Thursday 26 September 2002, 23:55 BST
The British Phonographic Industry are idiots. A month ago the BPI tried to claim damages from the EasyEverything chain of cybercafes, on the grounds that EasyEverything's PCs used to be fitted with CD burners, and therefore must have been used by customers to burn copies of music CDs.

The initial claim (based on who knows what "evidence") was for a cool £1,000,000. EasyEverything told the BPI where to get off, so like a particularly inept mugger the BPI reduced its demand to £100,000. Then EasyEverything said they wouldn't even pay that much, and offered £20,000 to avoid the costs of going to court.

Now it would appear that the BPI have concluded that this whole fiasco is so embarrassing that they're seeking a court order to stop EasyEverything from publicising their side of the story. Which will, of course, only encourage Stelios & Co to pull stunts like, say, dressing up in orange boiler suits and protesting outside the High Court.

[Via Techdirt]
Congratulations to all the winners in the Guardian's Best British Blog Competition. I'm pleasantly surprised at how many of the shortlisted weblogs, including the winner, are unfamiliar to me: I'll have to check them out over the next few days.

I'm especially delighted to see that linkmachinego was recognised. I didn't think the Guardian's judges would go for what I think of as the "traditional", link-heavy style of weblog. Darren's site has long been a favourite of mine, and his weblogging style influenced mine quite a bit right.
Wednesday 25 September 2002, 23:55 BST
Google News looks like being a valuable news aggregation service. I haven't had much time to make use of it as yet, but fortunately one of the nice things about the wide, wide world of weblogs is that there's no shortage of folks who have more time than you to think through the implications of neat ideas.

Danny O'Brien has noticed that the "editorial line" of Google News changes as the day goes on and news publications in different time zones post their stories. Meanwhile, Rafe Colburn not only sings the praises of Google News as a means of comparing the varying slants publications in different countries will place on the same story, but also points out an argument from Nick Denton that Google News is destined to be poor at highlighting exclusives, which by their nature aren't covered in a variety of publications at the outset.
Science's Ten Most Beautiful Experiments. (NB/- New York Times article - free registration required.)

Fascinating stuff. For my money Foucault's pendulum should be in first place, narrowly ahead of Eratosthenes' estimation of the Earth's circumference, but that's just me.

[Via MetaFilter]
Thinkofthechildren.co.uk is no more. According to The Register, the police received complaints about the site so they approached the hosting company suggesting the site could be considered an incitement to violence. The hosting company then "shut down the site" according to the article, though given that there's now a message from the site's owners at the original URL I think it's fairer to say that they removed the original site but are still permitting the owners to publish content there.

I can't put it any better than the site's owner did, after indicating that he's exploring his legal options:
"In the meantime, I'll leave you to ponder the irony of a site parodying mob culture being removed on the basis of complaints from a tiny group of very stupid - but very loud - members of the public."
It's worth pointing out that Roland Perry, a member of the Main Board of the Internet Watch Foundation, has confirmed on the cyber-rights-uk mailing list that - contrary to the information given at Thinkofthechildren.co.uk - the IWF was not involved in this matter. Which makes me wonder whether there's been a simple misunderstanding or something more sinister going on. Other than the police over-reacting to a few complaints, that is.

<rant>Yes, I know the site can easily be mirrored overseas. And no doubt the contract the site's owner had with the hosting company doubtless had a clause which could be loosely translated as "we're under no obligation to let you continue to publish something which we think it could expose us to criminal or civil liabilities, unless you'd care to indemnify us against all costs and penalties which might arise from such action. Which we know perfectly well no private individual can afford to do." I'm sure the action taken has been in compliance with the terms of a commercial contract freely entered into by both parties, so who could possibly have any grounds for complaint?

It matters because nobody ended up having to prove anything in court. Because it's another small step towards a climate where a few complaints to the police and a quiet word in a company's ear are all you need to harass a private individual who holds an unpopular opinion.</rant>
Old Men Take Longer.

The wait is over. Peter Gabriel has a new album out. Heaven knows how long we'd have to wait if he and Kate Bush ever collaborated on an entire album of duets.

But you can be sure the result would be worth the wait...
I just have to comment on two of my favourite TV programmes from this last couple of days. The finale of the fourth season of Oz was as terrific, as bloody, as uncompromising as ever. You had to feel for poor Tobias Beecher when he was denied parole, especially after that fabulously seductive dream sequence (which featured, if I'm not mistaken, the one and only view we've ever had of the entire prison from outside). But then, he's never leaving Oz alive, is he? And nor is Said. Or Schillinger. Or either of the O'Reily brothers. Or (I suspect) Tim McManus.

Farscape returned for one last season with just the sort of confusing, exciting, funny and just plain odd episode that's made the show such fun for the last three seasons. Whether it was John Crichton's quips about Klingons, or Harvey's fetching Hawaiian shirt and leather combo, or DRD1812, there was plenty of evidence of a thoroughly warped imagination at work here. Here's hoping there's much more of the same to come before the show dies an early death.
Tuesday 24 September 2002, 23:55 BST
On Flying. A terrific set of maxims for, and from, professional aviators:
Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers.

Basic Flying Rules:
  1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
  2. Do not go near the edges of it.
  3. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.
  4. You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal.
Progress in airline flying: now a flight attendant can get a pilot pregnant.
Joss Whedon's new science fiction series, Firefly, might yet assuage the pain of grieving Farscape fans. The review at PopMatters suggests that Firefly is going to be a lot of fun if the network lets it live. The New York Times article (NB/- free registration required) about the show focuses as much on Whedon's career as on Firefly, but it's still well worth a read.

(NB/- the New York Times article contains one spoiler for Buffy season 6. Halfway through it reveals a quite important fact about season 6, but one which I suspect that every Buffy fan in the UK already knows or has guessed, given that Buffy died at the end of season 5 but they've made a sixth season of the show. I think we all know what I'm talking about...)

[New York Times article via PopPolitics]
Why wasn't I told that Oz season 1 is out on Region 1 DVD? I think the box set is a little expensive for just eight episodes, but if I hadn't already blown my DVD budget for the next two or three months I'd seriously consider adding to my collection.

[Via tropicana of the mind]
Monday 23 September 2002, 23:10 BST
The Milky Way Over Mont Blanc. Breathtaking.
The filmfodder.com Film Junkies present The First Annual Torpedo Awards.
Since this is the first presentation of the Torpedo Awards, a little definition is necessary:

Torpedo Performance (tor-PE'do per-FOR'mens) n. A film performance by an actor or actress that is so bad it keeps a good movie from being a great movie, hence "torpedoing" it.

Torpedo Award (tor-PE'do ahhscrewit) n. Faux "honor" bestowed on said actor or actress by the esteemed Film Junkies.

[...]

1. The entire leading cast of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" -- Gary Oldman as Prince Vlad Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina Murray, Anthony Hopkins as Prof. Van Helsing, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. A visually stunning waste of time. Coppola was so excited that someone allowed him to make another movie that he forgot to direct the actors. Oh wait, two of the four listed here can't act (Ryder and Reeves), so it's not entirely his fault. And the other two are so over the top it's hard to find the actual performances/humans underneath all the chewed scenery. Watch the first five minutes, then, for the love of God, turn it off. As a side note, this began Anthony Hopkins' "Sleepwalking Through Roles" era, and also Gary Oldman's "I'm Just Insane From Now On" stage.
P..P..P..Picked up by a penguin. Best. BBC. News. Online. Graphic. Ever.

[Via Haddock.org]
Sunday 22 September 2002, 23:15 BST
Holocaust survivors with Alzheimer's are forced to relive Auschwitz. The universe can be a cruel, cruel place.

[Via MetaFilter]
Mil Millington's hilarious site Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About has now inspired a novel.

It looks as if the novel is much more than a fictionalised version of the arguments recounted on the web site, but that doesn't deter me. Judging by the stories on his web site, Millington has a nice line in weary sarcasm: I think the novel will be worth a look. (But not right now, I added another four books to my to-read pile last week, and I don't think my bookshelf could take the weight if I went on another spending spree at Amazon.)

[Via linkmachinego]

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