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Saturday 12 October 2002, 23:25 BST
The Best TV You Ever Heard. Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle on the importance of the good theme tune for a TV show.

The article naturally has a US bias, which renders some of his examples less useful for those of us on the right-hand side of the Atlantic, but it's still worth reading. However, I don't agree with Goodman's assertion that modern TV suffers from bland themes. I'd say it's more accurate to say that the many bland shows from decades ago which had equally bland music as the average modern sitcom or dramedy have been forgotten, theme and all, as their modern counterparts will be. Good as many of the theme songs Goodman mentions are, they're nearly all memorable in part because they're attached to quality shows or cult favourites.

My favourite current theme song would have to be the Nerf Herder track which opens each episode of Buffy. It's a lively little number, and of course it does no harm at all that it announces that we're off to Sunnydale for another bout of slayage. My least favourite theme - and I know this is hardly an original choice - has to be Enterprise's dreadful Faith of the Heart, surely the least suitable science fiction theme of all time.

[Via scrubbles.net]
The winner of the Viridian Biofuture Robot Dog Contest is SPOD, the Super Personalised Obedient Dawg. A worthy winner, to be sure, but I prefer RO-VR!:
On the surface (by today's "SUV-gated community" standards) RO-VR! isn't even a "perfect companion" for a child. If a child's development into a Whole Adult dictates that it should take risks, then RO-VR! may take a nap — even if the nap results in a broken limb for the other half of its dyad. If a child needs to individuate, then RO-VR will nip at his heels until the kid is out of the house, and then may sleep 23 hours a day so the kid has to rely on his own wits. RO-VR! knows that kids need to eat dirt in order to get some good healthy bacteria. RO-VR! will pee on the carpet, get sick, go feral, eat a rancher's sheep, grow you a new kidney - whatever it takes to shepherd its partner into Adulthood.
Good dog! Clever dog!
Hidden Mozilla Prefs. If you're using Mozilla you'll almost certainly find one or two of these useful. The user_pref("network.protocol-handler.external.mailto", true); tip solved my one major gripe with Mozilla, which was that I couldn't persuade it to fire up Forté Agent when I click on a mailto: link.

[Via NTK]
Friday 11 October 2002, 22:45 BST
"It's easy to fail in e-business; what's hard is failing magnificently." One day the music industry's campaign against file sharing is going to be studied in business schools everywhere as a prime example of how not to cope with technological change. Jack Kapica lays out the 10 Rules of E-Business Failure:
2. Ignore the Internet: If you can't imagine any way of making money on-line, then no one else can, either. Act surprised when the Internet starts to carry multimedia. Cry, "Who knew?" and insist the whole multimedia thing was invented only to ruin your business.


9. Make government your accomplice: Demand exemptions from criminal prosecution by the U.S. government for your hacking and denial-of-service attacks. You're doing this for a Higher Cause, after all, which is paying royalties to your artists (remember them?). Drag Verizon Communications, an Internet provider, into court and demand it surrender the name of one of its subscribers allegedly sharing 600 music files, so your expensive lawyers can crush this kid's skull. Then get the Canadian government to impose a levy on all recordable media sold here, whether it's used for burning pirated music or archiving corporate data. Make mortal enemies of Apple and Sony because the levy adds something like 20 per cent to the retail price of their portable jukeboxes, pricing them out of the market. Collect more than $30-million without disbursing a single cent to your artists -- after all, you're Fighting the Good Fight, and you're going to have to tighten the artists' belts for them if you hope to win.
<homer>It's funny because it's true.</homer>

[Via Techdirt]
According to Dark Horizons Blade director Stephen Norrington is working on a script for a live-action remake of Akira. Does this strike anyone else as a really bad idea? Not quite as bad as the idea of a live-action Thunderbirds, but not far off.
Fomalhaut Dust Disk Indicates Planets. I'm not usually a fan of artists' impressions of large-scale astronomical phenomena, as they all too frequently mess up the scale of the different objects for the sake of enhancing the impact of the piece. The impression of the Fomalhaut system which accompanies this story is a classic example of the genre, but somehow it still works for me. Perhaps it's that I find myself mentally blocking out that outsized Saturn-like planet and focussing on that dust disk and the exciting possibilities it suggests.

In older solar systems it's still nigh on impossible to directly detect Earth-sized planets at distances measured in light years directly. Mostly we have to measure wobbles in a planet's orbit or variations in a star's brightness as a gas giant planet passes in between the star and us. If there's a nice dusty disk around Fomalhaut, might it show the paths the planets take? That would be tremendously exciting.
Wednesday 9 October 2002, 20:40 BST
The fuss over the changes Google recently made to their ranking algorithm looks like a five day wonder. This article includes some interesting comments from Matt Cutz, one of Google's software engineers, about what Google does well and what it can't do.

I'll grant you that people who make a living from getting sites ranked as highly as possible by Google have reason to be upset if their hard-won understanding of how Google's PageRank system works has been devalued. I just don't think that the changes have made all that much difference to ordinary users, and I'm pretty sure I know which group Google are more interested in pleasing. Dave Winer has it about right:
When people say they're taking food out of their family's mouth, I think they should get a real job. Depending on the vagaries of an algorithm programmed by engineers at a VC-backed Silicon Valley dotcom-vestigial company is not a good idea. A bit of friendly advice.. Don't tell the loan officer at the bank that's how you're making your mortgage payments.
[Via Techdirt]
Pick Up Your Own Damn Socks. A nice companion site for Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About.

The tone of the latter site is more consistent, as you'd expect of a site written by an individual, but the former site is very funny indeed in places. Doesn't everyone need to vent from time to time?

[Via MetaFilter]
Tuesday 8 October 2002, 23:25 BST
Ernie had a grand time at a friend's wedding.
[...] anyway, some notes:

1. Work and deadlines be damned, if you've been selected as an usher, I highly suggest you go to the wedding rehearsal.

Minister: ...And now, we invite the wedding party all distinguished guests of this wedding to place a flower and place it in this archway of flowers, symbolizing the love of blah blah blah...

Ernie: (thinking to himself) Uhmm... we do?

(Groomsmen and Maids of Honor leave their respective posts to insert flowers into the arch. Ernie obviously thinks that he's in "the wedding party" and starts to walk to the front. The string quartet is playing something by Vivaldi.)

Bridesmaid #2: (mouthing the words, pointing frantically to the right) NO NO NO TELL THE FIRST ROW TO STAND

Ernie: (mouthing the words back in a panic... by now the attention has shifted from the bride and groom to me and Bridesmaid #2 having the quietest shouting match ever. I swear to god, the string quartet changed songs and they were now playing the theme from Psycho or the Birds, because now I am FREAKING OUT.) I CAN'T HEAR YOU WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY
Matthew Engel pays tribute to the fine sportswriting of Frank Keating. Better yet, he provides links to ten of Keating's stories. My favourite is probably Keating's article from 1975 about his memories of visits to Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC:
Johnny Haynes was England's captain and unquestionably Fulham's finest footballer. But he was never what we reckoned to be your actual Fulham-type player. For one thing he was far, far too good. For another he was not half eccentric enough.

Haynes suffered 18 glorious, exasperated years for Fulham, carpeting out the world's most sumptuous passes to a motley crew of single-jointed unappreciative nuts: a Brylcreemed Schweitzer among the pygmies.

Going down to Fulham on Saturdays when Chelsea were playing away was part of the corduroy scene in the fifties and early sixties. They were days when a joint was a jazz cellar, LSD was a couple of Friday fivers, a trip was a moonlight bedsit flit - and dope, more often than not, was Bedford Jezzard's latest signing from the Hellenic League.
[Via MetaFilter]
The Hutchinson 3G telecoms network has rebranded itself as "3". Read this excerpt from their press release, then see if you can imagine what the logo looks like.
"Together with its full graphic identity, 3 presents a more complete picture of the brand's character. The logo has a light titanium outside and a dynamic, playful, vibrant inside, animating through the whole spectrum of colour. The contrast between the outside and the inside articulates the spirit of 3: cool on the outside, hot on the inside, echoing the same spirit as the tough outer shell of the 3G handsets and the cauldron of dynamic information and entertainment inside."
I think the logo is hideous, myself. But not as awful as the paragraph of mindless marketing twaddle quoted above.

[Via Ben Hammersley.Com]
I'd planned to write something about the final episode of White Teeth, but that was before I realised that the start of the programme clashed with the final 20 minutes of The Empire Strikes Back on ITV. I'm sorry, but Darth Vader's reunion with his son beats the return of Magid Iqbal any day of the week.

I taped White Teeth, so no doubt I'll return to the subject later in the week.
Monday 7 October 2002, 22:10 BST
Arts & Letters Daily is no more, as a consequence of the bankruptcy of Lingua Franca earlier this year.

Thankfully Philosophy & Literature, which just happens to be written by one of the editors of A&L Daily, is a very acceptable (not to say distinctly familiar-looking) substitute.

[Via Bookslut]
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Read this Slashdot comment and marvel at the lengths users will go to in evading the routines their sysadmin put in place to keep their PCs running smoothly.

[Via Ben Hammersley.Com]
The 10 greatest bits of commentary ever. I think the winning entry is certainly one of the most memorable pieces of sporting commentary of all time, but I'm not sure it's actually "great":
"Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher - can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!"

Said by Bjorn Minge on Norwegian TV

When Norway beat England 2-1 in Oslo in a World Cup qualifier in Sept 1981
Mind you, there's a lot to be said for Jonathan Agnew's immortal "He didn't quite manage to get his leg over...", but that wasn't so much a great piece of commentary as the catalyst for what might just be the funniest few minutes of sports radio commentary ever. Admittedly something from John Arlott would have been more dignified, but the Agnew-Johnston moment brings back pleasant memories of afternoons spent listening to Test Match Special.
The Top 40 Conservative Pop Songs suffers from the author's determination to claim as "conservative" any song evincing sincere religious belief - even, bizarrely, ones with explicitly non-Christian lyrics like George Harrison's My Sweet Lord - or patriotism. Because nobody on the left could possibly believe in God or love his (or her) country.

[Via I Love Everything]
Sunday 6 October 2002, 23:55 BST
How many of these computer screens in feature films can you identify? I did really poorly, only managing three out of four.

[Via MetaFilter]
Channel 4's College Girls documentary series wound up tonight with most of the women we'd followed sitting their Finals.

For some reason, this episode more than any other made me think of how normal the Oxford experience is. Let's face it, exams inspire blind panic, feelings of insecurity and a sudden desire to try to read a bunch of books that you should have read six months ago in undergraduates everywhere. I particularly liked the use of the reminiscences of old girls from the 1930s and the departure of the head of the college as a way of underlining the fact that the college rolls on even as members move out into the rest of their lives. If College Girls had been a different sort of documentary, I'd certainly be looking forward to the next edition three years on, to find out how the various students whose lives we've followed over the last few weeks felt about that frantic three years with the benefit of a few years' distance.

One of the problems with this sort of documentary is that the film-makers have to strike a balance between following a wide range of students in order to make sure they'll have enough material for several hours of documentary four years hence and telling a cohesive story. In this case I felt they didn't quite get the balance right, spending too much time on Lucy Aitken and her attempts to get on in the Oxford Union and too little on Tash and Afshan and Laura. But then, as viewers we don't know how far this was due to the film-makers not being able to get the material needed to follow those stories. Perhaps Laura wasn't prepared to explore on camera her feelings - and those of her parents, come to that - about her transition from lefty protestor to wife of a Tory banker. Perhaps Afshan didn't want to let the film-makers intrude on her privacy (and that of her friends) by exploring how a shy, lonely Muslim girl from Wales she found her niche in Oxford. Or perhaps they had the material but decided to focus on Lucy because the political battles within the Oxford Union are less familiar to their audience than the problems of students fitting in at college, struggling with the work and wondering why they signed up for three more years of lectures and exams.

My reservations shouldn't be taken as an indication that I haven't enjoyed the series. It was interesting to follow the lives of these people and to see how much they changed over three years. I'm just not sure that the series needed to be set at such an elite institution to make the points it did.

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