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Saturday 26 October 2002, 21:30 BST
Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes. It seems to me that there are several possibilities here. This poster is:
  • An exercise in culture-jamming;
  • The start of a viral marketing campaign;
  • The work of some too-clever-by-half marketing people;
  • A reflection of how Londoners really feel about pervasive surveillance.
If the last option should turn out to be the case, that humming sound you'll hear is George Orwell's corpse doing about 10,000 RPM.

[Via Boing Boing]
Scientists Shrink Computing to Molecular Level.
(NB/- New York Times link - free registration required.)

This isn't the sort of research which will change the PC you buy next year, or even five years from now. But in the long term the implications of a method of doing computing which takes up so little space are (ahem) enormous.

[Via Amygdala]
The North American Wife Carrying Championships were held earlier this year at Sunday River in Maine.

I was up earlier than usual this morning (i.e. before 8am) and saw a brief item about this event on Trans World Sport, so naturally I had to find out whether they had a web site. It appears that there's also a World Wife Carrying Championship in Finland, but I couldn't find that event's web site.

What wasn't mentioned in the TV report is that the runner doesn't have to carry his own wife: it's permissible to borrow a friend's wife for the event, though I'd say this is against the spirit of the event. Then again, since the prize is five times the wife's weight in cash, plus her weight in beer I suppose each competitor has to calculate the trade-off between weight and the chances of success for themselves.
The reason I was up so early on a Saturday morning was that I was waiting for two DVD box sets to arrive from Blackstar. I got an email saying they'd been shipped on Thursday, so I wanted to be sure I'd be up and about when the postman called this morning rather than miss out and have to go and fetch them from the sorting office some time next week.

Sure enough, just after 9am two padded envelopes arrived, containing Buffy Season 5 and Babylon 5 Season 1. Naturally I had to test to make sure that the DVDs were in working order, so first of all I checked out the first few minutes of The Gift. That whole extra-thorough "Previously on Buffy" sequence and the pre-credit teaser still sent a shiver up my spine. I didn't have time to watch the entire episode, but I'll certainly try to watch it before Buffy season 6 starts on BBC2 this week.

Later in the day I watched Midnight on the Firing Line, the first episode of Babylon 5's first season. It's been quite a while since the show's initial run on Channel 4, so I was curious to see just how well the show stood up to a repeat viewing. I needn't have worried. The show was by no means perfect - some actors were clearly still finding their way into their roles and there was some ropey dialogue - but the episode also gave us enough glimpses of a dirty, complicated, dangerous universe to promise that this was in no way like anything we'd seen from Star Trek at that time. It'll be fun to observe the characters in the first season knowing what's in store for them and watching for the way that the ground was being laid for plot developments to come.
Friday 25 October 2002, 23:55 BST
Microsoft Announces Ads for BSOD.
Tom Gordon, Director of Marketing for Anheuser-Busch, confirmed today that the beverage giant will be among the first advertisers, "We think it's a tremendous opportunity," said Gordon. "Picture this, you're working late at night on a crucial project. Your computer crashes. You've lost all your important work. It's definitely time for a beer, and we'll be there to remind you that the beer should be a beechwood-aged Budweiser. We like to call it 'The Bud Screen Of Death'."
The Death of the Internet. Or, The Myth of the Bandwidth Hog. Although the article is about the US broadband market, the general principle that large media companies would like to persuade users to pay through the nose for high-bandwidth internet connections is applicable to the UK too.

I don't doubt that the US cable companies are exaggerating how much their services are affected by the activities of peer-to-peer file sharing and downloading of large multimedia files with a view to justifying a complicated series of tariffs and usage plans which serve to both increase their profits and render menaingful price comparisons almost impossible. After all, that's what the mobile phone companies have done and it's very much part of the telco mindset. However, it's hardly unreasonable to suggest that beyond a certain level users should pay for the bandwidth they use.

The argument, in the end, is about where the cut-off point falls. If it's too low, hopefully this will encourage other entities without interests in the cable business, such as wireless access providers, communities which band together to buy and share a T1 line of their own, to move into the market for domestic broadband access.

[Via Techdirt]
Daniel Ellsberg's memoirs provide a reminder of one of the nasty little truths of American politics.
From the Communist takeover of China in 1949 on, the war - French, South Vietnamese, American - was unwinnable. So long as they had the will to prosecute the war, the North Vietnamese would get the means from across the Chinese border, and they had the will. Their ruthless regime under Ho Chi Minh gave them no choice about it. Five U.S. Presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon - knew this. The Pentagon Papers showed they were not misled. They got rosy estimates of "progress" in the war, but they also got the truth from the intelligence agencies, diplomats, and the military. They knew. So why did they send Americans to kill and die in Vietnam?

Reading the Pentagon Papers in 1969 Daniel Ellsberg saw why: "The president was part of the problem. This was clearly a matter of his role, not of his personality or party. As I was beginning to see it, the concentration of power within the executive branch since World War II had focused nearly all responsibility for policy 'failure' upon one man, the president. At the same time, it gave him enormous capability to avert or postpone or conceal such personal failure by means of force and fraud. Confronted by resolute external resistance, as in Vietnam, that power could not fail to corrupt the human who held it."
"The president was part of the problem." Scary. Not that the British system is superior. Over here a Prime Minister with a solid parliamentary majority has powers the average president can only dream of.
In the wake of the death and rebirth of GBlogs, Tom Coates asks Who's afraid of community participation?

It seems to me that nobody's "afraid" of being part of the UK weblogging community. It's just that fitting everyone on the GBlogs list into one community is only possible if you dilute the meaning of the term "weblogging community" until it's pretty close to meaningless. Sure, we all maintain weblogs of some description, but so what? There are lots of men who wear beards and glasses, but I don't feel any particular sense of community with them. There are definitely communities within the GBlogs list - anyone who reads a weblog for long will pick up on which sites the author tends to read, comment on and link to, and of course there have in the past been occasional "blogmeets" involving those living within reasonable travelling distance of London - but the GBlogs list is so long and the authors of the weblogs on that list have so diverse a range of interests that I think it's pointless to try to talk of it as a community.
Thursday 24 October 2002, 23:55 BST
Memo to criminals everywhere: recording your plans on your PDA is a very bad idea.

(NB/- New York Times story - free registration required.)

I love my Palm IIIx dearly, but it's always surprised me that PDAs in general lack halfway decent security measures. I suppose that like most users I find the convenience of instant access more important than an ability to really lock down my PDA. There's also the fact that I do carry my PDA almost everywhere. If it doesn't leave my sight, how will anyone get at it?

[Via Techdirt]
The Updated UK Weblogs page has been resurrected by Darren over at linkmachinego. Excellent...
Teresa Nielsen Hayden has seen some classic cover letters in her years as an editor.
What I am sending now is an EXTREMELY DIFFERENT VERSION of a novel that I sent to Tor Books in April 2001 (it was rejected). I am sending you this altered manuscript now because THIS VERSION INCLUDES MATHEMATICAL PROOFS THAT REVEAL THE SECRET OF THE UNIVERSE and THE REJECTED ONE DID NOT. Furthermore, I made drastic changes in the story line, which is why I feel that this is worth consideration.
Who'd be an editor?
Wednesday 23 October 2002, 21:50 BST
Wonder Women, or, How a 13 Year Old Decided To Train Herself to Become a Superhero. A fascinating tale of a very determined young woman.

When I read this I thought it must be fiction, but a bit of googling reveals that the story's writer, Kelly McEvers, is a published journalist who doesn't appear to have published any works of fiction.

[Via #!/usr/bin/girl]
Ben Hammersley has plans to resuscitate GBlogs. Well done that man.
Tuesday 22 October 2002, 21:50 BST
Having enjoying working with her husband on Swept Away, Madonna has lined up a few more remakes:
Pretty Woman
Release date: Christmas 2005

Young Vivian (Madonna) is turning tricks on the streets of L.A. when Edward (Bruce Willis) pulls up in his Porsche Boxster. He offers Vivian $50,000 to be his "date" for the week, and since that's more money than she can conceive of, she readily accepts, temporarily leaving behind her roommate Kit (Molly Ringwald). Over the course of the week, Edward and Vivian share intimacies beyond the run-of-the-mill fellatio (though there's plenty of that, too); Edward's friends and associates are bewitched by the coltish, unspoiled Vivian and wonder where he could have possibly found her. When Edward's business partner Phil (Jim Belushi) expresses his concern that Vivian may be a corporate spy, Edward quells his fears by informing him that Vivian is a prostitute. Phil responds by heading to Edward's hotel suite and making sexual advances toward Vivian. However, Phil didn't bargain on Vivian's being a yoga-toned, Pilates-firmed kickboxer, and she beats him so severely he ends up in a coma. Vivian and Edward live happily ever after.
Rafe Colburn proposes an excellent rule of thumb for people judging whether a Linux distribution is for them:
The difficulty of the installer should be like those little signs in front of rides at amusement parks: "You must be this tall to ride."
It so happens that I spent a couple of hours last night setting up SuSE Linux 8.1 on my PC's secondary hard disk, so the subject of installers is on my mind.

Not that the SuSE installer resembles the command-line driven Debian system in any way. SuSE have put a lot of work into making the installer slick and easy to use, and even more into their YaST2 configuration utility. I know that a lot of Linux users loathe YaST2 because it tends to assume that it's the only system configuration tool which is being used and is inclined to wipe out changes in configuration files which users have inserted manually, but right now I'm not looking to do anything terribly esoteric with my Linux setup so at first glance it looks as if I'll be able to do all the configuration I need using YaST2. Give me a week or so and I might be cursing YaST2, but for now I'll take ease of use if it's on offer.

Regular readers may be wondering why I'm playing around with Linux, given that I've been musing about how nice MacOS X is lately and saying that I'm 80% of the way to buying a Mac. The thing is, my main aim at this stage is that my next PC should not be running Windows XP. That leaves two mainstream options (assuming that I discount the possibility of picking up that copy of BeOS for Intel I saw in PC World the other day) and I feel that I owe it to myself to give Linux one more chance to convince me that it's suited to my day to day needs before I commit myself to paying through the nose for Apple's very nice hardware in order to get my hands on MacOS X. (If Apple produced MacOS X for Intel systems I'd certainly be interested, but I doubt they ever will.) I know that running Linux using the KDE3 desktop on a Pentium 166 with 64MB of RAM isn't going to be the speediest computing experience known to mankind, any more than trying to run Windows XP would be, but I'm more interested in experimenting with all the little utilities and configuration tweaks that I'd want to use every day than in proving how fast Linux is. It's safe to say that my next PC will be a lot faster than the one I'm testing Linux on anyway.

My first impression is that KDE3 is very slick and that YaST2 is going to make it reasonably straightforward to configure my system up to the point at which I can use if for my daily internet use. I haven't set myself a hard time limit for my evaluation of my new toy, so when I finally get a chance to play around with SuSE properly this weekend I'll just play it by ear. So far it looks quite promising.
Funny Voyager quotations. The adventures of Captain Janeway & Co were a bit of a disappointment all in all, what with the writers throwing away an interesting initial premise in favour of lots of maddeningly inconsistent moralising from Janeway and completely stripping away any sense that the Borg were actually dangerous. However, the writers did do humour quite well, as this discussion thread demonstrates. I like several of the examples cited, but this one (which I'd forgotten about) is perhaps my favourite:
Torres: "You don't think I'm hostile, do you?"

Kim: ""Uh...no?"

Torres: "I speak my mind, I'm forthright, but that's different from hostile."

Kim: (edging away as if fearing for his life) "Very different."

Torres: "And if someone were to SAY I was hostile, they'd be way off base. RIGHT?!!"

Kim: (still nervous)"Oh, absolutely,"

Torres: (sounds sad and contemplative) "Then how come you look like you're afraid for your life?"
Poor Harry always ended up on the wrong end of this sort of exchange. My second favourite Voyager comment was also directed at Ensign Kim:
"I didn't realize becoming human again would be such a challenge. Sexuality is particularly complex. As Borg we had no need for seduction, no time for single-celled fertilization. We saw a species we wanted and we assimilated it. Nevertheless, I am willing to explore my humanity. Take off your clothes."
In the spirit of fairness, I have to note that the writers were well served by the cast. Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo were particularly adept at bringing out the humour in their characters.

[Via mssv.net]
Monday 21 October 2002, 21:00 BST
Three mice are at a bar bragging...
... The first mouse throws down a shot of bourbon, slams the empty glass onto the bar, turns to the second mouse and says, "When I see a mousetrap, I lie on my back and set it off with my foot. When the bar comes down, I catch it in my teeth, bench press it twenty times to work up an appetite, and then make off with the cheese."

The second mouse orders up two shots of tequila, drinks them down one after the other, slams both glasses onto the bar, turns to the first mouse and replies, "Oh yeah? When I see rat poison, I collect as much as I can, take it home, grind it up to a powder, and add it to my coffee each morning so I can get a good buzz going for the rest of the day."

The first mouse and the second mouse then turn to the third mouse. The third mouse finishes the beer he has in front of him, lets out a long sigh and says to the first two, "I don't have time for this bullshit. Gotta go home and have sex with the cat."
[Via Scalloblog - see entry for 17.10.2002]
The BBC's Great Britons poll provided a couple of hours of entertaining TV last night. Naturally, there's plenty to take issue with in the Top 100: is David Beckham really greater than Bobby Moore? If Tony Blair deserves a place on the list where's Clement Attlee? What the hell are Robbie Williams and Cliff Richard doing on the list?

I'm inclined to think that it would have been better to exclude anyone still living from contention. This would have been a bit hard on the likes of Margaret Thatcher - love her or loathe her, she deserves a place on the list if Lloyd George does - Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee, but it would have spared us all the pop stars and most of the sporting figures.

Unfortunately it wouldn't have kept two utterly laughable entries from the Top 10. There is simply no way that either John Lennon or Diana, Princess of Wales merit a place in the company of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Winston Churchill, Oliver Cromwell, Charles Darwin, Queen Elizabeth I, Admiral Lord Nelson and Sir Isaac Newton. Give the two vacant spots to Thomas Paine and The Unknown Soldier, I'd say.

For what it's worth, I voted for Charles Darwin, who just edged out Churchill, Elizabeth I and Brunel.
Miles Kington has spotted a simply marvelous trial in the High Court. Mr Arnold Chrysler is accused of stealing 40,000 hotel coat hangers.
Counsel: [...] Now, Mr Chrysler, perhaps you will describe what reason you had to steal 40,000 coat hangers?

Chrysler: Is that a question?

Counsel: Yes.

Chrysler: It doesn't sound like one. It sounds like a proposition which doesn't believe in itself. You know - "Perhaps I will describe the reason I had to steal 40,000 coat hangers... Perhaps I won't... Perhaps I'll sing a little song instead..."

Judge: In fairness to Mr Lovelace, Mr Chrysler, I should remind you that barristers have an innate reluctance to frame a question as a question. Where you and I would say, "Where were you on Tuesday?", they are more likely to say, "Perhaps you could now inform the court of your precise whereabouts on the day after that Monday?". It isn't, strictly, a question, and it is not graceful English but you must pretend that it is a question and then answer it, otherwise we will be here for ever. Do you understand?

Chrysler: Yes, m'lud.

Judge: Carry on, Mr Lovelace.
Believe it or not, the second day is even better. Mr Chrysler has explained that his business is based upon providing clients - typically businessmen who spend most of their life living out of a suitcase - with furniture which reminds them of a hotel:
Judge: Tell me, Mr Chrysler, do these businessmen of yours also have Gideon Bibles by their bedside at home?

Chrysler: Many of them, sir.

Judge: And where do you get the Gideon Bibles from?

Chrysler: Alas, they, too, have to be taken from hotels.

Judge: Then why are you not also up on a charge of Bible-stealing?

Chrysler: Because the Bibles do not belong to the hotels. They belong to the Gideon Society. And the Gideon Society has decided not to prosecute me, but to forgive me and tell me to go and sin no more.

Judge: And have you sinned no more?

Chrysler: Alas, no.
Can't you just see John Cleese as the poor barrister, Michael Palin as the judge and Terry Jones as Mr Chrysler?

[Via Found]
GBlogs is history! Sadly, Jen has had to give up maintaining the most comprehensive and useful list of British-based weblogs around. I'm sure I'm not the only UK weblogger who found countless hours of fascinating reading through GBlogs. I know that without GBlogs I'd not have discovered half the British weblogs I read on a regular basis, and my life would have been poorer.

Thanks for all the hard work Jen. It was much appreciated.
Sunday 20 October 2002, 21:35 BST
The PowerPoint Anthology of Literature. Sheer genius. Hamlet is particularly fine.

[Via MetaFilter]
Scientists are finding more and more evidence that there's a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. They've plotted the orbit of a star which is orbiting within a few light-hours of the galactic centre and concluded that the only object massive yet small enough to account for the star's peculiar orbit is a black hole. (Though a Vernor Vinge fan might suggest that the galaxy's Zone Control machinery might also fit the bill.)

[Via Astronomy Picture of the Day]
If this story isn't true, it should be:
When British television resumed in 1946, it re-started right at the same point in the Mickey Mouse cartoon where it was shut off in 1939. Then the announcer Jasmine Bligh came on and said, "Sorry for the interruption of our programme service. Our next presentation is..." As if nothing had happened!
[Via digitaltrickery.com]
The Thorny Devil looks exactly the way you'd expect it to with a name like that.

I especially like the false head.

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