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Saturday 2 November 2002, 21:10 GMT
The New York Times has an article describing attempts by Princeton University to teach liberal arts undergraduates about computers. (NB/- free registration required.)

The course sounds like a worthwhile attempt to put technological issues into some sort of perspective. It can only help that the Computers In Our World course is taught by one Brian Kernighan. Professional C programmers, or anyone who knows much about the history of Unix, will probably recognise the name.
There is no mention in class of Mr. Kernighan's distinguished background. But most of the students have run a Google search or two on Mr. Kernighan and seem somewhat impressed. "He wrote that book on the C language back at Bell Labs a long time ago, before I was born," said Ms. Piranian, who is all of 18.
[Via NextDraft]
Too Clever For Their Own Good. Marshall Bowden reviews a new "Best Of" collection devoted to the work of 10CC. This particular collection is a US release and omits some of the band's early work - how can you do a 10CC compilation but omit Rubber Bullets? - but it sounds as if it covers most of the essentials.

Looking back, I think that an earlier 10CC compilation from the late 70s (10CC's Greatest Hits 1972-78) might just be the album I've bought most often down the years, what with wearing out the original tape more than once, and then buying a new copy after I'd switched to buying CDs. I know some of 10CC's music sounds a bit dated nowadays, but the good stuff is still really, really good. How can anyone dislike tracks like I'm Not In Love, I'm Mandy, Fly Me, The Things We Do For Love and Dreadlock Holiday?
40tude Dialog is an awful name for what looks like being a very decent offline Usenet client. It's free for personal use, and although it's still at the public beta stage it's already looking fairly impressive. If I didn't know that Forté are working on the long-awaited Agent 2.0 then I might be seriously tempted to switch from Agent 1.92 to the final release of Dialog: it looks as if 40tude have been reading all those "wishlist" threads in alt.usenet.offline-reader.forte-agent and taking notes.

Dialog isn't quite there yet - navigation around the various windows using the keyboard alone is a little tricky, and the program doesn't feel quite as responsive as Agent - but it's already got all the features I could reasonably ask for in a Windows offline newsreader.
Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction: Holmium.
Nanotechnologist's Lung

The greatest occupational hazard of nanotechnology is poor lab technique. It is important for the lab tech to remember that nanotechnological devices are very, very small. The slightest carelessness can result in a release of self-replicating agents into the air. If the technician subsequently breathes them in, it is quite possible that they will lodge in his or her lungs, and begin to build a civilization there.

Early signs of nanotechnologist's lung include a heaviness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and unaccountably high cell-phone bills. The latter are the result of the nascent nano-civilization attempting to obtain an independent financial base by selling complex information services, and to establish diplomatic relations with the existing macro-nations.
Friday 1 November 2002, 22:05 GMT
Unspooled. Hank Stuever gets all nostalgic at the thought that the cassette tape - the medium of choice for the music lovers of Generation X - is facing obsolescence.

The demise of the mix tape doesn't bother me a bit - it's not an art form I ever embraced - but the idea that all my pre-recorded cassettes from the 80s are doomed is rather depressing.

[Via MetaFilter]
My Way: Getting in touch with your inner Turkmenbashi. Cullen Murphy on that little dictator inside each and every one of us:
We all possess an inner Turkmenbashi. It is the part of us that yearns to be the absolute ruler of some sovereign state, no matter how pitiful; the part that yearns to pepper conversation with references to "my people," or to achieve weight loss simply by changing one's portrait on coins.
A fun article, though not as fascinating as Alex Blumberg's It's Good To Be King from Wired a couple of years ago.
K-Meleon 0.7 has been released. K-Meleon uses the HTML rendering engine at the heart of Mozilla but leaves out a lot of the frills that some Mozilla users dislike.

I'm happy enough with Mozilla's email client and other features that I'm not tempted to make the switch, but it's fair to say that if I'd seen K-Meleon first I might never have bothered downloading Mozilla.
Thursday 31 October 2002, 23:05 GMT
Lady Pixie Moondrip's Guide to Craft Names. For Wiccans everywhere, a hilarious guide to choosing the right craft name.
Starting Off Right

Whatever else you do, you should certainly begin your craft name with "Lord" or "Lady." First of all, it's pretentious, and that's always a good way to start. Secondly, it makes an interesting statement about a religion that supposedly has its roots in the traditions of peasants and rural tribespeople. Thirdly, since most Craft groups use exactly these same words for the God and the Goddess, this creates a (by no means inappropriate) confusion about just who it is that we worship.

[...]

Inventing A Name From Scratch

The best way to do this is to come up with something that sounds, say, vaguely Celtic, perhaps by mangling a couple of existing names together, and then resolutely avoid looking it up in a Welsh or Gaelic dictionary.

Luck is an important factor here, but there is always the chance that you'll manage something striking. It took one person of Lady Pixie's acquaintance only a few minutes to blur together Gwydion son of Don, and Girion, Lord of Dale, into the craft name "Lord Gwyrionin," -- and several months to find out that the name he had invented, and used throughout the local pagan scene, was also the Welsh word for "idiot."
[Via rec.arts.sf.written]
Word has it that PalmOS 6 will draw heavily on BeOS. Interesting. What I want to know is how far they'll have to move their minimum hardware requirement upmarket in order to do all this clever stuff.

One of the reasons I like PalmOS is that it runs on fairly cheap hardware which runs for quite a while on cheap batteries.

If PalmOS 6 ends up requiring as much hardware as a Windows for Pocket PC system then Palm will have squandered one of their biggest advantages. A PDA isn't meant to be a portable PC, and I'd prefer to stick with hardware and software that does the basic PDA tasks (contact lists, appointments, jotting down brief notes) adequately rather than compromise on weight and battery life for the sake of a colour screen and the ability to play multimedia files.

[Via Boing Boing]
Wednesday 30 October 2002, 21:00 GMT
Two great tastes that taste bad together. Science fiction authors who probably shouldn't collaborate:
Lois McMaster Bujold and Terrance Dicks's _Dr Who: Miles Away!_, in which the heroic Time Lord's attempts to overthrow an oppressive star empire are repeatedly thwarted by an infuriating dwarf.
Class.
The Postscript reveals the truth about ISO 216, the international standard which specifies the size of a sheet of A4 paper.

[Via NTK]
Jill Matrix has found an ad for someone's dream job:
Lion tamer, comedian, rocket scientist needed for front desk reception. Possessing vast amounts of useless information helpful but not required. ... If you can herd cats, you've got a job. Free parking, busline, full benefits, including paid vacation and opportunity to make grown men cry.
Leonids over Uluru. The word "spectacular" comes to mind.
Tuesday 29 October 2002, 23:25 GMT
Not much to write about tonight, as I spent the evening at the cinema watching XXX.

I think it's safe to say that Agent 007 has nothing to worry about. Not because of an implausible storyline, cardboard villains, incoherent editing or even the shameful waste of Samuel L Jackson. The biggest problem was that Vin Diesel - who I enjoyed quite a bit in The Fast and the Furious - lacked the charisma to pull the role off. Not that he was helped by the script, but someone with aspirations to the title of "the next big action movie star" should be capable of overcoming a little problem like that. Then again, give him one decent script and a gifted director of action films - a Kathryn Bigelow or a James Cameron - and he might just surprise us all.

(Let's face it, some of it is down to luck. Bruce Willis was lucky that his third big-screen starring role, Die Hard, had the benefit of a cracking script and a director who was on a roll. If he'd started out with half a dozen action roles in films of the standard of, say, Striking Distance then he wouldn't have got near a really good script and Bruce Willis might be on TV to this day, reprising for the umpteenth time the smartass role he perfected in Moonlighting.)

I feel an obligation to point out that, poor as XXX was, it definitely won't be the worst action/spy film this year. Judging by the trailer I saw this evening, I Spy is going to be yet another nail in the coffin of Eddie Murphy's career. (NB/- I've just checked, and it appears that I Spy isn't due for a UK release until January 2003. That's OK, XXX can be worst action film of 2002, and I Spy can have the title of worst spy film of the decade.)
Economist Robert Mundell has revealed his Top Ten Benefits From Winning the Nobel Prize.
10. Can end almost any argument by asking, "And did you ever win a Nobel Prize?"

[...]

3. Any meaningless crap I say, the next day it's in the Wall Street Journal.
Or, to put it another way, Econ rocks my world!

[Mundell list via mssv.net]
Monday 28 October 2002, 21:15 GMT
Blondes Have More Fun. Reds Have More ... Toast. An article in praise of redheads - particularly the cartoon variety.

[Via feeling listless]
Show Me The Monkeys. The first two paragraphs say it all really:
Herding sheep with dogs is nothing new. In fact, dogs are bred for that exact purpose all around the world.

But rarely are the dogs equipped with saddles. And monkeys. They will be, however, today and Saturday at the International Professional Rodeo Association's rodeo at the Hardeeville Motor Speedway.
Yes, they do have a photograph. No, it isn't April 1st.

[Via Inscrutable Exhortations]
Have you ever heard of the Richat Structure? I'd never seen a picture of it until I visited Astronomy Picture of the Day earlier today. The sheer scale and symmetry of it is amazing.
Life Lessons of the Buffyverse. Yes, it's another collection of quotations from Buffy and Angel. Yes, I've posted this sort of thing before, and I'll probably do it again some day. You wanna make something of it?
Giles: Dear god, Buffy, there's only so much I can take. We're going to have to change the system. A fourteen-year-old's too old to be babysat, and it's not fair on her.

Buffy: What'd she make you do?

Giles: Um, well, we listened to aggressively cheerful music sung by people chosen for their ability to dance ... then we ate cookie dough and talked about boys.
(I Was Made to Love You)
[Via little ms. "sweet and innocent."]
Sunday 27 October 2002, 22:35 GMT
You Don't Know Dick by Jonathan Lethem. As Philip K Dick's literary reputation grows and more of his work comes back into print, Lethem thinks it's ever more important to remember the science fictional works that earned Dick his reputation.

[Via Wibbly Weblog]
Tom plasticbag.org Coates reflects upon The Power of the Inbound Link.

His worry is that sites promoting viewpoints with which he fundamentally disagrees may link to his site without his being able to do anything to signal to anyone who follows the link that he disagrees with the views expressed at the referring site. The solutions he offers are to either email the referring site and ask for the link to be removed, or (for those with the knowledge and opportunity to do so) to set up your web server so that it responds to requests coming from the offending site by putting up a page which indicates that you fundamentally disagree with the views expressed on the site the reader is coming to your site from.

If I've understood correctly this isn't intended as a response to a specific citation of your site, such as where someone who disagrees with something you've said posts a link to that particular article as part of a rebuttal of your argument. The aim is to effectively shun a site, to make it clear that you want nothing to do with someone who thinks that [insert repugnant view of choice here] or who resorts to [insert unfair debating tactic of choice here].

I can understand someone who wishes to block referrers in response to a deliberate attempt by another site's author to send people to your site having encouraged them to tell you you're talking rubbish, but I think that in the absence of a provocation of that order it's a bad idea to put up barriers between sites like weblogs which, after all are meant to be open for all the world to read. For one thing blocking another site because you disagree with the general views expressed therein or the tactics adopted by the site's owner in dealing with opposing views is far too broad-brush an approach: in effect, you're assuming that anyone coming from that site is in agreement with the site's views and tactics. It might just as well be that they're looking for the very counter-arguments that you've written, or that they'll come to your site disagreeing with you but will at least be prepared to be exposed to your views. Call me a woolly-minded liberal, but I think it's better to leave open the possibility that people will be exposed to opposing views than to simply throw up barriers between sites.

In fairness to Tom, I'm coming at this from a very different position. His site is far more prominent and widely-read than mine, and he has friends who have been the subject of some pretty vitriolic criticism from some warbloggers. My site is so low-profile that even if I did say something that a warblogger found offensive it's unlikely it would ever be noticed, so it's easy for me to pontificate about how we should all lay ourselves open to attack. I just dislike the idea of throwing up barriers between weblogs on general principles.
The Defining Moments of Digital Culture, nominated by Clive Thompson. Some of these are very much for American consumption - the anti-geek backlash in the wake of Columbine, the appearance by Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam fame on Letterman - but it's still well worth a read. I'd say the most important moments on the list are items 3 (The Slashdot Effect), 4 (Hotline is released), 5 (Suck.com launches) and 10:
10. Cyberselfish: John Perry Barlow proves the digital elite are political morons.

February 8th, 1996 - "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather." Thus began "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," penned by Electronic Frontier Foundation pioneer John Perry Barlow. In one stroke, Barlow neatly captured the screw-you libertarianism of our digital elite: All governments are bad and weak, all free markets are wonderful and strong.

Whatever.

The gormless naiveté of this position soon became all too apparent, as the marketplace - in the guise of Microsoft - proceeded to systematically trample net innovation. Meanwhile, those "ineffectual" governments began drafting nightmarish new copyright laws, while the digital elite stood by (hey, nothing ever gets done in Washington, right?).

All of which proves the grim law of cyberpolitics: Smart coders can make idiotic citizens.
Amen to that.

[Via t-melt.com]
An unpublished prologue to Lois M Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity is up at www.dendarii.com.

I think I can understand why it was omitted from the final draft, as it reveals things about what's really going on that I'd say were better unveiled at intervals over the first two-thirds of the novel proper, but it's still worth a look. (However, it probably shouldn't be read by anyone who has yet to read Diplomatic Immunity itself.)

[Via Martin Bonham, posting to rec.arts.sf.written]

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