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Saturday 9 November 2002, 22:40 GMT
It looks as if Channel 4 is going to move The West Wing to yet another timeslot for season 3. Saturday evening isn't a terribly inconvenient slot for me, but it's sad to see yet another classy import being messed around by Channel 4's schedulers. (See also Homicide, Angel, Futurama, Party of Five, Oz, to name but a few.)

[Via More a way of life....]
Can Mike Doyle Do to Microsoft What the Rest of the Computer Industry and the Department of Justice Couldn't Do? If Mike Doyle's firm wins its patent infringement lawsuit against Microsoft then the web browser business could get very interesting indeed.

The trouble is, comments like this from Doyle make me very nervous:
"Is there any practical settlement amount that is worth more to Eolas than a victory at trial? Considering the facts in the case and the magnitude of the stakes here, a highly likely outcome is that it will actually go to trial, and, once it does, that a jury will award us both damages and an injunction. Injunction is the key word here. That is what patent rights provide: the power to exclude. What if we were to just say no? Or, what if some other big player were to acquire or merge with us? What if only one best-of-breed browser could run embedded plug-ins, applets, ActiveX controls, or anything like them, and it wasn't IE? How competitive would the other browsers be without those capabilities? How would that change the current dynamics in the Industry?" (Emphasis added.)
If I read this correctly, all this case really amounts to is an opportunity to hand the power to define how applets and plug-ins work from one commercial entity with monopolistic tendencies to another company which might well end up being every bit as platform-centric as Microsoft are. I'll grant you that in the short term anything that shifts the balance of power on the PC desktop away from Microsoft is a good thing, but in the long run web content needs to be created using cross-platform, open protocols wherever possible. Altering the dynamics of the industry may make Doyle - or whoever buys up his patents - wealthy, but how will it improve the state of the internet?

Clearly there's a lot more to this case than Bob Cringely has time to cover in a single column. I'll have to do some googling and catch up on the details.
Meet Terrifica. She's a real-life superhero, out to protect lonely single women in New York from the likes of her arch-enemy, Fantastico.

I know how funny the article is, but there's a real sadness about Terrifica's, or rather Sarah's, story. How can you read about someone who says things like "People are happiest when they're alone and living their solitary lives" without acknowledging that you're reading about someone who must have been hurt very badly?

[Via Blogatelle]
Spoof Exam. Just the sort of thing to induce panic in anyone during revision:
10 State the principal of mathematical induction.

Use induction on the question numbers on this paper to show that the fact that you can't do the first question means that you probably won't be able to do any of the others either.
[Via User Friendly Link of the Day]
If ever I find myself doubting that Buffy is a cut above pretty well everything else on TV, I need only look at the programmes that have tried to copy the kick-ass action heroine template. Saturday nights in the UK bring we terrestrial TV viewers the first seasons of both Alias and Dark Angel, and tonight's episodes of the two shows revealed just how great the gulf is between the Slayer and her rivals.

Alias is trundling along nicely, with outlandish plot twists piling up on one another, giving the viewers as little time as possible to think about just how many absurdities we're being asked to swallow. The main weakness of the show is that Sydney Bristow just isn't that engaging a character. Jennifer Garner does as much as she can with the role, but she's not much more than a wind-up doll who is sent on a mission in order to kick some bad-guy ass and try not to get caught by her bosses as she hands over yet another bunch of secrets to the CIA. Sydney has friends, but because she's keeping her secret life, well, secret it doesn't really affect them much beyond the occasional missed rendezvous because she has to jet halfway around the world to break into a bank vault somewhere. Admittedly this might be about to change, what with her journalist friend Will getting a mysterious phone call in this evening's episode, but half the time I wonder why they've bothered to even give the non-secret agent supporting characters names. The show's pace and style is just fine, but the lack of emotional punch is what leaves it short of the best of Joss Whedon's work.

As for Dark Angel, I'm afraid they've taken what might have been an interesting scenario and made it deeply dull. Part of the problem is that there's been so little variation in the types of story - it's either Max being chased by Lydecker or Max breaking & entering/stealing something/protecting someone on behalf of Logan - but the major difficulty is that Jessica Alba looks the part but doesn't have the acting chops to pull off the emotional moments. Take this evening, when it looked as if she was going to have to go on the run and leave Seattle for good, and then later on when it seemed that Logan might die following a major operation. Alba's acting just didn't convey how torn Max was supposed to be at these turns of events. For an instructive comparison, take a scene in the first episode of Buffy season 6 which was shown last week on BBC2, the one where Giles sneaks off to fly back to England and Willow, Xander, Anya, Tara and Dawn go to catch up with him and say their farewells. Without going over the top, each actor managed to convey that they were saying goodbye to someone who meant the world to them. Alba, in her "goodbye" scene tonight just barely managed a switch from expression #1 (angry pout) to expression #2 (sullen pout). (Expression #3 (smiling) wasn't required much in this evening's episode.)

Admittedly, it's not fair to compare the performances of an ensemble of actors starting on the 6th season of one show with that given by a single actress nine episodes into Dark Angel's first season. Buffy season 1 also featured an actor who struggled to bring his character to life (so to speak), but whereas David Boreanaz was one small part of an ensemble cast Alba is the lead character on her show amd she really needs to be able to convince us that Max is something more than a kickass chick if we're to care what happens to her. Boreanaz improved enormously in Buffy season 2, and perhaps Alba will do the same as the weeks go by, but she's much more of a drag on her show than Boreanaz was on Buffy.

The bottom line: Buffy kicks ass, but she's a very human character surrounded by other very real, fallible people and supported by some very clever writers. Sydney Bristow's busy double life barely leaves time for the audience to notice what's going on around her as the writers spin out yet one more complicated plot development. Max's amazing physical prowess is irrelevant if we don't care about what she's going through and we see her doing the same things week after week.

(Yes, I do know that Dark Angel was cancelled after two seasons. Whether this was because of the deficiences in Alba's performance remains to be seen by those of us who only have access to terrestrial channels.)
Friday 8 November 2002, 23:45 GMT
Digiguide version 6 has been released. For those of you who haven't come across it, it's an electronic programme guide for British TV and radio. It's one of the most useful pieces of software I own. Not because it lets me watch more TV, but because it lets me identify the TV I'm interested in and ignore the rest. For example, I can ask Digiguide to show me all New Series after I've downloaded new listings, then mark the ones I want to see. I can ask it to highlight all the Films that are on over the next couple of weeks, or show me all the programmes featuring a particular star, or remind me that the late-night uncut repeat of Buffy is on BBC2 in fifty minutes from now so that I'll remember to put a tape in the VCR.

The new version of Digiguide is easier to use, better looking and more flexible: what's not to like?
Charlie Stross has been playing with the AlphaSmart Dana, a cross between a Cambridge Computers Z88 and a Palm PDA.

It sounds like a seriously useful product for writers and journalists, who can certainly use a cheap portable with a good keyboard. Most other potential laptop users will find that PalmOS a rather unsatisfactory replacement for Windows. If they'd licensed the OS and built-in applications used by Psion in the Series 5 they'd have a much more useful general-purpose "laptop-alternative." (Yes, I know the Series 5 is "obsolete." You wouldn't know it from using it.)
Thursday 7 November 2002, 23:30 GMT
The Obsolete Computer Museum makes me come over all nostalgic. The collection is by no means complete - where's the Sinclair QL, the Psion Organiser or the Atari 520STM - but it's still well worth a look for anyone who remembers the first couple of generations of personal computers.

I was a little dismayed to see a Psion Series 5 in the collection. It's a real shame that Psion ended up concentrating on the Symbian OS and abandoned the consumer market, because they understood the difference between a portable computer and a desktop system like nobody else.

[Via User Friendly Link of the Day]
Over at CHUD, Devin Faraci reminisces about A Life In Spoilers:
Giving the internet to people like me, who had been so used to scouring the Earth for the smallest scrap of information about a movie, was sort of like giving a nail gun to a caveman. You can be sure everything in the joint is going to end up nailed to everything else in the joint, including the caveman. That was how it was back in the dark days of the late 90s - one of the first things I did when I got to work (the only place I had internet access) was to check to find out if anyone knew what color Bail Organa's underwear was going to be.
[Via I Love Everything]
Wednesday 6 November 2002, 21:25 GMT
The producers of The Matrix: Reloaded have finally put out a teaser poster featuring Monica Bellucci.

No doubt even as I type this Usenet posters are feverishly debating the significance of the fact that her teaser picture is the only one in the first set where the subject's head falls entirely within the shot. Me, I'm just happy that they found something even sexier than black leather for her to wear. (Excuse me, I have to go and take a cold shower now...)

[Via Dark Horizons]
Kage Baker interviewed by Caitlin Lyon for the Banshee Studios ezine.

Baker's series of short stories, novellas and novels about the time-travelling activities of The Company is consistently entertaining and intriguing, not least because she obviously does a lot of research into the places and situations her characters encounter.

Most of Kage Baker's short stories and novellas about The Company are available very cheaply (and entirely legally) at Fictionwise, which serves as an ideal way to get a taste of her work at very little cost.

[Via Blogatelle]
Genius? Hack? Genius? Ian Rothkerch interviews Brian De Palma about his latest film, Femme Fatale, and discusses his roller-coaster career:
How do you respond to those age-old charges that you're a misogynist?

It comes out of making my thrillers in the '70s and early '80s; I had women as protagonists and we had a strong feminist movement emerging. If you put a woman in a situation where she's gonna get killed or chopped up or stabbed, you were a misogynist. I make thrillers; I think women in peril are more interesting than men; and I like to have a woman in a negligee wandering around in a dark house rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm sorry. It works for me better.
Arnie in a negligee? I'm going to have nightmares tonight.
Tuesday 5 November 2002, 23:00 GMT
Baby Wee Wee. Quite remarkably tasteless.

[Via Orbyn.com]
Pete Townshend reviews Kurt Cobain's journals.
As a songwriter and rock architect, I was interested to look behind the creative process of Kurt Cobain. Nirvana's second album, Nevermind was a breath of 'punk' fresh air in the musically stale early Nineties. So I picked up this book searching for connections. Where might a particular lyric idea have begun? What, for example, is behind the smart, striking and ironic wit of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'? If this sounds rather professorial, that's me, the first proprietor of the rock academy of lyric analysis.
[Via Bookslut]
How to Blog.
Make sure you have working permalinks. Bad permalinks keeps people from linking to you.

[...]

Read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and apply it to a cyber setting. People like to be liked. Except for the sick puppies who like to be hated. Any way that you can express that in a blog, do it.

[...]

Chase the white rabbit all the way back to its hole. Be sure to credit sources, and credit their sources when it's appropriate.
I'm working on the permalink thing, honest...

[Via Blogatelle]
Jamie's Kitchen, which started on Channel 4 earlier this evening, was a surprisingly enjoyable effort.

I've never watched one of Jamie Oliver's cooking programmes, and like about 98% of the country I'm sick to death of those Sainsburys adverts, but despite all this Oliver came across as a decent guy who was looking desperately for some youngsters who shared his passion for cooking.

I wish they'd revealed who the final 15 would be in the first episode instead of making us wait until next week, but assuming that they reveal who made it first thing next week that should leave plenty of time for us to look on as the trainees (and Jamie Oliver, for that matter) find out just what they've let themselves in for. I can't help thinking that there's going to be a horrendous attrition rate over the next few weeks. It should be fun to watch, anyway.
Can I just say how much fun it is to watch the Tories do a terrific impersonation of the Labour Party circa 1981. If Iain Duncan Smith is Michael Foot, does that make Michael Portillo the Tory Tony Benn?
Monday 4 November 2002, 22:10 GMT
Give Bill Gates A Fish...
... and he'll buy some tartar sauce to go with it.

Teach Bill Gates to fish, and he'll build a tartar sauce factory and eventually corner the market. The tartar sauce won't be as good as some other tartar sauce, but people won't mind, they'll just think that that faint hint of mercury is how tartar sauce is supposed to taste.
Victory on Points. Via MemeMachineGo!, a story which requires no comment from me: the tale of an encounter between philosopher A J Ayer and "Iron Mike" Tyson.
At yet another party he had befriended Sanchez [Fernando Sanchez, a fashionable designer famous for women's underclothes]. Ayer was now standing near the entrance to the great white living-room of Sanchez's West 57th Street apartment, chatting to a group of young models and designers, when a woman rushed in saying that a friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found Mike Tyson forcing himself on a young south London model called Naomi Campbell, then just beginning her career. Ayer warned Tyson to desist. Tyson: "Do you know who the fuck I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world." Ayer stood his ground. "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men." Ayer and Tyson began to talk. Naomi Campbell slipped out.
How cute is this?

[Via jejune.net]
Sunday 3 November 2002, 22:20 GMT
Self-Healing Minefields. From DARPA, those nice people who brought you the internet.

The question is, what civilian applications would this technology have. Self-healing furniture that will put itself back in place after a particularly wild party? A desk that tidies itself?

[Via 3 bruces]
Hypothesis Refuted! An intrepid Slashdot poster, having followed a thread about the orbital mechanics of the Cassini space probe's journey, decides to try a little experiment:
Results from conducting my experiment.
stand on a sidewalk as cars drive past at 30 mph. Just as one car is about to pass you, toss a tennis ball out in front of it. The collision will greatly increase the speed of the tennis ball in the direction of the car's motion (and only very slightly decrease the speed of the car)
07:45AM Looking for tennis balls.
07:57AM Finished wrestling dog for three tennis balls from the backyard. They appear to have been well chewed and soaked with dog slobber. Given daily high temperatures of 18 degrees (F) over the past week, these objects more closely resemble croquet balls than tennis balls...Oh well, technically I'm within the experiment's parameters. Cool.
Several intermediate steps later, the experiment ended with...
11:23PM The dog and I remain in the custody of the local law enforcement authorities. I now understand how the imprisoned Galileo felt when he knew his experiments disproved prevailing accepted scientific principles.
Free the Slashdot One!
Rusty's Quiet In-Desk PC. Very nice indeed. Not very cheap - two flat-panel LCD displays is a bit over the top - but very nice.

For a much less tasteful alternative housing for your PC, you could always try the Kitty or the Penguin.

[Rusty's Quiet Desk PC via User Friendly Link of the Day]
A very nice spooky candle holder. I know I should really have posted this nearer Halloween, but it's still worth seeing.
Buffy season 6 has started on BBC2. I made the mistake of taping the episode in Long Play mode, so the contrast in picture quality with my recent viewing of The Gift on DVD was rather startling, but happily the quality of other aspects of the show was well up to scratch. It wasn't the best season opener of Buffy, mostly because it was so obviously the first half of a two-part storyline, but it did a decent job of showing us how the gang had continued since the end of last season.

It's very difficult to watch the show with a completely open mind given that I've picked up a lot of information about the events of the season - I was watching one particular character very carefully for hints of what's to come. (I'm sure most of you who watch the show in the US or have seen it on Sky know who I mean.) I have a basic idea of the shape of the season, but happily the show's appeal lies as much in the acting, the writing and the little details as it does in big narrative twists and turns so I've still plenty of reason to keep watching. My gradual progress through seasons 1-5 on DVD reveals just how good the show was, how carefully it was put together. I already know that season 6 rings a few changes, but I hope and suspect that it'll continue to be one of the highlights of my TV week.

For the moment I've put my Buffy DVDs to one side to work through season 1 of Babylon 5. The latter show isn't destined to be remembered as long as Buffy will be, as it was never the same sort of mainstream pop culture success and, frankly, wasn't as consistently good in terms of writing and acting. However, that's not to say that B5 has nothing to recommend it. The story which played out over four or five seasons was much larger in scope and scale, and much more carefully planned, than that of the average SF show then or now. As with almost any science fiction show not called Star Trek, much of the first season served mainly to set up the playground the writer would roam over in seasons to come. Some of the acting was a little ropey early on, but watching the first few episodes of the show at the time it was clear that the story had a good deal more to it than the "adventure of the week" approach of the typical SF show at that time. It may only have been a space opera, but it was a pretty good one by the standards of written SF, and miles ahead of the competition on TV.

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