Lesson of the day

April 26th, 2003

If you're going to ring up your insurance company and lie to them about some jewellery having been stolen, it's a good idea to make sure you didn't hit accidentally hit the redial button on your mobile phone before you turn to your colleague and brag about your cleverness. Especially when the insurance company records all calls for 'training purposes.'

[Via Techdirt]

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Ethernet and Astronomy

April 24th, 2003

I haven't been able to post much this evening because I've spent much of it fighting with my old PC trying to persuade it to install the drivers required to allow me to network it to my iMac so I can transfer all my personal data files to my new toy. After much juggling of Windows installation CDs and several false starts I finally got TCP/IP over Ethernet working on my old PC, so as I type this I'm FTPing a couple of gigabytes of files across in the background.

I do, however, still have time to point out an image I saw earlier today. Back in March I posted a picture of sunset as seen from space which looked – and turned out to be – too good to be true. Just to redress the balance, today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a genuine image of twilight as seen from the International Space Station. Not as sharp and clear, but still mightily impressive. That's one hell of a view they've got up there.

Normal posting should resume tomorrow.

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T3 trailer

April 24th, 2003

The latest trailer for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is an improvement on the earlier teasers, but still not very encouraging. It may have Arnie in his signature role, and no doubt the SFX will be up to scratch, but look at the downside: no James Cameron or Linda Hamilton, for starters. Then there's the question of whether making Arnie's adversary a female will actually impress anyone: in the wake of Buffy, Dark Angel, Alias, Xena and the like, the sight of a woman wiping the floor with a man in single combat has mostly lost a lot of the shock value it once had.

I'd like to be proved wrong, simply because the first two Terminator films – and especially the first – were memorable examples of high-octane action SF and it would be fun to see the writers pull it off one more time. Instead, it looks like a desperate attempt by Arnie to wring one more payday out of his most lucrative franchise.

In a year without X-Men 2 and two Matrix sequels, T3 might grab my attention, but as it stands I'll be waiting to hear some positive reviews before I venture into the cinema.

[Via Slashdot]

2 Comments »

Improv

April 23rd, 2003

Do you remember Lotus Improv? Dan Hon pointed out a fascinating story about the early development work on Improv and the intervention of Steve Jobs, which ensured that Improv became the one piece of application software which made mere PC users wish they had a NeXT.

If you have no idea what Improv was, this article explains a little of the program's history, but this review does a better of explaining why Improv was a cut above a mere spreadsheet.

[Via ext|circ]

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Appointed By America

April 23rd, 2003

The Onion: New Fox Reality Show To Determine Ruler Of Iraq.

Class.

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"The coolest television coming-of-age horror-fantasy-love story ever told…"

April 23rd, 2003

As the last ever season finale approaches, Joyce Millman poses the question How do you say goodbye to 'Buffy'?

Vampires, hellgods, snake demons – I've watched Buffy battle them all. But they weren't as scary as the knowledge that, very soon, I will no longer have an excuse to put life on hold every Tuesday night. Over the last six years, I've devoted an almost embarrassing amount of time, energy and thought, both personal and professional, to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Now, with only a few weeks left until the May 20 series finale, I'm facing my "Buffy"-less future by burrowing into seasons past, trying to imagine a fitting end to the coolest television coming-of-age horror-fantasy-love story ever told.

There are spoilers for BBC viewers – and possibly for Sky viewers too – I'm not sure how far they are into season 7 – and a certain amount of speculation about how Millman thinks the show ought to end, but if you already have some idea of how season 6 ends and how season 7 goes the article is well worth a look. Not because it springs any major surprises, but because it serves as a reminder of just how good we've had it these last half dozen years, of how clever and witty and exciting and touching and affecting a show Joss Whedon & Co have delivered week after week.

We BBC viewers have quite a wait until we see the 22nd episode of season 7, but it'll still feel as if the TV world's a little less exciting after 20th May.

[NB/- the IHT site uses some very clever HTML which makes it a joy to use if you have a browser that's up to the task, but not so great otherwise. Safari users will find that the page is a bit of a mess, but fortunately I read earlier this evening that Safari's developer has cracked the problem of displaying the IHT site properly. Here's hoping that it won't be long until Safari users can read the IHT comfortably. In the meantime, it's worth firing up Camino or IE to read this article.]

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Lunar transit

April 22nd, 2003

Talking of stunning photographs, this image of a lunar transit by the International Space Station is impressive in a different way.

Not as spectacular as pictures of the Northern Lights, perhaps, but I can't help but look at the ISS in that photo and dream of the day when there'll be a lot more of us up there, hopefully on a permanent basis.

[Via Anita's LOL]

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Alaskan skies

April 22nd, 2003

LeRoy Zimmerman has taken some truly spectacular panoramic photographs of Alaskan landscapes. Really impressive work, even in miniature as presented in his online portfolio. The images of the Northern Lights are especially appealing, but he's no slouch at presenting the Alaskan landscape in daylight either.

I just wish I could afford one of his prints. Sky Fire or On a Clear Day would look very good indeed on the wall just behind my iMac.

(One day I'm going to have to venture far enough north to see the Northern Lights for myself. One day…)

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"Someone spent the night in the cab of an old Dodge tow truck. Maybe we'll get a song out of it."

April 22nd, 2003

The Arcata Police Log makes for a fascinating read. From the week of 14 April 2003:

Sunday, March 23 1:52 a.m. Rumors of roiling turbulence at the donut shop proved unfounded.

6:22 a.m. A man said his son had called from a phone booth in the Plaza area saying he was depressed and may want to harm himself. Police checked the area, finding only the usual ambient aroma of free-floating malaise.

4:21 p.m. Someone set a pair of boots down outside an F Street coffee shop, and they took a walk.

5:49 p.m. An elite gentlemen's drinking club convened out in back of an abandoned machine shop, where participants got started on the evenings bibulation.

That last line reminds me of one of the entries from the article about The Simpsons I linked to last Sunday:

Agent Mulder: 'We want you to recreate your every move the night you saw this alien.'

Homer: 'Well, the evening began at the gentleman's club, where we were discussing Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon.'

Mulder: 'Mr Simpson, it's a felony to lie to the FBI.'

Homer: 'We were sitting in Barney's car eating packets of mustard. Ya happy?'

[Via MetaFilter]

2 Comments »

Alias dropped

April 21st, 2003

Word has it that Channel 4 have dropped Alias.

By all accounts both Alias itself and Jennifer Garner's film career are starting to take off in the States, so you'd think Channel 4 would be congratulating themselves on grabbing the rights to a ratings winner in the making. Instead, it's the usual routine: buy a US show intended for a mid-evening audience, broadcast it in an inappropriate timeslot, move it around the schedules a bit, watch the audience fall away, decide it's not getting the audience you'd hoped for.

I suppose it's possible that another terrestrial broadcaster will pick up the rights. BBC2 and Channel 5 are the only plausible contenders, but the former would repeat Channel 4's scheduling errors. Channel 5, which is currently halfway through the second and final season of Dark Angel, might fancy picking up Sydney's adventures as a replacement for Max's, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

(Talking of shows Channel 4 rapidly lost enthusiasm for, it's just as well I picked up Angel season 3 on DVD, because at the rate we're going I doubt it's ever going to show up on Channel 4.)

10 Comments »

Digital Flowers

April 21st, 2003

In a similar vein to the Ambient Orb I posted about the other day, BBC News Online brings us word of the Digital Flower, designed to wilt or flourish according to whether your Significant Other is online.

I find this invention a lot less interesting than the Ambient Orb. For one thing, it's an awful lot of trouble to go to in order to provide just a single piece of information – the Orb could at least shift between a number of colours to convey different types of information, or different levels of activity.

For another, a bunch of electronically-actuated flowers are a lot less portable than a small orb.

1 Comment »

My brain hurts

April 20th, 2003

Depending upon your aptitude for such things, this collection of job interview questions collected by interviewees at Microsoft will either provide half an hour's entertainment or make your brain hurt. Or cause you to pick holes the the premise behind some of the questions, if you're in that sort of mood.

Me, I read it this morning just after getting up and decided that my brain wasn't in any shape yet to deal with that level of ratiocination. (I'm not saying it would be at any time of day, come to that. But definitely not on a Sunday morning.)

That said, my mind wasn't so addled this morning as to render me incapable of appreciating If Richard Feynman applied for a job at Microsoft, elsewhere on the same site.

[Via MetaFilter]

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300 episodes

April 20th, 2003

From this morning's The Observer: 300 reasons why we love The Simpsons. How to choose a favourite…?

OK, here goes:

77 America's greatest love affair, between Marge and Homer. The most telling exchanges?

78 Marge: 'Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?'

Homer: 'Pretty much. Except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.'


79 Marge: 'How do I know I can trust you?'
Homer: 'Marge, look at me: we've been separated for a day, and I'm as dirty as a Frenchman. In another few hours I'll be dead! I can't afford to lose your trust again.'

80 Homer: 'Marge… I don't really want to go through with this. But being an astronaut is how I got you to respect me.'

Marge: 'Homer, when I met you, you weren't an astronaut. You didn't even know how to use a touch-tone, but I still respected you and I always will, no matter what… [touch-tone sounds come from the phone] … Homer, you already dialled…'

The only current show that comes anywhere close to being so quotable is Buffy.

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Toddler Tales

April 19th, 2003

The Story About the Toddler, Volume 2 is up.

Her Toys Stare Into My Very Soul

Cordelia currently owns two toy phones that call her and tell her "I love you."

How fucked up is that? What crazy, broken shell of a man designing toys at these companies thought that was a great idea? Was he raised in a box? Did he spend hours of his youth alone in a dark place, filthy, dressed in rags, clenching a rusty screwdriver to his chest and muttering "Yessss, Mister Screwy. I know you love me. Yessss …. Yesssss." And he grew up and made toys to give cute little shut-ins the electronic validation he wanted but never got?

With the newer toy phone, when you push buttons on the keypad, the phone talks for a bit. Then, a few seconds later, just enough time for the toddler to get distracted and wander towards something that won't use her emotionally, the phone rings and a voice says "I love you."

It pisses me off. Girls don't gain the ability to form proper relationships with plastic toys until they're 16 or so.

I do not want Cordelia getting emotional reassurance from a cheesy, cheap, plastic phone. If she's going to be loved by electronics, I want it to be by good, serious electronics. A Playstation 2. A computer. Those are the machines that should make you feel loved. If you care about being loved by a five buck piece of shit toy cell phone, well, then you're just giving it away.

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Need Milk?

April 19th, 2003

Real Notes to British Milkmen:

  • Dear Milkman, I've just had a baby, please leave another one.
  • Please leave an extra pint of paralysed milk.
  • Cancel one pint after the day after today.

I know they're probably apocryphal, but you've got to love this one, which sounds pretty authentic:

  • No milk. Please do not leave milk at No. 14 either as he is dead until further notice.

If nobody actually wrote that, all I can say is that somebody really should have!

[Now amended to include the URL for the linked page. Sorry about that...]

2 Comments »

Facial recognition getting "better"?

April 18th, 2003

Grampian Police are about to introduce a biometric facial recognition system. At first I was quite encouraged – not that I think the use of facial recognition software is a great idea, but at least they were only planning to deploy the system in custody suites, where there's at least some prospect of controlling the lighting and camera position so as to produce decent results.

Then I read on:

In the future, Grampian hopes to link the system to process CCTV footage. During major police inquiries many police hours can be spent going through CCTV tapes and its hoped the system with save a great deal of time. With the introduction of digital CCTV, facial recognition will become more reliable.

Facial recognition in crowd settings, used in conjunction with analogue systems, is far from perfect.

Chief Inspector Ashcroft conceded this point but said that the Imagis system was around 70 per cent reliable in crowd situations, far better than the 50 per cent or less reliability attached to earlier systems.

Oh good, so they've got it down to a 30% error rate. Nothing for anyone walking down the street in Aberdeen to worry about, then.

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Inside the Soul of the Web

April 18th, 2003

Michael S Malone spent 24 hours watching the queries roll by at Google. It's mostly a somewhat routine account of the sheer variety of queries people submit, but then at the end it gets serious:

Santa Clara, Calif. > What to tell a suicidal friend

This query hasn't come from Kuala Lumpur or Genoa or Montevideo, but just outside Google's front door. A drama is unfolding only a few miles away, and there is no way to help; I don't even know the person's name. I can only sit and watch the words crawl up the screen and disappear. This is a contract between man and machine, and I can only observe, not intervene.

What happened next surprised me quite a bit.

[Via linkmachinego]

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Hugo nominations

April 18th, 2003

This year's Hugo Award nominations are out, and I'm reminded once again of just how far behind I am on my reading. I haven't read even one of the nominated novels, and the only shorter nominated work I've read is Ted Chiang's terrific Liking What You See: A Documentary.

As far as the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form goes, I've seen three out of five. Of those three, I'd go for The Two Towers over Spider-Man, with Minority Report finishing way down the field.

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The Right Stuff Revisited

April 17th, 2003

This article about Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff contains a couple of snippets of information I hadn't come across before. First of all, I had no idea the series of Rolling Stone articles which were later expanded into the book was burdened with the considerably less resonant title Post-Orbital Remorse. Secondly, I knew Wolfe's original intent was to write a history of the entire US manned space programme but I hadn't come across this anecdote about the decision to cut the project short:

"My wife cut the book off. I'd worked on it longer than Project Mercury lasted. She walked in one day and said, 'Congratulations, you've finished your book.' And I said, no, that we hadn't gone to the moon yet. And she told me that I wasn't going to the moon in this book."

I can't say I blame her.

Not that I wouldn't have liked to read anything Wolfe had cared to write about the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions, but if he'd written a much longer book covering four major space projects it would have been that much harder to persuade someone to greenlight a feature film. And a world without Phil Kaufman's magnificent adaptation of Wolfe's tale would be a poorer place. (And now there's a 20th-anniversary DVD release on the way. I've already got the film on VHS and DVD, but I suspect I'm going to buy the Special Edition too.)

[Via Bookslut - permalinks aren't working properly at the moment, so look for the entry for 17 April 2003]

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"Trustworthy Computing"?

April 17th, 2003

Some versions of Microsoft Office 2000 have started demanding that the user enter a registration code, a couple of years after the user's employer bought a site license for the software in the first place. This is the result of a bug in the Office Registration Wizard, and so far the only solutions seem to be to a) not shut down Office, b) set your PC's clock back two years (thereby screwing up the timestamp on all your files) or c) take a deep breath and manually edit some Registry settings. Naturally, Microsoft say they're "working on" a better solution.

Irritating as this turn of events would be for an individual Office user, it's (literally!) a thousand times worse for a business with licensed copies of Office on every user's desktop. Next time Microsoft, or anyone else, suggest that Digital Rights Management software is a good idea, we should all remember this story as an illustration of the effects of software which treats the user as guilty until proven innocent.

[Via Slashdot]

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