Giant Microbes!

May 18th, 2003

Who wouldn't want a plush toy in the shape of a Giant Microbe?

[Via scrubbles.net - see entry for 14 May 2003]

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iTunes Music Store

May 18th, 2003

Although I posted about Apple's iTunes Music Store the other week, it was only yesterday that I actually got round to downloading the updated versions of iTunes and QuickTime which enable full access to the store. After all, as I don't have a US address on my Visa account and therefore couldn't buy tracks anyway there was no great hurry. Even so, once I'd fired up iTunes 4 I couldn't resist clicking on the little green Music Store icon, just to see what the store looked like and how well integrated it was into iTunes, which I've found to be a very nice way to rip CDs to my hard disk so I can use my iMac as a jukebox.

Having browsed the iTunes Music Store for a while and played a few free 30 second previews – which is all non-US users can do for the time being – I'm torn between being very excited and very, very worried. Excited, because Apple have done a very good job of making it easy to navigate the site and (insofar as I can tell without actually being able to make a purchase) buy tracks or entire albums. Worried, because even though the catalogue isn't as extensive as I'd like – there are a lot of Prince albums missing, for example – I can see my credit card balance suffering considerable stress if I ever permit myself to make purchases from the forthcoming European version of the site.

Browsing the iTunes Music Store reminds me a lot of the way I feel when I browse Fictionwise looking for e-books. I mean that in a good way, for the most part: I really like being able to buy individual short stories or novellas as well as entire collections of shorter work. However, there's a downside to Fictionwise, and it's one which applies in spades to Apple's newest venture.

A lot of the ebooks which I'd like to buy – particularly newer material at novel length – is only available in various "secure" formats which serve to make it harder for me to retain access to the books I've bought when I change computers, and which I therefore boycott on principle.

Which is, of course, an even bigger drawback when it comes to the digital rights management system Apple is using for the Music Store. At Fictionwise there's still a reasonable amount of material available in non-protected formats for me to buy and retain as long as I have a Palm which can read .pdb files or a desktop system which can read ASCII or PDF files. As I understand it, at the Apple Music Store the choice is between Apple's AAC format, which incorporates various copy protection measures, and nothing. It'd work out nicely just as long as I keep using the iMac I have now, but what happens if I buy a different Mac, or if I decide to switch to Linux, or – heaven forfend – return to the warm, welcoming embrace of Uncle Bill? Even if there's a Windows version of Apple's AAC format, will I be able to move my library of legally purchased music to my next computer? I fear not.

Which means that when the launch of iTunes Music Store (European Branch) comes round, I think I'm going to have to pass.

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Pretty Pictures

May 18th, 2003

A couple of striking photographs I came across today:

  • Tourists viewing Mount St Helens, in a picture which contrives to serve as a "Before" and "After" shot at one and the same time.
  • A self-portrait of a rockstar. (I actually prefer the smaller preview shot to the full image. Somehow, the illusion of the smile seems more distinct on the preview.)

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Watch the Skies

May 18th, 2003

This article at SPACE.com suggests that there might just be a nice, bright comet in the evening sky next spring. Just in case, it also includes a pretty good explanation as to just why it's so hard to tell in advance whether a comet is going to be a fuzzy little smear barely visible to the naked eye or a spectacular light show which people will tell their grandchildren about.

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Vote early and vote often

May 17th, 2003

The Mafia proves the old adage that the really useful communications technologies are the ones that can be put to distinctly dodgy purposes.

Then again, they might just be on to something. How better to verify whether an electronic voting machine recorded your vote accurately than to send yourself a picture of the screen (complete with your voter number etc.) just before you press the VOTE button? When a recount is needed, the returning officer just has to ask everyone to send in their JPEGs.

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The Matrix: Reviewed

May 15th, 2003

So far The Matrix: Reloaded is getting mixed reviews. The best pair I've read so far are Andrew O'Hehir's rave in Salon (NB/- 15 seconds of ad-viewing required for non-subscribers) and Adam Gopnik's amusing, erudite panning in The New Yorker.

Over on the right-hand side of the Atlantic there's a week to go until we get to find out for ourselves who's right. I can't help but note that none of the reviews I've read have so much as hinted that the Wachowski brothers have retconned or expanded upon that preposterous "human batteries" explanation from the first film. Whether this is because the issue isn't addressed or because to explain more would give away an important plot point is something I suppose I'll find out for myself in a week or so.

[New Yorker review via Amygdala - see entry for Monday, May 12, 2003]

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History of the Internet

May 15th, 2003

The History of The Internet, courtesy of The Lemon:

1992: Mosaic – the first major web browser – is released. Users complain that it should support animated gifs, or at least a <BLINK> tag. Yeah, that would look AWESOME!

[...]

1993: DOOM is released, slowing the network to a near stop, and worker productivity to a total stop. Parents rejoice as the release of the game frees them from all responsibility for how their kids behave.

[...]

2003: After 43.2 million spams, and over 2.3 billion pop-up ads worldwide, someone buys an X-10 mini cam.

[Via User Friendly Link of the Day]

1 Comment »

X-Men 2 bloopers

May 14th, 2003

The blooper reel for X-Men 2 sounds like fun. I somehow doubt it'll show up on the DVD.

2. Mystique and Magneto (during the campfire scene) very sexually dining on a hotdog, one on each end… (yes, they were blowing a hotdog from both ends)

[...]

16. During Stryker's scene in the plastic prison, he sat on the plastic table to interrogate Magneto, but about 2/3 times he kept slipping off and kept bitching that it wasn't sturdy — each time, Ian looks directly into the camera and mouths "amateur" about Stryker's failure :)

[Via Dark Horizons - see News page for Tuesday 13th May 2003]

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Quicksilver

May 14th, 2003

An excerpt from Neal Stephenson's next novel, Quicksilver, can be found here. Not at all what you'd expect from the man who gave us Hiro Protagonist and A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, but Stephenson's the sort of writer who can make almost any topic fascinating when he's on halfway decent form, so I expect I'll pick up a copy. I've got Cryptonomicon in my to-read pile: when it was published I wasn't in the mood for a big novel, but next time I'm feeling up to a marathon it's right at the front of the queue. Perhaps after I finish The Years of Rice and Salt, which is proving to be well worth my time.

[Via linkmachinego]

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Truth in advertising

May 13th, 2003

Kris noticed a terrific slogan in the window of her local tanning salon:

"Our only competition is 93 million miles away."

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Conan O'Brien's Speech to the Harvard Class of 2000

May 13th, 2003

Conan O'Brien's Speech to the Harvard Class of 2000 is a hoot.

The point is that although you see me as a celebrity, a member of the cultural elite, a demigod if you will, and potential husband material, I came here in the fall of 1981 and lived at Holworthy Hall as a student much like you. I was, without exaggeration – this is true – the ugliest picture in the freshman facebook. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, I thought it was for their records, so I jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue shot. To make matters worse, when the facebook came out, they put my picture right next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was expected to join the class of '85, but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of Dynasty. Folks, my photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident.

You see, in those days, I was 6 feet 4 inches tall and I weighed 150 pounds. True. Recently, I had some structural engineers run those numbers into a computer model, and according to the computer, I collapsed in 1987, killing hundreds in Taiwan.

[Via The Rocking Vicar]

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Rejoice!

May 12th, 2003

Careful viewers of the screenshots in my post about Google News UK earlier this evening might have noticed a significant little DVD icon at the right edge of my screen. Yes, season 6 of Buffy showed up in the post today, courtesy of those nice folks at Amazon UK.

If I post less over the next couple of weeks, you'll know what I've been watching when I should have been browsing the web…

While I'm on the subject, there was more good news today in the Jossverse in the shape of reports that Angel has been renewed for a fifth season with an option for season 6. And Spike is moving to LA!

3 Comments »

Dolph Lundgren can do *comedy*?

May 12th, 2003

William Gibson almost manages to convince me that the film version of Johnny Mnemonic could have turned out to be less than awful:

I'll tell you something you may not believe: Dolph Lungren can actually do *comedy*. I mean, like, who knew? But he can, and did, with great gusto. The nature of his character was anchored in a scene in his church (he's the local Panawave-equivalent) in which he preaches, buck nekkid and skin-studded with creepy nano-gizmos, to a congregation of adoring female NAS victims. He delivers a bombastic, faux-Sterlingesque, literally balls-out *sermon* on the virtues of posthumanity. It came off sort of like Fabio as the Jesus you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. It *rocked*. Hilarious. So Sony cut it.

Dolph Lundgren channeling Bruce Sterling: now that would have been something worth seeing.

8 Comments »

The Matrix: Rejected

May 12th, 2003

The Matrix: Rejected is one truly deranged web page.

A film franchise so sloppy, so irresponsible, so lowbrow that it's almost criminal. Here's 50 Reasons to stay away on May 15th.

[...]

Reloaded Ridiculousness, 2

I'm not joking; you'll literally feel your I.Q. drop watching this rubbish. For instance, the evil Matrix creates two new enemies for Neo, called the Twins. Their first priority is to blend discreetly into the simulated world of the Matrix, to walk among the people unnoticed. So of course the Matrix made them huge albino men with bleach-white dreadlocks who occasionally transform into shrieking wraiths.

"What's that, honey?"

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon. I'm sure there's no need to question our fragile, sheltered grasp of 'reality' as we know it."

[...]

There are one or two points in this list which look at first glance like spoilers for The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions, but having read the entire list I think it's pretty safe to say that any resemblance between the world this writer lives in and reality – beyond the snippets of information which can be gleaned from trailers, anyway – is entirely coincidental.

(And yes, it is safe to say that The Matrix:Rejected is a joke. But it's quite a good one.)

[Via MetaFilter]

1 Comment »

Google News UK

May 12th, 2003

Google have launched regionalised versions of Google News, including Google News UK.

Whilst some are sceptical about the need for a regionalised version of a news site on a global medium like the internet, I think that's a belief that's much easier to sustain if you're based in the United States. Take a look at these two screenshots (NB/- each image is just over 300KB) of Google News and Google News UK and ask yourself which would be more useful to the average UK resident. Judging by the Google News site, if Clare Short hadn't resigned from the Cabinet today you'd have thought nothing had happened in the UK today.

5 Comments »

Warren Ellis at Slashdot

May 11th, 2003

Warren Ellis addresses the masses at Slashdot.

For me, the most interesting comments were about what's to come in the second half of Planetary, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's fabulous – in several senses of the word – yarn about the adventures of a group of "mystery archaeologists." I've been reading the trade paperback collections, and the end of the second volume ("The game's afoot…" indeed!) left the story just when it had taken an especially interesting turn. I really want to see where Ellis is going to take Elijah, Jakita and The Drummer next.

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Familial Ground

May 10th, 2003

Rafael Goldchain's Familial Ground is a beautifully presented, hugely evocative meditation on family ties across the generations.

[Via Making Light]

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I Am Curious (Black)

May 10th, 2003

The 12 Dumbest Covers of American Comic Books is quite, quite amazing. Just as much fun, in a warped way, as the article to which it forms a companion piece, The 25 All-Time Greatest Covers of American Comic Books.

The latter page has iconic images like Brian Bolland's Wonder Woman #72, John Buscema's Silver Surfer #4 and Dave Gibbons' cover for Watchmen #1. Genuinely memorable, classy work every one. The "12 Dumbest" page, on the other hand, features the equally memorable (though not in a good way) The Living Bible #3: Chaplains At War and Criminals On The Run, which features an angler performing an uncanny feat of marksmanship with a wet fish. You don't see that every day!

[Via scrubbles.net]

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"What it lacks in utility, it makes up for in entertainment value"

May 10th, 2003

It looks as if it'll be a while before the Ectaco Personal Translator is ready to be unleashed on the general public.

The Ectaco Personal Translator proved the perfect icebreaker during a dinner party in rural France. It turned "thank you for the great dinner" into "it was disgusting," and "you are very beautiful" into "how much?" What better way to break the ice with a roomful of total strangers in a foreign country whose language you don't know?

[Via Techdirt]

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Slowly Acquiring All the Worst Qualities Of the Human Personality

May 10th, 2003

Jeff Vogel has posted a new instalment of The Story About the Toddler. Yay!

Cordelia has a playmate. Her name is Nora. She is about three months older than Cordelia. Watching the two interact in their awkward, stilted, "what the fuck is this creature and why is it sucking milk out of MY bottle" way provides an excellent laboratory for analyzing the evolution of interaction between humans.

Cordelia has reached the first milestone in human interaction: Taking Things Away. She is good at this. So is Nora. Watching the two of them steal pacifiers from each other has provided the entertainment for several nauseating evenings.

[...]

Even better is the account of how Daddy plans to prepare Cordelia for future playground encounters. But you should go and read that bit for yourself.

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