He Was A Crook

May 19th, 2003

For no particular reason – except that a link at linkmachinego today reminded me of it – may I direct your attention to one of the most venemous obituaries you could ever hope to read: Hunter S Thompson's obituary for Richard Milhous Nixon:

Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."

I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.

Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said, "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."

It was Richard Nixon who got me into politics, and now that he's gone, I feel lonely. He was a giant in his way. As long as Nixon was politically alive — and he was, all the way to the end — we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard.


I know that's quite a lengthy quote, but it's only a small part of a much longer article and it only gets better as Thompson goes on to paint a picture of a sorry interlude in American political life.

Happily, modern Britain hasn't had a Nixon. Margaret Thatcher inspires positively Nixonesque levels of loathing on the left, it's true, but no matter how much you detested her policies it's hard to argue that her premiership debased the very office of Prime Minister the way Nixon's forced resignation did the office of President of the United States.


Palm Woes

May 18th, 2003

I haven't posted as much as I might have this weekend because I've been playing with my new toy: a Palm Tungsten T. My old Palm IIIx was getting a bit slow and short on memory, and besides it wouldn't connect to my iMac unless I bought it a new cradle/HotSync adapter. I'd been backing up my IIIx to my old PC since my iMac arrived, but that clearly wasn't an ideal solution in the long run, so I decided it was time to make a change.

The new hardware is very nice: the Tungsten T uses an ARM processor which is much faster than the old Dragonball CPU Palm used in their first few generations, the colour screen is very bright and sharp, and the fourfold increase in memory (plus the ability to store files on Multimedia/Secure Digital Cards) means that it should be a while before I run out of space to store ebooks, spreadsheets and MP3 files in my shirt pocket.

The fun and games this weekend have mostly been on the software side. I've some three years-worth of diary entries, addresses and To Do lists on my IIIx, and I very much want to retain them on my new PDA. However, there's a problem. My old Palm can't be connected to my iMac, and my old PC can't see the docking/charging cradle which comes with my Tungsten T because Windows 95 doesn't support USB, even though my PC which has the necessary hardware and BIOS support came with Windows 95 pre-installed. (More accurately, Microsoft changed their mind about supporting USB in Windows 95 when it became clear that witholding support for USB would be a useful way to encourage users to upgrade to Windows 98.) My first thought was that this shouldn't be a major problem: the Palm Desktop software runs on both my PC and my iMac, and I knew perfectly well that it had Export and Import options. I did a HotSync on my PC to create an up to date copy of my diary, notepad, to do list and address book, then used the Export option to create a "DateBook Archive" file containing all my diary (or "DateBook", to use Palm's terminology) entries. I transferred that file to my iMac, fired up Palm Desktop for OS X, activated the Import option – and got an error message noting that as this was a file from Palm Desktop for Windows I should have exported the data in Comma or Tab Separated Value format instead. Which would be fine, except that the Windows version of the Palm Desktop doesn't offer any export option but "Datebook Archive"…

I've googled for conversion utilities for DateBook Archive format files, but found nothing at all. So far, a post to the relevant newsgroup has yielded one reply from a poster who clearly hadn't read my original message properly and another saying, in essence, "buy a USB adaptor for your old Palm" – which was pretty much the conclusion I'd come to anyway. I'll take the latter course of action if I absolutely must, but I'd much prefer not to since such adaptors cost at least £35 and I'd be using it precisely once.

Isn't it irritating when your new toy and your old toy won't play together nicely?


Faking It

May 18th, 2003

It's good to see that, in a world where annual sadism-fest Big Brother 4 is about to hit our screens, this year's Golden Rose of Montreux went to Channel 4's good-natured, thoroughly sympathetic Faking It. It'll never become a national obsession the way Big Brother did, but it's an idea that might just have longer legs, provided that the producers can just resist the temptation to jazz up the formula.

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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]

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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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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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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!


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.


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]

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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.


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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