June 23rd, 2003

Shamanix offers an array of abstract wallpaper images in a variety of resolutions. Top-class eye candy.

[Via I Love Everything – see entry for Wednesday 11 June 2003]

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About page done right

June 23rd, 2003

Now that's how you do an About page. A clever idea, very nicely executed. (Try clicking on some of the handwritten entries.)

[Via rebecca's pocket]

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June 23rd, 2003

Watchblog is a rather neat attempt to provide links and coverage on US politics from several different perspectives at once. Lumping everyone who doesn't post as a Democrat or a Republican into a single "Third Party" column is a tad simplistic, but there's no denying that the site's design does a good job of presenting differing views simultaneously. I wonder what'll happen if the various editors posting to each of the three sites start reacting to one another's posts, rather than treat each column as a separate weblog that happens to be presented alongside several others. Come to that, as the presidential campaign hots up will the three columns gradually converge on the same topics every day?

In any case, this is an interesting experiment. It'd be fascinating to see a UK version of this pop up in the run-up to the next general election. Trouble is, it's trickier to organise something like Watchblog where your electoral calendar is at the mercy of the Prime Minister and there's no formal contest for the position of Prime Ministerial nominee.


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What a feeling!

June 21st, 2003

Prompted by the news that Jennifer Lopez has starred in a pop video inspired by Flashdance, film critic Armond White is appalled.

Flashdance should go down in history as the single film that destroyed modern cinema. (Snobs like to cite Star Wars or Jaws, but as Robert Towne judiciously pointed out in A Decade Under the Influence, "A very talented filmmaker had made a very good film; it's just that Hollywood followed the lessons of Jaws to a fault.") Flashdance influenced more than marketing; it changed movie content into non-content. Before its release, movie stories stayed true to social and psychological details; a recognizable or empathetic character made a movie an edifying experience. But Flashdance decimated such storytelling. The ludicrous plot about a female welder named Alex (Jennifer Beals) who longs to be a ballet dancer had about one-tenth the credibility of a regular movie. This was stretched thin when Alex practiced her avocation by moonlighting as an almost-stripper in a dingy Pittsburgh bar that featured Las Vegas-style production values. Alex didn't study, she danced pop while dreaming of ballet – an immediate fabrication of normal, real-life work ethic. That was Flashdance's contribution to the Reagan/80s go-for-it ethos, an odd combination of class snobbery and populism. It was "hot" because it looked easy; it looked easy because it was a lie. And that's because it was, essentially, an advert.

Actually, "appalled" isn't the half of it: White goes all the way from "appalled" to "disgusted" to in the space of about four paragraphs. Then he starts in on the video itself.


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Colourful Nature

June 21st, 2003

I came across a couple of really striking photos today. The Maelifell volcano in southern Iceland is a surprising splash of green among the glaciers. Meanwhile, in a much warmer clime, we see this otherworldly image of trees at sunrise in a flooded landscape.

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The Old Bailey Online

June 21st, 2003

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey is a fascinating collection of texts concerning criminal trials at London's central criminal court. So far there are details of some 20,000 trials held between 1724 and 1759, but the plan is to eventually include trials up to 1834. As well as records of individual cases, there are essays on the legal system and tons of background information.

This is a tremendous resource for educational purposes, or for anyone wanting a glimpse into a very different age:

Thomas Smout , offences against the king: seditious words, 07 Dec 1715.

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Ref: t17151207-9

Original Text:

Thomas Smout , of the Parish of St. Mary Hill, was indicted for a Misdeameanor, in speaking traiterous and devilish Words of His most excellent Majesty King GEORGE, viz. G – d d – n King G – e; I'll fight for another Man as soon as for him, on the 25th of November last. An Evidence depos'd, that going with a Friend to a Neighbour's House, to drink a Mug of Ale, he there found the Prisoner, and two more Soldiers who made a great Disturbance, and affronted all Companies; insomuch, that he desired them to be quiet and peaceable, and behave themselves like King George's Subjects to all such as lov'd him, since they wore his Cloth; upon which the Prisoner replied in the abovesaid Expression, and drew his Bayonet with great Passion, as with an Intent to murder him; but that was prevented. Other Evidence confirm'd their rude Behaviour; and depos'd, they were much in Drink. The Prisoner denied the Fact, and call'd the other two Soldiers to his Reputation, who gave him a quite contrary Character; but that not being credited, the Jury found him guilty.

[Via The Internet Scout Project]

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Tempting Fate?

June 19th, 2003

Is Frane Selak really the World's Unluckiest Man? If you can survive a train crash, an aircraft crash, a bus crash, two cars with exploding fuel tanks, being hit by a bus and yet another car crash over the course of your 74 years then you might reasonably consider yourself pretty fortunate.

I have a horrible feeling that Selak's winning £600,000 in the Croatian national lottery might not be a sign that his luck is changing after all. He's using some of his winnings to buy a speedboat!

[Via MetaFilter]



June 18th, 2003

It seems to be phonecam week. Following up Monday's post about a ban on digital cameras in Swiss public baths and beaches, there have been proposals to enact a similar ban in Australia (first mentioned by Kris in the comments on Monday's post), there's talk of banning mobile phones from Australian courtrooms, and today there's a horrifying story about the possibility that a woman's rape in a pub toilet in Brighton might have been filmed by onlookers with camera phones.

As Kris suggested in her comment, one reason there's more of a reaction to the notion of camera-enabled phones than to film cameras seems to be that with a film camera there's a prospect of apprehending the person taking the pictures before they can develop them, let alone distribute them. With a mobile phone, the pictures could be halfway around the world before the subject even realises what's happened. And as Claire Swire and Bradley Chait will attest, once information is out there it's hellish tricky to take it back.

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Summer SF Movie Stuff

June 18th, 2003

A couple of snippets about two of this summer's slightly less highly anticipated SF films:

First of all, Nick Nunziata gives Ang Lee's The Hulk a pretty positive review. For a start, he's noticed just how unlikely a proposition a Hulk film was:

Keep in mind, The Hulk is not a slam dunk of a character to make a film about. He's recognizable and entrenched in pop culture, but his story doesn't have the same range as Spider-Man, Batman, or even Daredevil. He's not going to trade quips with his enemies, or even talk for the most part at all. He's a brutish, green collection of uncontrolled impulse. Great for big action set pieces in a King Kong/Mighty Joe Young kind of way, but not doing the viewer any favors in the "delivering a well-rounded story" department.


While it's not wholly successful in delivering everything in a tidy enough package to satisfy the needs of the film, it's a brave and more robust film than we should have ever expected from a property (let's face it) as limiting as The Hulk.

I was thoroughly unimpressed by the SFX work in the last Hulk trailer I saw, but I think Nunziata has persuaded me to give The Hulk a chance.

Second up, Dark Horizons has an interview with Claire Danes, who found herself stepping into her role in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines at pretty much no notice at all. It's odd to read about T3 as a "comeback"movie for Danes, particularly since it's such an uncharacteristic choice of film for her. It seems more like a detour than a comeback.T3 will certainly be her highest-profile role since Romeo + Juliet, but it does have the advantage that if it flops it's unlikely she'll catch anything like as much flak as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jonathon Mostow will, whereas if it succeeds she'll at least have increased her profile a bit. As long as she doesn't find herself stuck in blockbuster-girlfriend-role-hell (which seems unlikely considering the variety of future projects she mentions in the interview) she'll be fine. I certainly hope her "comeback" is deemed a success, because she's far too good an actress to be remembered solely for My So-Called Life, terrific as that show was.

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Harrison Ford's Fame Audit

June 17th, 2003

Fametracker's Fame Audit gets to the root of the problem with Harrison Ford's career over the last decade or so: the poor guy just wants to retire:

Ironically, Ford's secrets aren't so hard to unravel. He certainly hasn't been the kind of depth-plumbing actor whose technique needs to be unfolded and decoded like a cryptic treasure map. The publicity for Hollywood Homicide describes Ford's character as "weary but tenacious," though the description could well fit Ford's whole onscreen persona. Sure, he's charming; yes, he's rugged. But has there been a modern actor who does weariness so well?

Ford has made a brilliant career of playing reluctant knights in ill-fitting armour. Forget saving the damsel; Han Solo and Indiana Jones looked like they barely wanted to get out of bed. They had to be talked into every good deed. Every action, every punch, every thrust into hyperspace or swing across a chasm seem preceded with a huff and a weary "Oh, all right."


In his more recent roles, though, the self-deprecating oafishness of Indy and Han Solo has been replaced by an impatient humourlessness. The best moment in Hollywood Homicide is when Ford's character bellows at this poor little girl, then steals her pink bicycle. All of Ford's characters these days seem so damned inconvenienced by their film's plots. What? You think I killed my wife? What? I have to dodge the cops and find the one-armed man myself? What? There are terrorists aboard Air Force One — and I have to kick their asses? Can't you see I'm the President? Aren't there other people who can do that for me? What? Now I have to pretend to be in love with Anne Heche?

Geez, he really does have to do everything. Who can blame him for being a little P.O.ed?

So instead of saying that Harrison Ford doesn't make good movies anymore, it's better to say that no one's making good movies for Harrison Ford.

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Don't Panic!

June 17th, 2003

The feature film of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to The Galaxy appears to be going ahead under new management, after years of languishing while various American directors dithered over casting and numerous scripts were written and rewritten. I've been reading articles announcing this film's imminent production for so long now that I just don't care that much any more. I'll believe it when I see it opening at my local multiplex…

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June 17th, 2003

Best. Headline. Ever.

[Via Bookslut – see entry for 17 June 2003]

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Just A Geek?

June 17th, 2003

What score do you get on the Geek Test? I got a measly 21.69625% and was rated as a mere "Geek", but I'm convinced that this is mostly because the list of TV shows the test invites you to choose shows a bit of a US bias. Throw in some UK geek TV and my rating would have increased to at least "Major Geek."

Besides, 21.69625% isn't bad considering that my job doesn't (officially) involve any geek skills: I earned that rating based on my out-of-office activities alone.

[Via web-goddess, who is a "Total Geek"]

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The Matrix: Abridged

June 16th, 2003

The Matrix Reloaded: The Abridged Script.


Hurry, we have to get Randall out of here!


And take him where, exactly?


Uhhhh.. away from the bad guys? It doesn't matter, we're just waiting for Neo to save us.


Don't you realize that without any real goal, this scene is utterly without tension, regardless of how cool it is, stylistically?


This is a matrix film, there's no point to anything other than style.

They are CHASED by TWO ALBINO RASTAFARIANS. More video game music plays in the background.


We are utterly pointless.


Yes we are.

As you'd expect, there are plenty of spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the film. But if you have, this is definitely worth a look.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Pictures by Permission Only?

June 16th, 2003

Over at, Tom has come up with a neat idea about how to deal with a world where the next generation of digital cameras-cum-mobile phones is wirelessly networked: make them ask the people they're taking photos of (or rather, those people's cameras/mobile phones/PDAs) for permission before permitting them to take a photo/distribute it to third parties.

It's a sweet concept, at least to a confirmed cameraphobe like me, but sadly it's unlikely to come to pass considering how popular "candid" shots are, not to mention the problem of figuring out how to deal with situations where those in the frame have differing views on the desirability of being photographed. But then, it's not meant to be a practical proposal, just a thought experiment. Would people find that being forced to go into "rude" mode to take some of the pictures they want tend to make them more considerate of their subjects' wishes? Would those who didn't fancy being permanently available as photographic subjects end up being regarded as spoilsports who deserved everything they got and were actively sought out? Am I, as someone who'd definitely select the "No Photos" setting, demonstrating just how paranoid I am just by raising that last question? :-)

In the meantime, legal means will continue to be applied to the same end: see, for example, this post at Boing Boing about a proposal by the authorities to ban phone cameras from public baths and beaches. The linked articles are all in German, so I can't figure out whether there's already a ban on bringing plain, boring old non-digital, non-wired cameras onto those premises. Other than the ease of distribution of digital images, is there any reason digital cameras should be singled out like this?

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June 15th, 2003

Michael Barrish finds himself with no choice but to listen to his roommate have sex with her boyfriend.

Believe it or not, it's all the fault of Apple Computer.

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The Naked WMD

June 15th, 2003

Lt Frank Drebbin takes a trip to Iraq in The Naked WMD

Drebbin (voice over ): It was hotter than Hollywood on Gay Pride Day, and as smelly as Shaq's armpits in double overtime. But this wasn't LA. It was Baghdad — a sweltering slum of a city filled with brutal thugs, corrupt bureaucrats and sleazy quick-buck artists. And the Iraqis were a nasty bunch, too. Like an POW in a British prison camp, I was gonna have to stay on my guard.


Drebbin: (voice over ) It was a Saturday, and I should've been sitting in Dodger Stadium, watching the game and enjoying a tall one — maybe drinking a beer, too. But I was on special assignment. My mission: To find Saddam's missing weapons of mass destruction, before they found America. Another story from the files of ( pause ): WMD Squad!

The words "WMD Squad", bracketed by a pair of Scud missiles, zoom out and fill the screen. The soundtrack rises — more brassy Mancini music.

As the title and soundtrack gradually fade, Drebbin turns into the doorway of an Iraqi police station. He waits patiently as a line of looters exit the building, one after the other, carrying a computer monitor, an office chair, a sink, a bird cage, a sequined tuxedo, a giant hookah, a torah scroll, a live goat, and finally, a large canister marked "Anthrax." Drebbin lets them pass, then enters.


Seriously silly stuff. Strongly recommended.

[Via Electrolite]

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The Risen Empire

June 15th, 2003

I thoroughly enjoyed Scott Westerfield's Evolution's Darling when I came across it last year. It felt a lot like one of Iain M Banks' Culture novels – which is definitely a good thing in my book.

Judging by David Kennedy's review on rec.arts.sf.written, Westerfield's follow-up, The Risen Empire is a more conventional tale. A quick taste of Westerfield's style, quoted from David Kennedy's review:

The constellation of eyes glistened, reflecting the sunlight that penetrated the cultured-diamond doors sliding closed being Senator Nara Oxham. The ocular glint raised her hackles, marking as it did the eyes of a noctural predator. On Oxham's home planet Vasthold, there ranged human-hunting bears, paracoyotes, and feral nightdogs. On some deep, instinctive level, Nara Oxham knew those eyes to be warnings.

The creatures were splayed – fifteen or twenty of them – on an invisible bed of lovely gravity. They wafted like polychrome clouds down the wide, breezy hallways of the Emperor's inner palace, carried by the ambient movement of air. Her apathy bracelet was set to high, as always here in the crowded capital, but sufficient sensitivity remained to feel some measure of their inhuman thoughts. They regarded her cooly as they drifted past, secure in their privilege, in their demigodhood, and in their speechless wisdom, accumulated over sixteen centuries of langour. Of course, their species had never, even in the millennia before Imperial decree had elevated them to semidivine status, doubted its innate superiority.

They were imperious consorts, these personal familiars of His Risen Majesty. They were Felis Domesticus Immortalis.

They were, in a word, cats.

And in a few more words, cats who would never die.

Senator Nara Oxham hated cats.

[…] Nara Oxham's constituency was an entire planet, but here in the Diamond Palace the mighty senator found herself intimidated by the housepets."


I'm always up for a thoughtful space opera, so I'll be keeping an eye out for the paperback edition of The Risen Empire.

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Talking Dog Sale

June 15th, 2003

In Tennessee, a guy sees a sign in front of a house: "Talking Dog for Sale."

He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a black mutt just sitting there.

"You talk?" he asks.

"Yep," the mutt replies.

"So, what's your story?"

The mutt looks up and says, "Well, I discovered this gift pretty young; and I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.

"I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running.

"The jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in, I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals.

"Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

The owner says, "Ten dollars."

The guy says, "This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him, so cheap?"

The owner replies, "He's such a liar……. He didn't do any of that shit."

[Via Pamie]

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Michael Swanwick

June 14th, 2003

Over at Science Fiction Weekly, Nick Gevers conducts a long interview with Michael Swanwick, the reigning champion author of short-short SF stories, including the wonderfully droll Periodic Table of Science Fiction. Another of his pet subjects is dinosaurs:

Having caught the paleontological bug: Why, in your view, do dinosaurs constitute such a powerful cultural and intellectual icon, within SF and without?

Swanwick: That's an easy one. It's because dinosaurs are (a) monsters, (b) real and (c) safely extinct. It's an unbeatable combination! My paleontologist friends hate it when I use the M-word, but let's be honest here, that's the appeal. There's a story that Kenneth Carpenter saw a Godzilla movie when he was a boy and immediately decided that he was going to devote his life to studying such creatures. Then, when his parents gently broke it to him that Godzilla was imaginary, he switched his loyalties over to dinosaurs, as the next best thing. Decades later he discovered a new species of theropod and named it Gojirasaurus. Thus keeping a better faith with his younger self than most adults do.

This is one reason that I deplore the rush to represent all dinosaurs as being covered with feathers, even those for which we have perfectly featherless skin imprints. Where are we going to get the next generation of paleontologists if T. rex looks like a gigantic parakeet? The mind reels.

Not only was this an informative and amusing interview, but as a bonus it expanded my vocabulary by introducing me to the word "abecedary."

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