Previous ramblings are stashed away under Replays.
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
iTUNES MUSIC STORE: CHEAP & LEGIT
With over 200,000 digital songs available from all 5 of the big record labels, music lovers can purchase songs one by one for 99 cents, or an entire album for around $10. No monthly subscriptions or ridiculously cumbersome encryption. Once you purchase a song, you can copy the track to up to 3 Macs, and of course, your iPod, to listen to your downloaded music on the go.
Apple has a potential winner on its hands here, but there is one small fly in the ointment picked up in a TidBITS article:
…the iTunes Music Store offers both individual tracks and albums for sale and does not require a subscription, although customers may currently purchase only using a valid credit card billable to a United States address…
No luck for us Brits (or anyone else), then. Though I daresay this shortcoming will be addressed in the fullness of time.
Saturday, April 26, 2003
CULTURE WITH A BIG C
Mikey ‘Fatboy’ Delgado on the growing SARS crisis:
The only good thing is that the government’s Chief Medical Adviser hasn’t been on the telly yet telling us that there’s fuck all to worry about and to just get off to bed with a Lemsip and everything will be Harry Bright. When that fucker comes on telling you there’s nothing to worry about you know you can kiss your arse good-bye mate.
“We have taken the best scientific advice…blah blah blah…problem is overstated…blah blah blah…no cause for concern blah blah blah”
When you hear that have the fucking undertaker’s number ready mate. The geezer is the scientific equivalent of Kate Adie turning up in a peaceful country.
STILL ON THE GUARDIAN…
One of my favourite columnists, John O’Farrell, reckons the USA has added another dangerous dictatorship to its axis of evil: France. Here’s a snippet:
Now an extensive UN dossier has been published giving detailed accounts of French abuses of human rights. There are disturbing reports of nonchalant shrugging by French waiters. CNN has broadcast astonishing footage of French bureaucrats actually being rude and obstructive to foreigners, though surely this must have been faked. American mothers have been appalled by photographs of French women having a glass of wine when pregnant, though there is also a certain amount of pity for a population forced to watch all those intellectual films that won the oeuf d’or at the Bruges film festival. But what’s really annoyed the Americans is the provocative way they eat all this fancy rich food and just don’t seem to get fat. The French must fall into line with western levels of obesity or face the consequences. George Bush is now drawing up a list of the most wanted Frenchmen, which so far only names Gerard Depardieu and Barbar the Elephant.
RETURN OF THE GRAUNIAD
Anyone who has looked at these pages more than once has probably realised that my favoured newspaper is The Guardian, which also has the best online edition of any of the national dailies. (And Ben writes for it, like this for example.)
In days gone by, The Guardian was renowned and loved for its propensity for misspellings, hence the soubriquet The Grauniad. Electronic publishing, spellcheckers and all that have largely ended such problems, though every day it still prints a Corrections and clarifications section that reveals its recent howlers. I wonder if today’s edition will pick up on one from Friday in this article, which states with respect to Sir Harold Acton:
Sir Harold, a good friend of the Queen, died in 1994 at the age of 89.
In the print edition of the paper, the article is accompanied by a photograph of the man himself, with Chuck ’n’ Di, captioned:
Sir Harold, Prince Charles and Diana in Florence in 1995.
Sir Harold looks remarkably good for a man who had been dead for a year.
Friday, April 25, 2003
THERE’S POWER IN THEM THAR BLOGS
A perfect demonstration that the threat of public shaming works: Peter D Cox was having a certain difficulty with his bank, the Abbey National, until he wrote about it in his blog and e-mailed the URL to them. The Guardian has the story.
Now, I wonder what I could say about those assholes at Scottish Power who sent me a bill on April 11, which I received and paid on April 14, which payment by their later admission they received on April 17, but who sent an “advisor” round to my home yesterday (April 24 — are we counting the days?) to discuss my “unpaid account”, which advisor could not speak to me because I was in Sweden and so left a letter for me to find on my return today, stating: “If we do not hear from you within 7 days of this letter, we will apply for a Warrant that will enable us to enter your premises and disconnect the supply”.
Oh, they heard from me all right…
THOSE DIXIE CHICKS
The only reason that I knew The Dixie Chicks must have said something anti-Bush was because of Michael Moore’s punch line to his Oscar acceptance speech, directed at the US President: “And, whenever you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up”. I didn’t know what had been said or by whom, until I read Duncan Campbell’s article in today’s Guardian.
I was disgusted to read what the band, and in particular, Natalie Maines, has been suffering since Maines’ onstage remark at their last London concert, “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas”.
One of the things Brits often say when they want to imply intellectual superiority over Americans, is that Americans can’t appreciate irony. There certainly seems to be a lot of Americans who can’t appreciate the irony in always banging on about how great it is to live in a country where their right to freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution — yet when someone like Maines exercises that right, she is pilloried and abused. That kind of irony isn’t funny; it’s pathetic and tragic.
The roots of this backlash against the Chicks seem to lie in this strange, reverential attitude that many Americans hold towards the presidency: that whoever holds that office, be he genius or dimwit, Democrat or Republican, effective or hopeless, no-one should speak out against him. I seem to remember another régime, recently brought down largely by the Americans, where no-one was allowed to speak out against the President… that being one of the many criticisms America, rightly, made of it.
Natalie Maines may feel shame that Bush is from the same State as she is; I feel shame that those who cause her to need 24-hour security outside her home are from the same planet as I am.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Around and around: Jeffrey Zeldman picked up on the comments I made earlier about Ben Darlow’s entry being the best in the competition, Ben saw Jeffrey’s comments and hiked over to my site to take a look, then dropped me a note. Meanwhile I’d been exploring his site and finding another imaginative piece of design with some neat tricks. But hurry if you want to see it, because he’s already redesigning, and the latest “k4” looks pretty cool, too.
SCIENTISTS DISCOVER THAT FLIES CAN FLY
Don’t tell me: you’re thinking, “Well I could have told them that!” But apparently, scientific thought in the past was that their light weight actually allowed flies to swim in the air. Now, in a study that seems to prove the obvious carried out by Zurich University’s Institute of Neuroinformatics, the egg-heads concluded that it isn’t friction but rather inertia that keeps them in the air, and high-speed photographs of fruit flies revealed that they use their wings in a series of “steering and countersteering” movements.
Thus flying, not swimming.
EGYPTIAN THEMED BOWLING BALLS, ANYONE?
Yes, it’s time once again to take a look at a few of the weird searches that have brought people to this site.
A search for “egyptian themed bowling balls” shows quite nicely how Google will find all your search terms on a page, but not necessarily all together (unless you tell it to): see the screen grab of the results.
But more fascinating is the Yahoo search for “cock gogger”. Cock gogger?! WTF? Anyway, here’s the screen grab. Maybe Yahoo was right, and they really meant “cock gagger”, which makes marginally more sense — perhaps.
The thing I find most strange is that in spite of seeing how their search terms appear in the results, people still come to the page to check it out. Either they live in hope, or don’t understand much about the way search engines work.
FANCY AN IBOX?
A what? Well, the Mac addicts have probably already heard about this, but John Fraser, an engineer from Minnesota in the USA, wants to start building low-cost, upgradeable Mac boxes — hence iBox — through his PC customisation business, 2khappyware. Wired has a full story, complete with a picture of the “pizza box” design by Mario Micheli.
This would be great news for buyers, of course, but potentially he faces all sorts of legal problems with Apple that might scupper the whole scheme. Even if he suffers no challenges from Apple, I can see another big fly in the ointment: the case. He clearly (and commendably) wants the product to look good, as do “real” Macs. But he plans to have the case produced by plastic injection moulding, and I reckon the cost of the mould tools could run to tens of thousands of dollars. While plastics moulders will often amortise the cost of tooling over the unit cost, they will generally only do so if they are convinced that they will get the volume of work necessary to recoup the investment, and in a reasonably short time frame — and I think they would view a venture like this as highly risky. So unless Mr. Fraser has (or can get) a big wedge of cash ready to lay out up front, he might have a major difficulty at the very outset.
But I hope everything works out for him. It would be nice to have a more affordable and customisable source of Mac hardware. I wonder what would be the cost impact of shipping kit to the UK (bearing in mind that if HM Customs and Excise get a sniff of it, they will want import duty and VAT to be paid)?
Sunday, April 20, 2003
THE REAL SLIM SADDAM
When I first read about the WThRemix competition, I thought it was a nice idea, and it would have been fun to punt in an entry — if I’d only had the time. It’s sad but true: even with all that CSS has to offer, and a dominance amongst the internet-using public of browsers that can take advantage of most of it, when the World Wide Web Consortium redesigned its home page last December, it still ended up with something that looks like the Web à la 1998. But as Jeffrey Zeldman (who was on the judging panel) says, “its site is less than engaging because W3C geeks are not designers, writers, or IA specialists”.
The competition winners have been announced, and grand prize goes to Radu Darvas for his stylish entry. I agree with the judges’ decision that out of all the entries from a visual design point of view, this entry was the most striking. But I think the most successful design was executed by one of those who won an “honourable mention”, Ben Darlow.
Why more successful? Well, overall it is a very appealing design. But more than that: like any good designer, Ben took into account the W3C’s established branding when developing his colour scheme and layout, and made use of the organisation’s existing and well-known logo. (He preserved that theme in his redesign, in an antipixel-like way, of the validation icons.) Conversely, Radu Darvas’ design casts all that aside. Now, nothing in the original competition rules said that any consideration had to be given to the W3C’s image, so there is no problem with Radu’s approach from that standpoint (though the competition page did suggest that “the best design takes into account the folks for whom we are designing”). Interestingly, however, in the details of the judging process given on the winners page, it says that one of the measures was “appropriateness for the W3C”.
And that’s where I think established branding needs to be thought about before launching into something completely different. The W3C logo is recognised throughout the world, with its trademark blue, white and grey colours, and that recognition has value. I’m developing a web site for a client at the moment, and she and I and a designer who has been working on some print materials for her took time to consider her company’s logo quite critically. We could see that the logo, designed some years ago, is perhaps less than 100% indicative of her business — so we did think about a redesign. But apart from the practical problems and costs of dumping and reprinting brochures, stationery, business cards, standard advertising layouts, etc. there is the simple fact that her business is a well-respected leader in the field, and its logo, colour scheme and layouts for regular newspaper advertisements are well known: to change now would mean getting an awful lot of people used to something new.
And “something new” is exactly what Radu Darvas’ design is. The orange and grey scheme is very attractive, as is — in an abstract way — the image at the top of the page. I say in an abstract way, because however hard I look at it, I can’t figure out what it is, so I can’t judge how relevant it is to the W3C or its activities (“appropriateness” again). Maybe it’s just me, and it’s perfectly clear to everyone else who looks at it.
None of this is of any real consequence anyway, as WThRemix was a “just for fun” competition. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the W3C, which was not soliciting redesigns of their newly redesigned home page. But exercises like this lend a fascinating insight into the different ways that different people will approach a design problem, and I congratulate all the winners.
OH TO BE IN IT SUPPORT
IT support staff not only have to troubleshoot faults, of course; they also receive all manner of often bizarre or trivial requests — and sometimes they just can’t help themselves having a joke at the expense of unknowledgeable, naïve or gullible users. Hence the following example from a friend of mine who works in an IT support department:
Sent: 29 June 2000 11:46
To: Supportguy; Colleague1; Colleague2; Colleague3
Subject: ANYONE GOT A SPARE MOUSE MAT AND PEN/PENCIL HOLDER
Anyone got a spare mouse mat and/or pen/pencil holder thing?
Sent: 29 June 2000 15:17
Subject: RE: ANYONE GOT A SPARE MOUSE MAT AND PEN/PENCIL HOLDER
Sorry Usergal, but we don't have any Mouse Mats that are compatible with your PC. However, if you complete a requisition form we can order you a replacement from our IT Budget. Please can you confirm whether you require a Parallel or Serial port mouse pad together with FULL spec details of your PC and whether we need to purchase a right or left handed item.
Sent: 29 June 2000 15:18
Subject: RE: ANYONE GOT A SPARE MOUSE MAT AND PEN/PENCIL HOLDER
Its okay Supportguy, Colleague1 said they had a spare one so I'll pop along and see if it's any use and hopefully it will be. If it's not I'll do as you say.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
PIG IN THREE IN A BED SCANDAL
There, that got your attention! Also spotted in today’s Guardian, which it in turn had picked up from Reuters Berlin bureau:
Police in western Germany said a rampaging wild boar rammed open the front door of an elderly couple’s house and leapt into bed with them before biting the man and fleeing. The 71-year-old man was not seriously hurt.
Reuters does not enlighten us as to where the boar came from, or what grudge it held against its victim.
GOD? WHAT GOD?
From time to time throughout my adult life, I’ve been asked (usually by believers) why I don’t believe in God. A facile response might be, “Which god should I believe in?” The god of the Christians, or Muslims, or Jews? Or perhaps a Hindu deity or two? Or maybe one of the gods of antiquity (I was always rather taken by portrayals of the Egyptian god Anubis, the jackal-headed rascal)… or perhaps an old Norse god: Thor and his big hammer make a potent image. Viewed with any real objectivity, there is nothing less rational about belief in a god from a dead religion than from a surviving one.
Of course, I do have much more reasoned explanations, but I don’t generally care much to get into a debate over them. One thing I have learned is that it is as pointless for an atheist to attempt to persuade a confirmed Christian/Muslim/Jew/Jedi towards his point of view, as it is for the Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Jedi to attempt to persuade a confirmed atheist towards theirs. I simply agree to disagree. If I judge people at all, it is by their deeds, and not their religious beliefs, and I expect a similar courtesy in return. I am no less a human being ― and no less good a human being ― because I choose not to believe in the existence of a supernatural creator.
Someone who does choose to debate the issue from time to time, and with more eloquence than I could ever muster, is the veteran Scottish broadcaster and writer, Ludovic Kennedy. Ludo gives expression to my own thoughts in his article in today’s Guardian. So if you want to know…
WAR? WHAT WAR?
The pressures of work and travel over the last month or so (not to mention the annual fun-fest of trying to get my accounts and tax affairs in order) have drained me of the time and energy to post anything here, hence the long silence.
Meanwhile, there seems to have been some conflict over in the Persian Gulf, that has started, run its course, and pretty much played itself out.
I don’t mean to trivialise the war in Iraq. It’s just that there’s been so much to say about what has gone on in the last few weeks (and in the months that led up to them) but no time to say it ― so I won’t try retrospectively. Anyway, it may be that the real conflict is just about to begin: over how Iraq, with its disparate peoples with their disparate religious beliefs and cultural identities, is to forge a new, cohesive, representative and ultimately democratic government ― and how much of a part the USA will permit the UN, the EU, or other powers (not to mention the Iraqis themselves) to play in that process.
I will throw in a few words about the television news coverage, though. No other conflict has had such pervasive, round-the-clock attention, and I do wonder how truly useful it has been. Having reporters all over the place, “embedded” with combat units, is all very well. But the public isn’t stupid, and we could see all too readily that embedded reporters were only able to report what the military or political commanders wanted or permitted them to report. Propaganda, even by omission, is still propaganda ― and nobody these days is sufficiently naïve to think that only “the other side” engages in it.
The perceived need on the part of the news channels to fill almost every minute of their schedules with War In Iraq! presented them with something of a challenge: there just wasn’t enough news to go around. Too many reporters, in too many places, all with too little to say. Hence
- too much repetition
- endless and pointless hours of video of B52s sitting on the tarmac at RAF Fairford doing precisely nothing (an ITN favourite)
- equally endless and pointless shots from the roof of the Information Ministry in Baghdad across the street, to where precisely nothing was happening
- much studio analysis and debate with armchair generals and defence/military experts no-one had ever heard of before the war, about matters that were little more than rumour or conjecture and which were often discredited just a few hours later.
Save for breaking, important and verified news, wouldn’ t hourly bulletins have sufficed?
As to the style and quality of coverage, CNN struck me as being particularly partial; BBC and Sky were just about tolerable; while ITN was lamentable, especially during the night-time hours. Alastair (Police! Camera! Action!) Stewart? Angela (Come Dancing) Rippon? I ask you…
And why did the grannies favourite Trevor Macdonald have to present the Nine O' Clock news from Kuwait? Was he really in a position to tell us more than he could have from the cosy ITN studios in London? Besides, Kuwait being a few hours ahead of the UK, it must surely have been past his bedtime…
One thing I miss already, however, is the daily briefing from the (former) Iraqi régime’ s gift to the world of stand-up comedy: the irrepressible (but former) Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.
As B.Logman says, “If he was a bad man, he deserved trial. If he was not, he deserved a late night talk show.”