January 2003 Archives

My blog has moved

And you can now read it via your friends list. Add "skington_mt" (no quotes) to your friends list, and you'll automatically subscribe to the RSS feed of my blog. For some reason Livejournal ignore the dates of the posts so they're currently all dated today, which is when Livejournal first subscribed to the feed, but that should sort itself out as I expect any new posts will be dated more or less correctly.

Nice hard disc, but

Maxtor, for all that their website is lovely, could have set the jumper settings in the hard disc they shipped to us in a way that made sense to the human brain.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Well, Maxtor sent us a replacement for the 60Gb hard disc that I got when Mike last came up and bought a shitload of games that my machine didn't have room for. It failed a while after - weird beeping noises, not spinning up, data corruption; apparently this is a known problem with Power Macs and second hard discs from maxtor - and we sent it back, with a lot of help from Maxtor's web site. Impressively, they realise that people are mostly coming to their site if they've got a problem with their hard disc, so there's a prominent "Returns" link on the front page. Very nice.

Anyway, the hard disc arrived, I opened up the Power Mac, removed the hard disc bay, put the new disc in, put the bay back, powered on the machine - zilch. It didn't recognise the hard disc, when I booted from CD the machine crashed spectacularly (white noise on the screen); I worked out it was a problem with the drive, and, as I assumed, it was indeed the new Maxtor disc claiming it was primary when it wasn't. I went to the Maxtor web site, found the appropriate jumper settings, corrected them, and all was fine.

The stupidity, though, was that the drive was shipped with jumper settings that didn't make sense. WTF? Surely it could have been shipped with some sensible default setting, like cable select, rather than settings that were guaranteed not to work?

Incidentally, UK2 is getting to me. When I wrote "shitload of games" earlier, my fingers automatically, after "shitload of", typed the word "domains".

The nature of human imagination, or, Roses IIIINN SPAAAAAAACE

Roses smell different when they're in micro-gravity, and there are already commercial applications.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The Space Shuttle is currently in orbit, and part of its 16-day science mission is seeing what happens to roses and rice flowers in micro-gravity (via Boing Boing). They're also doing boring stuff about air pollution and prostate cancer.

Specifically, they want to know what happens to the smell of the flowers, and the fascinating thing is this is not the first time they've done this. A perfume company sent some roses into space a few years ago, which produced a new kind of scent that was brought back to Earth, analysed, synthesised and incorporated into, for instance, a variety of Unilever's Impulse body spray. AFAIK, they're not marketing it as space rose smell, they're just looking for new smells, and apparently it's easier to take roses into space and see what happens, than to mess about in the lab trying to make new smells.

Incidentally, when people were lobbying for a space station because that would let us create special materials that could only be manufactured in zero-G, I bet nobody thought one of the first results would be a perfume.

What is it with dog websites today?

Get money putting advertising on your dog, then treat it to a massage.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

From the comments in Ben Hammersley's blog, a new revenue stream for dog owners: Dogvertising. You can own up to £200 per month by renting out advertising space on your dog.

Meanwhile, from Boing Boing, news that Easthampton, Massachusetts, Board of Health is trying to ban multi-species massage clinics. The article (free registration required) says "Massage therapists say their practice can be every bit as soothing and relaxing to pets as it is to their owners," which does not convince the local authorities: "Do physicians let you bring your dog into the examining room? No. [...] Pets have fleas. Fleas carry the plague." (They also complain about allergies, but still: some over-reaction, surely?)

Richard Herring is professionally interested in penises

Well, he's doing a stand-up routine on penises. And he has a blog

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Well, he's doing a stand-up routine on penises. And he discovered that there are some men that can, well, fuck themselves. Two days after he blogged it (and emailed the Doctor in question), comes the response:

Don’t you just love the internet? Ten years ago, I would have had to write a letter to her agent or publisher and then maybe got a reply in a couple of months (if she’d ever got the letter and could be bothered to buy a stamp), now I get an answer within 48 hours.

Admittedly the sense of wonder is slightly soiled by the fact that the information being passed is about men putting their penises in their own rectums, but even so!

I have fond memories of watching Lee and Herring as a student, and it's good to see that Richard Herring is keeping a blog, even if I suspect he's keeping his best material for his gigs which pay him money, bastard. (Thanks to Danny O'Brien for the URL.)

Best reason for switching I've seen in ages

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Shelley has the best reason I've read for a while on why you should switch to a Mac:

Cats prefer PowerBooks 2 to 1 over comparable PC-based laptops. No, really.

What is it to be human? Comic books authors and Marvel's toy manufacturers differ

The X-Men: evolved humans or inhuman aliens? While the comic book world continues to debate the issue, Marvel's toy manufacturers successfully argue in court that they're not human. And as such qualify for the "toy" import duty rate, which is significantly lower than "doll".

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

In a recent court case, a US federal judge ruled that the X-Men are not human (via, most recently, Boing Boing). Understandably, given that the fundamental issue in the X-Men is whether these mutants are still human or not, many fans and, for that matter, authors of the series are, to say the least, perturbed that such a weighty issue has been settled by a court case in New York, particularly given that the case was about whether plastic figurines of Wolverine should be classified as dolls or toys (the latter, when imported from China, isn't taxed as highly).

Happily, Marvel is here to reassure everyone:

Don't fret, Marvel fans, our heroes are living, breathing human beings -- but humans who have extraordinary abilities ... . A decision that the X-Men figures indeed do have 'nonhuman' characteristics further proves our characters have special, out-of-this world powers.

Feh. De-weaseled, this translates as "Hey, you knew they were weird right? And you like weird, so that's good, yeah? Oh, and despite what the judge says, they're still human." Anyone else unconvinced?

PS: I like how the judge needed to say that she

subjected many of the figures to "comprehensive examinations." At times, that included "the need to remove the clothes of the figure."

I hope she didn't base her ruling that the X-Men and other Marvel figures weren't human on the fact that, lacking genitals, they clearly could never reproduce.


The daily adventures of Mixerman

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The Daily adventures of Mixerman (via JWZ) is, to me the studio engineer equivalent of True Porn Clerk Stories - a combination of vicarious sharing of a life most people will never know, albeit not one that appears to be particularly desirable, along with fucked up people and damn good writing. I'm currently on week 4 (of 8, I think - I have no idea whether it's still going).


Kung-Log is pretty damn good - but not quite there yet.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Testing out Kung-Log (via Ben Hammersley, and it looks pretty damn good. No idea why it thinks that putting HTML in orange is a good idea, though, and I can't find out how to ping other entries as yet.

Oh wait, it gets line-spacing wrong. If I post an entry, then fetch it back from the server, it comes back double-spaced, which is annoying. I suspect some Unix/Mac interaction problem. The category popup menu doesn't appear to be entirely working either.

Oh well. I'll carry on using it for a bit.

Currently listening to: Playing of Ball - Kate Rusby, Little Lights

Is cutups / mashups the term for video? Anyway, this remix / cutup / mashup / whatever of the State of the Union address (QuickTime, via Boing Boing) is significantly better than the MP3 I downloaded only a few months ago of Tony Blair's Queen Mum speech.

Fun with the Law, Google and profiteers

| No Comments

Not that I'm in any way prejudging the case, but Google is being sued by SearchKing because, as part of its recent revamp of its PageRank algorithms, it demoted SearchKing and a number of SearchKing-promoted sites - and given that SearchKing makes a living on the basis on increasing its clients' PageRank ratings, it felt understandably miffed. (Which is not to say that it was moral or right to piggy-back on Google, of course.)

James Grimmelmann has an entertaining summary of the case between the two companies (via Scripting News, of which I noticed the following snippet:

At the pleading stage of a lawsuit, it's both reasonable and normal to assert two mutually inconsistent factual theories or to ask for two mutually incompatible remedies.

God bless lawyers. Or rather, don't.

Incidentally, I think James is right in the following description of Google:

It can recommend sites or not, at its discretion; it can rank them however it chooses to. That's its business, and it would be inconsistent with our assumptions about society, commerce, and the Internet to force it to "recommend" SearchKing to the tune of PageRank 8. I find this argument persuasive; I think it gets right our intuitive notions about why Google should be free to alter its ranking algorithms according to current law.

But, of course, even if he is, IANAL.

Pooh makes everyone miserable

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Neil Gaiman links to The Curse of Pooh. The story of how A.A.Milne, who didn't want all the attention that Pooh was drawing, sold licensing rights to Stephen Slesinger, whose widow sold most of the rights to Disney, and how it all ended up in the courts. Most of the parties involved seem either not to want to be involved at all, or to be greedy money-grasping rich people / companies. Feh.

Thoughts on the new Apple announcements

I've written a fair bit about this on my new blog. Go read it. And bookmark it, or read the RSS feed from here.

Thoughts on the new Apple announcements

I've written a fair bit about this on my new blog. Go read it. And bookmark it, or read the RSS feed from here.

Thoughts on the new Apple announcements

I've written a fair bit about this on my new blog. Go read it. And bookmark it, or read the RSS feed from here.

Thoughts on the new Apple announcements

The world and his dog has been commenting on Apple's new browser, Safari, as well as the other new announcements...

The world and his dog has been commenting on Apple's new browser, Safari, as well as the other new announcements like iLife (which I have nothing much to say about), the new PowerBooks (which I like, but otherwise have nothing much exceptional to say about) and Keynote, about which more in a minute. There are a whole bunch of people more suited to write about the major points; I just wanted to pick up on some points I think people have missed, or at least I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere.

First of all Safari. It's a new web browser, and yes, it doesn't have tabbed browsing, and yes, it doesn't follow all of the rules of CSS (although the Apple guys are making an admirable effort at fixing any reported bugs, which does the Internet proud and is collecting them much kudos). And there are a few things that are missing in what is obviously still an early product - importing bookmarks is cumbersome, the preferences are rather too cut-down (for instance, you can only turn off underlining in links by using a user style sheet - note that this page, ironically, doesn't currently work in Safari).

But all this is minor stuff that can change in time, and I have no doubt, on current form, that Apple will solve all of these things. Consider the following.

First of all, Apple have solved the bookmarks problem. I'm now going to start using bookmarks again, and properly organising them, rather than just let them pile up in a long list, because Apple make it easy to organise bookmarks. (There's a QuickTime movie of how it works if you're not running Mac OS X 10.2 or higher.) I don't need an external pane, or a pop-up window, for my bookmarks collection; the bookmarks can just take over my browser window when I'm organising them. It's no big loss; I can get the browser window back at a click of a button. I don't need to be reading a web page at the same time as I'm sorting out bookmarks. If I do, well, I can open another Safari window and organise my bookmarks in there.

(Incidentally, try dragging a link in Safari - it's gorgeous.)

And I think they've got navigation right. Putting the global history in the History menu (not the Go menu), and the SnapBack system that allows you to go back with one click to the page you started in (you can also mark an individual page part way through the stack if you want to go back to that instead) avoids the problem of getting lost in the web. You have easy access to the pages you've visited recently, and you can get back to where you started easily, rather than having to press Back many times and hope it works.

Incidentally, I think a number of people want to use tabs so they can go to a web page, then open a link from that page in another tab. When they're finished, they can close that tab and the original page is exactly like they left it. With SnapBack, you don't need to do that. (Although the original page still has to render.)

But mostly, the browser is two things. One of them is nice. Right from the main Safari menu, there's a "Block pop-up windows" option, and in the Preferences the default cookies option is "Only from sites you navigate to For example, not from advertisers on those sites". I got such a warm feeling from that.

And the other thing is easy. It's the first browser I've ever seen that manages to explain what's going on, even when it's talking about difficult things. Consider the following:
Are you sure you want to send a form again? To reopen this page, the form you completed to open the page the first time must be sent again. This may cause the website to repeat actions it tooke the first time you sent the form. Cancel / Send
That tells you everything you need to know. It doesn't baffle you, it doesn't scare you. It just tells you what's going on.

Apple are on firm foundations here.

I said I'd say something about Keynote. Some people are dismissive of Apple choosing to start its assault on Microsoft with a Powerpoint clone (although I'll add it takes a lot of chutzpah to beta-test a presentation graphics application by effectively beta-testing it for an entire year, which is what Steve Jobs has been doing). For instance:

Bert from Accounts isn't going to cut the mustard no matter how spiffy the software, and anyway you can do a decent presentation with a word processor and the Page Down key. The question isn't whether KeyNote does the job better or worse than PowerPoint but whether we've finally arrived at the heat death of the applications software universe, where nothing remains to be done worth doing.

Two comments. First of all, if you're going to tackle Microsoft's recent inertia on improving features in Office (they pretty much haven't bothered for the last 7 years), you may as well start on the closest to home turf, i.e. something that involves graphics, animation, sound and integrating them all together. Secondly: what makes PowerPoint special? Quite simply, laptop users use it. You pretty much need a laptop to do a PowerPoint presentation these days. And guess what, Apple sells those - and I understand they're pretty nice, too.

Best political phrase of the week

With regards to the Plumegate "criminal investigation into a senior White House official leaking the identity of a covert operative for petty revenge" scandal.

"Why am I up so high and where is my petard?"

From "Issa" in Billmon's comments. Read Billmon, Atrios and others for background detail on the scandal.

"Ozone layer 'healing'" says BBC

"isn't being damaged as much as it was," clarify scientists

According to this report in the BBC, the ozone layer is getting better. Well, sort of:
1) It's not being fucked over as much as it used to be.
2) The upper ozone layer will therefore probably be back to normal within 50 years, assuming we don't do more damage to it.
3) No idea what's going to happen to the lower atmosphere. We just don't know yet.


I'll die of smoking, and Brian will drink himself to death

Or perhaps not.

I'm blogging this because it's about my alma mater, but, frankly, it's a bit confused. Compare:

Arts students were most likely to die from lung cancer or other forms of respiratory disease.

Medics, on the other hand, were more likely to die as a result of accidents, suicide and violence.

with the preceding excerpt:

medics were most likely to die from alcohol-related causes.

Bah. There's more to the BBC report if you're interested, but, frankly, it sounds like one of those tennis-like "Wine causes good health" / "No it doesn't" / "Yes it does" / "OK, but so does beer" / "Right, but that's alcohol as well, right" / "Can we start this conversation again?" science debates carried out via the popular science pages of every newspaper ever in the last couple of years.

Given that they say that the faculty that you choose correlates strongly with your upbringing and social background, I'm not sure whether these figures have any interest whatsoever.

Still, given that I don't smoke, I can point at Brian in the pub and intone "dooooomed" for at least a few days before it gets boring. Now I know why I pay my license fee.

"Some witnesses heard Judge apologize for the mess."

"After leaving the train and heading for the stairs up to the station's main lobby, witnesses said, the placenta fell to the platform. Judge turned around, grabbed the afterbirth, put it in her shoulder bag, and headed upstairs."

Joyce M Judge gave birth on a Boston subway train yesterday. The former nurse refused help from her fellow passengers - "They couldn't do anything on the train so I thought it was better to get to the hospital" - and this was, after all, her third child so she reckoned she knew what she was doing.

Still, there's perhaps being too nonchalent. Quoth a witness:

"I saw a head, then full baby fall out from her skirt, hit the floor sideways and slide the length of the doorway, stopping when he bumped up against the next row of seats. Still she stared out the window. Either she didn't know it happened or didn't want to acknowledge it."

Read the full story in the Boston Globe report, via Warren Ellis's blog, Die puny humans.

Laszlo is such a good trouble dog

When it really matters, like when we left him in kennels this weekend as a practice run for next week, he's not particularly troublesome at all.

Well, we're back from a much overdue and very enjoyable weekend in Oxford with Bendy Mike and his wife Shona. Shona is currently 6-7 months pregnant and is carrying an impressive bulge; Mike also had a bulge of his own, which was due to his cheek swelling up after his dentist removing a wisdom tooth last Wednesday, and led to him complaining that he was tired, full of painkilling drugs, and could only eat soup.

Despite all of that, it was wonderful to see them both, we had a great time, and it's the sort of thing we should do more often. And I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to their spectacularly neat house when a baby is inflicted upon it. (I'm betting on mess.)

The excuse for going down and seeing them was to make sure the dogs were fine in kennels, as we're planning on heading over to the US next week, for 10 days, to get Cleodhna's papers sorted out, and to visit her grandma in Texas while there's still time. (We're also trying to fit in seeing as many friends as we can, while avoiding the "If it's Tuesday, we must be eating lunch with Joe" syndrome.)

The plan was, if anything went wrong, like Laszlo not eating, it would only go wrong during 3 days, as opposed to 10. We could then sort of a solution to the problem, like, say, buying a shitload of tinned salmon or something.

Well, I'm very pleased to say that Laszlo was no problem at all. He might make a fuss about going out of the flat every single time because he hates traffic, loud noise and people, but when we ask him to do something difficult that he has to do, he damn well does it.

Either that, or the kennel owner's Dog-Fu is spectacularly good. (He let her pat her, which pretty much blew us away.)

Incidentally, Mike and Shona's cats, Gyre and Gimble, are, officially, the smallest cats I have ever seen.