February 2004 Archives
February 28, 2004
Joi Ito is also doing GPRS data to his PowerBook. Hopefully, my bill won't quite match his: $3500 for one month?! Yow!
February 27, 2004
Ah, bless Tim Burton. Just when you think there aren't enough fairy stories, along he comes pointing a camera at, one suspects, pretty much what the world looks like from inside his head.
Big Fish is lovely. Barking mad, unapologetically whimsical, curiously but inconsequentially incomprehensible, brilliantly cast.
'It's true what they say: when you meet the love of your life, time stops. What they don't tell you is that when it starts again, it goes really fast to catch up.' Glorious.
February 26, 2004
One friend admits to wearing uncharacteristically short skirts and hanging around in bars trying to make eye contact; another has just started - and I'm honestly not making this up - pole-dancing lessons.
Did the hunting season open early this year? Why wasn't I informed?
February 25, 2004
I took it last summer, driving West through the tunnel out of Yosemite Valley. Handheld, just aiming the camera through the windscreen and firing a few shots off. There's no processing other than compression; the colour is the combination of sodium light and Kodak film, the blur obviously a result of the long exposure.
I like it very much. I hope you enjoy it too. Use as you will, except to make money; leave a comment if you wish. I'll fiddle with compression and see if I can get some of my other texture/abstract stuff up here as desktops. San Francisco Bay and Death Valley were also pretty good.
This is what ConConUK looked like from the back room (after a vicious turf war denied me a seat in the main room. Or maybe I went to the bar, I don't recall). Funnily enough, the grain/pixellation/terrible colour noise apparent here perfectly captures the atmosphere of the iChatAV stream. Somehow, I don't think this is an intentional feature of my cameraphone.
Look, we were doing it because (a.) we could, and (b.) it seemed like it might be useful. Not because it was a(nother) great promo for Apple kit. But of course, nobody will believe that.
Picture the scene; 'The Dover Castle,' says somebody (Danny?), 'That should hold enough people.' The room holds about 40; more like 90 turn up. Ah. So, we spill into a back room (AKA 'The Cheap Seats'), from about half of which a view is afforded of the main room through a non-opening window. There's sound, thanks to a PA that turns out to be
[picking up where Movable Type cut this off, grrrr:] turns out to be better than feared. But it's a little odd being at a small-scale event, and having no idea what the speaker looks like.
However, near the front of the main room a chap called William has an iBook and an iSight FireWire video camera; after a couple of minutes' tinkering in one of the breaks we have a video stream running wirelessly to my PowerBook in the back room. Which is cool and all, but not really very clever on our part. We're just Mac users, and we trust that this sort of thing is worth trying. It'll either be so simple we'll have it working almost immediately, or in only a few minutes we'll have exhausted the obvious possibilities; either way, there's still time to get to the bar. And yet, even in an audience of alpha geeks, this caused a minor stir.
It's easy to forget how good Apple are at making simple things completely transparent, and mildly-complex things pretty-dang-simple. But of course, using this stuff will always come across as smug: 'It just works' is the sort of phrase people want to wipe off your face with a soggy core dump. Unfortunately for all parties, it happens to be true.
What frustrates me is that I didn't think of having QuickTime Streaming Server/Broadcaster installed before I turned up, and that the cable for my miniDV camera was in Glasgow. With all of that kit, we could have pumped two feeds to every wireless-capable box in the room. Now that would have been neat.
OK, my main post about ConConUK. By the time I regain bandwidth and post this, others will have covered far more in more detail, so I'll just add some personal notes and observations.
- It's easy to forget quite how invigorating/knackering congregations of clever people can be. Sure, I work with such people, but it's slightly different in one's day job. At least, one's brain spins rather less.
- The corollary, of course, is the faintly patronising assumption people make that only 'their' group produces such gatherings. Bunk. I was amazed, for example, that nobody I asked had ever been to the British Association meetings. I know they've shrunk of late, and the last one I attended (three years ago?) wasn't remotely as mind-blowing as, say, Sheffield in 1989, but still... a different set of geeks. Interesting.
Digital Democracy - Ra! Ra! Ra!
- I've posted about YourParty here before, and I was aware of the whole MySociety thing, so you might expect me to be interested in digital democracy 'stuff'. You'd be right, but for some reason it surprised the heck out of me. Sure, that portion of the proceedings featured hugely amusing/incisive summaries, but there's more to it than that.
- The analysis of the lack of analysis of the Dean campaign failure was brief but made me sit up; odd details of some of the current UK projects had me nodding in approval. I'd have gaped in slack-jawed wonder, only that makes me look foolish. I think I'm most impressed that the UK folks are picking simple projects with clear utility that make a genuine difference, rather than gunning for big headlines with meaningless fluff. FaxYourMP is a terrific service - the sort of thing that plain should exist. There's clearly a whole heap of stuff coming along of similar efficiency, and I heartily commend the people who are spotting the gaps, and filling them.
- All the democracy stuff reminded me of peoples' approach to the net environmental movement five years ago. I think the BBC actually ran a story titled 'Will the internet save the environment?' - I certainly heard that question asked at the BA more than once. The answer, of course, is 'Durr... no. But people might.' It's arguably too late for the environment, but at least the democracy folks appear to be avoiding the same error/sloppiness. In the UK, anyway.
Not hi-, not low-, but just-the-right-tech
- Email in Cambodia - and if this story checks out, it'll be in series 15 of How2 - is apparently delivered by motorbike. With a PC and WiFi on board it simply drives past a string of post offices, doing a bi-directional sync as it passes. Simple, elegant, probably very effective, if rather high latency. Two aspects amuse me in particular: firstly, this is somebody taking the phrase 'never underestimate the bandwidth of a lorryload of tapes' commendably literally; secondly, I like the idea that to increase bandwidth, you simply slow the bike down a bit so it has longer to sync.
- Lovely observations of technology use in India where, as the speaker pointed out, you don't need a 3G mobile with push blah and geowarchalked WAP whatever to find out where the nearest photocopier is - you simply ask somebody. Makes one wonder what proportion of Western technology is dedicated to solving problems that can more readily be solved by talking to people.
- Speaking of which - Tom Steinberg, 'I employed the killer research technology of the 21st Century - a British accent on the telephone.'
- OK, so Tom Coates convinced me that I have to read up about 'FluidTime.' I don't know what the heck it is, but it sounds like the sort of way I work anyway.
- Dave Green should take his snackspot.org rant to the Edinburgh Fringe. I'm very serious about this.
- That was fun, let's do it again.
Well, that was weird. There'll be a little flurry of posts here as I catch up on some of the stuff that's happened, but in short: went to London; ConConUK and the London alpha-geek circle; was made a (very tasty) sarnie by a celeb who's far too big a name to still be doing such things; arrived at hotel at 2am to be told 'no rooms'; big stroppy argument, mostly in French (and believe me, my French is not up to this...), and I end up in the Marriot with a view of the Thames through the London Eye; auditions, featuring very silly leafblower action; more drinks with the celeb; fishcakes to die for; home in time for... oh, I've no tea at home. And it'll be well gone midnight.
More detail in later posts.
February 23, 2004
Metafilter link, etc etc etc, but still: crumbs. Pentagon report claims climate change a greater security threat than terrorism? Er... that's quite big, isn't it?
Observer report here.
February 22, 2004
If you're reading this from the website (rather than in a news aggregator), you'll likely have noticed that the title has changed. Yes, after very nearly two years, I've finally worked out what to call this thing. And like all the best ideas, it seems downright obvious in retrospect. But first, a little history:
A quern or quernstone was a mill used for making flour. Specifically, it was a small mill used by an individual to grind flour for their daily bread.
When I first bought a laptop, ten years ago, like all good Macs it needed a name. It struck me then that a PowerBook was about the same size as a quern, and that I used it for metaphorically the same purpose: grinding my daily bread. It was even made of the same material, silicon. So, my PowerBook was named 'Quern' as a reminder of how far technology has progressed, and of how little life has changed.
Subsequently, I bought quern.demon.co.uk, and eventually quernstone.com. And now I post thoughts and comments and links here, while going about my daily grinding on Quern IV, my latest PowerBook.
The Daily Grind, see?
Plus, I like the irony. Look - today I couldn't resist stopping by the office to make a radio-controlled rubber duck. That's my 'daily grind.'
On the other hand, there are many things I've yet to sort out. For example: all my various tins of smoked paprika are in Glasgow. And while the chorizo and bean stew I recently enjoyed was - if I say so myself - somewhat delicious, it would most certainly have benefitted from a little sweet smoked paprika.
Ah, well. One must slum it every so often.
I'm now living in Glasgow and working in Leeds, rather than the other way around, which provides a strong incentive to find ways of making my life a little less absurd. Hence: a new PowerBook (the 15" one with DVD-R and controversial light-up keys, since some of you were asking). Hence: a bijou apartment behind a terribly trendy bar/restaurant in a terribly hip area of Leeds (only about 50 yards from where I lived when I first moved here, but it wasn't quite as hip then). Hence: a new mobile phone with 'loadsaminutes' contract.
Next up: tunes. How does one play music at decent quality, without carting shedloads of CDs around the country? Well, durr, that's what the iPod is for: but headphones are awful, so I need speakers. And I need Radio 4, obviously, bedrock of British civilisation, and all that.
Enter the Tivoli Model PAL, a radio bearing an uncanny resemblance to a small brick. It has an on/off switch, a volume dial, and a tuning dial. And that's about it. Oh, but it also has some terribly high-tech tuning circuitry, a quite remarkable little amplifier, and the most amazing small speaker I can remember hearing. It sounds terrific.
It also packs a 20-hour NiMH battery, is weather-resistant, and... it has a line input socket. One cable later, my iPod is pumping Franz Ferdinand, Tommy Guerrero, Zero7, The Baker Brothers, and all my other current faves out to the flat at large. It sounds great - who cares about stereo when this much portability sounds this good?
Very highly recommended. At least until old landlord and BBC sound engineer 'Pat Markin' tears it apart.
Now: if only the iPod wasn't tied to a specific Mac. I don't see why I should carry the master collection on the PowerBook when the iPod in the same bag has the same data. But if I don't, the iPod isn't tied to this Mac, and I can't edit playlists without going back to Glasgow. Digital Rights Management, we love it. Thanks again, music industry. You rock.
February 20, 2004
Since I have to be in London on Tuesday anyway, I reckon I may as well head down on Monday and go to this. No, it's not clear from that page what it's all about: it's a UK catch-up for people who couldn't make it to O'Reilly's ETech/ETCon conference the other week. Conference home page here, oh-so-cutting-edge wiki here.
Of course, since I haven't had decent bandwidth since the bash itself, I'll have no idea what they're talking about. But maybe that's the point?
February 19, 2004
Help! I'm lost!
Oh. Where are you?
If I knew that, I wouldn't be lost.
Oh, yeah. Fair point. How did you get where you are?
Right. What can you see?
A big road. And a pub.
You'll have to give me more to go on.
There are lots of big roads. And signs. And more roads. Very very big ones.
Sheepscar interchange. I'll come and get you.
February 17, 2004
A little, anyway. I have dialup data working over a new Sony Ericsson z600, via O2. The trick - it turns out - was to completely ignore the O2 instructions and go from these. Heigh-ho.
February 16, 2004
I'm sitting on hold waiting for Orange to call me back, since they've a large queue waiting for the Disconnections Unit. Still trying to find news of MetaFilter, I search Technorati (finding nothing); then, of course, I vanity search. Ooh, look at that - I'm up from one inbound blog link to a whole four, one of which is a chap called Chris Heathcote, whose blog I added to NetNewsWire recently. Then I find here that Chris was not only speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference I'd wished I'd been at last week... he's also a customer experience manager at... Orange.
Hang on... they're calling...
For what it's worth, Chris: the disconnection folks were excellent, and I'm going because Orange's charge structure for data is horrible. HSD is far from cheap, and the GPRS rates are huge: O2 GPRS is cheaper than either, and billed more sensibly. Plus I can get the handset I want, and the sign-up package is excellent.
It's nothing personal.
February 14, 2004
February 11, 2004
Allegedly, the keyboard lights up in the dark.
February 8, 2004
Does anyone use those bizarre stickers that come with blank video tapes? Not the spine or top labels, obviously - we all use those, but only about three years after we first record onto the tape, when we fish it out of the box and wonder what the hell we put on it.
No, tapes always seem to come with a range of other labels, most of which would appear, at first glance, to be of extremely limited use. On closer inspection, many appear of no use whatsoever. A TDK tape I stuck in my VCR not a moment ago, for example (second half of Angels in America for the recording of), has a handy little sticker of a chap wearing a suit, and sporting a fine moustache. And another of a woman with a bouffant Farah Fawcett-style hairdo.
I don't recall ever using such stickers. Nor can I quite work out in what eventuality I might be tempted to. Anybody?
Orkut is the latest in a string of 'community' sites, and it's been attracting plenty of press of late. Mostly, so far as I can tell, because it's (a.) an unofficial Google research project, and Google is hip, and (b.) it's not very good.
Membership is invitation-only, which means us plebs are kept out and only the genuinely worthy are allowed in, which is rather uncannily like not being on the guest list for a popular club and not having a friendly celebrity to hand (say, Mel C, for example - you know who you are). So, I've been reading the rants and the criticisms from blogdom with fairly idle interest, since I'm not part of 'that' set.
Only... someone's just gone and invited me in. Which is nice and all - gosh, am I really a 'somebody'? - except that one criticism of Orkut is its binary approach to connections. You're either a 'friend' of somebody, or you don't know them. Now, where I come from, 'friend' is an unequivocally positive term (or it's used ironically, or in jest, or... well, anyway). And the guy who's invited me in? Well, now...
I'm on a whole bunch of mailing lists. Friends' lists, geek lists, flight-sim pilots' lists, software testing lists. Some of them I even read. One I've more-or-less dropped off is run by The Omni Group, an American developer of spectacularly elegant software for Mac OS X. Their general discussion list is excellent, but it has its share of trolls - people who post rants, pick fights, or are generally belligerent. The online equivalent of Glasgow's famous Neds.
One troll used to post anti-unix screeds that ran on for page after page of barely-intelligible rambling. He became somewhat notorious; as I recall, he's known for similarly antisocial behaviour on some of the Perl lists. Anyway, at one point I took to running his posts through an automatic text summarising system, and reposting the result. This caused considerable mirth.
This is the guy who's invited me into Orkut. He's not my friend, I don't know him - from his writings, I wouldn't even like him. I have no desire to be associated with him via some spuriously coarse-grained 'social software' linking system. But I'm still quite keen to play with Orkut, out of semi-professional interest.
What do I do?
February 7, 2004
I just Googled the UK mac newsgroup for 'ISP mobile phone,' since I'm trying to work out how to secure bandwidth while I'm in Leeds. The first link poster's sig-quote is from... uh, that's me.
Does that make me a somebody?
February 1, 2004
At 6pm this evening, I finished clearing my desk at SMG (a process pleasantly slowed by chatting to Club Reps producer Lizzie, with whom I've shared an office these last few months. It's been more than slightly bizarre, since the series we're making couldn't be less alike). At 6am tomorrow, I head down to Leeds to start the next gig. Which is exactly what I want to do, and I'm hugely excited about it. No, really I am.*
Meanwhile, Sim's show Scrapheap Challenge: Scrappy Races finally got underway tonight, replacing the execrable Demolition Day in Channel 4's schedules. Scrappy Races was a hoot. Perhaps it's a while since I've seen Scrapheap itself, but I enjoyed this spin-off far more than the mother series. This despite basically nothing happening this week, as the teams put together their basic contraptions. Fun show - congrats all round.
* Had my fingers crossed.
Fool that I am, I've lost the notes I took after my last round of trying to get you to confirm if you're collecting your deletetheweb.com mail. So, I don't have a decent admin distribution list for us... and thus the best way I have of reaching you en masse is to post here. American readers may wish to note that this is an example of what we in the wider and older world call 'irony.'
Anyway - I know some of you have been suffering junk comments in your blogs, and I've had vague requests to install the blacklist plugin thing I mentioned a while back. I wanted to pass on this link, which sets out some of the problems with current MT anti-spam measures. It's a bit technical, but it's worth skimming.
You'll see why I haven't installed MT-Blacklist yet: it'll work in the short term, but badly, and there's a real danger it'll force an arms race before the blog community is up to it. As several people are pointing out, the spammers are clever, and have seen most 'solutions' before: the blog writers haven't learned from usenet or email anti-spam efforts. We're at a distinct disadvantage here, and we don't want to force the fight.
Suggestions for what we actually do are welcome. Personally, I plan to continue manually deleting junk comments... which is fine until I get 500 of the things.