July 2005 Archives
July 31, 2005
Zombimobs. The world needs more zombiemobs.
July 30, 2005
OK, so having introduced you, dear reader, to the digital rights movement, I can now go off on one about TV and where it's going. This is what I originally wrote in response to Gia's post:
A year or so ago I was in a little seminar being addressed by Nigel Pickard, who's the Director of Programmes at ITV. So far as programme makers are concerned, he's The Man. The part of his presentation that struck home went like this:
"You're all producers. You all think my job is to spend £850m a year on your work. It isn't. My job is to sell at least £850m-worth of advertising space."
There's an extent to which that's hyperbole for dramatic effect, but it does illustrate a major gulf between what people think commercial TV is about -- more programmes -- and what it's actually about: making money. It is, after all, a business.
It's also, of course, why the BBC is so important. Their entire job is to put decent media in front of lots of people. They're going to find the shift from conventional TV painful, but they've been lifting their gaze into that future for some time now. As we saw at OpenTech last weekend with Backstage and Dirac and Kamaelia and the rest, they're at least five years ahead of the commercial sector in terms of how they're thinking. But we still don't know what we're shifting to. We don't know what it looks like, nor how it's delivered, nor how people consume it. Nor, for that matter, if they even will consume it. One catches glimpses of the future in things like the Podcasting phenomenon, which has gone from first glimmerings to more-or-less-mainstream in about a year.
I can see two ways this could pan out: either the BBC pulls something out of the bag and subsequently drags the rest of the broadcast industry along with it -- most likely kicking and screaming and ungrateful and still trying to get its charter cancelled -- or somebody does a movie download system right and TV eventually gives up trying to work it out for itself, rolls over, and hitches itself to that bandwagon. It's hard to see anybody but Apple doing the latter, in part because everybody else still seems to be in denial about why the iPod and iTunes Music Store work, but... well, that's a whole other post.
The people to watch are, I think, the advertising industry. There's serious money involved there, and it's hard to see how it flows without the relatively simple outlet that is TV. Broadcast TV isn't so much one-to-many as few-to-shedloads; it's a blunt instrument for advertisers, but it's surprising how many worries drop out of the equation when you multiply by eight million pairs of eyeballs.
I begin to see how the BBC can survive the coming shift; I can sort of see how Sky will, since football is such a big draw; I have serious concerns about ITV; the ad industry? Answer hazy, ask again later.
What are they up to? What do the Saatchis and the Chiat/Days and the BBHs think? More to the point -- what are their long-term plans?
Oh, and Gia: firstly, I'm not sure your trackbacks work, and secondly... sorry to have given you flack about the whole cat thing. I'm sure he's lovely.
Gia's posted an interesting and timely rant about the whole copyright/fair use/personal use/file sharing mess we're in. A direct example for people who haven't really come across all this yet: I missed Absolute Power and The Extras on Thursday night. While I could have recorded them to tape -- or even rigged something up with some other video kit here and recorded them onto my laptop at somewhat better quality -- I didn't bother. Why? Because I knew I'd be able to hop over to UKNova and download the files.
Now... from my point of view these were both BBC shows; I pay my license fee; I could have legally recorded them, for personal use, on my VHS deck. The quality would have been rubbish, and programming the VCR is clumsy and annoys the heck out of me. The alternative is that I download the same programme; it's still clumsy to do, but I'd say easier than setting the VCR, and I don't lose the tape by forgetting to label it.
But here's the kicker -- the download alternative is unlicensed redistribution of copyright material. It's illegal. The BBC don't lose out and I gain convenience, but currently it's still copyright infringement.
The (near-)future of TV involves working out this sort of situation. Does it remain illegal? Will the tricky-to-use effectively-underground networks be overtaken by something legal with reasonable digital rights management and charges, like the iTunes Music Store? Or will the DRM be draconian and something we all have to bash our heads against on a daily basis, as the planned US systems currently look?
Over in the US there's an organisation campaigning on this sort of thing from a 'general public' perspective, and it's been remarkably successful; it's called the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which, I have to say, always sounded naff to me. Maybe it loses something in the translation). There's nothing similar in the UK, which is partly why the future of broadcast and digital media is being decided behind closed doors -- when reporters are looking around for quotes, there's nobody to put a counter-position, so it goes unreported.
A week ago at OpenTech, Danny O'Brien chaired a session titled 'Where's the British EFF?'. In a remarkable stroke of joined-up thinking, the group started a pledge drive via the cute and recently-launched PledgeBank system run by MySociety (many of whom were in the room, of course). This resulted in coverage from the Guardian (er... by Danny) and BBC Online, amongst others, but if you want to see the session in most of its glory there's honest-to-goodness video of it thanks to... er, well, [blush] that would be me; also see Danny's notes, Cory's story at BoingBoing, Suw Charman's first and second posts, Technorati's list of people linking to the pledge.
Feel free to post additional links in the comments, but bear in mind that most of the readers here aren't already digital rights activists, nor even total geeks. If this thing is to be successful, we need to convince a broad constituency that it's important.
July 28, 2005
The BBC's Editorial Guidelines site is a handy reference for programme makers and journalists (and possibly members of the public who wish to know what we worry about). There's a particularly useful list of advice, concerning things like conflict of interest, funding for make-over programmes, game show prizes, and the like. Something that's recently popped up there is an entry for 'Blogs BBC Policy on Personal Blogs WIKI' (sic).
The link goes to a BBC internal site, which of course is not available from outwith the BBC. All I can guess is that it's running the Confluence commercial wiki software, which implies that the 'BBC Policy on Personal Blogs' is somehow under discussion and/or being updated by a group within the BBC.
Anyone know any more about what's going on? And why is it linked from an advice site intended, supposedly equally, for external suppliers? It's not that I smell a conspiracy, I'm just curious.
Did I mention I wanted an 'undo' button on MT-Blacklist? Er... folks... sorry, I just deleted about half-a-dozen comments, and left some perfectly good spam behind instead. I only noticed when Blacklist offered to add 'quernstone.com' to the list of banned URLs, which I suppose might serve as acceptable penance, but ...
[update: Thank heavens for browser caches. I think I've put everything back, though a couple of comments were truncated in the screen I could reach, and I had to fill in the gaps from memory. My apologies if I've put words in anybody's mouth. Meanwhile, I think my own blog has just banned me for being an over-prolific commenter. Oh, the ignominy.]
[update 2: D'oh! Of course, Movable Type emails me everybody's comments. So all I had to do was copy&paste from mail. Is this National Blinkin' Eedjit Day, or something?]
En passant [cough], if anyone has a clue where I'd find a wodge of money to fund something like a wiki startup, my mailbox is open.
July 27, 2005
Twilight in the Desert: the coming Saudi oil shock and the world economy by Matthew R Simmons is reviewed in The New Statesman. Eek! Via 3 Quarks Daily, posted here mostly so Vinay can provide in comments whatever linkage he can to his stuff.
July 26, 2005
Er... why does the iTunes Music Store suddenly think I'm in Canada? And why won't it do as it's told and show me the UK store?
While I'm on the subject of music -- as you may know I've spent most of the year banging on about a band called The Go! Team and their album Thunder, Lightning, Strike! I think we've used some of their stuff as incidental music in Mechannibals, but if it had been up to me we'd have approached them for a title theme (mind you, McDonald's were in touch as well, about six months earlier).
Anyway, they're on the Mercury Prize shortlist (stupid Flash site, impossible to link to properly -- try the BBC instead, but skip the review that gets off on rather the wrong footing by getting the album title wrong, then falls right off the rails by spelling 'Lightning' wrong.).
Upshot: all of you people who've been laughing at me because I'm not 'hip' and 'down' and clearly I know nothing about music: you can piss right off. Did I not also call Franz (three months after the people who really know but still) six months before you? Wasn't I waxing lyrical about A Little Less Conversation in much the same way, a year before that?
Finger on the bloody pulse, me. No, really. Stop laughing at the back, I ruddy well have. Tsk.
I've just posted something very similar to this to the NetNewsWire users' mailing list, but I figure a wider audience might be appropriate. Unfortunately, the only outlet I have is this blog, so you lot will have to do.
Round the table pictured in the previous post, some of us were musing on the problem of keeping up with one's aggregator, should one happen to drop offline for a few days or (with enough subscriptions) minutes. 'Mark all as read' is something of a blunt instrument. I found myself wishing for something analogous to a spam filter, only less judgemental; tools to handle situations like:
- "These posts in Gizmodo and Engadget link to the same destinations and contain similar words. Chances are they're about the same thing, so I'll just hide one for you."
- "You have 5000 unread posts. But 4000 of them are similar to the sorts of posts you usually skip past quickly, and frankly never open in your browser. So I'll mark all those as read, because there's a good chance you're not missing much."
I realise that this sort of stuff will be (a.) hard, (b.) a fundamental change in the way we use aggregators and (c.) the cause of an awful lot of head-clutching about UI issues. But I do wonder if the next stage of aggregator development shouldn't involve some sort of heuristic filtering and assistance. That is, if an aggregator shouldn't take 'subscribe' as meaning 'this looks interesting, add it to the pool from which you draw posts of the type I read.'
Thoughts, anyone? Am I completely mad? Or did I simply read too many of those articles about 'software agents' that came out of the Media Lab around 1993?
[update: Quote NetNewsWire author Brent Simmons:
Filtering features of various types are on the to-do list. It's too soon to provide more details, but I will, as features become more concrete.
Yay! Also see the comments for an interesting link from Allan, and the comments to that link for... basically, lots of people have been having the same idea over the last few months. I'm just late to the party, again.]
July 25, 2005
- Tom Reynolds. I'm not sure if I was faking being star-struck to wind him up, or if I actually was star-struck. Either way, he's a terribly decent chap and one of those rare breeds -- a blogger who's actually worth reading. He's also on the front page of BBC News Online this morning -- link to story. I'd like to think that his use of the phrase 'daily grind' there was a discreet reference to this site, but frankly that's preposterous.
- Another Tom.
- Violet Berlin. Yay!
- Damien Wasylkiw of the Media Lounge and Low Resolution. Yes, I host the latter -- Damien and I used to make TV together, but have barely seen each other in the last two or three years. Great to catch up with him. Apart from looking more like Mahler than is healthy, Damien's a top bloke, and I'm unreasonably excited about his forthcoming exhibition of mobile phone photos.
- Damien's mate Mark of PictureLizard.com. Nice chap.
- Gia Milinovich, who insists we met in Glasgow a few years back, and while I'm sure she's right I feel terrible about having no recollection myself.
Oh, hell. I've written one of those 'look at all my amazing celebrity friends' posts. Somebody find me a cat so I can take pictures of it and descend into total blog cliché.
July 24, 2005
Somewhere in the hold of an A320 are 27 tapes of video shot at OpenTech 2005 yesterday. Apparently, I've volunteered to capture, edit, encode and upload these. Oh, crap. Sometimes I'm such an idiot.
As a result of helping out with all that yesterday, I didn't actually see much of the event as it happened. I missed both Danny O'Brien and Ted Nelson. Boo!
When (if) I finally make it to Glasgow, I'll start a blog for OpenTech Video updates. Hosting is being handled by some kind souls with academic access (ie. effectively unlimited free bandwidth -- how we love the research councils), but I'll try to keep people updated via something regularly updated. If I start capture tomorrow, with luck the videos will start to appear around Wednesday or Thursday.
Day two was better than day one. Inevitable, given the presence of the internationally-reknowned Best Demo competition, but there was also a somewhat freer air. I suspect many of us had decided we weren't going to prefer the more formal approach and had resolved to enjoy it regardless, which certainly helped.
I'll likely post some session notes at some point, but to be honest I wasn't there for the programme. For me, the attraction is the unusual mix of people. It was good to see so many new faces this year, and to put faces to names from the chat list. There was, however, a particularly lovely flame vortex experiment...
I didn't win Best Demo, incidentally: not entirely surprising considering that my act consisted mostly of a badly-timed and arguably not very funny gag attempting to poke fun at the perceived cliquiness of the group. The demo, such as it was, didn't actually work, but that was at least progress from my entry last year, for which I attempted a demo I genuinely couldn't do. It's not clear I've got the hang of this.
For reasons that will likely never become entirely clear, I find myself sitting in the eternally grim Heathrow gate 5 lounge (aside: why is Heathrow so much less pleasant than Gatwick?). I'm en route to Newcastle, a curious choice considering that I live in Glasgow, and indeed have no business on Tyneside. However, since my car is at Newcastle airport, it seems I'm traveling to, via, etc. I've been merrily trotting out some quip about 'beating the congestion charge by parking in Newcastle,' but frankly this now rings a tad hollow.
My flight, you see, was at 15:55. I, conversely, arrived at the airport somewhat too late to take that. Had it been delayed, even modestly, I'd have been able to sprint/run/shamble with additional alacrity and, most likely, would now be in Glasgow. However, it was not delayed. Unlike every subsequent flight. The 8:45 is currently scheduled for 9:30, which gets me home at something like... you know, really, I just don't wish to think about that.
London, anyway. OpenTech and stuff. Fun. More anon.
Update: Arrived home at 2am. 13 hours or so travel from Stoke Newington. Ugh.
July 21, 2005
Hurray! There are downsides to this year's BIG Event being more like a conventional conference -- rather more on that anon -- but there is, at least, WiFi here.
Our hosts, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, have a remarkable building. I've described it as having been designed by an architect who'd heard about the work of Buckminster Fuller, but hadn't actually seen any of it. It's really rather lovely, though wandering around the exhibition space I can't shake the feeling that I'm forever round the back of where I should be. Perhaps it'd have been better if I'd entered at the front rather than through the side door.
So far, however, we have a curious conference. It's... well, it's a conference. There's always been this aspect to the BIG Event -- it's a loose affiliation of disparate specialists, hence it's about extended networking, with sessions mostly being explorations of how each of our specialisms overlap and differ with whatever we think the group average is. A good example from this morning was Richard Ellam's session collecting notes about setting up a small workshop. Hardly earth-shattering, but extremely useful. But this year... that's all there is, so far. It's more formal, less free-form, less silly. As I type, there are four parallel sessions ongoing, and there's nobody sitting around outside talking nonsense.
The jury's out, for the moment. It all ties in with the chair's keynote this morning, asking what BIG is actually about. Not what it was founded for, but what it is now and what it should be in the future. Should we admit that we are, let's face it, predominantly science communication people? Most of the attendees are relatively junior in their organisations (there's now a separate body for the decision makers) -- what are the implications of that? So... what is this organisation of something like a hundred members? What's it for?
Right now, I'm inclined to regret the move to a more formal structure. However, if this year's bash forces us to discuss what it is we value about BIG, then it's been a worthwhile experiment.
I should have said: last Saturday was an odd one. Very early in the morning I sprayed about a gallon of petrol over the side of my car, thanks to a non-functional nozzle cut-off, and proceeded to have a fairly significant argument with the garage about precisely why they have buckets of sand on the forecourt. And signs reading 'Report all spillages, however small.' And 'out of service' hoods for pumps.
Not in the best of moods, I next sat on the M6 for rather longer than I'd hoped, thanks to mad traffic in the vicinity of Manchester. Then I got slightly lost somewhere West of Chester.
Next, I got out of the car, and seconds later somebody I'd never met before put a shotgun in my hands and shouted 'Pull!' Repeat sixteen more times. After which, I turned around to bid my fellow clay pigeon shooters a cheery good morrow, only to find them stony-faced because I'd just nailed seventeen out of seventeen in about ninety seconds.
Last year was, it seems, neither a fluke nor beginner's luck. Tragically, I dropped two on the last stand, making my tally of 23 out of 25 merely level-pegging with host Daniel. But still, I am -- evidently -- a crack shot. My dad tells me that his father was a crack shot in the Home Guard, to the extent that in competitions they handicapped him by making him shoot left-handed. Only, his left eye was better than his right so he still won. Whatever the gene for 'marksmanship' is, it seems I have it. Hmm. Still not sure how I feel about that.
<div class="Alistair Cook">Goodnight.</div>
Drat. OK, so the hotel bar is still open, but it's been a long day and the conference I've come to Newcastle for starts at some unreasonable time in the morning. A consequence, one suspects, of shoehorning the previous two-and-a-half-day meetings held at the magnificent Herstmonceaux Castle on the Sussex coast into two days in the Life centre. Previous BIG Events have been marvelously bizarre affairs, pitched somewhere between formal conference and hippy retreat. "The Glastonbury of science conferences," as once described by Wendy. Quite how the bash will change with the new venue remains to be seen. At the very least, there should be more people from the North.
Five minutes of total inactivity later, and one's hands are starting to cramp. There's little option but to risk thermonuclear meltdown, or whatever's supposed to happen and unplug the phone. Then force-quit the application, which of course corrupts something, requiring some more reinstallation and using up another precious USB port. Try again. An hour later, when Sony's website rises from the dead once more, finally, finally, the Vulcan-death-grip-plug-in-heart-in-mouth-will-it-actually-bloody-work combination... works. Joy! An updated phone.
Try dial-up from the Mac... still doesn't work. Give up, pack bag, prepare to leave. Halfway out of the door, have sudden brainwave.
Change the dialup phone number from '*99#' or '*99***3#' to -- get this -- 'orangeinternet'. It works. It bloody works. To connect to the dial-up GPRS gateway you have to command the phone to dial the name of the service and somehow, as if by magic, some tiny part of the system squirreled away at some stage knows to turn this into whatever mystical incantation actually dials whatever the number is.
The fundamentally tragic aspect of this is that somebody, somewhere, is genuinely proud of themselves for having thought to make it that simple for little old me. Haven't they read Douglas Adams?
There are few things that could move me to violence; modem configuration is one.
Anyway, so, yes -- deep breath -- if you can read this, GPRS dial-up is working.
Sadly, there are, as yet, no known photographs of me in my new specs. That'll have to wait for broadband, which isn't likely until late on Sunday. In the meantime, I have two conferences to attend, blog, video, and generally make myself a nuisance at.
July 19, 2005
Dear, gentle readers -- look away now. I regret that this post it likely to be one of those where Jonathan goes off on one, and most of you have no idea what he's talking about.
Right. 'Webby crap,' as it's affectionately known. I've been more-or-less immersed for a couple of weeks now, and it's starting to grate (aside: boy, am I glad I don't really do this for a living). First up -- blogs. I'm more-or-less reconciled to Movable Type, now they're more-or-less posting update instructions for recent versions (though it's still too hard to discover that 3.17 is a drop-in replacement for eg. 3.15. 'It just works' should not be assumed for such things). WordPress, however, continues to impress me -- 18.104.22.168, despite having the most ridiculous version number in recent memory, pretty much rocks. I do, however, need to look into anti-spam measures for it. Blacklist isn't perfect, but it's better than the default WordPress stuff. WordPress' Codex, however, is wonderful.
Next: Wikis. Oh, dear heavens. I've been trying to resurrect a Mediawiki-based project I started last year, but ran out of time to finish. But I think I must admit defeat, Mediawiki is simply not ready for mere mortals. Administration and customisation is far too convoluted, and even with considerable hacking about it's still too complex for end users to get their heads around. I shouldn't be surprised, since Mediawiki is designed to run Wikipedia, and quite rightly, that's the development focus. Indeed, I'm surprised the developers are so understanding and helpful to other users. But my judgement remains that Mediawiki simply isn't right for the project I'm attempting. Merde.
Twiki looks like the next-best fit, but they're obsessed with CamelCase links and there's some odd terminology for namespaces. Heck, 'namespaces' is bad enough, but 'webs'? Could that be any more confusing for wiki-newbies? Besides, the project I'm attempting explicitly doesn't want a strict hierarchy like that. I'll probably install and try anyway, but I don't hold out much hope that my audience/users will be willing to suffer the learning curve.
The only things that look plausible are JotSpot and Confluence, but they're both way too expensive for my project. JotSpot appears to do excellent WYSIWYG, but I'll admit surprise that it's all gone rather quiet. There was plenty of buzz last November or thereabouts -- what's happened since? Confluence, meanwhile, doesn't fully solve the WYSIWYG nightmare. I should probably write a Wiki wishlist, but really, that would be a design document for a significant development project. And however much I keep glancing in the direction of Rails, I'm not a developer. Still, I can't shift the feeling that we're all missing something when it comes to wikis.
Finally, to finish on a positive note -- I just bought Xylescope. I don't do webby stuff very often, and I forget most of what little I ever learn about XHTML and CSS. Xylescope and CSS Edit pretty much solve that problem for me; the former allows me to find out what my web application is spitting out, the latter allows me to change it. Brilliant.
Oh, happy day! I've previously moaned about how rubbish most mobile phones are, then exclaimed about how lovely but crashy the K750i is, and next demonstrated the camera. Since people seem to be finding each of those pages via Google, I should set the record straight:
The Sony Ericsson K750i is a terrific phone. Best I've ever had, etc etc.
Some specific notes:
- If you're having stability problems, the software update might help, but there also seem to be specific hardware problems; my replacement unit from Orange hasn't crashed since I first turned it on, a month ago. It's running the same software revision as my first unit.
- Mac OS X 10.4.2 brings full iSync support, so the plist hack that sort-of worked is no longer necessary; It Just Works. Hit Software Update and enjoy, unless you haven't bought Tiger yet, in which case -- really, you're missing a lot of good stuff.
- The included USB cable not only charges the phone, the phone also presents itself as a camera to iPhoto. Oh, joy of quick importy goodness. Finally, a decent digital camera that just works -- expect to see lots more photos here. You lucky, lucky people.
- Bad news: Tiger crashes hard (really hard) when you yank the cable out. Oops.
- Good news: Install this fix and everything's fine again.
- Salling Clicker doesn't work yet, but it will with the next version.
By way of a quick review, I like this phone for several reasons. Yes, the camera. 'Camera' and 'phone' fit together far more coherently than do 'phone' and 'music player', in my head at least, and this camera is good. Not great, perhaps, but more than good enough for everyday use. Now I just have to remind myself that I'm carrying a camera all the time. My only real niggle about the camera is that it takes the picture about half a second after it plays the amusing synthetic shutter sound, with the result that I have rather a lot of pictures of my feet. But hey, shutter lag is one of the reasons I never bought a compact digital camera, and have been saving for a DSLR.
My earlier fears about the keypad turn out to be mostly unfounded, since the phone is not simply updated internals in a K700 case. The 750 is considerably more solid and elegant, the keys far less wobbly. They're still too small, but they're OK. If anything, they're a bit stiff -- this is not a good phone for prolific texters. But the phone feels robust in the way earlier Ericssons did, and some more recent ones haven't. It doesn't creak, for example.
My only real complaint is that it's not a clamshell design, which I still think is The One True Phone Form-Factor. These little candy bar things are all well and good, but having to lock the keypad all the time is a pain, and frankly it's just too small to hold comfortably, particularly when being used as a phone. I'll have to suffer the Nathan Barley aspect of a Bluetooth headset and finally take that oh-so-modern plunge, heigh-ho.
July 13, 2005
Testing heading styles, which I think are pretty nasty at present:
This is heading 3
Sample following text.
This is heading 4
Sample following text.
This is heading 5
Sample following text.
July 12, 2005
This just in -- in a shocking development, it seems the BBC have unilaterally open-sourced my chum Damien, he of the deletetheweb-hosted Low Resolution and up-and-coming-and-actually-let's-face-it-pretty-damn-here-now Media Lounge. The BBC's Media Lounge is different, but heck, it's GPL'd. How can Damien et al compete with a free version of themselves?
Tune in next time for another exciting installment of 'Gee, how can you trademark something you disclaim ownership of anyway?'
Almost. I only ordered them today. In a refreshing change from the nownownow! world in which we're supposed to live, it still takes a good week or so for a master craftsman to lovingly precision-grind a perfectly-judged set of lenses to my exactingly personal specification. Or, more likely, for some oik to push a few buttons on a machine and, scant seconds later, fling the cast-off results into a jiffy bag, but I prefer the former image and, frankly, who's to know?
In the end, I ordered some terribly marvelous retro-modern objets from a deliriously tiny boutique so chic they don't even do their own examinations -- no no, that would not do, for this place is so specialised they only do frames. They're so exclusive, their London outlet isn't even open any more. So so exclusive, the only reference to them I can find online refers to other websites, entirely hidden from my view, supposedly relating that the likes of Kevin Spacey and Elle McPherson shop there (and Ewan McGregor, but I forget -- do we like him again, or not?).
Somewhat embarrassingly, the Oliver Peoples frames I've ordered come in cheaper than the almost-but-in-the-end-not-quite-right Booth and Bruce pair from my worryingly quiet local high street optician. I'm not sure what's up with that. Perhaps I'll multiply the cost by a random factor (say... three), then alude to that in a darkly mysterious fashion.
About a week, anyway.
Oh -- I'm sorry -- you want to know what they look like, eh? Um... well... they're... oh, you'll have to wait and see. If I said they were acrylic, retro, and green tortoiseshell, you'd get an impression that, while technically accurate, doesn't exactly do them justice. Besides, I'm blind as a bat, so it's not like I've seen them myself. I can't even pick them out from the manufacturer's online catalogue.
I started blogging back in 2001. A curious claim, you might think, when the oh-so-imaginatively-titled 'First Post!' on this site dates from April 2002.
Ah, but you see -- before Quernstone.com, there was ItLikesYou, a community portal (we were still big on 'portals' back in 2001, remember?) where multiple authors could post quick comments about things they stumbled across, that they liked, and that they thought others might like too. Metafilter predated ILY by almost three years, but it was then (and still is now) a clearing-house for pointers to other websites -- ILY was intended more for comments on the world beyond the web.
ILY failed, in that it only ever attracted a few dozen posts from a tiny handful of authors. None of us ever had the time to drive it forwards, and it was never anything other than 'just another group weblog.' We even failed in the 'not so much a linksblog' aim, and eventually, we all drifted away to our individual blogs. Fnally, in late 2003, a database upgrade on the webserver broke the site entirely.
Mysteriously, a further update in 2004 brought it at least partially back to life, though it was still impossible to access the admin functions. Somehow it was still possible to post comments, with the inevitable result that stinking bastard spammers found it, and recently bombarded it. Today I tried to update the software running the site, but two years is a long time in the life of a web application, and the update failed. I had no option but to put ILY out of its misery, and remove the site entirely.
I can't help but feel a little sad about this, since it's the first of my own websites that I've intentionally retired. But nobody was using it, and its time had passed. I don't like deleting content, but at least the WayBack Machine has a mirror, so you can see what it looked like, and re-read Martin's comments about ear candling.
On the bright side, I appear to have a domain name going spare. Anyone want to do anything with 'ItLikesYou.com'? It's paid-up through mid-2006.
July 9, 2005
Of course, the other reason I've been quiet is that my humungoparcel arrived from Amazon. As a result, I've finally watched a TV show I never got the chance to see, because its idiot US network cancelled it mid-season -- Joss Wheden's Firefly. Now, while I thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the finest broad-appeal 'teen' series ever made (notwithstanding the fact that I simply can't stand Sarah Michelle Gellar), I rarely actually watched it, and I was never taken with Angel. I know, I know, fans tell me it's the better series, but... sorry, I couldn't be bothered. So I was never exactly a Whedon fan.
Why, then, the interest in Firefly? Confession time: I rather like Westerns. The show turns out to be fairly completely brilliant, with some of the finest ensemble performances I can recall. Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin stand out, but that's somewhat unfair on the remainder of the cast -- in particular Jewel Staite, whose character Kaylee appears to have been directly lifted from my friend Briony. Music, costume design, set and lighting -- all are top-notch too, the whole delivered with an easy humour and style that's tremendously infectious.
But it's easy to see why the series failed to find its audience. Notwithstanding what appears to have been idiotic scheduling by the network, the character development and show pacing appear to be deliberately slow. This fits the old-fashioned feel well, and personally I found it a welcome relief from the often over-worked feel of recent series (Doctor Who suffered a little this way, don't you think?). But it's not an easy series to jump into.
Reading between the lines of the 'making of' featurettes, it sounds like the network execs were worried about just this point. To be honest, I'm not sure they were wrong. On the other hand, the series has spawned a theatrical movie, Serenity, coming this autumn. There's even talk that a big enough box-office success might spawn a spin-off TV series. Now, wouldn't that be a thing?
Jeff Minter's got a deal to bundle a 'lightsynth' with Microsoft's next console XBox 360?! That's hilarious. I haven't seen Psychadelia since... well, Psychadelia on the Commodore 64. Interview at the Guardian; Llamasoft website.
What next? Jet Set Willy for Nintendo DS? Ants3D for PSP? PS3 Elite? All-pervasive streaming Medlo insanity?
A quick update, since I've been so quiet of late:
- We're starting to kick off on Scrap It!, my next project. It's a studio make & do show for Discovery Kids; yesterday I got my first glimpse at the budget. Now, the show is similar to others I've made, but the budget is -- get this -- one fifth of the previous cheapest show I've made. Which is, frankly, why I'm doing it. Rocking the boat helps to keep the journey interesting.
- Last weekend was Henley. While the entire world watched aging rockers change the world from Hyde Park, I watched a thrilling neck-and-neck between the Cambridge blue boat and Brown University Alumni while supping Pimm's. Not sure if I feel guilty or not, to be honest, but it was another cracking day with the clockwork precision of my hosts' astonishing organisation. Cambridge by three feet, by the way.
- This week, I have mostly been a system administrator. So far, I've updated Alan, Jules, iMark, Kevin, Mija, and rAdam, with the rest to follow. I don't think I've broken anything. Irreversibly. Yet.
- Oh! Oh! How could I forget? We had our production team farewell-to-the-series-producer for Mechannibals, combined with a viewing of the first episode. Now, Mike hasn't actually finished, but there's only the onlines and dubs to go so he's London-based for the remainder of his sentence, and the end is very much in sight. The first show is now confirmed as the magnificent shed-smashing extravaganza that was Bognor (you haven't lived until you see a home-made crane drop a toilet on a garden shed, I tell you). You know what? It's really rather good. Enough heart-in-mouth moments, some very genuine tension, and the machines are clear and understandable. Witty commentary, Louise is excellent, and the whole thing romps along nicely. We'll not mention the graphics colour scheme, but that's a relatively minor niggle. Still no word on transmission dates -- not that we believe, anyway -- but it shouldn't be long now.
Alan's published a heart-warming compilation of reaction to the London bombings, which reflects my own attitude. Sure, it's easy to be blasé when you're 400 miles away -- and I won't pretend I wasn't mildly concerned by the pairs of policemen on seemingly every street corner in central Glasgow yesterday -- but... put it this way:
In recent history, London has seen not just bombings, but sustained campaigns. When the news was coming in on Thursday, I found myself skimming back through that history, and discovered, to my astonishment, that I'd been living in London right in the middle of that IRA campaign. I suppose I must have been aware of it at the time, and presumably I rationalised the risk as being, say, lower than that inherent in crossing the road or whatever, but -- get this -- I lived right in the middle of a 'terror campaign' and I'd clean forgotten about it.
I'm sure I'd sing a different tune had I been more closely-connected, but I'm still heading towards the conclusion that, by inspection, terrorism plain doesn't work. I have two caveats to that. Firstly, 9/11 wasn't the same sort of event at all. If anything, post-London I have even more sympathy for New Yorkers.
My second caveat is more subtle. Another search I was constantly running on Thursday, skimming websites and flipping between broadcast media, was for words like 'vengeance,' 'retribution,' and 'retaliation.' To my surprise, relief, and -- bluntly -- national pride, I didn't hear it. Not once.
Until Friday, when I read The Sun. And you know what? Those guys scare me more than al-Qaeda. They're having more impact on my way of life, and I don't like it.
July 6, 2005
Doing my correspondence this morning, I'm paying scant attention to the radio burbling on in the background. I'm not quite convinced who's the more bonkers -- dear dear Johnny Ball, or the lady who's just casually asserted that elephants are telepathic. Daphne Sheldrick, apparently.
Bother. I'm finally trying to sort out all my poor hostees over at Deletetheweb.com. In the interests of making things marginally less complex when next there's a round of updates to roll out, I'm trying to shuffle people around a bit and do it right this time.
Unfortunately, it turns out that my own logs are inaccurate, and in at least one case (Alan), I in fact have not configured address forwarding. With the result that I've just spent two whole hours updating the wrong ruddy installation!
I'm going to bed. Tomorrow, a fresh start, and doubtless whole new ways of royally screwing everything up. Meanwhile... Conor, I'm sorry, I was away for the weekend. Will call you tomorrow.