June 2006 Archives
June 30, 2006
Via -- where else? -- Metafilter - the Collier Classification System for Very Small Objects. Lovely, lovely concept, though I do wish the resulting names were just a tad more pronounceable.
Also, does it remind anybody else of the sort of thing Ben Schott might do?
For reasons I don't quite understand -- well, I do understand, I just don't quite agree with the interpretation -- a couple of fairly prominent Mac users are switching to Ubuntu's GNU/Linux distribution. Which is fine. If it does what they need, good luck to them. I'm thinking of dusting off my old K6 desktop and trying Ubuntu on it too, and am hampered only by a marked lack of spare monitors round these parts. Oh, and the basic problem that there's nothing -- nothing that's important for me, at least -- I can do on Linux that I can't do on OS X. Also, I don't have a quasi-religious passion for 'free' (as-in-have-you-any-idea-how-nonsensical-this-phrase-is?) software. But hey, hedged bets and everything, I'm still interested.
No, what worries me about Cory's migration in particular is his declared aim of 'documenting every step of [his] switch' at Boing Boing. Oh please, please don't do that, Cory. I'm already a tad fed up with the sheer volume of posts on that site, and more posts doesn't help at all. Particularly if they're off-topic for the blog. See, Boing Boing is 'a directory of wonderful things' -- my perception is that it's about the lovely, the unexpected, the dramatic, the impressive, the quirky, the alarming, the plain interesting. Its strength is the diversity of its stories.
It's already arguable that all the DRM activism stuff is misplaced -- why isn't that at an EFF blog, again? -- but if they add platform evangelism too, well... sheesh, I don't know. Particularly if that category of post is coming from Cory, who can be prolific in a please-stop-I-can't-take-it-any-more sort of way.
It's not that I don't want to read about Cory's Ubuntu experience. I do. Pilgrim's list of Ubuntu/Linux software is extremely useful, for example, and it's clear from that alone that desktop Linux has come a long way since I last tried it. I just don't want to read this sort of stuff at Boing Boing, because it doesn't fit my image of what Boing Boing is.
Perhaps I'm being 'old-media' to think that the audience is important. But Boing Boing's signal:noise seems to have been falling of late, and I'm not alone in thinking that.
(next target: Make. Which really should post less than fifteen things an hour).
June 29, 2006
I'm sorry. I know I should be above such things. But I still find this story completely giggle-worthy, in a sniggering schoolboy sort of way.
I'll grow up, eventually.
June 28, 2006
My friend Debs' films with Richard Dawkins about religion, 'Root of all Evil?', have been put up on Google Video -- notably without the somewhat crucial title question mark, and also presumably in violation of copyright -- apparently by a new-ageish forum group (who will probably complain if they get wind of my calling them 'new-ageish,' but at least those complaints might help me work out what they're actually about without wading through reams of forum posts developing a picture for myself. What, you expect journalism here? Get a grip!)
From the release notes:
Addresses potential causes of "insufficient bandwidth" alerts in iChat.
If a conference doesn't start as expected, iChat will now offer to send a report to Apple for investigation.
(video chat is one of those things that's surprisingly useful, and surprisingly irritating. The combinations of clients and routers that actually work together in practice appears to be almost vanishingly small, and every time I've tried to do it, it's driven me up the wall. The common failure in iChat AV is 'insufficient bandwidth' -- which usually means something else entirely -- though it's also rather fond of '...did not respond.')
One of the ongoing grouses about the (bollocks horrid jargon phrase alert!) blogosphere (all clear!) is the (supposed) existence of an 'A-list' of bloggers whose combined popularity has spiraled ever upwards, to the (supposed) disadvantage of 'the rest of us.'
Well, basically, get over it sunshine, some people are just better at it than you are. That argument aside -- and speaking as somebody hovering just below the D-list of the blog world -- the conference-junkie peer-respect thang is simultaneously both appealing and irrelevant.
So I won't pretend not to experience a little thrill every time The Daily Grind here happens to pick up a stray comment or link from somebody whose blog I read. I find it quite scary -- as I've mentioned many times, I tend to assume nobody reads this shit, and the thought that People Of Note might, in fact, do so is probably enough to put me right off it, if I really thought about it. But I also find it gratifying. It's nice to be noted by people I respect.
But here's what I suspect's been going on of late: I think, at some recent bloggers' shindig -- which I could have attended had I been in London/San Francisco/wherever the hell BloggerCon was -- a bunch of A-listers got drunk one night. Collectively, they decided to all show up at some poor unsuspecting obscure blogger's site, and start linking and leaving comments. Just to, you know, freak them out.
I'm being A-bombed. It's the only rational explanation.
June 27, 2006
From what I can tell reading this NASA page, the answer is: pretty much how we got there in the first place. Which is either clever and efficient re-use of existing technology... or wildly underwhelming, depending on your point of view. What I find alarming, however, is how easy it is to find things to be snide about. A bit of a manned spaceflight rant from me, after the fold:
"Our company policy is to settle invoices promptly, so you should get paid very soon."
"I'm a freelancer: my policy is not to believe anyone who says that."
See, I know Rocketboom has an audience of something absurd like 300,000/day. I know they're held up as the pinnacle pioneers of video blogging. I know all the bad press is basically about whether they're too corporate or not.
But me? I don't watch simply because I find Amanda Congdon almost precisely unwatchable. Sorry, lass, but... oh, tone it down a little from the art school 'I'm a pwesenter!' schtick, please!
Perhaps it's a British/American thing? I know Rocketboom's supposed to be irreverent and witty, but from Glasgow it's just annoying. I'm going to grit my teeth for a week and see if I can bear it.
I have a small, cheap, but generally quite handy little Matsui 14-inch portable TV. Only, I don't have such a thing. I loaned it to somebody, not so very long ago.
Trouble is, I can't remember to whom. Anybody care to own up, and hand it back? It might be handy next month. Thanks awfully.
June 25, 2006
England are playing, and for the first time in this World Cup I'm in England and could therefore, in principle, voice something resembling support for my national team with only a marginal chance of being beaten up (as opposed to a slightly-less-marginal-than-I'd-like chance up in Glasgow). Unfortunately, I'm on a train, speeding to London.
Hence the amusing but somewhat frustrating scene of an entire carriage full of people, all waggling radios around trying to find anything like a stable signal. We have, collectively, no idea of the score at all.
It's rather delightfully like being back in the Victorian era, when communications consisted of a small boy in a uniform running the length of the country with a slip of paper. It's also rather discouragingly like the same, as we wait for somebody to board the train at Rugby and dribble us some information. If only I'd caught the GNER train to King's Cross, I could have coughed up for broadband... and then spent the journey waggling my PowerBook around and cursing the hopelessly inadequate bandwidth. Which doesn't seem much like progress.
I'm guessing that by the next time this rolls round, in 2010, things will be different. Hopefully?
A heads-up, to see if there's any interest: I may be about to buy 3 (4?) MacBooks, use them for a month, and then sell them. I'm planning to buy the white model with a DVD±R SuperDrive (2GHz, normal retail £899). I'd be looking to sell them for something like £825/each, I guess. If I can avoid the terrors of eBay, I will.
Any readers interested in buying an only-very-slightly-used MacBook in early August? You're not going to save a packet, but it's better than a poke in the eye, and it'll go a fair way towards that extra RAM you really, really need for these things.
(Then again, I might find another way of doing this that doesn't wallop my funders with cashflowing a few thousand pounds-worth of hardware. But purchase & resale probably isn't that loony overall, especially if I have a few believable expressions of interest.)
June 24, 2006
In no particular order:
- In 2012, Apple still haven't changed the industrial design of their laptops. I mean, really!
- For that matter, BBC News 24 looks exactly the same. I'm not sure if this is a bigger surprise than that it's still going.
- The cybermen are coming back! (which is something of a relief, since they felt a bit wasted earlier in the series).
- Yes, we do find out more about Torchwood. Next week. Hurrah!
- They really want us to believe that Billie Piper is bedeaded at the end of the series. Which probably means she isn't, but there we go.
- Astonishingly, it is possible to use the London 2012 and Olympic logos in a dramatic presentation. I was under the impression that such licenses were either impossible or prohibitively expensive, but evidently not. Or did the BBC manage to negotiate a sufficiently broad license that it covers even Doctor Who? Weird.
- The Doctor was a father? What? When? Conor -- you're needed. Explanation, please.
Much to my disappointment, there doesn't seem to be a high torque 'HT' model of the new Cadillac BLS. A crying shame, because we could spend literally minutes arguing over which vowels had been left out of the name.
Fuel consumption figures, incidentally, are buried in the price list (PDF download -- didn't download properly for me until I threw it at wget). Circa 35mpg isn't too shabby I suppose (for a car of that size, etc etc), but aren't they required to have that information displayed alongside the advertising?
June 23, 2006
Pet hate: websites that don't work unless you bung a 'www.' on the front. Aren't we past that yet?
Pet hate 2: Pointless flash animations on web pages. Why oh why does the Mac Flash plugin eat 70% CPU and make my fan spin?
June 22, 2006
(I'm assuming that Ben Hammersley isn't heavily involved in this particular part of the Guardian's online work, given that he seems to be spending all his time hanging out in the comments here. [cough])
Extremely useful rule-of-thumb pie-chart breakdown of web design time spend. I have two nits to pick:
- I think they've seriously underestimated the proportion that should be yellow.
- The best gag of all, of course, is that 'content' isn't even on the pie chart. Don't think we haven't noticed.
Hnngh? What the... ? Microsoft have suddenly got all funky and released a Creative Commons license plug-in for Office, which allows you to specify a license type and tag your documents with it. How remarkably wonderful. Does OpenOffice have anything like this yet? KOffice? I think not. Odd odd odd.
Windows-only. Ah. Well, that's OK then. Microsoft are still evil monsters bent on world domination, obviously.
Meanwhile: I'm being hit by comment spam again. This particular assault appears to be unfilterable, since it doesn't link anywhere, and a whole bunch of (presumably zombied) PCs appears to be behind it. Quite what the objective is, I don't know -- with no links there's no hope of even theoretical Googlejuice (even without the nofollow nonsense). I can only assume it's genuine mindless violence, and/or testing a new botnet. Ugh. What a crazy world.
June 21, 2006
Two-thirds of the way through Barrie Rutter's rollicking reworking of Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses: what a week! So far we've had a rompingly quick hack-and-slash through all three parts of Henry VI, in scarcely four hours' theatre. In places it's smacked of school play, but then, the whole cycle is a preposterous soap opera anyway, with some characters (poor Clarence, for one) barely sketched out let alone filled-in.
It's patchy, then, but roll with it and there's lots to like. Every speech drives the narrative onward, leaving one reeling at the twists and turns of (Rutter's edit of Shakespeare's rewrite of) English history. Hell, was this less than six hundred years ago?
Skim over the confusion of retitling the plays 'Henry VI', 'Edward IV' and 'Richard III', for the first two are merely a convenient repackaging of Henry VI parts 1-3; avoid wincing at the moderately awful brass section. Instead revel in the pace and levity, marvel that the tale is hugely entertaining, and admire Conrad Nelson's emerging Richard.
If you can, see the tour in one of the smaller spaces -- Glasgow's Theatre Royal is a little large, grand, and velvet for what turns out to be a surprisingly intimate production. But do see it. This is Shakespeare in the style of Dynasty, and it's gripping.
Plus, you haven't lived until you've seen King Edward play slap bass.
Gia's (& Damien's) first 'proper' promo film for Danny Boyle's new film Sunshine has finally made it through whatever byzantine approvals process is required for such things. You can find it here, and it's smashing. Lovely burned-out lens flare interview with Boyle, excellent use of music. I'd rather have less of the film clips and more of Boyle, personally, but that's just me being curmudgeonly.
Looking forward to more... March is a long time to wait.
Well, I ask you. Read BBC News Online's 'how are we supposed to cover news about ourselves, again? Oh, that's right. So long as every paragraph is one sentence long, nobody with an IQ will care' round-up of reactions -- is there really no solid reason behind this?
Of course there is, it's just that 'MTV, VH1 et al are cheap and, you know, really not bad for that sort of thing' isn't very interesting. So they've all made up some blather or other to 'help' explain why the show must go.
My favourite rationalisation is DLT's:
"...the world has overtaken it. People are watching music videos on their mobile phones now."
Yes, I'm sure both people who've tried that have had a huge impact on TOTP's viewing figures.
June 20, 2006
Media Guardian has the story: the children's production arm of ITV, with offices in Leeds, Manchester and London, is to close. This was the largest children's production unit outside the BBC; 19 people vs. 600, or whatever it is.
The Leeds department is where we made The Big Bang for nine years; I loved the gang there, and sorely miss the atmosphere and support generated by Production Manager Liz and Accountant Lance. They're a terrific team, making excellent shows, but currently that doesn't seem to be enough.
It's widely assumed that ITV wants out of children's entirely: it's a public service requirement imposed on them by OFCOM, and the costs to ITV are fairly large. They commission £27m-worth of programmes, but the lost advertising revenue has been estimated at £10m or more. Now, ITV1 spends something like £800m on programmes/year, so this isn't huge -- but bear in mind that the TV industry runs on typical margins of 15%. £40m is suddenly a big chunk of change that could 'better' be spent countering Sky, and indeed the BBC.
If OFCOM rolls over and further reduces the current 8 hours/week children's requirement for ITV1, CITV could disappear entirely.
I'd worry about the impact such a move might have on the BBC. The public service requirement on ITV was partly a hold-over from the days when a broadcast license was 'a license to print money,' but it's also there to give the BBC some competition. CBBC is a considerable asset in the run-up to charter renewal, but it's still expensive, and it's uneven -- notably, they've not been interested in factual programming for some years. Could it find itself squeezed?
Even if CBBC continues in its current form, the loss of CITV would take £27m out of the industry, which would effectively decimate children's production outside the BBC. It's already spectacularly hard for independent production companies to make any money out of children's -- there's not enough commissioning to go around -- and offhand I can only think of HIT Entertainment who'd survive a total closure of CITV. Perhaps The Foundation too, and a couple of the larger preschool specialists.
Yikes. Suddenly I'm frustrated that SciCast has been delayed until next year -- exploring alternative delivery models is partly what that project is about. I wanted to use it to provide data and background for other, subsequent, projects. It looks like that 'subsequent' timescale might have to be sooner than I'd thought.
June 18, 2006
Minor wobbles about my possibly being in Italy aside, we're pressing ahead with the next stage of SciCast. If you're in the Bristol or Chester areas and fancy hosting a video production workshop for a day in July (~12-16 people; age 12+; family groups welcome; we'll need a largish room or a hall), we'd love to hear from you.
Or, if you'd just like to see the films we made back in April, you're welcome too.
In either case, follow this link to the holding pages.
And yes, remix fans -- the films are published under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA). More about that later, because I managed to get it written into my contract. How modern is that?
June 17, 2006
Yesterday: 'Would you like to go to Pompeii?'
'You're not available? Damn!'
'No! I mean -- yes! I could do that. I think. Tuesday?'
'Send me your CV, let's both think it through and talk tomorrow.'
'Sounds like a plan.'
Today: 'Dreadfully sorry, the original guy came back. Er... we don't want you any more.'
'Nothing to do with your suitability, you sound great -- he's just worked out that [and here's a bit of explanation that I'll omit because nobody gains from my relating it] so he's back on board.'
'Oh. Woah. Fair enough. Well, it happens.'
'We're really sorry. We're really really sorry.'
'Nah, don't worry. Good luck with the shoot, and you know where to find me if... you know, actually, I hope nothing happens. Not because I wouldn't love to be involved, but...'
June 28th, on Five, Live from Pompeii. I'm not involved. Nice thought, though. And a rather amusing reminder that when things happen in TV, they happen now. I'm actually missing that.
Plus, I had cause to read about pyroclastic flows, which are my new favourite thing.
June 16, 2006
I've just posted this to a mailing list, and since I'm rather proud of the gag I'm going to repeat it here:
> Was there no news, or is the great urban public waking up to wacky science?
Let's not kid ourselves. The entire planet is watching football, which rather limits the range of stuff that can go in the front part of the papers -- it's a terrific experiment -- and the EepyBird video which seems to have kicked all this off was stupendous.
Much as I'd love to walk down the street and see people filming experiments on every corner, I somehow doubt it's going to happen. Hmm... shame, really, it's rather an appealing image. Mind you, people would only complain:
"This neighbourhood's gone downhill. Kids here used to be making cyclotrons and Gauss cannons, now it's just nucleation and elementary surface physics. Next they'll be into ghetto stuff -- optical interferometry or -- oh, mercy! -- chemistry. If only they'd get off the streets and do something useful with their lives, like learn how to play World of Warcraft."
The EepyBird video has been around for a while -- I linked to it here a couple of weeks ago -- but it's got some serious traction in the mainstream media. Yesterday it was the lead story on the Metro website, and this morning Today did a feature. It's possible I was still half asleep, but -- it went out in the 8:10 'big interview of the day' slot, didn't it?
The Today phonecam video is online... at YouTube. Yes, you read that right. The BBC have published video online via YouTube. Freaky.
Meanwhile -- if only there was a national competition for films like this. But hey, what are the chances of a genius project like that actually existing, hmm?
[cough] more later [cough]
June 15, 2006
The giant pinhole camera using an entire aircraft hangar. Good effort, I look forward to seeing the results.
June 11, 2006
See, if you build your whole site in Flash it may look like you want, but it doesn't work like anyone else wants. If they can't link to the bit they like, they'll just bung your video on YouTube so they can. Which means that everyone sees a crappy-quality version, and they don't find your site. Durr.
Ooh, now this is interesting -- FIA President Max Mosley has floated an idea about changing the way Formula 1 is regulated. Instead of the engines being limited by capacity (currently they're 2.4 litres as V8s, I'm not sure if the V10s are the same), they'll be limited by power consumption.
It's not as if efficiency isn't an issue today, since you don't want to be lugging excess weight around the circuit in the form of fuel. Nevertheless, at first glance this is an interesting idea for making F1 a bit more relevant to road cars. It shifts the emphasis from how much power you can make per litre of engine, to how much you can extract from a litre of fuel.
Cynically, it's clear that F1 will have to head in this sort of direction if it's to avoid looking even sillier than it does now -- and the 2011 time-frame proposed for this idea may seem tardy once it rolls round. But still -- shifting the power/performance/efficiency balance towards the latter is a good thing, right?
June 10, 2006
It's more than a year since Zeldman proclaimed that tag clouds were the new mullets, and you know what? I still quite like them. More useful than a blank search field, they can help drill into a site's content. I'm still not quite convinced they make sense on personal blogs, but for blog-like content sites they can be a useful addition.
There are, of course, always counter examples. Case in point: what in the name of all that is Monkey happened on the Potential Energy blog? Are they attempting to explain the concept of a runaway chain reaction by building a folksonomy that, ultimately, will go critical? At the current rate of growth, I estimate their tag cloud will take over the sidebar in 1.2 weeks, their site in a month, the IoP's server in three months, and the entire web in under a year.
Stop! For the sake of our children, stop!
June 9, 2006
Blatantly ripped from Kottke: the film Powers of 10 is online. You'll probably have seen it before, or one of the rip-off imitations (few of which are as good as the Simpsons version). What I never knew is that it's by Charles and Ray Eames, who are perhaps better known for... er... designing chairs.
I think I'm going to have to go and read about them, now.
Drat. Just heard back from NESTA, and the latest news is that my online science video/competition project, SciCast, is extremely unlikely to happen this year. They're all still hugely keen on it, but the funding is quite likely to take another few months to come together. Better, they all think, to set a specific start date as a target and work towards that.
From the project's point of view I think they're absolutely right. If we could start now, participatory web video would be a novel and exciting thing in its own right, and by my reckoning we'll lose that novelty with a 2007 start. But that's about all we lose, and anyway, we're simply not in a position to start in the next month or so, and then the timing's wrong for schools, and... etc. So it all makes sense, and I don't begrudge the decision, even though I wasn't in the room when it was made.
From my personal point of view, though, this is an utter arse. It's not that I disagree, nor even that it puts me in a worse position -- it's been looking precarious for a while, and a definite 'not yet' at least doesn't leave me hanging any longer. But emotionally, it's gut-wrenching. This project was how I wanted to spend 2006. I turned down proper work to try to make it happen, and consequently I've been out of TV for six months now. Looks like I'll have to head back in again, somehow.
Now, bless 'em, NESTA's throwing me a bone and saying that they'll commit to building up the website and running a few more test workshops to provide material to populate the site. That'll give us something solid to point potential funders at, and it should also allow us to work out some of the inevitable kinks. That's a lovely thing to do, and not an easy decision for NESTA -- reaching a prototype stage won't be cheap, and I get the feeling they're doing it largely so they can offer me something rather than merely saying 'thanks, can you come back next year? Bye!'
So they're doing everything they can -- more than seems reasonable, actually -- to soften the blow. Right now, I actually have more work lined up than I did yesterday.
But it's still gut-wrenching.
Excuse me, I need to go and swear loudly now.
So, John 'Tell me what to think, John!' Gruber links to VisualHub, a new video compression front-end by the author of the brilliantly simple video-to-iPod iSquint. For some reason, I start reading the manual -- I think because if this NESTA project happens, I'm going to be encoding potentially hundreds of short videos, so things like batch operation are important to me. Apple's Compressor is rather good, but I'm open to options.
And there, towards the back of the manual, is an entire section titled 'Xgrid.'
Oh. My. Heavens. This is genius.
See... if this project happens, I'm going to end up with a nice little pile of MacBooks (yes, I could in principle do video production workshops in schools with Windows, but without iMovie and GarageBand, where's the fun? So, MacBooks). MacBooks, you will recall, have fairly quick CPUs. Core's SSE3 still doesn't seem to be a match for Altivec for video compression, but there's an ace up the sleeve -- two processors per MacBook. And they also support gigabit ethernet.
'If only,' I find myself saying, 'if only I could farm out batch compression jobs across the network.'
...which is where Xgrid comes in: it's Apple's clustering technology. It's been part of Mac OS X for a while now, but I don't think I've ever used anything that takes advantage of it. VisualHub does. It would have been (relatively) easy to bundle up ffmpeg and all the other open-source bits in a pretty Aqua wrapper, but Xgrid support takes VisualHub from 'meh!' to 'woah!' The 4Gb file limit is a bit of a git -- movies originated as DV and longer than about 16 minutes need not apply -- but for my project that's not an issue.
Oh happy, happy day.
June 8, 2006
WordPress, it seems, grows by leaps and bounds. It's a terrific tool, and its popularity is deserved. What's weird is that it's starting to pull away from Movable Type -- I think the common perception is that it already has, though I'm not quite convinced by the reality of that, yet.
It appears Movable Type is being positioned by Six Apart as a high-end blog-derived CMS on which developers can build bespoke sites, like the Guardian's bafflingly subtle Comment is Free. As a result, we lowly individual users don't get the glossy goodness that WordPress is starting to offer.
Case in point: the recent and surprisingly lackluster Movable Type Styles Contest. While there are some notable exceptions, the range and quality of schemes is faintly embarrassing compared to WordPress' similar offerings. And I've seen nothing to rival the complexity, care, and insight of K2.
Now of course, this is a community effort rather than a core development issue, but if the product isn't inspiring the sort of creative community one might expect, doesn't that reflect badly on the product?
Six Apart, I suspect, would rather amateur bloggers used TypePad (if we're fairly serious and public bloggers), LiveJournal (if we're MySpace wannabe/escapees) or eventually Vox (if we just want to tell friends and family what we're up to).
I'm not the only person to be at least concerned by this plan. The fact is, I like Movable Type. While The Daily Grind has been running reasonably well for four years, none of my WordPress sites have survived that long. When I was building the How2 site recently, something Very Bad happened to the WordPress back-end and, four hours before launch, I rebuilt the whole thing in MT. (Which explains why it doesn't look finished -- it isn't).
I'm building lashing together two new sites in the next week or so. My current plan is to use the new MT3.3beta for one, and WordPress for the other. My CSS skills are rusty, I get bored debugging IE6 issues very quickly, and I can't really be arsed hacking templates. I just want things to work. I'll let you know how I get on... or if I give up and use iWeb instead. I'd be in good company.
Did I already link to this? It's a video of radio-control aerobatics, indoors. The aircraft featured clearly has a thrust:weight >1 and can handle flicks, but what really impresses is the pilot skill. Stunningly sharp hesitations, precise spins, and... what the heck do you call a rudder loop? Is that even possible?
Apologies for all the linkbloggery. Normal service will be resumed etc etc.
That Adam Scott is eating only dry monkey food for a week is all over the net. And with good reason -- as experiments go, it's gross, bizarre, and extremely funny. What's surprising is the range of places which have picked up the story. Take, for example, the initial response of the American Council on Science and Health. Their verdict: they can't recommend it, but they're interested to see what happens. And, by implication, rather amused.
The lawyers' verdict, meanwhile, is more direct: 'Monkey Chow' is made by Purina Mills, and the trademark is owned by Societe des Produits Nestle S.A.
Meanwhile -- this is exactly the sort of thing we should have done on the Christmas Lectures, isn't it? Dang.
June 7, 2006
So tell me, faithful citizens of the net -- Microsoft's Office 12 beta, and its new interface: does it make it any easier/more obvious to apply consistent paragraph styles, or will the average user continue to do everything with the bold, italics, underline and bigger/smaller buttons? As a trivial example, is the Modify Style command set still modal?
I'm guessing that it's been so long now, we're kinda stuck with nobody knowing how to use a word processor properly. Which annoys me intensely. Much to my disgust, all the new-fangled AJAXy online word processors I've seen borrow the buttons-for-character-styles approach, to the exclusion of paragraph styles entirely.
This is, I believe, a débâcle. We're twenty years into the WYSIWYG world, and still an overwhelming majority of users don't know how to do basic formatting. This drives me up the wall.
June 6, 2006
...but capable of Mach 2. Beautiful, beautiful Draken going, with flexible finance options too.
Flash animation. Yeah, yeah, we've seen too much already. Trust me, this is funny.
I've previously blogged to the effect that the government could save an estimated £3.5bn by hanging the national ID card off the back of Blockbuster's membership scheme. The proof of ID and residency required for the latter is rather more onerous than the Government could get away with themselves anyway.
So that's the financial problem solved: what about the hearts & minds?
I just mentioned to a colleague that whenever email arrives from her, my email system makes a specific, personal chime. 'Wouldn't it be great,' she mused, 'if that happened whenever you walked into a room?'
She might be on to something. We already have personalised ringtones on mobile phones, business cards, and email signatures -- it's not a large step to having a personal announcement chime. It could be the next evolution of the calling card, and offering it on the government's ID cards could be a big win.
Suppose they played a chime every time they wafted past an RFID scanner -- how cool would that be? You could enter your favourite nightclub to the James Bond theme, play 'our song' as you walked over the threshold of your beloved's apartment, and be all Match of the Day as you joined mates in the pub for the footie.
I think people would be all over this, and we'd finally have a practical reason not just for registering for an ID card, but for carrying it with us -- which is obviously the government's intention, whatever they say.
Problem solved. Again. I should hire myself out as a policy wonk.
Yikes! How2 stalwart Andy writes to alert me to something I really didn't know -- it's possible to blow up FireWire ports with a Sony Z1 camera. He writes:
I have just killed my four (apple) computers and my three cameras in ten minutes by pulling out the firewire cable when camera and computer were both on. I thought that was the point of firewire- that it was hot pluggable.
Like Andy, I thought FireWire was hot-pluggable by design. What really confuses me here is that the port on the Z1 is Sony's i.Link 4-pin miniature socket, rather than a full 6-pin FireWire design. The extra two pins are what carry power, so on the face of it, I can't see where the juice is coming from to blow the controller board. I have had some slightly alarming discharges from standard 6-pin sockets on my drive chain, but this is clearly something else again.
Sometimes, I swear people actually watch my shows. Hard to believe, I know, but consider The Big Bang, now playing in endless repeats on Discovery Kids:
A few months after we did a cute trick involving dropping a cork so it lands on its end, a game appeared called 'Corx.' Which is... er... based on the same idea.
Then there's the pneumatic marshmallow cannon we made in a later series. It was breech-loading and used a cunning arrangement of cardboard tubes and bin bags to make a neat step-down from a large-diameter piston chamber to a small-diameter barrel. It was astonishingly accurate, though an unforeseen problem involving marshmallows melting under studio lights rather limited its effectiveness on camera.
Great toy -- one of the best things we invented on that show. Clever, elegantly simple, extremely effective. And now available commercially. Huh.
The tragedy is that the lead times of television are so radically different to those of other industries that we never managed to make any tie-ups work. Even the books we did featured material from the previous series, and arrived after the one we were making. Shame.
But for the record -- no, I'm not sore about this. There's no particular reason to believe that the designers of the marshmallow gun were inspired by The Big Bang. In fact, I'm delighted if kids are running around blatting each other with pneumatically-projected confectionary. It's a lovely mechanism.
There's a lot being said about the whole 'Web 2.0' blah... yeah, OK, there's way too much being said about the whole 'Web 2.0' blah. About AJAX this and desktop-like that, draggable whatever and everything API'd up the wazzoo.
You know what really impresses me? What makes me sit up and take notice? What has me thinking 'Wow, that's clever! This site must really care about design issues'?
It's when I type text in a search field, and it comes up in a large, styled, coloured font rather 10-point Monaco. Gets me every time.
I'm sorry, there's something shiny over there that I must investigate...
June 5, 2006
Remember my post last week about Brainiac dropping caesium in water? I reposted my concerns to a mailing list of people who do science demonstrations, make museum exhibits, and so on, and we had a jolly little argument about whether it was plausible or not. We went roughly fifty-fifty, I think.
Then the chap who did it posted. Turns out, dropping 10g caesium in a bath of water does very little indeed, and (two years later!) they did indeed blow the heck out of a bath with stage explosives. What you see in that film is entirely faked.
Gaaaah! I've avoided posting anything much about the whole 'Diet Coke + Mentos' thing that swept through science communication circles in the last year, because I've been wanting to do something very specific with it.
Unfortunately, that something is this. And I wasn't involved. Harrumph.
Still -- credit where it's due, they've done a corking job of it. Wonderful, wonderful film.
June 4, 2006
There's something deeply irritating about photoblogs, and it's this: the feeds rarely include the pictures themselves, and when they do, NetNewsWire doesn't handle them well.
June 2, 2006
Thursday: was frantic the night before, but had an excellent (and hugely productive) journey down on the West Coast line (zip-pow-blam-oh, we're there already?). The Royal Institution was nigh-on deserted, it being the lovely Olympia's wedding, so we snagged an office and set to work on my revised Christmas Lecture scripts.
Last year's set are being toured to Japan and Korea, and muggins here is rewriting them. I was a bit nervous -- I've found it terribly hard to get back into it, and as a result the couple I've attacked so far have felt like rush jobs. Several things were heartening, however. Firstly, watching a couple of the shows for the first time, on the way down (thank you UKNova), I discovered that they really weren't half bad. For the record, David Coleman is a genius -- and if you saw Question Time last night, that shamelessly bravura steadicam sweep behind the panel near the end would have been his doing.
Then, the scripts, for all the frantic surgery right up to transmission, were actually pretty coherent. And finally, leafing through them, I spotted all manner of more pleasing ways of saying things.
It was gratifying, then, to have Sir John pick through what I offered up, and profess wild enthusiasm. He must have been heartily sick of the damned things too, but we've managed to enthuse each other all over again, and found new ways of nuancing some aspects, new thoughts to draw out, and in one case I think even spotted -- somewhat belatedly -- what the lecture is about. Heck, John even approves of my recasting of the last lecture, which is going to become such a stirring clarion call for global scientific cooperation I swear we'll have a string section in there by the time we're done...
Friday: the How2 website dispatched for another week (what is it with organisations having rubbish upstream connections?), we dove into the months-old SciCast budget and schedule drafts to see what we could salvage. The good folks searching for industrial funding need to know how many people we might reach, which of course means brazenly making something up careful estimation and planning.
It was, frankly, a depressingly difficult meeting. Not because it revealed any underlying weakness in the project (there's some tricky balancing to be done between mildly tangential objectives, but that's a rolling 'taking a step back and thinking really hard' problem); rather, it underlined just how far we still have to go. It's been four months since we first raised the idea, and it occurred to me that I could actually have taken that Birmingham TV job and would have finished in time to rejoin SciCast around the earliest point that's now plausible for a formal 'Go'. Eek.
So, with a heavy heart, I realise that I'm going to have to plot an escape route. It could easily take another two months to secure the industrial support we need, and I'm not sure I can hang around that long. Which would be tragic. On the other hand it might all fall into place with three phone calls. Still... bugger.
One rousing day, one melancholic one. On balance, life could be worse.
I've never blogged from a moving train before. Unfortunately, I won't be tonight, either. While the GNER train is -- miraculously -- moving, I just don't believe you're so desperate to read my thoughts, dear reader, as to justify my spending £3/hour for access. It's not the most expensive connection in the world, but still... ugh. Thanks, but no.
On the other hand, I am quite intrigued to know how they manage to keep a stable connection from the train to the outside world. Satellite? Trackside repeaters? Now if only I was online, I could Google around and find out...
For a fleeting instant, I thought there might be something about that on the internal gateway server (which may, in fact, be routing outwith the train, I'm running a traceroute now). But the link is so $DEITYsawful slow, it's not even loading the page. Oh, and the traceroute isn't managing to do the reverse-DNS lookup thing, but is hopping furiously -- so it looks like the gateway isn't onboard. Interesting.
Quern:~ jonathan$ traceroute www.gner.co.uk
traceroute to www.gner.co.uk (22.214.171.124), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1 ims.gnerwifi.train (10.101.0.1) 32.219 ms 67.311 ms 31.421 ms
2 * * *
3 * * *
4 * * *
5 * * *
6 * * *
7 * * *
8 * * *
9 * * *
Has anyone actually coughed up for this? Is it as turgidly slow as I suspect?
The photo is just South of Berwick, by the way. I'm still reading Kafka on the Shore, but this is more PowerBook Zipping Past the Shore. Close, the mood my PowerBook's been in of late.
June 1, 2006
A colleague has just sent me a video. It shows a man (in a lab coat) taking a fish (possibly a flounder) out of a freezer. It's on ice, and clearly frozen. The man next puts the fish in a tank of water. He does this very carefully, but when he lets go it falls to the bottom of the tank with a distinct 'clunk.'
Seven minutes later, the fish is flipping around and seems quite happy. Well, quite happy for a flatfish that's in a small glass tank of water and would rather prefer to be somewhere else.
It's an extraordinary video. I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do with it, in part because the voice-over is in Japanese. Sadly, I don't think I should post it. Boo!