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Friday 31 March 2006

Does anyone find Billox entertaining [tehcollective]

Topic says it all, Jimmy Page. Once useful armour/quad whore, now PITA in IRC.

Thursday 30 March 2006

Heroes [Am]

I'm a misanthrope. I'm a miserable fucking bastard. I fucking hate all cunts, almost always and quite simply can't get excited about the human race which I think is a fucking disgrace.
Oh ok well it's not that bad.
Who's got whom down as a hero? I'm basically up for Tesla because he was just off the planet and it seems to me weirdo's deserve heroism. Churchill because he held it all together. Thirdly, bizarrely as a muso, I am a big fan of Stuart Copeland the drummer from the Police and later composer of film and tv music. The bloke could do things with a drum kit which were just off the planet which no other drummer has done for the last 25 years in a commercial setting. Genius.
Heroes. Spill.

Tuesday 28 March 2006

The Blind Watchmaker [DrDave]

I was recently inspired by the excellent Channel 4 documentary The Root Of All Evil to pick up some Richard Dawkins books. Naturally, I had to pick up The Selfish Gene, but also went for The Blind Watchmaker as well.
The Selfish Gene, though very well written, turned out to be a little turgid and self involved. It is definitely required reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in the field of Darwinism, but reads more like a science textbook than a piece of popular prose.
The Blind Watchmaker, on the other hand, is simply magnificent! In the decade or so between writing these books, Dawkins really seems to have mastered the art of popular science (that Hawkings and Bryson have also managed to great effect). His descriptions of the mechanisms involved are fueled by such passion and conviction that you can't help but read on. His demolition of popular anti-Darwinism arguments is so utterly watertight that you wonder why there is even any debate about this issue at all.
He describes endless cases of supposed "irreducible complexity" (the cornerstone of Intelligent Design) then calmly explains their existence in a way that is laughably simple and retrospectively obvious. Read his explanation of the eye's existence in Chapter 4 and I challenge you to find flaws in it or claim that the eye has any element of design in it!
Seriously, before I read this book, I was sold on evolution by natural selection, though I'm not entirely sure I grasped how self-evident it was. After reading it, however, I see it with a clarity that I never experienced before. Evolution by natural selection is one of those exceptionally rare theories that doesn't require formulae or maths to depict. It is so simple, so ridiculously straight forward, that you can describe it in the most elementary language. True, we may call it a theory, and technically in the true scientific sense of the word, it is, but I would place as much faith in it being fact as I would in the idea that objects fall down when dropped.
I used the word faith... silly me. This usually causes theists to frothingly claim that science is really a religion, with no more proof than the claim that God sits on a cloud and smites wrong doers. Well rubbish. This book shows how truly correct science can be, how some theories can be as close to fact as they can possibly ever get.

Friday 24 March 2006

Beginning of the week [Am]

So. Sat there, a little anesthetised from the bar on a Monday night in Hong Kong. Time; midnight. From my bedroom window, curtains cast open to a single marvellous piece of glass as wide as the entire frontage of the first flat I ever owned, I can see the black water of Hong Kong’s Victoria harbour lain out before me for all the world like the runoff of the global squid convention’s annual whack-off. There is a forest of narrow stalagmite flats and towers left right and behind us in a way that could blow your mind if you chose to focus on them but the water’s currently the thing.
A few moments ago, as near as damnit to midnight as makes a party, a multinational cruise ship went past lights a blazing and port holes a peepin with the decks clearly frugging to the assembled throng partying their way into Hong Kong. You couldn’t actually see the faces but the movement was plain to see. Much like observing the side of a plastic bait box at the beginning of a full day’s fishing.
Was it cheesy? Who can say? I only stared out from a window. Was it fun? Certainly it looked like a lot of fun was what was happening from my windowed observation. And we’re not talking the Stenna Anglesey ferry here. This was the sort of intercontinental ballistic nuclear cruise liner that bristles with decks, points, promenades, radar spikes, quoits platforms, multi-decatonne displacement sprouty bits, verandas, sun-lounge-runs, swimming pools, outdoor aerotoria and a general decking arrangement of such pointed angularity and oi-ness that it’s like was last seen in certain shoulder-pads circa UT2k4. Decked with Christmas lights.
I would like to think that Copa Cabana was playing. Perhaps a couple of teenagers were copping off for the first time ever.
A bit before I had been in “JJ’s” a very expensive adjunct to the hotel in Hong Kong which had been done out in a variety of bizarre Harry Potterish twisty heavy oak panelled staircases and mirrors on the ground floor. A heavy set ebony bird of prey sat on a pointless plinth looking down at my Gin and Tonic - ten US dollars – as I ate a plate of amazing chilli spiced rare beef salad for nine dollars. No I don’t understand it. On the second floor (and I’m not even going into the pe0n lined pointless elevator lobby thing “Hello Mr Jonson, ell o Mester Jawnsen”) was a decent enough elliptical bar and seating all focused on a small stage where an all-American semi-stars group was bashing out R&B tunes. You could tell they had been hand-picked because they all took turns at singing the tunes. As anyone who’s ever played in a band will tell you, that sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident.
But on two of the tables in front of the band was a little tableau that held me fascinated for about an hour. On one, a Chinese or Hong Kongese in his late forties / early fifties was sat with a blond western girl, age no more than 23 to 25 who was pretty much ignoring him but drinking the Krug that sat in front of them with a huge bowl of iced strawberries which were dunked in the Krug. I pulled a drinks list. About four hundred dollars a bottle.
On the second table was another local, probably in his thirties but with three asian girls who had all come in at different times and been introduced to each other but were now collectively, enthusiastically smashing their way through the iced strawberries and in this instance, Moet & Chandon. About 200 hundred dollars a bottle. The bloke in his thirties and the bloke in his forties clocked each other for a couple of seconds. The unspoken conversation was so clear you could have telegraphed it above the hammered out riff of Midnight Hour the band were lurching into now. My champagne’s better than yours. Yeah but I’ve got three birds. Yeah but my bird is blond and young western fluff. She don’t look all that and I’ve got *three*. Hrm. Hrm. Which one’s better? Fucked if I know. Me neither.
After about thirty more minutes the white girl went off to the loos for about fifteen minutes, wearing the bloke’s pringle yellow sweater over her shoulders. She had a fit enough body but the face had only barely made it out of average into attractive. The bloke drank his Krug and patted his hand out of time to Mustang Sally.
After fifteen minutes she came back. Energetic, interested in him and quite literally dusting off her nose. She pulled him by the arm and took him off in the direction of the door. As she left she had a face on that I will never forget. She had to walk through a corridor of westerners and easterners who were each trying not to clock them too obviously, thereby only emphasising the noticeability of their passage. She jutted her chin out and stared with cold eyes ahead with a face that said “Yes I know you think I’m a whore and get this, I don’t give a shit what you think”. I looked at her face and the look was about as convincing as a tale of a snowball on the face of the sun. Suddenly I didn’t feel like staying to hear Stand By Me.
Real life should not command real life. Perhaps, the staff of cruise ships should command real life at least for the sense of occasion, a little grandeur but most of all having just some plain fun with no-one getting fucked up on a Monday night.
There’s some funny shit that goes down around midnight on a Monday night in Hong Kong town.

Wednesday 15 March 2006

RSS For Any Page [Spiny]

If you're an RSS addict like myself, then you simply have to check out feed43

It lets you generate an RSS feed from any web page, very easily. So if you're favourite site doesn't provide a feed, or it isn't up to snuff then you can create your own. Of course the feed you get is from, so it will also allow you to get a feed from a site that your corp firewall has blocked :)

Here's one I knocked up for Blues News

This obviously works best with news type sites like Blue's or the planet* sites, less well with sites that provide no text underneath their headlines.

Monday 13 March 2006

The OS That Dare Not Speak Its Name [DrDave]

About a hundred thousand years ago, it was an Age Of Heroes. Real men wielded great slabs of plastic called "Amigas", and cast down all-comers with boasts of true multitasking or elaborate custom chips. There was peace throughout the land, and also many games of Supercars 2. But the peace was not to last. From the west came knights bearing PCs and Macs, alien pieces of kit that seemed inferior to Amigas in many ways, yet their sheer numerical advantage caused the Amiga faithful to flee from their advance. Many true brothers sought refuge in a little known process called Shapeshifting. It was thought that taking on the guise of your enemy would prove yourself worthy of recognition, but they were also taken by the notion of readily available software - Word, Civ 2, Marathon. The world, however, moved on and these brave few, though matching an equivalent 680x0 chip cycle for cycle, died out. Time passed...
In the last couple of years, Apple have done something rather odd. They've chucked out the whole clunky proprietry OS of old, had their alchemists perform grotesque experiments on Linux kernels and produced something really rather magical. OSX. Not content with their nature-bending OS ways, they've also dumped the PPC chip, long-vaunted by Mac enthusiasts and embraced the whole Intel experience. There's even talk that you can take pretty much any device and plug it into a modern Mac and have a fairly reasonable chance of it working - blasphemy I tells ya!
Well, naturally, this new accessible Macintosh system has attracted the freedom loving recidivists in the PC world. Probably compelled by the swish pulsating progress bars, or the liberally sprinkled boiled sweet icons, a whole community of OSX86 devotees has sprung up and created a badly organised message board. With one goal in mind, to run OSX on standard PC hardware, these pioneers seek to appease the spirits of the long dead Amiga Shapeshifters. Hurrah!
Never one to let a sunday afternoon pass without breaking hardware of some kind, I decided to embark on my own journey. With a freshly burned OSX DVD in hand, and my trusty squire Kaveman at my side for advice and guidance (he'd already done it the previous week), I set about trying to put a luminescent boiled sweet shaped peg into a square hole.
Bugger me! It actually works. I could go on for hours about how torturous the process was, or how much hacking around I needed to do to get it running at a basic level, but I'd be making it up. By far the hardest, most nailbiting part of it was resizing my XP partition. After that, it was simply a matter of booting from the DVD, clicking on some sweets and sitting back with a tin of cold beer. Okay, so it wasn't entirely without incident. It was no fun whatsoever to reboot after install and find "Missing Operating System" messages at startup for example (the install removes the active flag from you primary partition).
For the most part though, getting into OSX in a reasonably useable state is an hour's work. Less time, incidentally, than it takes to get Linux running.
How much functionality you will have after booting is very machine dependent. For instance, I had: no usb mouse, no wifi, no ethernet, no higher resolution graphics and no power management functions on my laptop. So, okay, it's not entirely painless, but remember, this is an operating system running on a machine that it wasn't remotely designed for. A couple of hours on the wiki had most of these problems sorted out - wifi and power management still remain bugbears.
So what is it like to use? OSX is kind of odd, especially approaching from this angle. To get things running, you need to get down and hack around at a fairly low level. Now, this is precisely what Macs are designed to not have to do. So you'll find yourself frustrated by the lack of functionality to edit, for example, a driver. I very nearly gave up thanks to the annoyance of having to enter my password everytime I did anything remotely related to drivers. But I got through it, and I started to realise that I was using the system in a way that it wasn't intended. When I finally got it stable enough to use it as an OS, I was very pleasantly surprised.
It is the kind of experience that requires you to forget your over-complex XP preconditioning and just do things. If you want to install an application, just drag it into the applications folder. No complex install procedures or anything. Downloaded files mount as new drives, offering you options instantly. Lots of little things that work completely counter to what we have been told to expect.
OSX also has a some very nice, unique features of its own. Expose lets you specify hotspots on the screen which, when the mouse moves into it, will trigger every window on the screen to scale down and display simultaneously. Very useful, much more so than a virtual desktop. The dock at the bottom of the screen bounces and wobbles nicely, but also remains functional - an IM client displays notifications in the form of a dancing parrot for example. Windows minimise to little icons showing their contents. It is a very nicely designed UI, far more so than other Linux GUIs.
In terms of performance, it is somewhat surprising. My Centrino Pentium M 1.7GHz with 3/4Gb of RAM runs it very nicely indeed. From power on to desktop is 20 seconds! Yes, 20 seconds. Screens move around smoothly, sweets wobble without glitching and apps are very responsive. I haven't figured out how to get accelerated graphics yet, so video playback is limited, but it does work if the window is not overly large.
In summary, it is an interesting experiment. I don't for one minute think that it is a viable replacement quite yet - no wifi or power management on my lappy are the deal breaker for me. But it is very close. Apple need to see this and get the OS released for normal PCs sharpish, they much just make a bit of money out of it.

Thursday 2 March 2006

Yank TV shenanigans [Lurks]

I don't even have a real TV set or TV receiver to plug into our projector. The reason for that is because anything I want to actually watch I just leech a torrent of and watch it when I want. A lot of that is US content, captured from HDTV sources, so I get to see it in hi-def on my 9-foot screen with surround sound months before it shows up on Brit tele and it doesn't cost me a penny. Morally dubious but hey. Recently I thought, hmm there's been no recent episode of Threshold up on the usual download sites, what's that about? I look it up and ... it's been shitcanned! No word on to that effect (it's too busy sucking the cock of the big yank TV networks for advertising I guess), I needed to do a Google to find that out.
The thing about Yank tele; they are great ones for doing interesting series with big budgets and lots of writing talent etc. However the crazy thing is how the networks behave like Fox, CBS etc. If ratings fall below some measure they want, they will simply can the show on the spot and not show the episodes they have already paid for. There's many examples; Firefly, Inside and recently Threshold.
Firefly was the greatest folly ever demonstrated by a TV network in the history of time. It had such a cult following that there was attempts to raise the capital to continue the series via third parties and of course the movie followup was an instant success. Stuff like Inside and Threshold, okay fair enough they might want to can a series but what's with this shit of not running the final few episodes up to the final?
I mean these things are still pulling viewing figures which puts the UK to shame (yanks do like their tele and there's a heck of a lot of them) so you'd think they'd be some kind of uproar. Hang on a moment, why am I watching your channel when next week's highly-hyped episode might not even get aired? It's baffling to me. It's not just that either. There's the huge month long breaks in a series because of some random reason like ... the superbowl or the kids are on holidays or something. Doesn't continuity enter into it? Aren't people more likely to come back to watching it if it's fresh in their mind last week? It would appear not.
But then television is a much more ambient thing in the US. They have it on everywhere and people just have this constant drone of a television night and day. That's why every episode of a series needs a full minute to explain what happened in the series last time because a) they might not have seen the show before and b) even if they did, the average yank television watcher has the attention span of a goldfish. They also seek to combat the second point by having every episode stand alone and largely based on exactly the same story that's in every television series, just insert random mix of characters and period/genres to fit.
It's just remarkable to me that the US has the greatest television drama making expertise in the world and budgets we could only dream of and yet the networks have the most profound disrespect for viewers that it's possible to have. It's all about one thing, eyes on your screen. Forget the demographics or what type of viewer you've got being exposed to your adverting, it's eyes on screen and that's it.
Fairly tragic really and after awhile it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy just as has been the case with American television news reporting. They figured out people were a bit more interested in stuff tha that happened local to them, so they shift coverage onto stuff that happened in country -> state -> city -> street until no one knows anything about anything that happens outside of their state and hence no one is interested in watching it and bingo, the chase of the all-important eyes-on-screen number now means you've created an inward gazing ignorant society with no better grasp of the world stage than your average random media-controlled dictatorship.
What does it mean? Well it means we'll keep getting big budget tele in 40 minute episodes (Europe isn't going to put up with the mind-destroying advert intervals that the yanks do) which have five minutes of "Previously on Generic Big Budget TV Drama..." but you'll get one series of it, no matter how good it is unless its some comedy drivel. It's not all so bad, they do have HBO. The last refuge of the thinking American television viewer but you've got to wonder how long until they sell out too.
I just wish we could have half those budgets for new television drama and something of the American ambition with regards to programme making. It seems the only thing Britain is ambitious about on this front now is documentaries and then only because of the unique way the BBC is funded and the fact Sir Attenborough is a national hero. British drama is automatically better acted and more sincere than American drama and that makes stuff like the super low-budget Sci-Fi classics like Blake's 7 still more engaging to watch, for me, than the multi-million dollar series finale of Star Trek: The Exquisitely Made-Up Foreheads.