Stanley Loomis Would Be Proud


Howard Dean starts his residency at Lawrence Lessig's weblog today. I'm in two minds about Dean at the moment. He sounds like a wonderful candidate: he's passionate. he wants to investigate the reasons why America went to war, and would dearly love a form of *gasp* universal health care. While the other Democratic candidates are staying firmly in the centre, daring only to attack the current Administration on a few issues, the Dean campaign is as diametrically opposed to Bush as McGovern was to Nixon in 1972.

But we all know how well that turned out.

Like McGovern, Dean is reportedly unhappy with the structure of the current Democrat party; he also seems to be tapping into a new demographic, the Internet generation, just like McGovern initially attracted the support of the Freak Power generation. The lizard brain of the Democrats will probably react in the same way as it did thirty years ago, so expect some interesting primaries, followed by an intense convention. Can Dean beat Bush? I don't know, but they tried fighting Bush on his own terms last time around, and that didn't work out so well (granted, there's the Florida affair, but Gore didn't even manage to win his own state...). Perhaps a clearer distinction between the two candidates will lead them back to The White House. The danger is that they may end up with just Massachusetts once again…

Anyway, enough politics for one evening. Digiworld opened its doors today, and jolly nice it is too. You have to register to actually read the magazine, and if you're American, you may not have a clue what it's going on about, or why it looks the way that it does. A short explanation: in Britain (and most European countries), normal TV signals also carry extra pieces of information, known as teletext. A TV fitted with a teletext decoder accesses this information to provide extra services, e.g. news headlines, the current weather, travel reports, and subtitles.

Back in 1992, a magazine started on the ITV/Channel 4 teletext system. It was called Digitiser, and it was about video games. Which sounds relatively boring, but it was intelligent, funny, and unmissable . It quickly became one of the most popular features on the service, providing witty commentary on games, comics and anything else they felt like discussing. Plus A Man With A Long Chin. After nine years, it was still going strong, but a series of editorial changes at the end of 2001 reduced it to three-times-a-week updates instead of daily, the humour was removed, and the weekend columns were axed. Digi wandered on, arms chopped off, but brief flashes of its former brilliance still crept through every now and then. The magazine was now down to one writer, affectionately known as Mr. Biffo. He announced at the start of 2002 that he was quitting, just as an Internet campaign saw the full return of the Digi experience. In March, Digitiser broadcast its final edition; Mr. Biffo became the more sensibly-monikered Paul Rose, and started writing for Edge Magazine. The UK was enveloped in shadow, mourning for its passed love (note: might be slightly exaggerated).

But a secret cabal of videogame journalists, led by Rose, began to plot a comeback. Together with Stuart Campbell, a controversial games journalist (currently the brains behind the FairPlay campaign) and Kieron Gillen (quasi-goth, Kenickie-lover and ex-deputy editor of PC Gamer)*, he's back with an all-new incarnation of Digitiser. It's teletext. On the web. PRESS REVEAL.

* Oh, and Jonathan Nash**. ** Everybody else is doing it.

currently playing: Mint Royale - Don’t Falter

Catching Up II

It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I talked about what I’m doing at the moment. So, if you’ve come here for more naîve, idealistic political commentary, or pictures of Domo-kun, you might want to come back tomorrow.

There's not a lot to talk about, though. I submitted the draft of an article to a computer magazine last week; they liked it and didn't want any changes, so it should be published sometime in the next six/seven months (the deadline was for September). I have a few ideas for other pieces; if anybody wants a 2,500-3,000 word piece on the UNIX Systems Lab vs. University of California Berkeley lawsuit and how it relates to the current SCO vs. IBM case, I'm your man. I finished the first draft of one of my scripts back at the end of June; I'm now working on another idea, and I'll hopefully get those both finished before the end of August.

The Chapel Hill withdrawal symptoms are in full effect, and I expect them to get worse when August finally rolls round, and everybody goes back to UNC. Still, my visit back in September/October is now organised, so I only have to wait two months until I'm back there, if only for a few weeks. But, if anybody wants to chuck me a H1-B visa, I wouldn't complain…

currently playing: Tori Amos - Another Girl’s Paradise

"Oddly enough, we're about even"

Random links for today:

Jon Stewart on the current state of the America Media.

Mark Radcliffe chronicles the history of New Order.

A collection of Swiss posters.

The long-awaited Cassandra Project.

It loses me somewhere around step 4.

Yes. Well. Words fail me…

currently playing: Radiohead - Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box

Semi-Cryptic Entry No. 543

For future reference: when setting low expectations for a night out, be sure to set them at a realistic level. Otherwise, the universe will play a nasty karmic joke that’ll make death by a meteorite firestorm seem like a pleasant experience…

currently playing: Gene - Olympian

Catching Up

An interesting week. On Monday, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee reported back on its inquiry into the case for the recent war in Iraq. Although the Government was cleared of charges of misleading Parliament, the report condemned the use of single-sourced data (the infamous 45 minute claim), the reliance on US intelligence, the plagiarised thesis, and the degree of autonomy that Alistair Campbell (the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary) appeared to have over the whole project. Campbell was cleared of embellishing the available evidence, but only due to the Chairman of the Committee’s casting vote (it was a 5-5 tie along party lines). The dissenters complained that they couldn’t determine whether he was innocent or not, because the Government refused to allow the Committee to see intelligence papers and question intelligence personnel, so all their information was coming from second-hand sources.

The Government claims that this vindicates their position, and demands that the BBC should retract their earlier report. The BBC continues to tell the Government what it can do with its demands, and then finds a source in Whitehall admitting that weapons of mass destruction may never be found. The moral? Accusing the BBC of bias is not something a Government should do lightly :-).

Back in America, attention has turned to the President's State of The Union address back in January, where he made the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy nuclear material in Africa. This claim has been refuted by the International Atomic Energy Board; the documentation that provided the evidence turned out to be forged. So far, nothing new. But it appears that the CIA knew that the Niger claim was false before the speech, and told The White House as such. And yet, the claim still made it into the Union address. Sure, it's not lying under oath, but it was a lie against the combined Houses; oh, and the Americans who happened to be watching. The Administration's response? A little revisionist history. According to Donald Rumsfeld, we went to war not because of a imminent threat (excepting us Britons, of course, who were told that we were only 45 minutes away from disaster), but because "we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11." Which is a little harsh, considering that Iraq appears to have had nothing to do with the WTC attack. He was also rather defensive about the cost of the continued presence in Iraq, only providing answers after he had finished testifying in front of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. So far, the occupation of Iraq is costing America $4bn a month, on top of a $1bn/month bill for the presence in Afghanistan. They're hoping that that'll go down somewhat as NATO troops begin to replace some of the US soldiers, but that's an awful lot of money. Especially when going into an election year.

Meanwhile, the President is touring Africa. The people of Uganda seem to be doing well in fighting AIDS, but is it at odds with the USA's preference for abstinence programmes? Bush has also given a speech deploring America's past use of slaves, although this passage of the speech worries me somewhat:

In America, enslaved Africans learned the story of the exodus from Egypt and set their own hearts on a promised land of freedom. Enslaved Africans discovered a suffering Savior and found he was more like themselves than their masters. Enslaved Africans heard the ringing promises of the Declaration of Independence and asked the self-evident question, then why not me?
Does anybody else feel a little, well, unsettled by that? A sense of "these savages didn't know freedom until we beat Christianity into them"? Maybe I'm reading too much into things these days...

currently playing: Bob Dylan - Masters of War

Now With Added Capitalism

You might have noticed the adverts. Yes, I’ve joined the latest bandwagon on the blogosphere, and joined Google’s AdSense programme. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be approved; I just thought I’d apply and see what happened. I hope you don’t find them too intrusive.

In other news, I made a shocking discovery this afternoon: my 20GB music partition was almost full. Obviously, not a good situation, so I spent the day giving my collection a new 40GB home. That should keep me safe for a few years. I hope.

And in the time it took me to write this entry, I've made 3¢! Exxxxceelllent.

currently playing: Laura Nyro - Emmie

Oh yes II...

London. August 13th. Sleater-Kinney.

currently playing: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Henry Lee

The English Are Coming!

Well, The Guardian is, at least. It’ll be interesting to see how well it fares on the other side of the Atlantic. And whether it will continue the tradition reflected in its gentle nickname The Grauniad.

More weird Japanese stuff.

A rather long, but interesting article about McDonalds. Rather depressingly, it seems to take the view that the canning of the Innovate system was a bad thing. I can’t think of anything more soulless than a restaurant chain where everything is identical, right down to the temperature of the cooking fat. shudder.

“Would you die for her?”
“I would, but, er, I’d rather live.”

currently playing: Tori Amos - Caught A Lite Sneeze

Boring Computer Stuff

A few updates on the site. Firstly, I’ve cleaned up the CSS rules somewhat, so the right-hand-side panel is now a little closer to the main content (this should help Gavin’s repeated problem with IE. Not that I have a copy to test it on, but I’m sure he’ll tell me if it makes things better or worse).

Secondly, the RSS files now include HTML formatting, and look nicer in a newsreader (at least they do in NetNewsWire). I'll be updating to a Necho feed once the new format settles down.

Finally, I've added a sideblog. This works in conjuction with an AIMbot that I wrote this afternoon. It's called barbelith49, and lives on AOL's AIM network. Currently, it supports three commands (IM barbelith49 as you would a normal person, and type one of these words instead of a normal message):

  1. where is ian — tells you where I am right now (in case you have some strange need to know, or if I forget where I am)

  2. mail — how many mails are currently in my inbox

  3. blog (your text here) — the main function of the bot. Anything after the word blog will get posted to the sidebar. All HTML is stripped out before the entry is posted (I'll probably add link support in the next few days).

We'll see how this works, shall we?

UPDATE: Okay, basic hyperlink support has been added. If you want to add a hyperlink, enclose it in square brackets, e.g. []. The bot will replace the text with the proper HTML, making it look like this: [link]. I imagine the code is a little fragile, so if you break it, let me know.

currently playing: The Strokes - Someday

Mallrats R.I.P.

This site makes me feel a little sad. Back when I was small, my American friend Travis would tell me stories of the huge malls that he’d been to, filled from the floor to the ceiling with rare Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe (or Action Force, to use the colonial name) figures. To a six year old who only had one and a half toy shops in his town, it sounded like heaven.

In addition to Travis's stories, the films I watched, and the magazines I read reinforced the notion that shopping malls were *the* place to be; Marty McFly went into the past outside a JC Penneys, while in Smash Hits I read interviews with Tiffany where she said that her favourite hobby was "hanging out in the mall, playing Lazer Tag" (this is the part where I am forced to admit that I own a Tiffany album, isn't it? Curses). I saw images of people skateboarding, rollerskating, and having a great time. I wanted to be those people, enclosed in this vast, safe space, shopping, not having to worry about being run over when I wanted to go from one shop to the other.

Eventually, Travis's dad was transferred back to America, and he told me stories about Phoenix, and Las Vegas, where he still lives today. On our first visit to America in 1994, we went to the Meadows Mall. I had grown up a little in the meantime, and Britain had got a few shopping malls, so I knew what to expect, but it was still an impressive experience. The shape, with the big department stores at each end, the food court, the people milling around; it was fantastic. No Lazer Tag, though (I strongly suspect that Tiffany was making that up. See if I buy any of your comeback records!).

Yeah, I have a well-read copy of No Logo, and I followed the protest at The Streets of Southpoint. I know that unlike the commons of the town square, malls are/were private property, clamping down on public speakers, forcing local proprietors out-of-business, and a host of other undesirable things. Still, they're preferable to the out-of-town boxes and strip malls; the shopping mall at least had some personality, as opposed to just being a giant car park with a Wal-Mart, an Old Navy, a Best Buy, and a few other little stores arranged in a circle.

The mall isn't dead yet, of course. Large-scale operations, like Southpoint, seem to do well. But I think the 1980s concept of the local mall is on the way to joining the diner as a piece of American cultural history. Incidentally, considering that most malls won't let you take pictures, it'll be interesting to see how much documentary evidence of them remains fifty years from now...

currently playing: New Order - Ultraviolence