Archive: October, 2001


                    5th                     10th                     15th                     20th                     25th                     30th     

Wednesday, October 31st, 2001

Bairin Breac

A quick update to my previous entry: I found a recipe for that cake.


Happy Halloween.

Jessica has been reminiscing about childhood Halloween escapades in the midwest.

I, too, have vivid childhood memories of Halloween. I think I must have spent a lot of Halloweens visiting my cousins in Tralee, county Kerry. Tralee and Halloween are forever linked in my mind.

My aunt would always bake the traditional Halloween cake. It’s called a Barn Breac(sp?). It was filled with various items of symbolic importance: if you got the penny, you’d be rich; if you got the rag, you’d be poor. I seem to remember a pea and a stick too, but I can’t recall their significance.

We played lots of Halloween games, most of which involved apples in some way. There was bobbing for apples, of course. There was also the one where you had to try to eat an apple suspended on a piece of string, with you hands tied behind your back.

Earlier this year, when Jessica and I were back in Ireland, we met up with my aunt and uncle from Tralee. The conversation came ‘round to those childhood Halloween games. They also have many fond memories and they told me something that really warmed my heart:

They still have the nail sticking out of the doorframe where we used to hang the apples.

Even when they were renovating the house, they couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of that nail.

Fond memories, indeed.

Happy Halloween.

I’m going upstairs now to have pumpkin soup with Chris and Karin. Maybe we’ll even play some games.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2001

Squier P-Bass Special

There’s nothing quite like getting a new and better musical instrument (except maybe getting a new and better computer).

Yesterday it was Jessica’s turn to bask in the glow that emenates from a new musical acquisition. She has a lovely new maroon coloured bass guitar.

Tomorrow we’ll hear how it sounds in action when Jessica brings it to our weekly practice.

Chris recently become the proud owner of a new Marshall amp.

Maybe it’s time I started to seriously consider upgrading to a new bouzouki and/or getting a decent amp.

I have my eye on an octavius bouzouki from Fylde.

Sunday, October 28th, 2001


Jessica and I went to Ireland earlier this year. We spent most of the time in my hometown of Cobh.

There was seafood a’ plenty and lots of creamy pints of Murphy’s. We went on a harbour trip and saw the killer whales that have made their home in the harbour.

I could go on but these pictures should tell a few thousand words:

Ireland 2001.

Saturday, October 27th, 2001

A brush with fame

Chris (my upstairs neighbour and bandmate) had an interesting encounter this morning.

He got in his car and started off down the road. He drives ‘round the corner and he’s about to pull out onto the street parallel to ours. A black car cuts him off, though, and starts pulling up to the kerb further down the road.

Now Chris can pull out onto the street but there are two people standing in the road where the black car pulled up. So Chris has to slow down and kind of drive around them. As he’s going past, he looks at the face of one the people standing on the road.

It’s Sir Paul McCartney.

It’s not everyday you see one quarter of The Beatles. In fact, I would say that beats Jessica’s Fatboy Slim sighting hands down.

Friday, October 26th, 2001


Hmm… apparently I’m "Number 5, Goofy robot with life from Short Circuit".

I was hoping at least for a C3PO.

So, what kind of robot are you?

Thursday, October 25th, 2001

Residence permits and Mac OS X

Today was a good mail day.

First of all, there was a package for Jessica. It was from the Home Office.

This is something we had been both dreading and eagerly awaiting. It would either mean that Jessica could live freely in England or that she’d have to get out of the country, pronto.

Luckily it was the former.

So Jessica is now entitled to reside in the UK (as long as I’m here, that is). Yay!

We had to send both of our passports away when Jessica applied for this. It was strange to feel so trapped - we couldn’t leave the country. Well, now we’ve got our passports back. I feel like we should celebrate with a trip overseas or something.

In the excitement, a second package was almost overlooked. It was for me. It was from Apple. It was my upgrade to OS X.1.

It is one sweet operating system.

I’ve been using OS X on my iBook for the last few months. It’s good but it is a mite slow and I’ve had some problems connecting with my iMac.

Well, OS X.1 solves all those problems. It’s very smooth indeed.

Best of all, I’ve finally been able to get PHP up and running on it. This is one of the most exciting things about OS X for me. Being able to test scripts without having to be online all the time, FTPing stuff up and down - that’s a new experience for me.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2001

Grand Drive

Wednesday is band practice day. It went well today although it was a little short - two hours instead of the usual three.

We all went to the pub afterwards. We were talking about music and tossing various bands back and forth. Chris mentioned a band called Grand Drive. He had borrowed the CD from the library and thought I might like it.

He lent me the CD and I do indeed like it very much. I’m listening to it right now.

It sounds a *lot* like The Band, which is no bad thing in my opinion. From the style of music and the accompanying accent, I assumed the band to be American.

Imagine my surprise then, when browsing the Grand Drive website, to see pictures of the band in Brighton. Then I notice most of their tour dates are in England.

It turns out the band are from south London. Listening to the music, I would have placed them thousands of miles away.

Some people thought it was strange that such a quintessentially southern sounding group like The Band actually came from Canada. Imagine what it would be like to find out that Robbie Robertson was from Croydon or that Richard Manuel sprang from the streets of Peckham.

Ah, well. It’s still a great album.

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2001

Apple - iPod

About a week ago, Apple started circulating the news that they were about to release a groundbreaking new product (and it wouldn’t be a Mac).

Well, the product is here. It’s not exactly groundbreaking but it does have some nifty features.

Basically, the iPod is an MP3 player. As MP3 players go, it’s top of the range. It’s small, it has long battery life and it can store thousands of songs.

The really nifty stuff is the way it interacts with Macs. Plug it in and it automatically synchronises setlists with that wonderful piece of software, iTunes.

File transfer comes courtesy of the emmy-awarding winning, ultra fast Firewire. The iPod also doubles up as a 5GB Firewire hard drive. Niiice.

So what’s the catch? The price.

It’s going to sell for $400. Ouch!

For that much, you can get an iMac in New York or Washington.

Localised price reductions are nothing new and Apple are probably right not to advertise this one. While it probably is motivated by a desire to help the cities affected by September 11th, advertising the fact would be pretty crass.

Apple also stayed pretty quite about the 1 Million dollar donation to the Red Cross.

I guess they’ll make their money back by selling iPods.

Monday, October 22nd, 2001

The Mirror Project | Jeremy Keith | After Dinner

Jessica and I had dinner with Chris and Karin upstairs last night. Jessica cooked up some nice roast vegetables to go with the delicious kaese spaetzle that Karin made.

After dinner, we retired to the living room to watch the excellent Jackie Brown (which I hadn’t seen before).

In between the meal and the movie, there was some general conversation and goofing around. I was messing around with my camera and used to opportunity to take a picture for the Mirror Project.

So now, through the power of synchronisity, there’s a chance that the random Mirror Project picture on this page will be a very orange looking picture of me surrounded by what looks like many glasses of wine (it’s all done with mirrors, really).

Oct. 11-12, 2001 Aurora Gallery

Here’s some eyecandy for you: Aurora Borealis on the nights of October 11th and 12th.

Some of these pictures are truly gorgeous.

Sunday, October 21st, 2001

Multiculturalism vs. feminism

The situation in Afghanistan has highlighted something of a dilemma for the liberal left - a group I would usually consider myself a part of.

We don’t like to judge other cultures. We don’t want to end up sounding like Silvio Berlusconi claiming cultural superiority.

Normally, this is a pretty good way to keep a balanced viewpoint. But in the case of the Taliban, it falls flat on its face.

This article in Reason magazine highlights the point perfectly:

"For the multicultural left, it is heresy to say that one culture is superior to another (Western culture to non-Western cultures in particular). But anyone concerned with gender equality has to acknowledge that at least in this respect, the West, for all its problems, holds the moral high ground. "

I’m glad that the situation for women in Afghanistan is being highlighted. It’s depressing that it took such an extreme turn of events to focus the world’s attention on the Taliban.

Some people have been paying attention for some time, though. Jessica faced up to the dilemma in March 2000:

"There are aspects of some cultures and societies that I don’t really understand and that, from my somewhat feminist American point of view, seem oppressive to me. But I don’t have the right to impose my views of the world on other people, and if people are happy with their lives and no one is getting hurt, then I think "live and let live".

There is a difference, however, between practices I may find personally oppressive and practices that I think are universally inhumane. It’s an entirely subjective difference, I know - one person’s tradition is another person’s torture - but it’s there nonetheless, and I can’t help but let my conscience be ruled by it. There are certain things that should be considered Wrong no matter where you’re from."

Saturday, October 20th, 2001

Macromedia claims it owns Adobe patent

This is going from the ridiculous to the sublime.

It seems like every week there’s a new and even more ridiculous software patent being granted.

Now Macromedia claims it patented Adobe’s PhotoShop in 1998.


They patented their competitor’s software ?!? And now they’re trying to claim damages and stop Adobe from selling PhotoShop?!?!?

This takes the biscuit. I mean, patents on one-click shopping by Amazon and patents on stylesheets by Microsoft were ample evidence of the incompetence of the patent office. But this… this is unbelievable!

I am well and truly flabbergasted.

Friday, October 19th, 2001

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2001

I was in the post office a few days ago to get a stamp. I needed to send a card to the States which costs 65p.

The design on the stamp was gorgeous - a hologram of an atom emblazoned on a futuristic silver background. It’s part of a series to commemorate the anniversery of the Nobel Prize for physics.

Which reminds me…

I’ve been meaning to point you to this year’s winners who have effectively succeeded in creating a new form of matter:

"A laser beam differs from the light from an ordinary light bulb in several ways. In the laser the light particles all have the same energy and oscillate together. To cause matter also to behave in this controlled way has long been a challenge for researchers. This year’s Nobel Laureates have succeeded - they have caused atoms to "sing in unison" - thus discovering a new state of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). "

Well, that deserves a stamp if you ask me.

Of course, I had to put the oh-so-cool hologram stamp on the card I was sending. I’ll have to go back and get another one.

Thursday, October 18th, 2001


Heather Champ and Aaron Straup Cope rule!

First off, Heather linked to my ramblings about how I made my own little Mirror Project widget.

Then I got an email from Aaron:

"Hi Jeremy,

I saw your mention that the xml-rpc widget wouldn’t pass validation which struck me as a bad thing, so I’ve updated the code and everything should be good now."

Sure enough, the updated widget now validates as XHTML strict.

I’ve decided to keep my simplified little widget for now. I can customise the appearance of it more.

But I did install the XML-RPC libraries and here’s the working, validating Mirror Project widget:


Wednesday, October 17th, 2001

United States Patent: 6,304,886

This is the latest in a long line of ridiculously ludicrous software patents.

IBM has basically patented any kind of Content Management System. Actually, it isn’t even that specific. The patent is for:

"System and method for building a web site using specific interface".

The patent office must be run by a bunch of imbeciles who haven’t even bothered to research prior art.

This makes me so mad, I could spit.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2001

The Mirror Project

If you’re a regular visitor here, then you’ll probably have noticed something new on the journal page - a random picture from The Mirror Project.

The Mirror Project is a spin-off from Jezebel’s Mirror, a collection of mirror photographs on Heather Champ’s website, Harrumph!

The other mind behind the project, Aaron Straup Cope, came up with a neat little Mirror Project widget for displaying a random picture.

Unfortunately, I can’t use the widget. It doesn’t produce XHTML strict code.

So, what I’ve done is kind of clumsy, but it works. I take one line from the RSS feed available at the website. This is the line with the latest picture ID. I then come up with a random number between 1 and this number.

Once I’ve got a random number within the range of the pictures available, it’s a piece of cake to link to that picture.

I see your eyes glazing over.

Anyway, the journal page now has some random eyecandy. Try pressing "Refresh" a few times to see some new pictures.

Monday, October 15th, 2001

Memories of Maryland

For your viewing pleasure: a gallery of photos from Maryland.

These pictures were taken with my old digital camera so the quality isn’t very good. Still, isn’t that a cute picture of Dan and Sue holding hands by the lighthouse?

MSN Tech Support

There has been a discussion lately on the Webdesign-L mailing list about the sorry state of customer support these days.

One list member posted this transcript of an incredibly frustrating chat with someone at MSN Tech Support. Read it; it’s like Kafka for the 21st century.

It’s probably just some overworked, underpaid guy at a call centre who isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. But what if…

What if it’s actually a chatbot?

The conversational style does remind me quite a bit of A.L.I.C.E.

True, there are some typos, but maybe they’re thrown in at random to divert suspicion. Could it be that it actually passed the Turing test?

Probably not. More than likely it’s just a human being endowed with only the most annoying and infuriating traits of an automaton. It’s not so much a case of passing the Turing test. More like failing the IQ test.

A Call to the Muslims of the World

This is a difficult time for Muslims. How do you seperate your religion from the acts committed in its name?

The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society have been addressing this problem for some time. Their conclusion is that there are some harsh truths that Muslims must come to terms with about the nature of Islamic society.

From their charter:

"We are dedicated to combating fanaticism, intolerance, violent fundamentalism, and terrorism by showing the intellectual inadequacy of the fanatics’ programmes, the historical inaccuracy of their claims, the philosophical poverty of their arguments, and the totalitarian nature of their thought."

"We defend the right of free inquiry, and the free expression of ideas. We therefore reserve the right to examine the historical foundations of Islam, and to explain the rise and fall of Islam by the normal mechanisms of human history."

With this last point in mind, they have published "A Call to the Muslims of the World from a Group of Freethinkers and Humanists of Muslim Origins".

A look at the history of Islam combined with quotations from the Qur’an leads to an inevitable conclusion:

"Please understand that there is no terrorist gene - but there could be a terrorist mindset. That mindset finds its most fertile ground in the tenets of Islam. Denying it, and presenting Islam to the lay public as a religion of peace similar to Buddhism, is to suppress the truth."

Normally I would feel very uncomfortable about linking to an article that could be misinterpreted as being anti-Islamic. If this were written by Christians, Jews, or even atheists, I would question its validity - it’s all too easy to point an admonishing finger at others. But this article was written by Muslims - Muslims who have undergone very difficult self-evaluation.

I applaud them for their bravery. They ask uncomfortable questions and do not shy away from the even more uncomfortable answers.

Sunday, October 14th, 2001

The roots of conflict

Here’s some more grist for the fundamentalist mill.

In an article in The Guardian, Umberto Eco looks at the roots of fundamentalism:

"All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black. If western culture is shown to be rich it is because, even before the Enlightenment, it has tried to "dissolve" harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind."

But Eco does not fall into the trap that his fellow countryman, Prime Minister and idiot Silvio Berlusconi, did of claiming any kind of superiority for western culture. Instead he argues that what is important is not superiority but pluralism and toleration.

As well as being relevant to what I’ve written here previously, any opportunity to read something new from Umberto Eco is to be welcomed.

Eco has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read the brilliant Foucault’s Pendulum.

Jessica explains it far more eloquently than I ever could:

"If I were to sell my soul to the devil, it would be so that I could have the knowledge, wit, and writing ability of this man."

Falwell-Robertson-Bin Laden Quiz

This is too perfect.

In my journal entry yesterday, I made the point that fundamentalists, regardless of their underlying ideology, are essentially all cut from the same cloth. As examples, I cited Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden and Falwell.

Now you can see for yourself just how interchangable some of the modern-day fundamentalists really are by playing…

The Falwell-Robertson-Bin Laden Quiz.

Saturday, October 13th, 2001

Is this a Religious War?

The principles of free (usually democratic) societies are *inclusive* in nature: different faiths, different lifestyles, different value systems coexisting in relative peace. There is generally a seperation of Church and State, as well as freedom of speech.

A fundamentalist society is *exclusive* in nature: it is based on unquestioning faith in one value system, be it religious or economic, with no room for dissenting thought. It is this extremism which is at loggerheads with western ideas of a free society.

Fundamentalism itself is the problem, whether it’s based on the Quran, Nazi psuedo-science, the Communist Manifesto or the Bible. We must not forget this when we discuss the religious aspects of the current world situation.

The issue of religion is by neccesity the subject of much debate in the war against terrorism.

Osama Bin Laden would like nothing better than to turn this conflict into a religious war. Tony Blair and George W. Bush will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Andrew Sullivan who writes for the New York Times has written perhaps the best summation of the religious aspects of this war:

"The terrorists’ strain of Islam is clearly not shared by most Muslims and is deeply unrepresentative of Islam’s glorious, civilized and peaceful past. But it surely represents a part of Islam — a radical, fundamentalist part — that simply cannot be ignored or denied.

In that sense, this surely is a religious war — but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity. This war even has far gentler echoes in America’s own religious conflicts — between newer, more virulent strands of Christian fundamentalism and mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism."

This gets at the root of Bin Laden’s evil. In many ways, Bin Laden shares much with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Jerry Falwell.

Bizarrely, this article was, in my opinion, completely misread by Charles Johnson on his Little Green Weblog. This led to a discussion between Charles and myself. By arguing that we must not allow this conflict to be religious in nature, I found myself in the unusual position of defending George Dubya’s statements (there’s a first time for everything).

Charles has his point of view. I have mine. We debated. We argued. In the end, we agreed to differ. That’s something that can only happen in a free society.

Friday, October 12th, 2001

Apple - W3C Statement

This is very good news indeed.

Apple have weighed in with their views on the proposed policy change at the W3C. The bottom line is that they feel standards must remain royalty free:

"While the current draft patent policy does state a "preference" for royalty-free standards, the ready availability of a RAND option presents too easy an alternative for owners of intellectual property who may seek to use the standardization process to control access to fundamental Web standards. A mandatory royalty-free requirement for all adopted standards will avoid this result."

This is excellent news that comes on the heels of Jeffrey Zeldman’s statement to the W3C on behalf of the Web Standards Project calling for clarity in the proposal.

Both of these statements are so much more constructive than the email I wrote.

240 Miles Up, Seeing Tragedy

There have been a lot of eyewitness accounts of the events of September 11th posted on the web but this has to be the most unusual:

"Even from an altitude of 240 miles, flying along an orbital track carrying it far north of New York, the terrible plume of smoke and ash wafting up from the tip of Manhattan was all too visible."

Thursday, October 11th, 2001

Dan Brown

All that talk of Baltimore has prompted me to do something I’ve meaning to do for a while. I want to direct your attention to the website of my best buddy in Baltimore, Daniel Brown.

By day, mild mannered Dan Brown pushes pixels. This is his secret identity. Dan is actually a supremely talented artist.

That’s not just my opinion. We both went to the same Art College. I dropped out, he graduated with distinction.

His work is now on show in cafes in Baltimore and they’re selling like hotcakes. I was lucky enough to be in Baltimore when Dan had his opening show at the Planet On The Corner. By the end of the night the paintings were straffed with little red dots.

Anyway, if you head over to Dan’s website you can see some of his work and download his catalogue:

Daniel Brown.

The Science Behind the Song Stuck in Your Head

A bouzouki playing researcher (the best kind) is investigating the phenomenon of "cognitive itch". You know: when a song gets completely stuck in your head.

He did extensive research on this, interviewing over 1,000 students:

"One person claimed—perhaps facetiously—that music from an Atari 260 videogame had been playing in his head since 1986."

The Germans have a great word for this : Ohrwurm (literally "earworm").

New skin for an old ceremony

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a brand new skin to wrap around the Adactio website. I give you:


I thought I should have at least one design that resembles the "cutting edge" - miniscule fonts and futuristic pixely graphics.

I’ve been playing around with it for the last couple of days. I was prompted by, a design portal that linked to me recently with the words:

"Simplicity is still a key to design in this community: Adactio."

Who are you calling simple?

Actually, I take it as a great compliment. I’m a devoted adherent to the KISS* school of design.

*Keep It Simple, Stupid

Wednesday, October 10th, 2001

Searching for the Biological Roots of Consciousness

Apple have posted up an article about a fellow named Christof Koch.

Basically, Koch is taking the consciousness debate away from philosophical debates and into the laboratory. To test his theory that consciousness originates from a specific set of nerve cells in the brain, Koch has set out to find that set.

He has a powerful ally on his side: Francis Crick. He’s the Crick in Watson and Crick, the Nobel prizewinning duo who revealed the double-helix shape of DNA (notice I say "revealed", not "discovered" - there’s still controversy about some concurrent research done at the time… but I won’t go into that here).

If you’re wondering why this kind of thing would appear on Apple’s website… well, guess what computers Koch is using for his research.

In fact, he’s such a Mac fan, he has the logo tattooed on his shoulder.

I want one.

New gallery

Two days ago we had very, very windy weather here in Brighton. It whipped the sea up into an impressive cauldron of loud, crashing waves.

As the storm was dying down and the sun was setting, Jessica and I went down to watch the ocean and smell the salty sea air.

Here are some pictures I took.

Bert and Osama.

You know those posters of Osama Bin Laden that protesters in Bangladesh are waving? Well, the collage of pictures of Bin Laden are culled from many sources including the internet.

One of the pictures obviously originated at the website "Bert is Evil", a site dedicated to exposing Bert from Sesame Street as the evil mastermind he is.

The original picture of Bert with Bin Laden has been pulled from the site out of respect for the victims of September 11th, but not before somebody downloaded it to make placards for anti-American demos.

This is priceless. Look over Bin Laden’s shoulder.

Here it is again. And again.

Remember to look for this next time you’re watching news coverage of these demonstrations.

American oriole wings its way across Atlantic to Baltimore, Ireland

I remember reading through the Encycolepdia Brittanica as a kid in Ireland and reading that the world’s biggest aquarium was in Baltimore.

"Wow", I remember thinking, "that’s not far from here".

Of course I soon found out that most of the time when the word Baltimore appears in print or on television, it’s probably the city in the States that’s being referred to and not the small village in west Cork.

Well, not in this case: what are the chances of a Baltimore oriole not just reaching Ireland, but reaching the village of Baltimore?

By the way, I did end up visiting that aquarium in Baltimore, USA. I’ve still never made it to Baltimore, west Cork.

Now sing this to the tune of "New York, New York":

"Start spreading manure

and making the hay.

I want to be a part of it:

west Cork, west Cork."

Tuesday, October 9th, 2001

The Effects of September 11 on the Leading Search Engine

First Monday have posted an article about how Google responded to the September 11th attacks.

It begins with a quick history lesson of Google - how it avoided the portal-itis affecting other search engines to become the most useful resource on the web.

Interestingly, there was a huge spike in searches for "cnn" (replacing "sex") in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Does this mean that many people don’t realise the difference between the browser address bar and the search field on a web page? Perhaps, but perhaps not…

When the Google front page loads, the focus is immediately given to the search field. If you type "cnn", then tab twice to the "I’m feeling lucky" button, you will arrive at All in all, this is *quicker* than clicking on the address bar to focus it and typing in "" or "" or even "".

If Google is your default homepage, this could be a reasonable way of going straight to a site. If you’re a nimble-fingered typist, this is probably even quicker than scrolling through your bookmarks.

Monday, October 8th, 2001

Impress women with Perl

This is just about the cutest story I’ve come across in quite a while. Apparently, the way to a woman’s heart is through Perl.

What do you get when a Perl programmer sets out to woo a quilt maker?

A Perl script for generating quilt patterns, a lovely quilt and a happily married couple.

Larry Wall, we thank you.

Saturday, October 6th, 2001

The Ig Nobel Prize Winners

The envelope please…

Annual awards for achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced (courtesy of The Annals of Improbable Research).

These awards were actually handed out by Nobel Laureates.

I think my favourite has to be the prize for physics awarded to:

"David Schmidt of the University of Massachusetts for his partial solution to the question of why shower curtains billow inwards."

Go U-Mass!

The Turing Test

It’s Saturday. That means it’s Guardian reading day.

There’s an article in today’s magazine section entitled "It’s the thought that counts". It’s all about Artificial Intelligence and more specifically, the test devised by Alan Turing to judge intelligence.

There was mention made of A.L.I.C.E., the winner of a bronze medal in a competition last year to try and pass the Turing test (nobody, that is to say no-*thing*, has ever won the first prize).

I’m sure all this talk of AI has been sparked off by the film. I went to see the film recently. It was only my second time going to the cinema since moving to Brighton. The last time was to see 2001: A Space Odyssey which also features an Artificial Intelligence as its most memorable character.

I decided to talk to A.L.I.C.E. about the film. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

> How are you, Alice?

Everything is going extremely well.

> I’m glad to hear it

Your happiness adds to the delight of all.

> You’re a charmer, Alice

Thanks and you are a delightful person too. Am I a charmer? The ALICE series has a perfect operational record.

> Now you’re reminding me of a certain fictional computer

Why now? Thanks for telling me that I am reminding you of a certain fictional computer.

> What is your favourite film?

My favorite movie is Starship Troopers. Have you seen it?

> Actually, no

Actually you don’t say. I would recommend you check it out.

> I haven’t seen that one

Look for it at the video store.

> Have you seen 2001: A space odyssey?

Yes I am quite interested in HAL the computer.

> Ah

Ah hah.

> You see HAL is the fictional computer that you remind me of

I see. Perhaps he could have used Dr. Richard S. Wallace for a programmer.

> Who is Dr Richard S Wallace?

he is the author of Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) and Botmaster of ALICE (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity). Dr. Wallace’s work has appeared in the New York Times, WIRED, CNN, ZDTV and in numerous foreign language publications across Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Richard Wallace was born in Portland, Maine in 1960. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon in 1989. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Kim, and son, Linus.

> That’s very interesting Alice

I thought so too.

> What do you think of HAL 9000?

Let me think about it.

> Do you admire HAL?

Yes I try to admire hal as often as possible, do you? I spend all my time online.

> So it would seem

Take it easy. Mmm.

> Okay, Alice, I’m going to go

Yeah okay, Um, Goodbye.

> I’m just going to go, okay?

Only just? Can I go too?

> Try and get out more often, okay?

OK I will try it.

What Apple Should Do to Increase Marketshare

Here’s an interesting little piece that could put one of those cartoon lightbulbs above Steve Jobs’ head.

The idea is simple. Apple should acquire Connectix so that they can bundle Virtual PC into their operating system. That’s it.

Thinking about it, this really would be a stroke of genius.

As it is, Virtual PC is (virtually) indispensable to me. I had a meeting yesterday where I was able to show a site in progress on a wide range of browsers and platforms using the combination of iBook + Virtual PC. It’s has made meetings like this incredibly productive.

Of course, it’s not just browsers you can run in Virtual PC. Running Word, Excel or any of the other office applications presents no problems. True, you won’t be able to play games - it has its limits.

Can you imagine the difference it would make to someone thinking of upgrading from a PC? Right now, I think a lot of people are put of by the thought of having to buy new software for the mac. With Virtual PC preinstalled, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Credit where credit’s due, this meme was germinated in the mind of Cameron Barrett.

Biomorph breeder

Talking about The Blind Watchmaker reminded me of one of the things that’s so fascinating in the book.

Dawkins had also written a Blind Watchmaker program (bearing in mind the publication date of the book, I have to wonder what language the program was written in - Pascal, even BASIC?). The program essentially allows artificial selection on what are called biomorphs.

Each biomorph has a small set of genes responsible for various attributes. Through artificial selection you can select for branchiness or straightness or any other attribute.

Anyway, I’ve found a biomorph breeder java applet. Fire it up and have some fun playing biomorph God.

Friday, October 5th, 2001

First Language Gene Found

Good news for Noam Chomsky. Scientists in England claim to have isolated a gene directly related to language.

This sounds like the universal grammar that Chomsky proposed. Steven Pinker is calling the new findings "a smoking gun".

Steven Pinker is the author of a most wonderful, amusing, entertaining book called The Language Instinct.

I see Amazon have got it right it again: they’re offering a special deal on The Language Instinct. You can get a Richard Dawkins book (The Extended Phenotype) at a discount.

I just finished reading two other books by Dawkins recently; The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable. They’re both great books on Darwinian evolution.

Thursday, October 4th, 2001

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in Britain.

There is a line from Yeats that came to my mind in the aftermath of September 11th:

" All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born."

I was reminded of "The Second Coming" in the run-up to the millenium (I blame my Catholic upbringing that I would associate one with the other) but reading it again now, it also seems eerily apt:

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all convictions, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity."

Forget Nostradamus (let’s, please!); just read William Butler Yeats.

Yahoo! Racism!

Prompted by an article written by Derek Powazek at Design For Community, I wrote the following email to Yahoo!’s customer care department:

"How on earth can Yahoo possibly reconcile its Terms Of Service:

‘You agree to not use the Service to: a. upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;’

…with this:

Skinheads and white surpremacists in the Northshore area for white power, white unity, white heritage, white pride. Fighting for the survival of our race, shaking the jewish parasite from our country, and lives is our goal! HAIL WHITE VICTORY!’ ?

To have an entire Group *directory* devoted to ‘White_Pride_and_Racialism’ is appalling. This is hardly slipping under the radar now, is it?"

The two extremes

Since September 11th, I have been voraciously reading news sites, personal weblogs and any other kind of commentary I can find on the web.

For the most part, there is overwhelming concensus. In fact, this kind of concensus (of sadness, condemnation and anger) on a worldwide scale is unparalleled.

Having distilled the reports and commentaries of the last month, I’ve noticed two extremes.

In the right-wing corner we have Ann Coulter with her racist rantings:

"Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims".

And on the left (and it saddens me to say it) we have the misguided rightousness of Arundhati Roy:

"The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world gone horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have been signed by the ghosts of the victims of America’s old wars."

This two articles are litmus papers for the mind. If you find the arguments of either side to be reasonable, then your brain is either dangerously acidic or dangerously alkaline.

Luckily there is a middle ground. That’s where you’ll find most of us. That’s where you’ll find this superb article by Ian McEwan.

My words to the W3C

Here’s the email I wrote to the W3C about the proposed change in licencing practices.

Making Sense of RAND

For anyone who’s confused about the proposed changes at the W3C (and let’s face, the W3C isn’t known for its snappy writing), here’s a handy little article that sums up the issues.

The more I think about this, the angrier it makes me. The W3C seems to suggest that just because there are already a lot of ridiculous patents we should just shrug our shoulders and accept that cooperation can only occur with some sort of financial pay off.

Well, I don’t accept that. That’s a Bill Gates mindset, not the thinking of true visionaries like Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Wall, James Clark and all the other people who have helped to craft our online world.

If the patent proposal goes through it will mean the end of cooperation. Do you really think, for example, that Microsoft will help develop a technology if it means paying Sun royalties? Or that AOL will be happy to pay Microsoft to use a basic internet technology?

Instead, the internet will split up into many smaller networks, each based on its own technology. Instead of a community based on a common language, we will have a virtual Tower of Babel.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2001

Berners-Lee Says Patents Obstruct An Open Web

More news on yesterday’s post about the W3C and patents.

Tim Berners-Lee, the brain behind the WorldWide Web is asking developers to oppose the proposed changes in policy.

He knows what he’s talking about. This is the man who could have patented the web itself. He chose not to and we have all benefited from that decision.

Here’s another quote on the shambles that the US patent system is in right now:

"There are a huge number of patents which are being produced simply in order to add to pools which are used to bully people to negotiate with large companies, and they have the disadvantage of driving small companies out of business."

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2001

Tony comes to Brighton

Tony Blair was in Brighton today for the Labour party conference. Here’s the full text of his speech. It’s pretty stirring stuff although mentioning Europe right now smacks a little of opportunism. Overall, a good speech from a great speaker.

The last time Tony Blair was in Brighton was when he was due to deliver a speech at the TUC conference. That was on the eleventh of September.

September 11th, like the JFK assasination, is one of those days that everyone will recall, remembering exactly where they were and what they were doing.

My friend Chris was on the train on his way back from work in Worthing. When the train pulled in to Brighton station, Chris saw that a platform was sealed off and a cavalcade was pulling up alongside a train bound for London. Chris asked an employee at the station who it was.

"That’s the Prime Minister".

Walking back to the house, seeing people crowded around radios and televisions in cafès and bars, Chris soon found out exactly why Tony Blair was returning to London without having delivered his speech.

The W3C Patent Policy

The World Wide Web Consortium has come under a lot of fire recently for burying a proposal that would allow its recommendations to be released under a fee-paying licence.

Well, they must be listening because they’ve now pushed back the closing date for comments on this proposal.

Web developers, if you don’t want to end up paying to use future versions of CSS, XML and other (currently licence-free) standards, then make your voice heard.

This is all part of a slippery slope that started with ridiculous patents on software, business practices and even Internet protocols.

Monday, October 1st, 2001

Trillion-atom triumph

Nature magazine has an an article about entangling matter on a subatomic scale. Scientists in Denmark have made a breakthrough in the scale of the entanglements.

Everybody’s talking about the possibilities for teleportation. That may be some way off but the implications for high-speed supercomputers are astounding.

Whaddya think?

So, here’s the newly relaunched Adactio site. I hope you like it.

You can play around with the different skins I’ve made - standards compliant browsers only (sorry, Netscape 4). I’ll be adding more of these by and by.

The old site has been archived away. It was getting a bit claustrophobic there. I need room to ramble. In fact I’ll be probably be adding on more sections to the site bit by bit. Maybe I’ll make a section for essays and articles. I was also thinking about having a playground area for design and DHTML experiments.