Archive: September, 2004


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Tuesday, September 28th, 2004


The Labour Party Conference is being held in Brighton this week. The area near the conference centre has been surrounded by a "ring of steel" manned by bored police officers pulling twelve hour shifts.

The demonstrations are in full swing. Leading the pack, so to speak, are the pro-hunting lobby The Countryside Alliance. They’re trying to stop a ban on hunting with hounds which they say will put an end to their way of life. That would be a life that involves vicously ripping live animals apart for fun, then.

Ah, I wouldn’t understand. We townsfolk can’t appreciate their country ways. Don’t we realise that you can’t just shoot foxes? They’re impervious to bullets, y’know. No, if it’s not done for sport, it’s just not the same. If they can’t have the pleasure of sadistically torturing small furry animals, then the terrorists have already won.

While Sky News was covering a protest that fitted their niveau, some pro-hunt activists were executing a campaign that would show once for and all that they aren’t the barbarous half-wits everyone takes them for. They dumped dead animals around the town.

Fellow Brighton web developer, Mart Gordon snapped this picture of a dead horse tied to a lamppost near the train station. To drive the point home, a protest sign was left with the horse. The sign wasn’t orginally found next to the carcass: it was found sticking out of it. Talk about flogging a dea…


You can find coverage of the protests in all the major newspapers but if you really want to get the word from the trenches, read these accounts by Brighton bloggers Jamie Freeman and Iestyn Lloyd.

Sunday, September 26th, 2004

So far, far away, so close

I’ve spent the last week re-living my childhood.

Like many others, I had been counting down the days until the release of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD. I pre-ordered a copy from Amazon. It showed up last Monday.

Since then I’ve been following the adventures of Luke Skywalker in gloriously pristine sound and vision. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that one day I would actually own copies of these films in a format superior to that projected in my local cinama… well, my younger self would probably be more interested in my time machine.

The DVD boxed set comes complete with a documentary called Empire Of Dreams which takes a candid look at the rocky road that George Lucas travelled when he was making these films. It becomes clear that the films are actually filled with many compromises.

Being the consumate perfectionist (or meddler, as some would have it), Lucas has taken the opportunity to add a few nips and tucks on the DVD versions. These are the changes that I noticed:

In A New Hope, when the stormtroopers are searching the captured Millenium Falcon, one of them now says "there’s no-one here". There is also an audible clunk in the infamous scene where the stormtrooper bangs his head. This ties in nicely with the easter egg in Attack Of The Clones when Jango Fett, source of the stormtroopers, bangs his head when boarding his ship, Slave One.

Speaking of which, in The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett is now voiced by Temuera Morrison who played Jango in Attack Of The Clones. Also, the engine sound of Slave One has been updated to match the sound from Attack Of The Clones. The holographic Emperor has been completely re-shot, this time with Ian McDiarmid. The dialogue in this scene has also been subtly changed.

Perhaps the best change in The Empire Strikes Back is that an addition from the Special Edition has now been removed. Luke no longer screams like a girl when he steps off the gantry in Cloud City. That always bothered me even more than Greedo shooting first.

The changes to Return Of The Jedi come right at the end. Naboo is now included amongst the planets shown celebrating the defeat of the Empire. Finally, the spectral Anakin Skywalker seen standing with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda is played by Hayden Christensen (or at least that his head comped onto Sebastian Shaw’s body).

So there are no big changes. They’re mostly nice little details that are fun to pick out.

It’s been great fun watching the original Star Wars trilogy again. It’s surprising how much resonance the prequels have already added. I know that many people are cynical and dismissive when it comes to the prequels but I think they are succeeding in their aim of adding extra depth to the original films. It really is possible to view the entire thing as Darth Vader’s story which makes the end of Return Of The Jedi even more moving.

Then again, I even like the ewoks. I know that the general concensus is that "they suck" but I loved seeing them in 1983 and even two decades later, I can still view the films with that same sense of wonder.

If nothing else, the release of these films on DVD helps pass the time until the release of George Lucas’s remake of Lost In Translation.

By the way, if you think what I’ve just written is incredibly geeky, James Lileks devotes more pixels to desconstructing the music in a single episode of Star Trek.

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004

Mobile technology and cocktails

I ventured out of the house yesterday evening to attend an event sponsored by Sussex Enterprise. I was interested in the subject matter of "ebusiness: How can Mobile Technology help your business?" but mostly I was lured by the promise of a free drink in a swanky cocktail bar.

There were a a few geeks, lots of suits and at least one geek in suit’s clothing. Most of the geeks present were doing the actual talking. One of the Loose Connection bods gave an intro to WiFi. Alex Studd posed the question "do you really need an office?" although much of the talk focused on voice over IP. Tom Hume did a show and tell with mobile devices.

Tom’s talk was particulary witty and fun. It was like being at a tupperware party organised by Gizmodo.

I was introduced to some people in the local new media scene including someone from Wired Sussex who said:

"Oh, I recognise your face from your site on the Virtual Festival awards."

It turns out I’ve been nominated in the category of Best Personal Site. If you feel like casting a vote in my favour, by all means go ahead and do so. Although I have to admit that, as Midge Ure once put it, this means nothing to me.

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

(Type)face off

After reading this you might want to play this.

Favicon gallery

Michael Pierce is putting together an exhaustive annotated gallery of favicons. It’s quite inspiring.

Maybe it’s time I did a proper favicon for this site instead of the 16 x 16 pixel portrait which was really intended to be little more than a joke.

Monday, September 20th, 2004

Dark side of the brain

I was having an iChat with a friend, who I had previously considered to be a reasonably well-adjusted chap, when he asked me out of the blue if I had heard that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was an alternate soundtrack for The Wizard Of Oz.

My first thought was to keep him chatting long enough for me to contact the relevant mental health authorities but a little googling revealed that there was actually something to this.

Apparently if you start Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wizard of Oz at the same time, the one serves as an eerily synchronous soundtrack for the other. There are entire websites devoted to the phenomenon.

I like to think that I’m well up on my weird memes but this was a new one to me. I set Acquisition the task of downloading a pre-synched movie file so that I could investigate this strange synchronisity.

I watched it from start to finish and my conclusion is that some people have waaaaay too much time on their hands. You could probably achieve similar results by watching the evening news whilst playing Tiny Tim’s Greatest Hits.

What’s really puzzling is that none of the websites devoted to the Floyd/Oz meme ever mention the requirement of being completely stoned to fully comprehend the startling coincidences. I can only imagine how the hidden meaning of Pink Floyd’s album was discovered by some suitably wasted slackers:

"Dude, let’s watch The Wizard Of Oz."

"No man, let’s listen to Dark Side Of The Moon instead."

"Hey, why don’t we do both…"


Stay away from marijuana, kids. It’s a gateway drug that leads to DVD mash-ups.

Sunday, September 19th, 2004

Talk like a pirate day

Arrr, it do be that time of year again me hearties.

Put on your pirate swag and rev your Arrrrs. Then put your scurvy URLs through the pirate-speak generator.

Getting pirate news is mighty funny me hearties, but ‘tis twice as funny when the news is about pirates.

Friday, September 17th, 2004


Yesterday, I put some new music (ripped from CD) onto my iBook. I then transferred the music onto my iPod. Rather than transfer the same songs from my iBook to my iMac, I thought it would be simpler to plug the iPod into the iMac and transfer the songs from there.

Well, it turns out that I couldn’t do that. While I am allowed transfer my music in one direction, it is forbidden for me to transfer music in the opposite direction.

I guess this is meant to be some sort of anti-piracy measure but I find it hard to picture the circumstances whereby pirates distribute their booty via FireWire rather than peer-to-peer networks.

In the end, I simply copied the files over WiFi from my laptop to my desktop. In future, I’ll be able to avoid any such inconvenience.

iPodDownload is a plug-in for iTunes that allows you to move songs from your computer to your iPod. Really, this is something that should be built into the application by Apple. Instead of being happy that someone has plugged a glaring usability hole in their software, Apple have instead sicced their lawyers onto the developer of the plug-in.

Grab it while you still can.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2004

No rest for the wicked

Since getting back from my (extended) holiday in Florida, it’s been go go go. My workload was piling up while I was away and now I’m making up for lost time with Message and Semantico.

Not only that but, at the last minute, Salter Cane have been added to the line-up for a concert slap bang in the middle of the week. We’ve managed to squeeze in one band practice so hopefully we won’t be completely flying by the seat of our pants.

It never pains but it roars.

Enough of this spoonerist procrastination. It’s back to work for me.

Friday, September 10th, 2004

Farewell to Florida

It’s time for me to head back to Blighty. My stay in Saint Augustine wound up being longer than originally intended but there are worse places to be stranded for a few extra days.

In fact, Saint Augustine is a positively delightful little town with plenty to see and do. If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, be sure to visit the colonial Spanish quarter museum, the alligator farm, the lighthouse and the fort. If you find youself in need of refreshment I can heartily recommend the fried shrimp at O’Steens and the eclairs at Denoel’s French pastry shop.

I took plenty of photos on this trip, 854 to be exact. Digital camera + iBook + iPhoto = lots of fun. I’ve put together an impressionistic little gallery of some of my favourite pictures.

Thursday, September 9th, 2004

It's a funny old sci-fi world

The plan to have stunt pilots in helicopters catch a returning satellite didn’t work.

I think NASA were just thinking too low-tech. They need to take a leaf out of the European Space Agency’s book. They manage to get a probe looking at the dark side of the moon and suddenly they’re talking about setting up a lunar DNA repository.

I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a science fiction novel. When I read about toxic waste eating bacteria, I can even name the specific book.

Wednesday, September 8th, 2004

Storm chasing

If, like me, you have recently acquired hurricane fever, there’s a handy little freeware OS X application you might like. MegaTrack shows the current and projected paths of tropical storms using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration.

I wish I had found this last week.

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004

I've got the power

Praise Jeebus! Electricity has finally been restored to the beach house. It’s good to be back online.

Frances has well and truly finished its trail of destruction. It was responsible for some deaths and structural damage but it wasn’t quite the disaster that was first feared last week.

Oh, and it turns out that those DNS problems yesterday weren’t coincidental. This is from an email from Segment Publishing:

"Our outsourced servers were located in UUNet’s datacentre in Florida, where over two million people have recently lost power or evacuated. As such, once the servers went offline we were unable to get in contact with the provider, or access the servers to bring them back online."

It won’t be happening again though:

"We are now moving all DNS internally, and will be switching everyone over during the course of this week."

As anticipated, my flight back to the UK was cancelled. My apologies to any web agencies in Brighton awaiting my return. Now it looks like I won’t be flying back until Friday.

That is if Hurricane Ivan doesn’t get in the way…

Frances has passed us

The storm has passed.

We had a second night of noisy wind and rain but the house remained relatively unscathed. A gutter came down and the garden isn’t looking the best but, apart from that, everything’s okay.

There’s sand everywhere. Actually, it’s more like a silty mud while it’s still wet. Now I’ve witnessed beach erosion in action. It looks like most of the beach has been deposited on the windowsills and front porch of the house.

Yesterday afternoon, before the storm had reached its crescendo, we ventured outside in a brave and foolhardy manner. We wanted to simply walk a few steps down to the end of the garden, look out over the beach and see how big the waves were getting. The wind was pretty strong but what really made it uncomfortable was all the sand that was being driven through the air at high speed. I should have worn goggles. My eyes felt like they were being sand-blasted.

The only other outdoor activity involved a gas grill on the somewhat sheltered back porch. Rather than descend into complete barbarity, we used the gas grill to heat up a pot of water so that everyone could have a nice cup of tea. To anyone but the denizens of the British Isles, this might seem like strange behaviour. But just because we’re in the colonies, trapped by a tropical storm, that doesn’t mean we can’t remain civilised. Our stiff upper lips sipped on the very nectar of the British Empire. It was jolly refreshing, old bean.

After that, all our activity was of the indoor variety. If I had really thought ahead, I would have tried to get hold of a DVD of Key Largo to watch while Frances battered on the shutters. Instead, as I mentioned previously, I spent my time playing computer games. After I exhausted my batteries doing that, I retreated into books with background music provided by my iPod.

I finished reading Zodiac by Neal Stephenson and then cracked open a collection of alternative history short stories called ReVISIONS. It includes a story by Cory Doctorow that I had previously read in digital form.

A battery operated radio kept us informed of the storm’s progess. The radio station we were listening to was occasionally interrupted by series of beeps that preceded the tornado warnings that automatically cut into regular programming. That was kind of scary.

By this morning, there was still no power. The storm had abated enough for us to start taking down some of the plywood shutters to let in some light. It looked safe to venture outside. Before cabin fever overtook us completely, myself, Jessica and her brother Jeb ventured out in search of hot food and drink.

We found both at the wonderful Cafe Eleven. That’s where I’m sitting now, having a coffee and recharging my iBook’s battery. Unfortunately, they don’t have WiFi. We’ve already done a bit of wardriving trying to find a Starbucks or some other hotspot but with no luck. So I won’t get to post this until power is restored back at the house or a Starbucks opens, whichever comes first.

Monday, September 6th, 2004

Blow winds, blow

It was a fairly rough night last night. But it was all sound and fury signifying very little compared to today.

When I woke up, Frances well on its path across Florida. It has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm but it’s still pretty powerful. The wind has been howling all day and there’s been some strong squalls.

We still had power when I got up this morning. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give any updates here because, due to one of Murphy’s by-laws, there was something screwy with the DNS on all the Segpub servers. It never rains but it pours.

Early in the afternoon, the power went out. It’s been out ever since. Normally, losing electricity in the middle of the day wouldn’t have much effect but remember that the house has been boarded up so there’s no way for light to get in. We’ve been sitting around candles all afternoon.

I’ve exhausted my iBook’s battery (and a spare) playing "Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy" all day. Right now, I’m tapping away on my brother-in-law’s laptop before his juice runs dry: he’s got a dial-up account we can use to get online.

At least the DNS issues seem to be sorted out.

Sunday, September 5th, 2004

Crisis? What crisis?

Hurricane Frances is taking its own sweet time. For a while today it stopped completely off the coast of Florida.

The storm is now making landfall but it’s still moving really slowly. It looks like it’s going to pass us by as it makes its way across the peninsula. Because this is such a huge hurricane, we’re still going to get battered by high winds and rain.

Evacuation looks less and less likely. We’re going to hunker down instead.

Before that though, there’s still time to get in a round of mini golf. There’s a whole new dimension to the game when you play it in pre-hurricane conditions.

Jeb and Jessica with their clubs

Saturday, September 4th, 2004

The waiting game

Hurricane Frances seems to have weakened and slowed down a bit. This is a mixed blessing.

The weakening, now down to category two, is obviously a good thing although it’s still very powerful. The slowing down, from nine miles per hour to just four miles per hour, means that the hurricane is going to take a long time to pass and it’s going to dump a lot of water before it’s done.

The first outlying tendrils of the galaxy-shaped storm have begun to brush us. Windy squalls are whipping up occasionally, giving us a taste of what’s in store.

The beach house is now sealed up with plywood shutters and the waiting continues. The Weather Channel gets tedious after days of continual viewing so I’m going to escape into computer games. Whenever I’m in the States, I make the most of the Sterling/Dollar exchange rate and stock up on Mac games.

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

The approaching storm

Frances is getting closer to Florida. The good news is that, at the moment, it has decreased from a category four to a category three hurricane.

We still don’t know where it’s going to make landfall. It’s a big, lumbering, slow-moving storm so when it does hit, there’s going to be lots and lots of water dumped over a wide radius.

Jessica and I were down on the beach this morning looking at the surf being whipped up. It’s starting to get windy out there.

Waiter, there's music in my DRM

Microsoft has soft-launched its music downloading service. Naturally, lots of people are comparing it to the iTunes music store and evaluating their relative merits.

Frankly, it’s like comparing Pepsi and Coke when what you really want is a nice refreshing glass of water. They’re both tainted with junk that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Digital Rights Management is such a great phrase. It’s right up there up with “friendly fire” and “downsizing”.

Microsoft and Real are complaining about Apple’s refusal to open up their DRM for other services. Yet, they themselves have their own proprietary DRM.

So those are my choices: DRM from Apple, DRM from Microsoft, DRM from Real…

Meanwhile, I remain thirsty for music.

If these services simply sold MP3s, all this endless bickering could end right now. Could you imagine what it would be like if digital cameras used proprietary image formats? “To view these photographs you must use the following Operating System”… it would be crazy. But that’s exactly what’s happening with music.

This is a ridiculous situation. I can’t even download an album for charity because it’s encoded in a closed format that’s incompatible with the Operating System I choose to use. On the one hand, this album is supposed to appeal to my better nature because it will save lives. On the other hand, there is an assumption that rather than just listen to the music, I’ll want to illegally copy and distribute it.

What really gets to me is that fact that these DRM technologies aren’t going to stop any serious pirates. If I download a song from the iTunes music store, I can burn it to CD and then re-rip at as an MP3. I could then distribute it to all my friends… if I were a criminal. But, and here’s the important point, I. Am. Not. A. Criminal.

I’m a music fan.

Not only that, I’m a music fan with disposable income and I would absolutely love to download music online. I would prefer it to buying CDs. But as long as I’m being treated like a criminal, I will not download files that have been gummed up with DRM.

I’m not some sort of freakish fringe element. I’m right in the market demographic for Apple’s iTunes. I listen to all my music digitally. I own an iPod. I don’t feel the need to have my music on a physical device like a CD. But I want my music to be permanent. Just because I own an iPod today doesn’t mean I won’t own a different device in the future.

I want my MP3s. I currently have a few options for getting them:

Buy from the iTunes music store, burn to CD, rip as MP3s.

Buy a CD, rip as MP3s, use CD as coaster.

Fire up Acquisition, download MP3s.

If music services are serious about stopping piracy, they need to meet music fans like myself halfway. I want to give these services my money. All I ask in return is to be treated as a customer, not a potential thief.

Wouldn’t it be great if Microsoft were to truly break the mold and actually pay attention to what Cory Doctorow told them? I would gladly give them my money and crank up the bass.

The calm before the storm

Hurricane Frances is getting closer. People here in Saint Augustine have been stocking up on water and other supplies. Things are still quite calm here though.

We’ve started getting the house in order. Storm shutters are up. Various objects have been transferred to the garage.

Right now there’s a 30% chance that we might get a direct hit. If an evacution order is given for Saint Augustine Beach (where we are now), then it will probably be issued tomorrow. If that happens, then we’re going to decamp to Saint Augustine proper where Jessica’s grand aunt has a spacious, sturdy house. The only thing lacking in the house is internet access.

Right now the skies are clear and the surf is up… really up.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004

Putting the Anal back into Analysis

In an article entitled Apple’s missed opportunity, a certain Paul Jackson from Forrester Research has this to say about the new G5 iMac:

"Better still would have been a software option to turn this machine into a full Wi-Fi access point: Intel’s Grantsdale chipset already promises this functionality for PC owners. The lack of this connectivity means that Apple has missed an opportunity to build on its AirPort Express foundations and rule the roost in bottom-up networking."

Paul, go to Systems Preferences -> Sharing -> Internet and click on that big "Start" button.

The small print at the end of the article states:

"Information is based on best available resources."

Forrester, you’ve got some lousy resources.

Storm's a-coming

Since arriving in Saint Augustine, my days have settled into quite a pleasant routine.

While my afternoons are spent checking out the sights and tourist attractions of the old town, I spend my mornings down on the beach, splashing in the warm Atlantic water and soaking up the sun. I’m not used to thinking of the Atlantic as being warm. The water that washes up on Brighton beach is cold enough to demasculate brass monkeys. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same ocean.

I’ve been making good use of my camera. Here are some pictures of the beach.

Those scenes of sunshine are about to be replaced by much wetter, windier images. It looks as though my idyllic routine is about to be interrupted. Hurricane Frances is headed towards Florida.

Jessica and I discussed the possibility of trying to get an earlier flight back to the UK but we’ve decided to stick it out here. In fact, given the strong likelihood of delays and cancellations, we’ll probably end up staying longer than originally anticipated.

Time to batten down the hatches. We’ll have to spend tomorrow boarding up the beach house but we have a sound evacuation plan. Jessica’s great aunt lives further inland in a sturdy house on high ground. We have candles, food and some good books. I’ve also got my mandolin with me (so that’s the firewood problem solved then).

I reckon we’ll do just fine even though we haven’t stocked up on hurricane bacon.

ready crisp fully-cooked bacon: be prepared

Wednesday, September 1st, 2004

The new iMac

The new iMac has been released into the wild. From an engineering point of view, it’s quite a marvel. From a price/performance point of view, it’s also pretty marvelous: unbelievably good value. Doom 3 is going to scream on this thing.

However, I can’t help but think that, from a form/function point of view, it’s a bit of a step backwards. In my opinion, the anglepoise design of the G4 iMac was one of the finest feats of computer engineering performed by Apple or anybody else for that matter. Having used it constantly, I can testify to its ergonomic power. To be honest, I can’t imagine going back to anything else.

The new iMac still has a certain amount of vetical swivel but it’s clear that what they’re really pushing is the tiny footprint. It’s also abundantly clear from the marketing that Apple want to push the iPod connection. This is a machine that’s intended to be the heart of a digital hub without taking up much space.

I’m not going to pass judgement on the G5 iMac until I get to play with it in the flesh, so to speak. I’ve pooh-poohed other Apple products in the past on their release only to finding myself eating humble pie once I got my paws on them.

There is something that gives me hope for an anglepoised G5 iMac. There’s information on the Apple site about a soon to be released VESA wall mount. If the stand is indeed changable then that opens the door to third-party manufacturers. Any alternate stands would have to be finely engineered for balance but I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising hardware manufacturer comes out with an armature in the style of the G4 iMac.

Capturing alligators

I took a trip to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm today. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to check it out. It’s like Jurassic Park with a better safety record.

I took some pictures and I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. That makes quite a change. Since getting to Florida, I had been growing less and less satisfied with my digital camera. It seemed that all the pictures were very pale no matter what settings I used and all the colours seemed to bleed into one another. I had to constantly tweak the brightness and contrast levels in iPhoto.

I was seriously considering investing in a new camera when I discovered a much cheaper solution: I wiped the lens clean. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to think about how the humidity here in Florida would affect a glass surface like a camera lens when it was moved from an air-conditioned building to a swamp-like exterior. All my washed-out, soft-focus pictures had been the result of condensation.

In fact, far from contemplating a replacement for my digital camera, I’m finding new and better ways to use it. Rather than relying on fixed settings like sunny, cloudy, etc., I’ve been setting the white balance manually. Basically, I point the camera at something white and say "this is white, got it?" and it adjusts colours accordingly.

I’ve been getting great results doing this. However it does require that I have something white with me at all times.