MonthDecember 2005

Minority Report, as it would be summed up for a broadsheet newspaper headline

I was thinking about this, having noticed that the film was going to be on. Hmm, a group of official people who have the power to stop you ahead of time on suspicion that you might do something, according to rather hazy “rules” and reports, and fine you huge amounts or put you in prison…

Then I realised what it would be. The headline is, of course:

Health and Safety Executive gets extensive new powers

(Aside: I now find I can’t watch any film that has Tom Cruise in without observing the camerawork to see how they disguise the fact that he’s shorter than pretty much everyone else he works with. Such as – Cruise enters room, camera is well back and above everyone; as he walks into the room it pans down until it’s slightly below and in front of Cruise, who thus looks taller than other people because they’re seen past him. Let’s praise the camerafolk in Jerry Maguire, Minority Report and Collateral, everyone!)

Service Scrubber; and the man behind the Google-AOL deal

In The Guardian: why Google bought into AOL; and review of the year

It’s Thursday, so it’s The Guardian’s Technology supplement – the last of this year.

For the lead, I’ve written about why Google has bought into AOL. (Its valuation means everyone with an address is worth $769.23.. but you can’t pay your credit card off with that, I’m afraid). The reasons are simple: to avoid getting crushed like Netscape did. Worries that it’s going to pollute the Google search results are secondary, for the company, to have a business, for AOL was 10% of its revenues. Lose that to Microsoft, and you might never get back.

We’ve also done the review of the year

Adobe buys rival Macromedia for $3.4bn. The sale completes in December; it would have been faster if the lawyers had skipped the Flash intro.

Mozilla releases Version 1.5 of the Firefox browser. In the year since version 1.0, its market share has peaked at just under 9%. Supporters use graphs with false origins to show that with only 85%+ of the market, Internet Explorer is finished.

..which was a lot of fun to do, except for having to cut out the bits that we’d laboured over. That’s the agony of print. Interesting thing was that the games bloggers were unanimous that Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was the Worst game of the year, by a long chalk.

For The Guardian: video on demand bigger than you thought; beware the web cults; Creative Vision:M reviewed

Oops – I’ve missed including the stories I’ve written for The Guardian. I must have been busy editing the section or something…

In the 8th December issue of the Technology supplement, on the topic of video on demand. You think it’s something that’s only just happening? That’s because you’re using a computer. In fact the cable companies both in the US and UK are way ahead of them, and are already cornering the market – so that the computer companies might just be left with the crumbs of leftover licensing while the cable companies get the movies, TV series and soaps.

In the 15th December issue, I wondered about the way that people get so wound up about online things. Wikipedia – defenders and attackers. Scientology – defenders and attackers. Evolution – defenders and attackers. Apple – defenders and attackers. (I was then going to make a football joke, but I don’t care about football..) It’s like there’s a huge cult thing going on. Why is that, then?

In the same issue: review of the Creative Vision:M (“The bar for digital music players has been raised rather high by Apple’s launch first of its iPod nano and then of the iPod video. Creative, makers of the Soundblaster sound cards and the No 2 worldwide in MP3 player sales, has clearly decided to have a go at vaulting it – and with the Vision:M has arguably achieved that”) and the possiblity of “iPod houses” – as put forward by James Woudhuysen.

Airport economics: the really high price of internet access

  • Airport Economics
    The guys at Rogue Amoeba discover that the lunch definitely isn’t free if you’re exhibiting at Macworld, and neither is the internet access. $1,000 for four days? $36 per hour? Eek!
  • The most wonderfully fake Apple site

    Welcome to internet sales division
    of Apple Computers Company!

    I think that managing seven grammatical errors in four sentences is some kind of record. If these guys aren’t phishing, then they really should consider a different line of business. Hysterical.

It’s gloomy news: how to work out the sunrise, sunset and twilight times..

Living in the country (as I do) one is much more aware of what time it gets dark in the evening and light in the morning. But what I really wanted was a way to know just when it would get light, or dark, by day through the year.

Here’s how you do it.

1) Visit the RGO Edinburgh site with its “how to work out your sunrise and sunset times” page. (Actually you can leave out this step, but as I found the rest out from them, I thought it fair to point back there.)
2) Find out the lat/long of where you live from (weirdly enough) this astrological site by typing in the name and (not necessarily) country.
3) Plug the lat/long into the US Naval Observatory’s Astronomical Applications Department – it will give you the sunrise/sunset times and also “civil twilight” (when you can’t see enough to do anything) and even “military twilight” (which has its own particular, weird meaning).
4) Don’t forget BST, which begins in late March and ends in late October.

And this shows that at present.. sunrise at 8.07am?? Twilight only ends around 7.27am? I bet there’s a greater incidence of SAD in rural locations.

Now all I need is for someone smart to write a little menu extra or floating widget or similar with this tiny piece of data embedded..

Oh, and don’t tell anyone till tomorrow, but that’s the last NDA I’ll sign

Last week I signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement; all these things must be TLAs – three letter acronyms, yes?) so that I could get some more information about something that was happening so I could judge whether it would be worth going along to the press conference.

The NDA contained all sorts of terrifying warnings about how I could be sued for zillions of pounds and so on if I were to breathe a word about what I had discovered.

Waste of time that was. The news came out anyway, through other channels, leaving me wondering whether it was worth the effort of reading through the small print of the NDA to see whether I was now allowed to write it up, or not.

And today, I’ve been asked by another company to go with an NDA for a piece of news that I cut into my day for, to learn something that probably isn’t going to make the paper; and to top it all, this is being asked retrospective to the interview. I’m only not refusing point-blank because I think it would bring many buckets of poo down on the head of the PR person involved, whose fault I don’t really think it is.

But to be honest, I really can’t be bothered with all this. I’ve had it with NDAs. I’ve signed them and then found that they tied my hands over where I could write things; and also that they held me back from writing things that then came out in the public domain anyway, and which I might have found out through doing a bit of journalism, rather than being spoon-fed (from a spoon with a padlock on.. as that’s the best metaphor I can think of). And what’s more is that these days, with the web and blogs and everything else, any piece of news will come out, on time – which means you can reuse it pretty much immediately – or ahead of time. NDAs just don’t serve any useful purpose for me as a journalist any more.

Not saying that this applies to every journalist, but I’ve tried them, and it’s not been a good experience. So in future, I’ll just say No. It may not have worked in the war on drugs, but as I was discussing with James Woudhuysen today, it’s only the Wars on Abstract Nouns (Cancer, Drugs, Terror) that have failed so far. Wars on NDAs should be much simpler.

An iPod quirk: you haven’t played a song until you’ve played it all

I’m presently trying to listen to all of the music in my collection, which comprises 7,096 items which, iTunes tells me, would take 21 days, 9 hours, 45 minutes and 45 seconds to play the whole lot of. Typically, of course, you only listen to about 10 per cent of those (and also, a whole chunk of those are Harry Potter, for the kids to listen to at some stage).

But I thought I’d even it up by creating a smart playlist of songs which haven’t been played in the past 366 days. It’s quite a big number – 21GB, 5,161 items, about 16 days of listening (including the HPs). So I put a randomly-chosen 1GB subsection of that on the iPod and just play it. Next time you sync, those songs you’ve listened to will have a “Last Played” in the last year, so they’ll disappear from your smart list.


Some tracks, though, you discover you just can’t bear to listen to. (I find some of Eminem’s early stuff just too teeth-grinding). So naturally you hit the fast-forward button, and go on to the next song.

But what I’ve discovered is that if you skip past the end of a song like that, the iPod doesn’t think you’ve played it – and it doesn’t have a Play Count. Strikes me as a bit weird: what’s the sense in that? Why does it only record a song as having been “played” if you’ve reached the end of it?

On second thoughts, forget I wrote. Oh, you already have..

An email winged its way into my inbox the other day relating to a site I help with:


You have reached Andrew L.

I’m protecting myself from receiving junk email by using Challenge/Response Spam Protection.


Please follow the directions below to make sure I receive the email you just sent me.

And there’s the usual stuff where you click a web link to prove you really exist. (Like no spammer could automate that? But that’s not their plan, of course.)

I’m soooo bored with Challenge-Response, which was a bad idea when it was introduced, and remains so, because it ties up time. It’s probably making plenty of money for various companies, since they barely have to do anything except maintain a list of allowed addresses for each person. All it does is, what, double the amount of email going around the system? I email, C-R system emails back, I click a web link, the email goes through.

If, that is, I bother to click the link. However, I personally feel that anyone immature enough to need a C-R system really shouldn’t be on the Net. They need stabilisers.

To understand why I dislike it so much, just consider if *everyone* used C-R. We’d hardly ever hear from people we’d not been contacted by before, because it would be such a pain. Anyone running a website of any size is going to be inundated with these things, and give up in frustration.

It’s midday on December 1st… and the calendars are on the 25th (the chocolate ones)

I’ve already eaten my way through one chocolate Advent calendar here at work. I think I may have to shift to the Today version, which has the advantage of being completely calorie-free. And amusing.