Signs of the end of Civilisation

Returning to my local grocery store, I discover that they have built a tiny instore Starbucks, and attached stupid drinks holders to all the trolleys. I mean really.

And they are selling Valentine Candy.

If that doesn't herald the end of the world in 2007, I don't know what does.

This new year, I shall be mostly falling asleep at 9pm due to accumulated jetlag. I suggest you try it too.


And... relax

So many things to do in the next hour before I set off for the unknown. So I will do the obvious: have a nice hot bath. It might be a while before I get the chance again.


A real Stonebreaker

A lot of spam uses randomly chosen text from elsewhere to try to defeat filters. The spam itself is mostly centered around an image, which my email client usually chooses to ignore. The below text came as part of a pump and dump scam, but it avoided gmails filters, and confused my mental filters as well:

"That is a valid, though not too common, situation.
It is addressed to Michael Stonebraker.
One type of question I commonly receive has to do with choosing a DBMS. Other organizations tend to be more liberal and often are willing to consider alternative architectures. As he is trying to stuff them into the overhead compartment the flight attendant tells him that the won't fit and he'll have to check his bags. There are a lot of SQL books on the market - some of them very good. Indeed, businesses today are gathering and storing more data than ever before. " CSM: The object folks always want to tightly-couple code and data. Or blogs like this one, for that matter!"

In a rush, as usual

Trying to get everything done before I depart tomorrow, as usual. Probably will, but no chance to relax till safely on the plane, it seems. Just so you can trace my movements, the schedule now seems to have settled into the following:

Dec 15 EWR
Dec 16 LHR
Dec 17 New Delhi
Dec 18--20 Kanpur
Dec 21 Agra
Dec 22 LHR
Dec 23--26 Maidstone
Dec 27 Cambridge
Dec 28--29 London
Dec 30 EWR
Dec 31-Jan 1 MD?
Jan 2 onwards NJ

Again, on the offchance that we coincide in time and space in any of these, leave a comment, or keep it to yourself.


Fun and Stuff

Today I have mostly been Christmas shopping. The thing is, when you are lucky enough to be on the very short list of people for whom I buy presents, you don't just get the gift, you get the gift of my thought and attention. This is particularly noticeable this year when my brother requested an MP3 player; I had to use all my skill and knowledge to seek out just the right combination of quality, options and battery life based on my deep insight into what my brother would want. I'm now trying to buy a digibox for my dad. It's a hard life.

My other brother was more helpful, inasmuch as he specified the exact catalogue number and colour options of the product he wanted from Ikea, so I jetted off to pick it up this afternoon. I had thought that no one in their right mind would have been in there on and it should be fairly quiet on a late sunday afternoon when you should be out Christmas shopping (I mean, what kind of crazy person would do their Christmas shopping at Ikea?); however, I was much mistaken, and the place was full of people standing in my way and generally cluttering the place up. Inspired by the example of the Offensive Mango, and act more like a twunt, albeit a polite one. That is, instead of stopping for people who were blocking the way and waiting for them to get out the way, I instead speeded up and walked towards them. This had surprising success in that people did start to get out of the way. I still had to stop short for a couple of small children sliding suddenly in front of me (I'm sure children didn't have wheels when I was that age).

I made use of the IKEA cages, where if you are shopping along you can lock up your purchases temporarily while you bring your car around to pick them up again. Which gave me the idea that this must be a good place to pick people up: just hang around there and offer to help, and you're sure to score. Or get picked up for acting suspiciously and accused of thieving flat pack bookcases.

I do enjoy Christmas shopping though, mostly because I seem to end up walking away with more stuff for myself than for other people. I went into a nearby branch of "We are toys", even though I don't have any friends under the age of 20. So I arrived at the checkout with some gifts solely for myself. I was again confronted with the request for my phone number. Emboldened this time (since when do you need a phoone to buy toys), I replied "Er... no?", which seemed an acceptable answer (the cashier typed in "999 999-9999" on her screen). So, I recommend this to everyone in future. Not only does it save your privacy, it's also a lot faster than dictating it and correcting them when they read it back to you wrongly three times.

Another purchase was the new Stefani album, based solely on the strength of the fantastic first single. How can you not like a bass-heavy song that samples extensively from The Lonely Goatherd by Scary Mary? It ends with the fantastic line "I know he thinks you're fun and stuff, but does he know how to wind you up?", suggesting that her ideal man is Jeremy Beadle. According to the liner notes, it's actually 'fine and stuff', but I much prefer my version. Following various people's advice, I bought the CD so I can rip it and listen to it at my pleasure, but much to my irritation, I discovered that it was the 'edited version' when I got it home. My mistake for not checking, I suppose, but still irksomely worrying, and I may have to recourse to the Internet to somehow recover a rendition of the product that I thought I had bought. Equally disappointing is that there don't seem to be any other tracks that are of equal quality to the first track; I'll listen again (possibly to the unedited version) to see if I can find any other stand out tracks, but they mostly seem to be on the more inisipid ballady end of things, rather than the electropoppy shouty stuff that I seem to prefer.


Stop hitting me!

Hmm, I notice a light flashing that shouldn't be flashing, and I detect that someone is trying to hit me on the SSH port emanating from, which resolves to webmail.goodv.com. This appears to be a private mail domain for "Good Vibrations", which (through google results only) appears to be some kind of "Adult Toy Store". Have they been hacked, I wonder, or are they woefully off course? They seem to have gone away now, I will have to configure SSH so it lets me know who has logged in and when, just in case...

Why not try...

Why not try creating a user-compiled encylopedia about every aspect of the new Nintendo gaming system, and call it Wiikipedia?


I don't come here to be insulted...

A quite staggering insult winged its way into my inbox from a most unexpected direction today -- from the editor of a journal to whom I'd sent a polite enquiry as to the status of a paper that I'd submitted there about six months ago. This was a paper that had been invited to a special edition of the journal of the best papers from conference X:

I have checked the status of your manuscript. The editor to whom the paper
has been assigned has been inviting reviewers but all the
invited reviewers have declined reviewing the paper. He has invited some
more, and hopefully some will accept. Usually we do not have problems in
finding reviewers for a paper, but sometimes it happens that nobody wants to
review a paper (fortunately, I had only another case like this since 2001).
To me, this is a sign that the paper is not very interesting; I wonder how it
got accepted to X Conference. So you will need to be patient.

Well, that told me.


Fetch the engine...

My plans of getting everything I need to get done in a day usually don't work out quite as I planned (hence why it's half past midnight when I write this). Today's plan went awry around 11.30AM when I had to evacuate my apartment due to, er, the house being on fire.

Four fire engines came (unfortunately, my neighbour called 911 before I got a chance. I've always wanted to call 911) and dealt with the matter in short shrift, but it took a while for the smoke to clear and the all clear to be sounded.

This was the culprit: a dodgy tumble dryer. Mmm, charry.


No ID, no service

I went to get a haircut yesterday, since my hair was getting in my eyes and blocking my vision. I was a little taken aback when the first question I was asked on arrival at the barbery was "What is your phone number?". I wasn't entirely sure what this might have to do with my coiffeurist needs, but was not in the mood to take a stand on personal privacy (I know, one should always be in such a mood, but I wasn't). The proceeded to to demand my name and home address. Whatever happened to the anonymous haircut? Someone, somewhere has a database of everyone who has a haircut, and I don't know about you, but I find that disturbing.

What I found the more disturbing, however, was the outcome of the haircut. As I said, the hair was getting in my eyes and blocking my ears, but otherwise wasn't too much of a problem; so I requested that they attend to the front and sides, but otherwise leave it much as it was. It was only subsequent to my return home and a more careful perusal in the bathroom mirror that I realized that I had inadvertantly specified the definition of a mullet.

Pick a counter, any counter

Seems that when I accidentally clicked on a button last week and moved this blog to the new "Beta.blogger" service (not to be confused with beta blockers), I also somehow broke the webcounter with which I've been surreptitiously monitoring everyone who comes here to waste their time reading my screeds. Since it was about time I upgraded it, I needed to choose a new counter from the many millions of free web counters available. But I was too lazy to do any research and find one that I liked. So I decided to use the wisdom of crowds instead. I grabbed a recent snapshot of about half a million blogger blogs, got the ids of all websites linked to, sorted these by frequency, categorised the top hundred most frequent URLs, and found the most commonly used counter amongst all of these, and went ahead and installed it. Turns out that this was easier than any of the alternatives.

Anyway, please welcome my new friend: statcounter (he's on my left, your right).

In search of online music

I've decided that I've finally come to the point in my life where I want to find the right online music service. I have drafted a list of requirements heretofore:

1. Open format. No DRM. MP3 or OGG for me, please. I want something that I can listen to on the computer, on my mp3 player, or whatever, and that I can convert to new formats as new innovations come along. I don't want PlaysForSureTM, I want just Plays.

1a. (corollary to 1.) Everything has a price. I don't want anything for "free". Things that come for free on the internet are usually lumped in with some pain in the posterior spyware, adware or crippled terms of use (see above DRM note). I want to pay a reasonable amount for music, not get it for free and pay in other ways.

2. Buy what I want, when I want. No stupid 'subscription models'. I want to buy nothing for six months and then splurge out on half a dozen albums, without fretting about whether I have exceeded my monthyl download limit, or whatnot.

3. Range. I want a service that has what I want, which is typically mainstream/obscure requests such as a cover of Observatory Crest by Mercury Rev, or that song by Regina Spektor which has got stuck in my head. I don't have the time or patience to scour mp3blogs or P2P services for this stuff, I want to pay for it so I can find it without messing about.

4. (optional) Reputable seller. I'd prefer not to entrust my credit card details to a borderline illegal service which may turn out to be affiliated to organized crime. As a minimum requirement, I'd like a service that does actually accept my credit card, rather than is rejected by the CC service for whatever spurious reasons the pair of them can come up with.

So my simple question is, does such a service exist? All of the ones I can think of seem to fail on one or more of these points. The point being, until the music industry can sort itself out to meet these fairly minor requirements, they will lose my custom, and I'll go back to obtaining my music the old fashioned way: by buying up cheap secondhand CDs on Amazon marketplace and then ripping them onto my harddisk, just like my grandparents used to do...


What don't we need?

Where to begin?

[embedded youchoob vidjo]



Did you enjoy braindead computer game conversion to movie Doom last year?

Then you'll be sure to love the braindead conversion to movie of the computer game Doom 2.

What do you mean, silent h?

To the movies

I ventured out into the cold winter evening to the cinematograph for the viewing of the latest installment of the james bond franchise. A quite jolly outing all told, with a nice freerunning sequence, although surprisingly less impressive than some of the "non-fiction freerunning that can be seen, for example here.

But before all of that I was forced to sit through multiple showings of an execrable trailer for an execrable film with will smith in it (will smith?) callled The pursuit of happyness. At no point is there any explanation for the horrific spelling error in the title. It does contain the unforgettable line "I can't stop; I'm in a competitive internship for Dean-Witter", which surely trumps "Let me through, I'm a doctor".


Belated follow up

About two years ago, I put out a mild plea for help in finding my ideal screensaver (what?). I wanted one that would show my photos on a PC in a nice way, without the kind of hideous transition effects that people who use powerpoint too much seem to think are a good idea. Well, after two years, including starting a job, quitting it and finding another, I finally found what I was looking. The key was the right set of keywords to search with, which, peculiarly, were not anything you might think of like "screensaver" or "photos", which even in combination are far too vague and turn up thousands of tedious low quality pages. Instead, the magic words were "Ken Burns" (I'll leave it up to you to work out why those are the right words). Armed with these, I found the lovely "iSlideshow screensaver", which does pretty much exactly what I want (it has some problems with scaling to my secondary cloned TV/monitor, but so does everyone). Perhaps it didn't help that the software seems to date back only to 2005 when I was looking for something like it in 2004.

Anyway, more later perhaps but must dash now since it's getting on for 9.30pm and the turkey really ought to be done by around now...


I'm crushing your TEX

Question: when you spend about 24 hours working over the weekend, before a 3-day week, are you justified in slacking off for the rest of the week? Somewhat redundant question, I suppose, since it's going to happen whether you want it to or not (I find it rather hard to concentrate the day after working fourteen hours solid up to midnight).

My weekend was spent in an exercise which can principally be summarized as "going against the spirit of LaTeX and trying to crush material down into a suitably small format". Perhaps ironically, by was of a change, today I am preparing a paper for proceedings, which seems to mostly involve trying to fit more material into the available page budget. Ah well...


Comin' straight out of earlsdon...

Another youchoobmoovie. For the warwick missive...

Fun with Brainteasers

YouTube video that won't show up in the RSS feed:

This is what I am like with most brainteasers. Try asking me something new.


I'm not saying that Google is entirely self-obsessed...

...but if you search for "earth" on Google, the first result is google earth...

[I suppose you could say that "if you google earth you get google earth", but the Google thought police wouldn't like me saying that.]


With a soda on the side

Your needless irritant of the day: The Chicken Noodle Soup Song!

Now, compare and contrast:

Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with a Soda on the Side

Peanut Butter Jelly
Peanut Butter Jelly
Peanut Butter Jelly with a baseball bat!

Mmm, bad american food.


Get Out

Today is a very important day, politically. Mid-term elections are happening across the US that can have a major effect on the political climate for years to come. Therefore, I am using this opportunity to deeply, sincerely and urgently insist that you do the right thing, and don't vote.

It is very important that you don't vote for the following reasons:

1. You do not live in America. Although you would not believe it if you read some blogs, these elections are happening in a small corner of the world. Fewer than 5% of people live in America, and most of you don't. So don't vote.

2. You live in America, but are not a US citizen. Many people are like me -- living in the US, but not a US citizen. Therefore, it will be very difficult to vote -- you'd have to lie or cheat your way onto the rolls, and run the risk of a serious prosecution. So keep life simple, and don't vote.

3. You only came to this web page because you were searching for "barbara bush naked" or "dervla kerwin pics" or "kelis milkshake explanation". You are a craven lustful idiot driven by base carnal instincts. You are not to be trusted with a live democracy. Fortunately, you are probably only reading this six months later. But still, today and forever more, please don't vote.

4. You are part of the sinister secret conspiracy of the military-industrial complex that has been trying to monitor my thoughts (despite my fetching tin-foil beanie). Well, honestly, since you control the outcome of all elections electronically from your secret Boulder, Colorado headquarters (well, would you go to Boulder, Colorado? Therefore, perfect hiding place), it doesn't really make a difference. But please don't vote.

Therefore, in conclusion, for all the reasons and many more, it is vital for you-- indeed, more than this, it is your duty-- to not vote today in the US elections. Come on, polls are only open for at most, what, 12 more hours or so? How hard can it be for you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and not vote? It's not like your one vote will make a difference anyway. Thankyouverymuch.


Music for the masses

We haven't had a quiz around here in quite some time. So, for want of something better to do, here's a pointless music lyrics quiz.

Now, we all know that there is only one way of listening to music, which is via direct implant into the cerebellum. But in the ancient past of the 20th century, people used all kinds of crazy methods to listen to their music, and then wrote songs about it. Your task is to find (reasonably well known) songs whose lyrics include references to the following devices, and to quote the full line or lines:

1. Transistor Radio

2. 78s

3. 45

4. AM Radio

5. Walkman

6. 8-track

7. CD [player]

8. Reel-to-reel [tape recorder]

9. Gramophone

10. Dansette

For about half of these I have a specific song in mind; for the other half, I'm not entirely sure, but I'm fairly sure you'll be able to find something. If you want to cheat you can probably do all manner of internet searches, but I'd prefer it if you search your brain the old-fashioned way. I mean, it's not like there's going to be a prize or anything... If you prefer you may add your own, such as "LP": 'Sex began in 1963 between the chatterley ban and the beatle's first LP', from Philip Larking.


Bizarre Phishing Antics

Now that the spam filter is up and running, I'm looking more closely at those messages that do evade it. Rather intruigingly, the odd one or two (corresponding to a roughly 98% success rate) that do get through seem to be spam that is not very good at what it intends to do. The latest that fell through the net is from "Kerri" (why doesn't the spam filter also have a trigger for emails sent from a single first name?), although the email address is Chelsea@somewhere, and the message is signed "wbr, Hope" [with best regards?].

The message itself is "I've accidently found your photo at a flickr and i'm very interested in it. Can you tell me what place i can see in the background of it?" That immediately tells me it's rubbish since I don't have an account on flickr (similarly, given the amount of phishing attacks, I am trying to avoid having accounts on ebay, paypal and amazon so as to avoid any doubt). There's a link. In the plain text version, the link is to the implausible address:

which isn't going to work for anyone; in the HTML version, there is a link (which doesn't even bother trying to hide where it goes to) to http://www.9ebeauty.com/flickr.html.

So, fairly sure that I can explore with no danger to myself, I take a look.

9ebeauty.com is a rather odd site that apparently sells massage tables and broken english. The /flickr.html page is an HTML version of a flickr page. And, er, that seems to be mostly it. There's no photo, just some static text saying "photo loading". There are links to login to flickr which lead to the genuine log in pages. At first glance, there seems to be nothing more suspicious than a 1x1 pixel iframe containing a counter hosted on a machine identified only by IP address. That IP address resolves to rbnnetwork, the "Russian Business Network", which apparently is associated with spammers in the past. But still, it doesn't seem to actual be anything more than a counter. Except that actually going to the URL gives an apparent 404 (a closer investigation suggests that it is actually succesfully (200) serving up a page that looks like a 404...)

So, an unconvincing spam email leading to a lame flickr rip off, with a counter. What's the point of that, then? I suppose it looks like a trial run. An attempt to see what new phishing scams are the most enticing. But really, why bother? Why not have some pay off? What would be the point of stealing Flickr log-ins? Or is it an attempt to draw people in and then infect them with spyware or zombies? It makes you wonder sometimes.



Compare and contrast:

Principia Discordia, the sacred book for worshippers of Eris [...] has been reprinted by Ronin press, which is claiming a copyright to the work.

The Principia Discordia, written by Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill, was released into the public domain when it was first published by the authors in 1965.


...the simplistic style in which they are written is partly explained by the fact that the editors, having to meet a publishing deadline, copied the information off the back of a packet of breakfast cereal, hastily embroidering it with a few footnoted in order to avoid prosecution under the incomprehensibly tortuous Galactic Copyright laws.

It is interesting to note that a later and wilier editor sent the book backwards in time through a temporal warp, and then successfully sued the breakfast cereal company for infringement of the same laws.

Oh, the irony linking to a web version of the most definitely still in-copyright RatEotU.


I'll have a P please Bamber

I recently finished reading "Starter for Ten" by David Nicholls. I first heard about the book after watching a documentary on BBC4 about the history of the campus novel, where the author was one of the talking heads. Since I'd heard of or read most of the others featured in the piece (Amis, Bradbury, Lodge, Brodge, etc.), I was curious to see what he had done, and tracked the book down on Amazon. It had pretty good reviews, and although it hasn't been officially released in the US, I was able to order a copy from a second hand store through z-shops for a few bucks. It arrived soon after and, somewhat to my surprise turned out to be a signed copy (with no dedication though). Either that, or someone else has scrawled "David Nicholls" on the frontispiece for no particular reason.

It's quite a good book. I won't say too much specific about the book itself, you can read it (or the reviews of amazon for that). Although I did enjoy it for the most part, I really didn't like the ending all that much; it wasn't sufficiently unambiguously redemptive for the fact that the protagonist is increasingly idiotic and self-absorbed throughout. Perhaps it's a mark of success that I cared about the characters sufficently to feel short-changed by an ending based around a carefully choreographed piece of weak farce. The clunky coda set the balance a little straight, I suppose.

What I did find most interesting is that it made me very nostalgic, not for my own undergraduate days, but for a time before then: it was very reminiscent of how I imagined University life would be like. The reality was quite different, considerably less melodrama and angst, but also a lot less awkwardness and pratfalls. I'd contrast it with the other campus novel that I read earlier this year, Five Point Someone. The setting could not be more different (an IIT versus an unspecified British university), yet the themes are familiar: coming of age, academic failings and pining for a girl. They even culminate in a similar way: a climactic act of transgression. 5PS is less well written, and has fewer stand out comedy sections in comparison to SF10, but the ending is gentler and more upbeat. I must just be a big softie at heart.

I had to finish reading SF10 since I learn that there is a film version due out any minute now, and I didn't want to be spoiled by clips from the film. I'm quite curious to see how it turns out, to see how a medium length book covering the crucial first six months of university will get clipped down to a crisp 90 minutes. There's also the perennial question of how the fairly well painted characters will translate onto the screen. The casting choices are interesting, mostly because through some weird coincidence or design, the two main female parts are being played by actresses who share the same name as the character they play, and who are daughters of famous theatrical figures (check out the movie page on IMDB for more information). People have been talking about the film somewhat excitedly, as if this could be the next four weddings and a funeral. Someohow, I think it's just as likely that it will be the next Inbetweeners. What, you don't remember Inbetweeners? A fairly insignificant piece of university based fluff that may never have received a theatrical release but sneaked out on to a limited video release; notable solely for the cameo of Johnny Ball as a doddering lecturer; production values notably inferior to G103. Yes, of course I've seen it. I still have a copy on VHS lodged in a secure location in Kent, and might even get around to rewatching it at Christmas time if I have nothing better to do.

The main plot of the book (and presumably film) centres around University Challenge. I sometimes wish that I had a tame American conveniently to hand, so that I could show them the episodes of the show that I covertly acquire. I think the idea of a programme consisting solely of two teams of university students trying to answer relatively obscure questions about the arts and science would befuddle them. "But... where are the scorpions? The sound effects? The prominent sponsorship deals? The attractive ladies in skimpy attire? The million dollar prizes?..." they would gibber in plain disbelief that such a show could survive for more than twelve seconds without being cancelled.

For those unfamiliar with this bizarre British institution, then why not check out this helpful clip of the show on YouTube, taken from the recent retrospective documentary, Time Trumpet. It doesn't really explain anything about the quiz, but does at least partially explain why for the last month I've been wandering around muttering "Venezuela, Venezuela?" to myself in a silly nasal voice.


Samba, spam and more

I had planned to, you know, leave the house or something today, but instead I was overtaken with the pressing need to organize my electronic life some more.

First up was dealing with the vast amounts of spam that I am now receiving (see recent postings on this very issue. The previous solution, a hand crafted procmail script, was no longer getting a tolerable false positive/false negative trade off. I started trying to see whether I could get spamassassin up and running on my email somehow. The first hint that this might be easier than I had anticipated was the fact that spamc appeared to exist on the system my email arrives on. spamc is a client program that sends email to a daemon process to get checked for spam. But, after some playing around, I couldn't seem to get anything to happen. Then I happened (thanks to google desktop archiving my email) that someone else had their email checked by spamassassin, and the headers of their email helpfully indicated the IP address of a local machine doing the checking. Googling (yes, I'll use this as a verb; I've been happily Hoovering my apartment for many years without the world coming to an end) this IP address led to better instructions as to how to set up procmail to call spamc with this machine identified as the daemon. And now all is well: my old procmail script still does the necessary sorting into incoming folders, but it now collects the information from spamassassin, and files all spam directly into my spam folder. All I need now is a few more genuine emails in order to check it's not just dumping everything in there...

Next in line was sorting out ssh across my machines, and ensuring that rsync works properly across the network. ssh was fine; I played around with authorized_keys, and pretty soon I was able to log in and out across machines without needing to enter passwords. Emboldened by my success, I then tried to get rsync running. I started getting hangs in the middle of transfes, which turns out to be a common problem. After a lot of messing around, I concluded that this is just a failing of cygwin+rsync+ssh, and should give this up as a bad lot. Instead, I set things up with windows shares instead. For the long term, and for external connections I'll have to find something else, possibly involving running an rsync daemon. But that can wait for a while.


Fusking Boing Boing

Here's another BoingBoing post that shows quite staggering disregard for mathematics, science, or even correctly copying information from the original story. For some reason this has particularly irritated me this afternoon.

A group of British mathematicians Where in the story does it say that these people are mathematicians? Sure, they may do mathematics, but there is no evidence one way or another that their job is to do maths.

have hit on some kind of secret formula for playing the lotto Where in the story does it say that they have "some kind of secret formula"? It says that they tried a particular heuristic they apparently won the jackpot (assuming that it refers to the most recent drawing on Saturday, whose jackpot of 5.3M GBP = the 13M AUD in the article.

and are raking in millions They won once. That's hardly raking in the millions, any more than someone who puts in 6 randomly chosen numbers and wins the jackpot 'rakes in the millions'.

So, the facts: syndicate of people who work at Bradford Uni plays the lottery every week for eight years, using a particular system for four years wins the lottery once. Not particularly newsworthy, and certainly not worth the screaming hype and spin from BB.

Lastly, from the original article: "Most of us believe winning lotto is down to the luck of the draw. But a syndicate of university professors and tutors in Britain thought it could also be related to the principles of mathematical probability. "

That has to be the most inane tautology I've seen in a long time...

Advance warning

My travel plans for the winter solstice are mostly solidified now. They look as follows:

15 Dec Depart NYNJA (New York/New Jersey Area)
16 Dec 9am -- 11am GMT Array myself enticingly over seating in London's Heathrow Airport
17 Dec 1am Arrive Delhi International Airport. Sleep (or not). Travel onward to Kanpur.
21 Dec Travel from Kanpur to Delhi via Agra (oops, that'll set off the spam filters).
22 Dec 7.30ish, arrive back in LHR, slink off to Maidstone to sleep for a few days.
30 Dec 18.30 depart LHR for EWR.

This leaves me a few days after christmas (27-29) to explore the glorious UK. I'll certainly be passing through London, and may detour out to Cambridge to check that it's still there, but apart from that, I don't plan to travel too far. But if you're in the vicinity of any of those places, let me know via the usual means of communication.


Dialogue for an edgy sit-com

Feel free to use the following in any sitcoms you may be writing as appropriate:

"Good morning Mister, er, Raghead?"
"It's pronounced 'Rajid'"


Urgent Message

Received the following urgent message apparently mistakenly sent to my gmail account:

Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2006 05:57:37 -0500 (CDT)
FROM: 972658xxxx@mobile.mycingular.com


No idea what that's about, but it must be important if they have to shout so much.

Robin Hoo?

Have been watching the not particularly exciting new Robin Hood adaptation. Most of all I was struck that one of the outlaws seemed to sound exactly like Vic Reeves. I was having one of my usual "is it just me?" moments, but according to the custard, it's not just me. Thank goodness for that.


So that's how it works

I've had the following link sitting around in a tab for a while, so I want to write it up and get rid of it:

They figured that over the time their grandmother rented the phones, she spent $14,000 in rental fees.

It turns out that the widow is not alone. Some 750,000 people continue to rent rotary phones from Lucent, the AT&T spinoff that now manages the phone service.

For a very long time I have wondered how Lucent made its money, and I think this is probably as close to an answer as I'm likely to get.

The time, the place

Last email related mining malarkey for a year or so, I promise. With the sent mail, I was also interested to see when I sent it. The breakdown by day is as follows:
Monday: 17%
Tuesday: 18%
Wedneday: 17%
Thursday: 17%
Friday: 16%
Sunday: 9%
(rounded, so they may or may not add up to 100). Conclusion: I really do seem to slack off on the weekend. Or else no one sends me anything worth replying to on weekends.

By hour, using my patented text based histograms:

9.75 ##
9.50 ##
9.25 ##
9.00 ##
8.75 ####
8.50 ####
8.25 ## ## ######
8.00 ## ## ######
7.75 ## ## ######
7.50 #### ## ######
7.25 #### ## ######
7.00 #### ##########
6.75 ###### ##########
6.50 ###### ##########
6.25 ###### ##########
6.00 ##################
5.75 ####################
5.50 ####################
5.25 ####################
5.00 #################### ##
4.75 #################### ##
4.50 #################### ##
4.25 #################### ##
4.00 ##########################
3.75 ############################
3.50 ############################
3.25 ############################
3.00 ############################
2.75 ############################
2.50 ############################
2.25 ############################
2.00 ##############################
1.75 ##############################
1.50 ##############################
1.25 ##############################
1.00 ##############################
0.75## ################################
0.50## ################################
0.25## ##################################
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 91011121314151617181920212223

What's interesting is that there is a non-zero amount of email sent 2am -- 7am, when I am usually very much asleep. A very unscientific check suggests that this is almsot entirely messages sent from my US based email system when I am in a different timezone and so local time is much closer to something reasonable. I really don't like to stay awake late into the night.

From these numbers, you can also deduce that I tend to go for lunch somewhere between 12 and 1pm, and that I have dinner around 8 or 9pm, before making another onslaught on my inbox around 10pm. Yes, I really am that predictable apparently. I therefore claim that the dip around 4pm is due to me making a concerted effort to get some work done in the afternoon without distractions.

Anyway, that's enough of that for now.

Annual email trawl

As regular readers may recall and detest, about once a year I like to scan over all the email I've receive in the past twelvemonth, and try to see if I can detect any interesting or notable trends. I did this in 2003, again in 2004, and did the analysis in 2005, but didn't get around to posting the results, being somewhat distracted by the repeated failure of my computer to keep working without rebooting itself.

Anyway, another year is drawing slowly to a close, and so it's time to post yet another interminably tedious analysis of my own email. It's mostly bad news, you'll be delighted to hear. Firstly, spam is up dramatically in the last year. My definition of spam, crude though it is, is email where i received one message from that email address. So at best it's an approximation, but it seems to work tolerably well. Aynyway, I seem to be receiving 1000 to 1500 spam messages a month, way up from only a few hundred a month a year or so back. That equates to upto 50 spam a day, and I'd say that this was fair. Certainly, whenever I go away for a few days, there's typically upwards of a hundred messages waiting for me to deal with on my return. Mail as a whole is up, a total of 3000 messages a month (including spam), up from a mere few hundred (500+) a couple of years back.

So, some of the rise is spam, some is surely reflective of the fact I'm generally busier these days, but part is also explained by some particuarly high traffic mailing lists. The totals of all received email are as follows:
2002/03: 7093
2003/04: 12245
2004/05: 16452
2005/06: 29884
But for mailing lists, the totals were:
2002/03: 1500
2003/04: 5500
2004/05: 8800
2005/06: 8000
So at least the initial increae in email over the last few years can be attributed to heavy traffic mailing lists; however, the near doubling of mail in the last year, an extra 13000 emails a year, seem to be almost entirely due to spam. It's almost enough to make me want to install some kind of spam filter.

for the first time this year, i also looked at sent email. I have records going back to 1995, but decided to just look at the last four years since arriving in the US. The numbers look as follows (by calendar year, this time):
2001: 1309 messages sent
2002: 1110
2003: 1249
2004: 1724
2005: 2265
2006: 1286 (so far)

My theory for the big jump starting mid 2004 and going through 2005, is that this is when I first got a 'proper' job, and had a load of work related email. This is pretty plausible, since I have separate records for work and other work: my old email stayed about constant, new mail sent through work added about 100 messages a month. Now, there's actually some quite considerable undercounting going on here, since I've just counted messages in my sent-mail folder, whereas mail to some specific people goes into sorted folders based on redicipient for future convenience. Throwing those into the mix adds about another 5000 messages to the total for the last four years, making an average of about 10 emails sent per day for the last four years. Going back to 1995, I have records of a total of approaching 20,000 messages (a long term average of about 5 per day). Plotting these numbers month by month shows a very variable curve, but one with a fairly clear linear upward trend. This does not bode too well, but shouldn't be too surprising. Going back to 1996, there's the occasional break of a month which reads 0. This isn't a data quality, there was genuinely a time when I didn't send any email for a month because I was at home, and we didn't even have dial up at home. Hard to imagine now, I know...


Homer Alone

Catching up with Veronica Mars season 3, episode 2 features a cameo from none other than Dan Castellaneta. I'm sure at the end of his penultimate scene in the show there is a just audible (Annoyed grunt!) from some member of the cast...

Chris Ashcroft

Someone has obviously put a lot of effort onto this video on you tube, yet it has only garnered a scant smattering of viewers. So why not take a look?

Incidentally, I have no idea what it is about. Do you?

Super Cheap Shipping Super Fast!

I seem to buy something off of the internet every month or so. It's something to do with the ill-gotten gains that keep pouring into my account. Being an inveterate cheapskate, I invariably seem to end up plumping for the "super shipping" option, which offers free delivery in return for a promised delivery date of 12-14 days. Unfortunately for the e-commerce e-merchants, they seem unable to keep to this promise. Instead, the goods seem to show up at my front door 2-3 days later. For example, I ordered my 17" LCD monitor on a bored saturday afternoon, checked 'free shipping (may take a long time)', and was about to leave for work on wednesday morning when I was accosted by a delivery agent with the new device. The same thing happened this week, when I decided to grab 400Gb for $90 purely on the grounds that I'll be bound to need it at some point. I casually stuck in an order on monday night, only for the thing to show up on my doorstep while I was out at work today.

If they want me to spring the extra $10-20 for super speedy delivery, they really out to try to make a service differential. Not that it would bother me too much. Once you aren't too bothered about fast delivery, it just makes the rapidity of turnaround something to be casually impressed by.

Remember, that delivery fees are sometimes the lifeblood of e-businesses. I've made something of a habit of buying items from Amazon marketplace for $0.01, the kicker being the fixed $3.49 delivery fee, which allows them to eek out some kind of a profit from the transaction. But, there's something delightful about claiming that you bought a book written by that guy in the year below you from Uni for $0.01. Well, there is for me, anyway.


More YouChoob antix

a long time ago (about two years ago, in fact) I wrote about the glories of K9 and company, worth the effort to seek out if only for its ker-azy opening titles sequence.

Well, thanks to the wonders of the internet and callous disregard for copyright (not on my part, I hasten to add), you can see the whole thing split into ten minute pieces (that's pieces of ten minutes in duration, not... oh, never mind) on youchoob.

$1.65Billion for this, Google? Really?

Anyway, expect yet more updating of old posts with links to youchoob in the future. Because apparently I have nothing better to do.

Lazy web request

Given that youchoob has just been bought for $1.6M dollars (a lot of cash, I'll warrant, but you would have thought google could have stumped for a few dollars more to make it the round $2M), I thought that I'd throw out a brilliant idea that someone else can take and be the next internet paper millionaire, because I'm too lazy to do it myself.

The issue is the following: there are loads of web comics out there that I'd like to get around to reading: something positive, sinfest, heck, even doonesbury has thirty something years of back story that I'd like to catch up on.

But I don't have the time or patience to sit down and work through the entire archives of a web comic in an afternoon or twenty. And whenever I've tried to click through a few comics in a few spare minutes, I inevitably forget where I got to last time, and then lose the tab that had the comic in it in an overzealous tab closing attack.

So what I want to do is harness the power of RSS, which is how I deal with the rest of my information overload, and how I keep up with the latest editions of Doonesbury and Dilbert.

So what I need is a way to create an RSS feed for archived material, that drip feeds me little chunks of comics on a daily basis, so I can slowly catch up. A feed that gives me five episodes of doonesbury a day, say, and I'll be all caught up in, ooh, 6 years or so. But at least it will be manageable, and my rss reader can then keep track of what I've seen already.

I even have a name for my invention: the Archive RSS Serialization Engine. So if you want to take my idea for an ARSE, and make yourself possibly hundreds of dollars when Google or Microsoft finally buy it, then please help yourself.

If no one else does it, then I might get onto it myself. When I finally get around to building my household server, it surely can't be that difficult to set up a cron job to run a perl script that will automatically generate an RSS XML file that I can feed into my favourite RSS reader? I'd just much prefer someone else to do it for me...

Jury Rigged

Excitement in the mail today. A letter, which looks actually pretty much identical to the kind of circular advertising credit cards and which I tend to throw away immediately turns out to be an entirely genuine state of New Jersey summons to serve on a jury. My excitement at the prospect of being a cog in the wheels of justice is tempered only by the fact that I am not a US citizen and cannot, unlike Veronica Mars, become one of 12 angry young men.

There's a box to tick if you are not a US citizen. There's also a box to tick if you are insane or mentally incapable, under 18 or unable to understand english, which I suppose means that I am exempted. Alas.

If I ever get called for jury duty in England while I am in the US, I wonder if I am legally required to attend. Or if they will pay my travel costs.


Foley-o and Pages

Oh, come on -- which of us hasn't indulged in explicit banter with naive junior minions some thirty something years younger than us? I know have. Why, only this evening I was having this perfectly innocent IM conversation:

[19:29] M: hello
[19:30] hughanchor6969: hey
[19:30] M: How's you?
[19:30] hughanchor6969: ok
[19:32] M: I should probably obey you re: Veronica Mars at some point.
[19:32] hughanchor6969: kep scrounging
[19:32] M: I'm such a late adopter of TV shows.
[19:32] hughanchor6969: bo dude
[19:32] M: er
[19:32] M: you okay?
[19:32] hughanchor6969: i am in pensecola…had to catch a plane
[19:33] M: hmm
[19:33] hughanchor6969: indeed
[19:36] M: A plane where?
[19:36] hughanchor6969: now in my hotel room
[19:36] M: which is where?
[19:37] hughanchor6969: for the campaign
[19:37] M: What campaign?
[19:37] hughanchor6969: not yet
[19:38] M: are you a real person?

OK, so M. got suspicious before I managed to get around to asking him what he was wearing, and if he wouldn't minding slipping it off, but you get my point.

Which gave me an idea. We all know Eliza, the automated psychological chat bot. I decided to feed the honourable gentleman's comments into Eliza to see what came out. Here's the result:

I am the psychotherapist. Please, describe your problems. Each time
you are finished talking, type RET twice.

Maf54: now in my hotel room
ELIZA: What makes you believe now in your hotel room?
Maf54: for the campaign
ELIZA: Is it because of the people you hang around with that you say for the campaign?
Maf54: not yet
ELIZA: Is it because of problems at school that you are going through all
Maf54: how my favorite young stud doing?
ELIZA: Is it because your favorite young stud doing that you came to me?
Maf54: from what?
ELIZA: Are you sure that from what?
Maf54: tahts good
ELIZA: Earlier you said your favorite young stud doing?
Maf54: you need a massage
ELIZA: Do you really think I might want to have this massage?
Maf54: must have
ELIZA: How do you reconcile any hobbies you have?
Maf54: love to watch that
ELIZA: What makes you think you love to watch that
Maf54: those great legs running
ELIZA: Is it because of your sex life that you say those great legs running?
Maf54: well dont ruin my mental picture
ELIZA: Don't tell me what to do. I am the psychiatrist here! Perhaps this has something to do with hangups you have?
Maf54: nice
ELIZA: I need a little more detail please.
Maf54: youll be way hot then
ELIZA: You mentioned that your favorite young stud doing?
Maf54: better be
ELIZA: Possibly your inhibitions are related to this.
Maf54: well i better let you go do oyur thing
ELIZA: Why do you say you better let I go do oyur thing?
Maf54: did any girl give you a haand job this weekend
ELIZA: What makes you believe I would like to have this massage?
Maf54: are you
ELIZA: Is it because of some problems in your childhood that you are going
through all this?
Maf54: good so your getting horny
ELIZA: Do you get horny often?


Maf54: i am sure
ELIZA: Are you sure that you are sure?
Maf54: why not
ELIZA: Can you be more explicit?
Maf54: at your age it seems that it would be daily
ELIZA: Does it bother you that it would be daily?
Maf54: thats a good number
ELIZA: You mentioned that I would like to have this massage?
Maf54: in the shower
ELIZA: Maybe this is related to your life?
Maf54: in the bed
ELIZA: Is it because of the people you hang around with that you say in the
Maf54: on your back
ELIZA: Do you really think you were horny?
Maf54: love details
ELIZA: Perhaps problems at school could have caused this

Actually not a bad diagnosis. Although, despite ELIZA's wishes, it's tough to see how he could be any more explicit...


Joy of Tech

I feel like a proper grown up computer user now that I have a 17" LCD monitor (it was worried it would be just a bit too big -- I think ideally I would have a 16" monitor, but funnily enough, no one makes these). And I have it set up in portrait mode. Yes, portrait. Eat that, all you landscape viewing fools. I have seen the future, and it has an aspect ratio less than 1. Or more than one. I suppose it depends what you divide by what.

Anyway, I thought that portrait would be a gimmick, but the majority of things I do work much better in this orientation. The only exception is watching videos, but most of that gets sent out to a CRT TV (19", anything bigger is just silly, and gloriously standard-def). So I'd recomment everyone give it a try. I'm very happy with the HP L1740, which pivots and swivels like a break dancer (note: check cultural currency of break dancing. Replace with body popping? Or doing the robot?).

I also seem to have fixed the problems I was having with my laptop overheating. Partly this is because autumn has come and the ambient temperature is lower (the problems began during the heatwave, and I think it may have been connected).

The answer is the underrated art of underclocking. That's right. Instead of these speed demons who increase the speed of their processors to get every last ounce of high speed power from their machine, I've been reducing the speed of the processor in the laptop. I mean, all I ever use it for is for checking email, surfing the web when I should be writing high powered academic treatises on the fundamental computational complexity of computing various classes of functions, and writing high powered academica treatises on the blah blah blah. Anyway, since then I haven't had any problems. Maybe this is just superstitious voodoo. But, I feel almost environmentally friendly because of the reduced depletion of my processor's natural resources. Plus, I've always thought that it must be really boring to be a CPU: I mean, you spend most of your time idle, waiting for data to be fetched from disk at a rate which seems beyond glacial. Hopefully, this underclocking makes the time seem to pass a little faster for the little Athlete...


More lost mail

A few more messages sent to my gmail account that were presumably intended for someone else:

September 25th
hi i have lost you number im in dub ? wanna catch up... xxx vinny ..
sorry for not chatting to you prop in the g was with friend

September 27th
hi its vinny ... sorry but i have lost your number im just trying to
get in touch with you so we can catch up !!! im in dublin for a while so
just mail me your number so i can call you ..

Poor Vinny.

September 14th
Alan ABC Parcel Back-up

Please pull CMAs on the attached property numbers.


More info to follow.



And here's the attached spreadsheet in full. Maybe it's a secret code.
1 Parcel Number Address City ZIP Owner Appraised Value 2006 Appraised Value 2007 Lot Area Zoning Improvements
2 Number Street Land Improvement Land Improvement SqFt Acres Min Building Size Dimensions Sewer Water Power
3 Parcel A
4 O185000100 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $2,000 $0 2000 0 6,000 0.14 5000 R-6P
6 Parcel B
7 3750605520 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $4,000 $0 4000 0 4,800 0.11 5000 R-4
15 Parcel C
17 3751606809 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $25,000 $0 30000 0 114,127 2.62 1 acre R-1
18 3751606811 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $37,000 $0 45000 0 118,274 2.72 1 acre R-1
19 3751606817 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $31,000 $0 38000 0 78,843 1.81 1 acre R-1
20 3751606821 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $37,000 $0 33000 0 30,600 0.70 1 acre R-1
21 3751606823 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $28,000 $0 33000 0 30,720 0.71 1 acre R-1
22 3751606825 Vacant Julio G and Bella F Martir $34,000 $0 39000 0 25,938 0.60 1 acre R-1

Veronica is back

Just watched a rather fuzzy version of the first episode of the new season of Veronica Mars (try this link which may or may not work). It's superb; all the best characters are back (Mac is now a regular), and the best part is that new viewers can just jump right in. New year, new start. Sure, regular fans will be well rewarded. But this is something that everyone can get into. And then realize that they should rush out and buy the first two seasons on DVD (only $30 for season 1 on amazon.com) and catch up.



I've probably posted versions of this before, but now thanks to Flash and youtube, you can view the wonderful Blue without leaving the comfort of your browser.

Opera users: must remind you to install the script on this page to get embedded youtube videos to work...

Useless Gadgets

I've long been a fan of silly gadgets, but during my visit to Korea I think I managed to find the most useless gadget yet. It's a solar powered LCD keyring. Basically, it's a tiny LCD screen that displays a small picture of a korean flag. It's powered by solar panels on the side. If it doesn't get enough light, then the picture goes off. When it is on, it never changes. So, most of the time it shows a static picture, and occasionally it goes blank. So slightly less effective than a coloured piece of card, then...


Bad Dreams

For a long time, I've had the occasional (maybe a couple of times a year) had an Exam Dream. The situation was usually that I had to take an exam, but for whatever reason I was unable to do it -- not because I didn't know the material (it never even occurred to me that I wouldn't. but rather for whatever reason external factors meant that I couldn't get started: maybe there was something distracting me so I couldn't begin, or I didn't have any pens that worked, or something like that. These have become more infrequent over the years, not overly surprising since I haven't had a real eam for many years.

I had an exam dream at the weekend. The twist was, this time I was giving the exam. I needed to get the exam papers out to the students. But, I hadn't finished putting the questions together. Or the photocopier wasn't working properly. Or something. And time was running out!

Plus ca change, as they say in Nice, plus c'est la meme chose...

nicholas adds the following:

I tried to post this on your web log but it kept demanding that I type
in the words displayed in an image that it refused to show me, so I
thought I'd email you instead.

About a fortnight before my MSc exams (nine and a half years ago) I had
a dream where I'd overslept and missed the beginning of an algebraic
topology exam. (In my dream) I leapt out of bed, hurriedly got dressed,
and legged it across campus to the Paranoia Room. I burst in through
the door just as Colin (who, six months later, was to become my PhD
supervisor) said "OK, everyone stop writing now, please". I did the
whole slow-motion "Nooooo!" thing as I rushed into the room, at which
point Colin turned to me and said "Oh I wouldn't worry about it - nobody
else could do the exam either", and I woke up.

Post your own scary exam dreams, if you can get past the evil comments system.

Who's been joining their databases?

My local supermarket and my favourite airline write to tell me that if I use their new supermarket loyalty card, I can earn valuable miles on the airline. Well, that's nice and creepy. Now my airline knows what I eat, and my supermarket knows where I fly to. How long before everyone just merges all their databases together into one giant blob of sinister privacy violating orwellian nightmare?


Killed and Injured

I was working at home the other day. The nice thing about working from home is that one avoids the distractions of people stopping by to ask questions, or loud speakerphone conversations from the office next door. The downside is the occasional distracting phone call.

I got another call from tin rattlers. They zipped through their script at high speed: regaling me with an impassioned plea to support the "Police Officers' Benevolent Fund" or something similar. They began by explaining that many policemen are killed or injured in the line of duty, leaving loved ones uncared for. Or somesuch. "Do you still live in [my town]?" I was asked, "if so, you'll soon receive our donation kit. How much should I put you down for -- $100 or just $50?".

I hate this shit. I hate people ringing me up unbidden and begging for money. I hate people reading off scripts designed not to let you get a word in edgeways. I hate charities using the name of the police to intimidate you into giving. I hate loaded questions like "would you like to give $100 or just $50" that pressure the weak willed into donating without really being sure what they are supporting.

Normally, I just get them off the phone as quickly as possible by saying something like "I'm sorry, I don't respond to unsolicited phone calls". I always try to be polite, since usually the poor person on the end of the phone is being paid minimum wage to do this work, and also if I just hang up they might ring back.

This time, I was somewhat prepared, since this "charity" rings regularly. I asked "can you answer a question first? How many policemen have been killed or injured in [my town] in the last five years?".

To explain, [my town] is a ridiculously well to-do commuter town. The police exude the aura of smug contentment at all times. The main impact they seem to have is to creep round the streets in the middle of the night, putting a $20 parking fine on any car parked on even the quietest side street due to a town-wide "no street parking 2am-6am" rule that seems to serve no other purpose than to bring in extra revenue and irritate the citizens. There's virtually no crime. So the chances of any cop getting shot is spectacularly small. Hence, I have no idea what this "charity" actually does: for all I know, it could just be a front for some kind of bribery.

There was a confused pause, a request to repeat the question, and then a response of "I don't know". If I was in more of a antagonizing mood I woul dhav epressed the point, but I had other things to do, so instead I replied "OK, well, thanks for you help anyway. Goodbye!" and hung up. Best not to prolong these things.

For some reason, I was reminded of this call this morning, when I heard good old President Clinton talking about torture. He seemed to be rather against the idea. In the context of torture, those who think that brutally abusing captives is a good idea often wheel out the familiar thought experiment of "the ticking bomb".

It's a very compelling argument. There's a time bomb about to go off at any moment, and the person who absolutely certainly planted it is in captivity but refuses to disclose the location. Do you torture them to extract the location? Well, as we know from everyday life, these ticking time bombs are a serious hazard on a regular basis. It is so frustrating to the police in London and New York who each day have to deal with literally dozens of suspects in custody who, without a shadow of a doubt, planted the bomb, as seen by hundreds of reliable witnesses, yet no one seems to know where it is and the bomber won't say. The only way to guarantee finding the lcoation and saving the city is to hold their head down the toilet while flushing it repeatedly. Would you pull the chain? I know I would.


There were plent of nice examples of Engrish to be found (I came back with a nice little mirror with "Happy Panda" all over it). This was my favourite, although it might just possibly have been intentional. I think not. So, next time you are in Korea, you too could own such a 'box of happiness' for only 6USD. I decided that I could live without one.  Posted by Picasa

This might be a little hard to see, but this gentleman in the middle of the picture is standing half way across four lanes of traffic and selling snacks and water to passing drivers. Often the traffic moves along at a slow crawl, so this is a feasible venture, but when I took this snap, the rate of travel was at least 40mph. He wasn't the only one. There were also a couple of folks with a trailer in the middle of the road, but at least they had a small painted traffic island to stand on.  Posted by Picasa

The conference center was huge! My conference was able to fit into a tiny corner on the third floor.  Posted by Picasa

I was also intrigued by the Center for Training in Important Intangible Cultural Properties, which was right next to my hotel.  Posted by Picasa

The contents of the "Giant Big Man Club" were the subject of much speculation, but no one who went in ever came out again to give an account of what was going on inside.  Posted by Picasa

What a load of balls! There were loads of other conferences going on in the huge conference center at the same time. One of them was the "Color Expo 2006". I thought about sneaking in and finding out what colors were going to be hot this season, but never got around to it.  Posted by Picasa

In the Coex Mall, under the conference center, were some great shops. My favourite eating place was JugJug which, you can tell from the sign, is a "beer and salad bar". Of course! Beer bar, and salad bar! What could be more natural? Posted by Picasa

Welcome to Seoul. I took loads of pictures of the mysterious and intriguing signs and objects that intrigued me. "Hair virus" was barbers near my hotel. Posted by Picasa

I was in a shop in Korea and saw a CD that looked interesting. I didn't feel like buying it without hearing a little of what it sounded like first, so I very cleverly took a photo of it, with the aim of looking it up when I got home. Alas, as you can see, the photo didn't quite come out right, and cut off the important information: the name of the CD and the artist. So I throw this out to the collective intelligence of the Internet: anyone have any idea what band this CD is from? Posted by Picasa


Milky Milky

More records that time forgot: "Milky Milky (Take Me to the Fridge)" by Mr Strange and the Lactose Bortherhood. A novelty record based on the popular Mary Whitehouse experience character, and promoted by Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt. It featured an actually quite accurate Pet Shop Boys parody, and a less good techno bit. As far as I can tell (according to sources http://www.everyhit.com/ and http://www.polyhex.com/music/chartruns/chartruns.php/), it failed to chart.

To follow up on previous postings, the fevered interest in LG15 is thankfully dying down (if I have to hear one more ill-informed MSM report that claims it was the "web diary of a 15 year old" on "a website that aroused suspicions for being too well designed", I may well scream). For those that were not paying attention, LG15 is "a series of youtubes", but was recently discovered to be the work of west country prankster Justin Lee Collins. So that's what his Friday night project was all about.


Seoul Recipient

Back from South Korea and more or less whole again, although about 4 hours out of phase with the rest of the world. A complete report of what I did on my travels will be forthcoming soon, unless I forget or never get around to it.

Meantime, mugwump2 completed his repairs and arrived home before I did after his trip to "triage" (that's really what they called it). Yay!

Unfortunately, while typing away at some stuff this afternoon, mugwump2 suddenly died again, just as before. Boo!

Thinking more about the problem, it seems it could just as well be an overheating problem (mugwump2 was running a fever at the time of failure, and had just been charged with some particularly complicated computations). So maybe it's a cooling issue. I'll see how often it reoccurs, and whether it gets annoying, before thinking about whether it's time to start planning the purchase of mugwump3 already...



I'm writing this in Tokyo Narita airport where the local time is 2.20pm, the time in NJ is 1.20am, and the time in my head is ouch. I'm jotting these notes in Wordpad, of all things (who remembers wordpad? the smarter, more talented younger brother of notepad that somehow no one ever took much of a liking to). Another temporary holding pattern since I can't be bothered to work out how to register for the internet in the departure lounge, and I'm still using my new friend, T42p. Anything to say today, t42p?


Fine. Anyway...

With all the excitement engendered by international travel, I spent a reasonably chunk of the flight contemplating the mounting excitement surrounding various recent internet phenomena. Prime amongst these is "lonelygirl15". I'm loath to spill too many pixels on this, but there are some staggerignly obvious points that no one seems to have bothered to think about. Firstly, it is quite remarkable that more people will have read about this in traditional media (newspapers and, can we even count websites as traditional media now?) than have actually seen the videos. For all the "hundreds of thousands of hits", hundreds of thousands is still much less than the circulation of old wood and ink newspapers which are printing breathless stories about this series which we are all supposed to be hanging on.

The current excitement revolves around a message board posting which supposedly outs the whole affair as an elaborate film project. This is the latest in the ongoing "is it a hoax?" debate which is really quite a disturbingly simplistic dichotomy for this century. It's not a case of real versus fake; anyone even remotely schooled in modern media knows that there is an entire spectrum of truth values in between real and false. There are "reality shows" that are carfully manipulated, scripted, provoked and edited to tell a story. News stories where the collection of the news becomes the news itself. Pop stars "discovered" on the internet who turn out to be carefully promoted by wise management. Autobiographies that make the truth more gut-wrenching in order to bully the reader into sympathy. Postmodern comedy shows that satirize current politicians by masquerading as retro clip shows from the future. To pigeonhole a series of videos posted on youtube into categories as simple as just real or fake is to miss the point entirely.

Because nothing is really "real" anymore. The nascent and mostly tedious videobloggers edit themselves constantly, both with ProTools and with their own choice of what to post. The "lg15" sequence of films could easily have been real, or a couple of kids choosing to tell a story about themselves that isn't literally true.

So what is "lonelygirl15"? Well, trying to put it into terms that are easily understood, it's basically a horror movie told in the style of videoblog. Nothing particularly shocking there: Dracula was told in the form of Jonathan Harker's diary and letters. This is just the 21st Century equivalent. What made the films more interesting is that this wasn't made clear from the start. We are too used to being pampered with our media: with trailers, blurbs, reviews and spoilers ahoy, it's rare to go into a movie or start reading a book without any idea what it is about. The difference here is that no one told us "go watch lonelygirl15, the slow-building thrillfest of the summer".

I admit, it takes some time to work out what's going on with lg15. But just forget anything else you have heard about it, and watch this recent segment in isolation.

Now tell me: mysterious religion, chosen to participate in a secret ritual that her parents aren't allowed to attend, special exercises and diet?


If that doesn't scream low-budget horror plot, I don't know what does. I mean, have you never seen the Wicker Man? (the original, not whatever lame hollywood remake starring Sylvester Stallone is about to pollute the screens).

To be fair, most of lg15 has been beautifully done. The horror plot has only loosely been present in the background for the most part. It took an army of millions of internet freaks to spot some of the other clues: a poster of Aleister Crowley in the background; a secret message of 10/12/06 marking Crowley's birthdate (and sure to mark a climactic point in the storytelling in a month or so). Many segments have had no overt plot development in them at all (which, if you think about it, is classic horror movie: spend a *long* time building up the characters at the start to make them as engaging as possible while slowly building the tension, then kill them off nastily in the last half hour. In fact, the annoying thing about the whole affair is that the character development has been done delightfully, while the plot has always seemed quite clunky in comparison: the constant references to her parents' religion that she doesn't want to talk about; a scene where daniel tries to light a candle in the crowley shrine is just jarring in its obviousness (around the 2 minute mark): it screams out "this is going to be significant later" like the hero of an action movie secreting a seemingly innocent item in his pocket in an early scene. If it were not significant, then the scene should have been edited out -- part of the charm of the posts is the heavy editing and soundtracking. There's a huge subplot about daniel not wanting to shoot a video of a play put on by bree and others from her religion (which all sounds very bohemian grove if you ask me), but we never get to see any of the footage of this play -- not even a brief shot -- despite the two protagonists' apparent willingness to put every other aspect of their lives on screen. That makes no sense, unless showing the play would give away the sinister nature of the secret religion that is constantly discussed.

There's a lot of discussion about whether this is a viral marketing campaign, as if this is the only possible thing that lg15 could be. No one seems to want to admit that lg15 could just be an attempt to tell a story in a new medium. Viral marketing never really works in the way it has been tried so far: someone tries to draw you into a seemingly real story, then pulls back the curtain and shouts "aha! fooled you! now buy our stuff!". Can't the telling of the story be an end in itself? Likewise, the word 'hoax' is being bandied about a lot. But a hoax is a deliberate attempt to mislead, and while this series of films tried to give the impression of being a genuine video diary, 'hoax' is much too strong a word.

There's one thing that's still bothering me about this, though. How can this end? Let's assume that it does end in some sinister Wicker-man style sacrifice ritual. Everything so far has been internally consistent with a teenagers videoblog. But there has to come some climactic scenes of horror that still have to be uploaded to youtube. How to make that consistent with the story? The precursors to this story are many: inevitably, The Blair Witch Project, and its predecessors -- various low budget "cannibal" horror flicks from the 70s -- will be raised, which used "discovered" footage shot by the victims. The equally important "Ghostwatch" from the BBC masqueraded as a live broadcast with the cameras still rolling. But how will the presumably disruptive events which must conclude the lonelygirl15 story be fit into this? Something which purports to show some scary, lifethreatening demonic vision would just not make sense to be uploaded, especially if one or more of the characters doesn't make it to the end of the series.

So I'm not sure how well this will end. And it's not clear that it will be particularly fun. But it will happen in the next month or so, and hopefully be more satisfying than the tedious dragging out of nonsensical drama Lost. I'm somewhat hooked, which is a shame, since I'm no particular fan of horror. But at least they tried.