Power to the laptop

More computer hardware related hijinks. You may recall the tedious antics last year when hughanchor the desktop computer developed various faults and kept rebooting in the middle of things. This was eventually traced to some bad memory and a suspect motherboard, which got replaced, and everything has been going swimmingly.

Well, for the last week or two, mugwump2 (a nice averatec laptop) has been having problems: the power supply would suddenly drop off, leaving it running on its (pretty weedy) battery). Or it would just die suddenly as if it had been switched off. A little bit of rooting around on an Averatec forums website showed that this is a well known problem with this otherwise pretty decent laptop.

So I called up the customer service folks, and had a little chat. The nice gent was trying to brush me off since the machine is out of warranty, but I pointed out that this was a fault in the manufacturing of the laptop, and he quickly gave in and agreed to service it. I got that holy grail of hardware returns, an RMA number. Now I just have to take a backup of the hard drive, since I know they will steal all my mp3s and then delete it, and then get it sent off to them. Gah. Why can't stuff just work, all the time and forever?

Pop culture trivia which is too easily forgotten about #1

Kylie Minogue once recorded a song, sung in character as a font:

My name is German Bold Italic
I am a type face
Which you have never heard before
Which you have never seen before
I can compliment you well
Especially in red
Extremely in green
Maybe in blue blue blue

You will like my sense of style
You will like my sense of style

I fit like a glove - ooh!

Gut ja!
Gut ja!

Now, if I hadn't told you that, would you have spent any time thinking about anthropomorphic font songs sung by dimunitive aussie songstresses?


Monday Morning

Not much to report as the unbearable heat of summer suddenly snaps into the grey and rainy autumn, in preparation for the unberable cold of winter. Fortunately, I like it grey and rainy -- it reminds me of home.

From the news today:
"And both her parents are divorced."

Both eh? What an unfortunate coincidence.

Spoonerism of the day: lame duck = dame luck (presumably some relative of lady luck?)

Also an anagram of duke calm, if you so desire.

That is all.


I recognise that pattern

Various new media shenanigans get the world talking. Fortunately, you won't find any of that on here, it's all text all the way.

A while ago there was the painfully obviously faked "thatgirlemily" affair, kicked off by billboards supposedly paid for by a betrayed wife. The flaws there were quite painful, such as the same poster appearing in both New York and LA at the same time. Other signs were more subtle but still obvious: clearly staged photos and youtube postings, belatedly added and backdated blog postings. Eventually, it became clear that this was all a rather awkward attempt at viral infection on the part of some television channel, I forget which one exactly.

Now, this week's (or possibly last week's, I'm a little behind on the buzz) phenom is the dubiously named "Lonelygirl15", which has attracted the obsessive interest of the New York Times' adolescent bloggers and TV correspondent (now there's a job which I'm fairly sure did not exist thirty years ago). The debate seems to be raging about is it possible for a teenager to put together a semi-literate and tolerably produced video diary, or is the whole thing the work of the most evil man *ever* (check out the VH1 special), Aleieieieiesteieieier Crowley, who went back in time to register a fan domain one month before the userid was created (do keep up at the back, I'll be asking questions later).

All of this puts me in mind of the somewhat underrated, but increasingly prescient "Pattern Recognition", by top-"cyberpunk"-coining typewriter basher, William H. Gibson. Written in 2003, I read it a year or two ago, and found it a little far fetched. Short segments of video are dribbled onto the public internet, and a huge group of obsessives forms around it, picking each new clip apart in the hope of clues about the creator, the contents, the storyline and the plot. For each byte of video, hundreds of megabytes of theories and countertheories are formed from the tiniest details. It never quite rang true for me at the time, dspite being an enthralling read, but as time goes on it becomes more and more accurate. If you want to have a hope in hell of understanding the new world media, the richly dense world of video posts, replies, thousands of comments, all held together by a fragile mass of friend lists, favourites, RSS and myspace pages, then you could do worse than grabbing a copy and seeing for yourself.



My mind has temporarily gone blank for things to write electronic articles about. So in the mean time, something that has been bothering me. As usual. I recently got a book sent by real-mail, and the jiffy-bag style jiffy-bag was called "eco-lite". It has been irritating me just how similar this is to "e-coli". Would you send e-coli through the post? You're probably not allwoed to.

That is all.



One brief flicker of interest in the latest torrent of spam (can you have a flicker in a torrent?). There's a lot of spam at the moment, someone should really do something about that. Anyway, this was a little unusual, since it used one of my super secret addresses that isn't much publicised, so I wonder where they got it from. It purports to come from "David Cameron" and directs to a rather lame, half-hearted attack ad on the limey politico. It makes a big deal of his Eton tutelage, and connections to the establishment. I'm not all that interested though. I will not link to their youtube site, since I don't want to give spammers the oxygen or any of my carefully won pagerank score. I'm sure you could find it there if you were really interested. Like I say, it's not very good. I wish they'd stop.

No new pilots to review this week -- the flow seems to have dried up, and I haven't seen anything else of interest. That's probably good though, there's only so much time I can spend lying around watching TV when I should be working. About eight hours a day, I calculated. More at weekends. Ah, technology. Now back to my reviewing chores.


This week in random numbers

Various miscellaneous computer related issues that have amused me this week.

I did a Google search for (note, not "googled". They don't like that) "boson". Helpfully enough, some adsense ads popped up, informing me that if I was looking for 'boson', I could find it at ebay. So, all you superaccelerating swiss sausages, stop searching under CERN, and start bidding it up on ebay.

Likewise, I was a little concerned that while I was getting information about "Slepian-Wolf" (distributed source coding, I'll have you know), I was inundated with ads offering quick and easy abortions. What do they know that I don't?

Finally, best stupid spam name of the week: "terrorist kneejerk". Yeah, that's about right.


Pontious Pilot

Two very very fast pilot reviews. This time, the common theme that links two more straight-to-basic-cable shows is a community wihch includes a large number of very smart people getting up to various sinister goings on. This reminds me too much of work, so I probably won't be watching any further.

Eureka is a secret town somewhere in the northern mid-west, where all the top sekrit sciencists of america are kept, so they can keep inventoring new stuff and so on. The pilot features a US marshall stumbling upon the town along with his trouble-making teenage daughter and -- guess what -- by the end, he has decided to stay. Highlights: the old sheriff is Nero Wolfe, and the new sheriff is Jack Carter, who is looking in a lot better health than when we last saw him.

Three Moons over Milford is set in a town somewhere in Vermont (top right, for those not familiar with US geography). It depicts life after a meteor has hit the moon, splintering it into three large pieces. The whole world is now awaiting one of these pieces to fall from the sky and end all life on earth, although no one is quite sure when this will happen. Some people have gone off the rails, some have gone around the world, and some have chosen to stay at home and act as if nothing has happened. The action focuses on one family and... just isn't particularly interesting. Highlights: the precocious teenage son manages to convince one of the town's many young, PhD holding "hotties" [their word, not mine] that he is home from MIT. Said 'hottie' practically jumps him when he offers an improvement to her matrix multiplication algorithm, even though "n squared is the theoretical limit", since he promises to "improve the constant factor by at least a fifth". In case you were wondering: this almost never happens in real life.


Liquid Diet

Another day, another slew of idiotic rules designed to make travel more unpleasant whilst protecting no one. So apparently no liquids can be taken on board planes any more and (according to Gatwick Airport) "liquid will be removed from the passenger". This will, I suppose, at least reduce the volume considerably and perhaps lead to lower fares provided people are prepared to travel in dehydrated form.

It's a pretty bold move, banning an entire state of matter. Most solids are seemingly OK, and there doesn't seem to be any explicit ban on gases or plasma. No work on whether ice cubes are permitted.

It gets worse: in the UK, they are currently banning all hand luggage except passports. That's right, no iPods for you, Mr Trendsetter! In fact, no books. Yes, just in case you were thinking of doing some reading on your eight hour flight, too bad, you must instead sit there in silence for the whole journey, and think about what a naughty boy you have been. If they do find you trying to smuggle a dangerous book on board, I'm sure that they will promptly burn it.

You must also check in all laptops. You may remember that last time I checked in a laptop, it was stolen along with the rest of my luggage by evil scumbags from Argentinian Airlines. When I reported the loss, the representatives expressed sarcasm that I would do something so stupid as check in a laptop. Have you seen the way that baggage handlers deal with luggage, throwing it from trucks onto conveyor belts? This idiotic rule is going to cause millions of dollars of damage and theft to electronic equipment.

One can only hope that at some point someone will have the good sense to notice that all of these rules and regulations do nothing but make people's lives more miserable. And perhaps, six to twelve months after that, they'll loosen these apalling rules.


Before I forget again, you should rush over and waste half an hour of your time reading the first six chapters of John's new book, Jeremy Darke. If you like it and leave nice comments, he might even write some more for you.


Wipe your feet on the way in

You get some interesting visitors here. Following my recent spate of reviews of as yet unaired TV pilots, I got the following visitor today:

08 Aug, Tue, 17:09:19 proxy-ce13.disney.com Netscape 7 Macintosh

So that's someone from behind a disney proxy (Disney owns ABC networks) on a Mac checking out what people are saying about their new TV shows.

Well, er hi (you seemed to show up on Monday evening as well). I actually had some reasonably useful advice regarding the show (deal with the pacing and large number of characters), so I hope you are able to appreciate it. And, whatever else I might say, make sure you keep Peter Serafinowicz in work.


More music mix-ups

Since hearing "Smiley Faces" by Gnarls Barkley, I've been convinced that it reminds me of a Beatles song -- I just couldn't recall which one. So today, instead of doing any proper work, I sat down and listened through the complete Beatles back catelogue to see if I could identify which song I was thinking of. And after a couple of hours, I came up with "Tomorrow never knows".

(It's those little sound effects in the background, not the song or tune itself that is similar).

On close listening, the sounds are quite different, it doesn't seem likely that GB sampled the Beatles. So am I just making up this connection? As usual, my only way to tell is to websearch for the terms to see if anyone else has made a similar observation. Well, it's just possible based on this fact: a DJ played both tracks back to back recently. So perhaps he also made some comment about what I perceive as a similarity? Unfortunately, I got to this a day to late, since the BBC has kindly deleted the show from their Listen Again facility. So unless someone happened to hear this, or had a similar thought themselves, then we may never know. Ah well, the Internet can only get you so far...


TV Roundup

In my ongoing quest to pick out new TV pilots cluttering the internets that may be of interest, here's a few more that I've managed to see over the last few weeks.

It's not unusual for people to have the same idea at the same time, resulting in this particular case in two TV shows with a very similar premise. However, I'm not referring to the much vaunted similarities between Studio 54 on the Sunset Strip and Chris Rock is 30 (more on these later). I'm talking about two shows that have recently shown up basic cable channels here. In both cases the protagonist has an almost preternatural ability to notice details and know when someone is lying. But these two shows take this in very different directions. In Angela's Eyes, Angela is an FBI agent who uses her skills to solve rather tedious "ripped from the headlines" mysteries of the week. These are entertaining enough, but to keep our interest alive, it is deemed necessary to graft on a couple of b-plots focussing on her personal life: one, centered around the fact that she is married to her job, and despite her ability to detect a lie, also lies constantly to her friends and lovers about what she does. In Episode 1, she barely convinces her latest beau to stay with her after revealing that she has been spying on him; in epsiode 2, he dumps her because he couldn't stand the lying any more. Not sure how long this is tenable. The other plot revolves around her family: her parents, in a very Alias reminiscent move, are convicted double agents, or triple agents, or perhaps just single agents. It's not very interesting, but there's an attempt to get some excitement here as her estranged father tries to get her to rake up the past and hints that all may not be as it appears. Yawn.

Probably the strangest thing about this show is its home: it lives on the Lifetime network, a "women oriented channel", which more usually shows movies sponsored by Hallmark Cards and harrowing dramas of the week with titles like "When he's not a stranger", "From homeless to Harvard" and "High on the school run". Amongst this exploitative dreck, the show does stand out, but otherwise it's only moderately compelling.

Meanwhile, the protagonist of Psych has pretty much the same abilities, and a similarly poor relationship with his parents (although, in this case his dad is a cop, not a traitor). In this case, the protagonist (he has a name, but it isn't particularly memorable) is an itinerant drifter, who finally finds his calling by pretending to be a psychic in order to solve crimes. Since every Holmes needs his Watson, he is accompanied by Charlie from the West Wing. A lot of the West Wing characters are appearing in other shows now in new careers, presumably since they were traumatised by the dramatic assassination of President Bartlett in the dying moments of the final episode. Charlie now works for a big pharma company, and conveniently the first two mysteries tackled together have rquired the use of pharmacological knowledge. Difficult to know how long that can be kept alive, since apart from that Charlie doesn't really have much to except to act as the straight man to "Psych"'s antics. This show is also on cable, on the USA network, and it shows after another programme starring a detective with an uncanny eye for detail, Monk. However, Monk is getting somewhat stale in its fifth year, while Pysch is still quite fresh, and worth a look.

I should also mention Studio 60, the new Aaron Sorkin show, while it's still clear in my mind. It's a little complicated. Judd Hirsch has moved out of the house he shares with his mathematician genius son, and taken over a SNL clone show that airs on a friday night. However, it's all a bit too much of change for him, and he has a meltdown live on air during a particularly weak Bush/Cheney parody (something of a direct snub to SNL for those that pay attention to these things). It's quite eerie how little they've bothered to change, and how directly the show within a show is modeled on the "not as funny as it used to be" SNL. This whole bit is lifted wholesale from the movie "Network", and Sorkin seems to think that if everyone on the show mentions this similarity, this will make it all right.

So, the network brings in Josh Lyman from the West Wing to meld his high-falutin' DC intellectual high speed humour with that of the comic genius of... er... Chandler Bing. Apparently. It's all quite confusing, since everyone seems to have been sleeping with everyone else (this is, after all, hollywood), but it sort of makes sense in the end.

The problem with this show is exactly the same as the central problem with the West Wing. Everyone is so damn reasonable. The West Wing gave liberals an excuse to retreat from the real world into a fantasy land where Bush never existed and Bartlett managed to blend the intellect of Gore, the charisma of Clinton, and the patriotism of all of the founding fathers rolled into one. It was seductive, and dangerous, as it sapped and coddled the people who instead should have been apoplectic with rage over the dismantling of the country. Now Sorkin is doing the same for network television: from the initial tirade against the common-denominator lowering trash pumped out in the name of "reality" television and so-called celebrity, he quickly creates a world of honest, decent people with honourable intentions and high-minded ideals. People who are prepared to defend the right of television to show us carefully crafted sketches that... er... mock devout christians. And that's where it falls apart. At least in the West Wing we could believe that these were good people doing important work, whether it was preventing civil war in Elbonia or fighting Big Tobacco, even if most episodes were actually focused on trivia such as the continuing Josh/Donna-- will they/won't they, or whether CJ can remember where she left her glasses. It's hard to feel that in this digital, multi-channel, youtubing, ADD world that any one television show really matters any more, least of all a weekly sketch and musical entertainment show. I had a hard enough time believing that the events depicted in "Goodnight and Good luck" had any impact, so why should we believe that a colorful hour of glitter and gags really matters outside a tiny group of self-deluding self-important overpaid TV execs?

I will of course keep watching the show when it officially airs in the autumn, and keenly compare the more sit-com focused effort from Tina Fey. It has the sharpness of writing from the West Wing, and a few killer lines. But as the 20th century concept of "network television" goes through its extended death throes, and new shows can get cancelled before the first episode has finished airing, it's hard not to feel this Studio 60 jumped the shark before the opening credits even ran.

Academic Spammers

Dear Prof.Dr.Anchor,

Excuse my disturbing you. But we had invited you in July 19 and I
do not know, if you have sent your INVITED PAPER
in the WSEAS MultiConference in Bucharest (Romania), deadline: 17th August
and/or WSEAS MultiConference in Dallas (USA), new deadline: 31st August

Dear Spamming Scum,

Kindly get lost and never bother me again. Your tedious spam is the most time wasting crap that I have to deal with. I have to study it carefully before I discover that this is not something that I have chosen to be involve with, but lazy personalized spamming of the worst kind. Please take your uninvited hassle to participate in bottom-feeding conferences and stick them up your WSEAS.

Professor Doctor Doctor Hugh Anchor

Modern Dilemmas

What do you do when someone you are fairly sure that you have never met sends you an Orkut friend request?

In my case, you wonder "wow -- are (non-brazillian) people still using Orkut? I thought that was soooo 2003...".

This being the connected interweb, the mystery non-friend does also list as a friend someone that I met once in a pub in Cambridge. This still does not convince me that I know this person. Not that any of this matters, but I suppose I just ignore the request - or should I actively deny it? I suspect it does not matter very much.


On Disconnection

Following the temporary loss of email last week, I contemplated the absence of pine. Back in 1996, when I had had email for a year, I went home for summer, and didn't have access to my mail for three months. When I got back to university I had received, I forget, maybe ten or fifteen messages, perhaps including my very first 419 advance fee fraud message.

Last week I was cut off from my inbox for three days. When I got back, I had about 200 hundred spam and forty other messages. How things change.

Anyway, here for your amusement is the start of the second wave of the Lily Allen backlash, from Leading by Example. The video appears to feature Joe (or is it Adam?) from Adam and Joe (or is it Joe and Adam?). You can find more music on his Mice Pace page.


I don't quite know what this clip is, but it does contain about thirteen layers of self-satire that I positively guarantee you won't understand:

I was actually looking for this.