Friday, 30 December 2005

Misc - Simon Schama on the Noughties so far

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Simon Schama delivers an interim report on the first decade of the millennium

A really nice bit of writing, if a bit on the depressing side. The environment's fucked, the Enlightenment is well and truly over, God's back and He's waxing wrathful, and the last paroxysms of the colonial wars are wiring the bad buys from Baghdad to the bad buys in Baltimore.

Ho hum. Stale mince pie anyone?

Online - Quirky to the 100th power

BBC NEWS | Magazine | 100 things we didn't know this time last year

Lots of entertaining strange but true stuff, including such gems as:

1. The UK's first mobile phone call was made 20 years ago this year, when Ernie Wise rang the Vodafone head office, which was then above a curry shop in Newbury.


57. The man who was the voice of one of the original Daleks, Roy Skelton, also did the voices for George and Zippy in Rainbow.

Life - Technological Determinism

So, what else to do over Xmas than get a head start on next year's Open University course: Cities & Technology from Babylon to Singapore.

So far, been looking at the birthplace of urbanism in Mesopotamia and getting into the different views of technological determinism, social constructionism and social shaping. The first is very much that technology is autonomous and has a fundamental role in the dynamics of social change (think Toffler's Future Shock); the second sees innovation as being socially negotiated by all the groups involved, and the latter is the synthesis position - technology and society shape each other.

Interestingly, the bloke who came up with the latter, Thomas P Hughes, now says that everything changes over time. Young tech societies tend to social constructionism, more mature ones can demonstrate technological determinism as the tech interests there can be powerful enough to shape society in their own image.

Is the internet going to change perspectives on this? Well, if nothing else, the web has boosted technological determinism as it has always been the home of the technologically evangelical. However, equally it has become extremely socially shaped, evolving at a rapid pace (though usually to follow the cash trail) as more and more 'stakeholders' - horrible word, but it gets the concept across - come onboard.

Hmmmm...might have to do some more reading on this once I get to the end of urbanisation in the Near East and move onto the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Life -'s best TV for 2005 Best of 2005: Television

And I quote:

1 - Battlestar Galactica

Most of you probably think this entry has got to be a joke. The rest of you have actually watched the show. Adapted from a cheesy '70s Star Wars clone of the same name, Galactica (returning in January) is a ripping sci-fi allegory of the war on terror, complete with religious fundamentalists (here, genocidal robots called Cylons), sleeper cells, civil-liberties crackdowns and even a prisoner-torture scandal. The basic-cable budget sometimes shows in the production, but the writing and performances are first-class, especially Edward James Olmos as the noble but authoritarian commander in charge of saving the last remnants of humanity. Laugh if you want, but this story of enemies within is dead serious, and seriously good.

As the commander of one other show that ought to have got a bit more recognition at the time would have said, absofraggingloutley.

Life - Windy Miller

One from the Design Council, a downloadable app that takes data from various UK weather stations and shows you how much power you could produce using a mini wind turbine. Cool, but a full-sized one on the roof would probably be cooler and should produce about 1Kw. British Gas apparently has a trial underway up in Scotland...

Design Council | RED - Future Currents - Downloads

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Online - The Tech you loved in '05

Wired News: Best Tech Moments of 2005

The usual Wired mix: some cool, some dumb, some Lost spoilers (argh), and some that display the worryingly blinkered mentallity you can get when you're a tech-head working for a tech-head magazine writing about the tech-head world. The world's ending but someone's around to blog it? Oh, that's alright then...

Work - TV to mobile

BBC NEWS | Technology | New era heralded for mobile TV

The first of what will be many many consumer stories on the subject over the next year. This one stands out a bit because it actually gets the facts right, though as usual it's driven by manufacturer PR and a bit on the sunnily optimistic side.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Online - It's Pastafari I rely on

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A religion that makes as much sense as anything else. If, the argument goes, Intelligent Design can qualify as a sound and scientific alternative to evolution, then so can the belief that the world was made flesh by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In fact, try and deny it.

Here be the core beliefs of the FSM's followers (known as Pastafarians):

* An invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, starting with a mountain, trees and a "midgit" (sic).
* All evidence pointing towards evolution was intentionally planted by this being
* Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct consequence of the decline in numbers of pirates since the 1800s. A graph showing the inverse correlation between the number of pirates and global temperatures was also provided. This component of the theory highlights the logical fallacy of correlation implying causation.
* It is disrespectful to teach their beliefs without wearing "His" chosen outfit, full pirate regalia.
* The monster continues to guide human affairs with his "noodly appendage".

The original site, which takes almost as much time to load as it does to boil a kilo of fresh spaghetti, is here.

Makes as much sense as anything else...

Online - Cyberporn sells

Wired News: Cyberporn Sells

Interesting one this. One of the characters in a massively multiplayer online title has just started publishing an in-game porn mag, which has been posed for by avatars within the game itself.

Two things: first the increase in graphic realism to make this workable is impressive (some of the pics are a bit more, er, downstairs of this one). Second, imagine the speed at which MMORPGs are going to evolve once the tech-savvy porn industry gets involved.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Online - Google's Top 10, 2005

These are Google's most searched items in 2005. Good evidence for debunking the theory that the internet is a truly global phenomenon.

1: Janet Jackson
2: Hurricane Katrina
3: Tsunami
4: Xbox 360
5: Brad Pitt
6: Michael Jackson
7: American Idol
8: Britney Spears
9: Angelina Jolie
10: Harry Potter

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Life - Darwin shoots, scores - Judge rules against intelligent design in science class - Dec 20, 2005

About bloody time too.

Work - News welcomes the preditor

Grade the News

One of San Francisco's local news channels, KRON Channel 4, embraces the desktop with abandon and turns journalists into VJs and mashes up producers and editors into the fearsome 'preditor'.

More of this happening there will be, says our Yoda correspondent.

(Though strictly speaking, KRON should really be the title of a straight to DVD fantasy film.)

Friday, 16 December 2005

Work - CGI stocks - Why a few CGI pix play so big on Wall Street

A Variety piece analysing CGI toon movie performance and the effect on their publicly traded stocks.

Got some interesting factoids in. F'rinstace, between 2003 and 2005, the dozen CGI toons released - less than 1% of all major releases - accounted for 7% of all box office grosses. Which is kindo of punching above their pixellated little weight.

Anyhow, it all goes on to say that:

A Morgan Stanley report said the market seems to have assumed the average box office for Pixar and DreamWorks Animation films will be in the top 6% of all releases, and that the ratio of DVD unit sales to B.O.B.O. gross will be in the top 15% of all releases.

All jolly nice. There is, however, a sting in the tale (sic):

The report also said if box office and/or homevideo performance for computer-animated films gets in line with the rest of the industry, "We estimate the intrinsic value of both companies is cut in half."

This and more found at

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Work - Night of the long knives

Quantel - Quantel announces senior management changes

Online - Wiki versus the world

news @�-�Internet encyclopaedias go head to head�-�Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds.

Out and about in the mainstream media now, but this is the original Nature article that measured Wikipedia accuracy with that of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Out of 50 pairs of entries:

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

Headline on the BBC and others is 'Wiki survives research test'. Personally, by the looks of it I'd say both sources failed.

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Online - Changing people's universes

Wired News: Star Wars Fans Flee Net Galaxy

An interesting one this, especially given the growing importance of virtual game economies and environments. Lucasarts (bless 'em) suddenly change the entire underpinning nature of a gameverse to encourage more people to play. Fair enough, but what about the established residents? Some people have spent years training up to be Jedis and now find it available as a character class option to new players. They're not happy and they're quitting.

Why do I get the feeling that they'll be able to real world sue for a breach of virtual rights in a few years time?

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Life - This time in two months

Two months exactly, give or take a bit of time leakage as you cross different zones, I'll be landing in Kathmandu. The Lonely Planet website says it is a:

tale of two cities: one a 'fabled capital of convivial pilgrims and carved rose-brick temples'; and the other 'a splenetic sprawl smothered in the pollution of diesel fumes, dirt, monkeys and beggars'.

Should at least be interesting then...

Oh, the pic's a manifestation of Kali in Kathmandu. Didn't know this, but 80% of the population is Hindu - Buddhists only account for 10% - and it is apparently the only official Hindu state in the world.

Work - Apple's Next Move

Apple's Next Move - How Steve Jobs can put a hammerlock on digital video. By Adam L. Penenberg

A piece from Slate speculating how Apple can untether the iPod from the desktop and set it roaming as a media hub.

Also has a link to the following Washington Post feature detailing the company's Vingle trademark application.

Looks like Cupertino wants to up the ante in the evil empire stakes.

Monday, 12 December 2005

Work - Product Placement

Wired News: TV Writers Must Sell, Sell, Sell

Interesting one from Wired. Article suggests that incidents of product placements in TV shows across the pond have risen 84% in the past year as the US networks try to head off ad-skipping technologies at the pass.

Was going to move seamlessly into a 'Thank God for the BBC' discussion, until I realised that this is probably the next way the Corp can work yet more thrice-cursed cross-promotion into its output.

Update: 13/12/05 Ofcom and the EU is looking to relax legislation on this happening this side of the Atlantic. Currently products have to be donated and paid placement is a no no.

Work - more citizen journalism

Media Grauniad is reporting that:

"BBC News received more than 6,500 emails containing pictures and video footage of the Buncefield oil depot explosion on Sunday."

Think the subject just crept up the agenda.

Life - More Nepal

Just had a quick play with Google Earth and came up with this picture. Lukla, the marked settlement in the foreground, is the airstrip we fly into from Katmandu. The group then treks up the valley on the left and round the spur into the valley on the right. Max height? About 3950m, where there's only about 60% of the O2 you'd expect at sea level. And yes, that peak in the centre distance is Everest.

Sunday, 11 December 2005

Work - Citizen Journalism

Big blast at an oil depot in Hemel Hempstead this morning, and most of the coverage on all forms of media seems to have been provided by people in the vicinity. Photos are good, video footage is still lagging behind in quality terms, and the media orgs are appealing for people to send in what they can.

The whole citizen journalism is going to be a big issue next year, IMHO. There are huge issues about rights, residuals and quality to be addressed. Plus there's a very vexed question that the broadcasters are ducking at the moment surrounding editorial control. Case in point: one viewer on the BBC reporting seeing queues outside petrol stations at 07.00, not an hour after the explosion. The text is read out and within a couple of hours the police have to issue appeals to motorists not to panic buy.

Give the public a voice and the signal to noise ratio in news changes dramatically. Just listen to a 5Live phone-in one day.

Wonder how difficult it would be to stage a modern day update of Orson Wells's infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from the 30s. "We're just getting messages in from viewers of bright lights in the sky over Swindon..."

Text us your views now...

Friday, 9 December 2005

Work - UK film tax situ finally clears up

UK Film Council Welcomes New Tax Relief

Spoke to a lot of people today who're very happy about this. And when the film industry is happy, the rest of the UK post and broadcast industry is genuinely happy too.

All of which is good and means I might actually be able to afford the holiday (see below).

Life - Up on the roof (of the world)

So, having had a decent hum and a hah about it, I've finally booked myself on a two-week trek in Nepal in February. Superb! Fly out to Kathmandu on Feb 12.

Details here:

Everest Teahouse Trek - Nepal - EXPLORE! Worldwide

Better start running up and down them stairs...