Free DVD
25/2/00 | 14:36 GMT

Is it legal for Sony to sell Region-Free DVD players? Hopefully, I might be getting this particular one, but it is frankly shocking how much prices are marked up these days. The DVP-S725 (I think) costs about £260 in Hong Kong. This is apparently the best they have over there. Whereas if you want to buy it in the UK, you have to pay at least £200 more. And in America, it costs £100 more.

Did you know that China is now making dirt-cheap DVD players? Apparently they buy all the components from fairly reputable manufacturers in Japan (Hitachi, that sort of thing) and assemble them using their Slave Labour Workforce (tm). They cost a shockingly cheap £120, and can also play VCDs. Naturally, they're region-free.



25/2/00 | 13:14 GMT

There I was, in a nice good mood after watching some Babylon 5 when I flick over to BBC News Online (check the article here) and find out that Greenpeace has gone and effectively stopped a cargo ship carrying genetically modified soya from docking at Liverpool (the ship was from America). I thought - let's not jump to conclusions here, as much as I despise Greenpeace for their stance on GM foods. Obviously this cargo ship has done something wrong - maybe they've broken the law or safety regulations.

As it happens, the cargo ship's soya is completely within the laws and regulations. Greenpeace has absolutely no case whatsoever for stopping the ship. Fine - we know that they'll say they believe that the GM crops are unsafe. They're only doing this to get the issue into court.

<rant> But what right do they have to dictate to us what is safe and what isn't? Don't they credit us with having brains, and being able to make up our own decisions? They're trying to protect us from ourselves, because us poor ignorant and deluded British citizens obviously can't read a label on a food wrapper that says 'Genetically Modified' and make our own minds up. </rant>

To be honest, I have lost all respect that I ever had for Greenpeace. I sincerely hope that whoever is responsible for this stunt is held accountable. We all have romantic notions of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, it's not just against the law, it's wrong.

I'm all for hearing both sides of the story, so here's Greenpeace UK's homepage (there's a big link to the cargo ship business). No direct link, since it's all frames and mularky.



24/2/00 | 23:20 GMT

So anyway, just got back from the pub. I was wondering - what do people think of the different drinking/consent ages around the world? Do they really make any difference? Is there, in fact, any point to having drinking/consent ages if they are unenforcable? What difference does a year make Email me your views.



23/2/00 | 18:00 GMT

Look, look! A new book review of Peter Hamilton's A Second Chance of Eden, written by me! See, I do write original content instead of linking to other sites.

I've been thinking. I have an awful lot of book reviews by UK authors such as Stephen Baxter, Iain M Banks, Ken Macleod and Peter F Hamilton. Perhaps I should dedicate this site to a weblog of the activities of UK SF writers...

BTW, I'm going to change it so that clicking on outside links will get rid of the frame at the bottom. I know that it can be annoying.



22/2/00 | 22:38 GMT

Find out what this Geek Code thing is all about - after all, not everyone can be one of the Internet's first users.

I've just spent the afternoon watching the computer slowly defrag the hard drive. It's interesting to see how it manages to go slower and slower, and eventually, pretty much stops altogether. The thing is, though, it has moods. Sometimes it'll move entire blocks of clusters at once, other times it'll dawdle around, pushing single clusters with no visible meaning. It's temperamental. It acts with no actual goal (not even the goal of defragmenting my hard drive). In fact, you could even say that it was... alive.


At the risk of never being able to use the computer again before it finished, I decided to let the computer win this round, and quit the program. Next time, though...

Babylon 5 Top Trumps. I'll take Byron myself, with his 'Ham factor: 9.' Unfortunately, he won't be much use against others, with his 'Weapons: Curling Tongs (1).' Something for the weekend?

Check out my seminal A Rogue Train Traveller's Guide to surviving on the British rail system. It's a perfect guide to those of you who find that paying full fare (or at all) on trains strangely does not come naturally. It's almost, but not quite, as popular as my other essay, A Statistical look at the likelihood of an individual being able to go out with Britney Spears.



22/2/00 | 12:58 GMT

My money's on Bill Gates unveiling the X-Box today at the Game Developers Conference. What with the PSX2's reception, I don't think Microsoft want to be upstaged, especially when Nintendo's Dolphin is just around the corner as well.

Here's an interesting bit of news: Human Cloning has been approved by the EU

THE European Patent Office announced yesterday that it had approved human cloning "by mistake".

A paragraph that licences the cloning of humans is tucked away in a highly technical, 235-page patent application on "animal transgenic stem cells". Innocuously listed as patent number EP 695351, it was granted last December to the University of Edinburgh and the Australian company Stem Cell Sciences.

The move would have passed unnoticed had it not been spotted by the environmental group Greenpeace during a library search on patents for genetically modified plants.

Christian Gugerell, head of the biotechnology section of the Munich-based patent office, said: "We've committed a very serious error. It's not our practice to grant patents on human beings."

From Daily Telegraph (pointed out by Culture mailing list)

Site news: It has come to my attention (through Comrade Dane) that my email form isn't working. Problem solved - for some inexplicable reason, Dreamweaver decided to add a '2' to the end of some of the tags. Curses!

I've been thinking - it's time to write something original now. You've got all these Internet Startups trying to squeeze money out of VCs - that's all very well and good, and it'd be nothing original to write a diary about that.

But those internet startups have it incredibly easy compared to what I'm doing. Imagine a teenager trying to get several thousand pounds funding for an international competition about space. And he's in the UK, a country not known for its space exploits. I tell you now, you ain't seen nothing yet. At least those dot coms have a possibility (no matter how small) of making a return in the future. A competition doesn't, apart from the intangibles of PR.

So, I'll be talking about the travails of getting funding out of the public and private sector space industry in the next few entries. It's not quite 'as it happens' since I started organising the competition along with a Canuckian friend a few months ago, but this way I can make it a little more interesting.

ObLink: It appears, UK visitors, that Streets Online are offering 15% off all purchases this Friday. Worth checking out, I reckon.



22/2/00 | 23:25 GMT

I'm a very happy guy. Apart from the fact that while I did lose in a competition tonight (more about that tomorrow), I did get a whole load of goodies, including a four-pack of beer pilfered from the awards dinner (hey, they told me to take it, alright?). But that's not just it. On a routine inspection of weblog portals, I found that Jim Roepcke's Have Browser Will Travel has linked to me. Apparently Vavactch Orbital is 'definitely worth a look-see'.

I must add that Jim's site was featured on Blogger as a 'great weblog'. So take a look.

If you haven't read David Langford's classic BLIT story (the progenitor of uncountable 'visual virus' spinoffs), read it now.

The new Palm IIIc (colour) is making my trusty Palmpilot Professional look like a venerable ZX81.

I heard a very interesting remark about the old Billster today (Bill Gates). An employee of PWC was telling me how Bill Gates was possibly the most boring speaker in the world - but what's new? Apparently the reason is because he's not allowed to express any 'unauthorised' opinions about companies or products in general. Say he says 'I think the Sega Dreamcast is great.'

BAM! Sega's shares rocket up the next day. What about him saying 'Well, I think those guys at Dell can go and shove their 'Windows 2000 isn't good' crap up where the sun don't shine' (or something along those lines).

BAM! The next day, Dell's shares take a dip. Bill Gates is truly the most powerful man in the world.



22/2/00 | 11:43 GMT

Encouraging news about JPL's Terrestrial Planet Finder. This new telescope will be able to generate images 100 times more detailed than Hubble and resolve planets as small as Earth in the habitable zones of other stars, along with spectroscopic analysis of their atmospheres. All we need now is an interstellar craft and we're set.

Nice to see that the Russians have finally found a good use for Mir. If this space hotel succeeds, I think we'll be seeing the first glimmerings of CATS (commercial/cheap access to space) - like I've always said.

I don't think anyone would have thought that phytoplankton looked like this. They seriously freak me out.

Why has there not been more coverage of the 100 tonne cyanide spill in Romania? There's been plenty of articles on BBC News Online, but they've all come in drips and drabs - not many people seem aware of the total disaster.

If you're looking for a new backdrop to replace that tired old CGI image that you once thought was nifty and original, check this out, from the Excession website.



The Future is always in 20 years time
22/2/00 | 00:09 GMT

Interesting piece of technology prediction from BT Labs here, well worth a gander. Gratuitous use of Flash, I'll grant you that. And it takes a while to work out exactly how to navigate the damn thing.

BT Technology Journal, Millennium edition

It's only three months old, it won't be that out of date. Take a good look, UKers, because this is what our local call charges are paying for.



Free at last!
21/2/00 | 23:48 GMT

I finally got around to finding out the Internet Oracle's website - if you're a serious procrastinator, like myself, you should take a look. True, there are a fair number of in-jokes, but you've just got to love the Gilbert and Sullivan parodies, and the Raymond Chandler rip-offs.

I have a Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional box sitting ominously on top of my printer. When I walk into the room, I stare at it. It stares back. One of these days, I'm supposed to install it but I just know that it's going to mess the computer up badly, even though I'm going to do it dual-boot. But until then, it can go on sitting there.

It does, however, have a very impressive hologram on the CD. Not that people who copy the CD are going to care about that particularly.

Site news: I am indebted to stats4all for allowing me to get rid of those god-awful Hitbox adverts, which are without a doubt the most ugly pieces of graphic in existence. I find it a little ridiculous, though, that I've only heard about them now. I recommend them to you for all your stats needs (and no, I'm not getting paid by them - although I wouldn't mind a bit of cash).

Even better is the fact that most pages will now load up significantly faster (by maybe a second). Vunderbar!



The world we live in today...
21/2/00 | 20:05 GMT

Site news: I went and submitted this weblog to a few portals (including linkwatcher), so hopefully readership should go up. I've also found a far better stats service, stats4all, which I'll be changing to whenever I haven't got anything else to do.

"Incorporated in 1996, Testamints has accepted the call of the Great Commission. Never before has a candy company endeavored to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world on a pack of sugar free breath mints."

See for yourself: Testamints

What's with all these sites using CSS? I've got no beef with using it sparingly (I use it for my bottom frame, as you may have noticed). And it does cut down on all the HTML junk I have to use. But wait a second - what about disabled users? When I'm faced with a site using CSS that has tiny fonts, no amount of text-size changing will render it readable.

We have neat HTML! But at what cost?



The Bomberman Trance
21/2/00 | 18:00 GMT

Site news: Links have been updated.

At school, we have a few PCs for general Internet access and so on. However the computer in most demand is not the PC, but incredibly, the ageing Acorn RiscPC. Why? Because it has the most addictive game known to man: Bomberman. Or rather, this clone is called 'Marsquake'.

In fact, this game has been played by my friends and I in the numerous free periods we have that, if conditions are favourable, you'll sit down to play, and then all conscious control will have shut down. You'll enter the Bomberman Trance. Strategies and devious power-up snatching tactics will flow from your prehensile hind-brain unhindered directly to the keyboard, your fingers moving in absolute synchronity.

If you've got two players in the Bomberman Zone at the same time, the game will get so complex, so intricate, that as each tries to outwit the other the game accelerates; bombs aren't laid in lines, but fractal zig-zag patterns. Movement is timed to perfection - often players will miss being killed by fractions of a second. Bomberman isn't just a game, it's art. It's chess, but on a higher level.

A friend likened this state to the Statistics Trance. Unlike the Bomberman Trance, the Statistics Trance is mind-numblingly boring, but again, you lose all conscious control. One minute you'll sit down to do some work, and the next you'll wake as if from a dream one hour later, pieces of A4 paper filled with incomprehensive digits laid in front of you.

At the moment, I'm trying to search for a suitable PC-clone of Bomberman. I'm told that Atomic Bomberman can support up to 8 players, so I'm sure I'll be visiting my local CD copier very soon...



Let's buy... what?
21/2/00 | 18:00 GMT

Site news: I just updated my About Me section by adding a bit about What does the room I'm in look like. Procrastination is a wonderful thing.

I normally check pretty frequently, since there are some good bargains to be had there. But as I was showing a friend the site, he said 'Yeah, you save a lot of money, but is there anything you'd actually buy here?'

'Well, uh, there's the radio controlled car. I'd get that if I was, say, five years younger. And the, um, digital camera, which I'd get if I had more money.'

Has anyone else noticed that Coming Attractions (the film news site) is:

a) infinitely more readable than Ain't it Cool News
b) updated more often and
c) has a much better TV news section?



Full house no good
21/2/00 | 11:06 GMT

At the moment I'm plundering my favourites folder in IE5 to find interesting stuff to put here until this evening, when call charges go off-peak (curse BT! We want unmetered telecommunications!).

A great site to visit for pretty much anyone is the Tiltboys homepage - a collection of trip reports to Las Vegas, where it seems that they don't really get around to playing much poker but have some very strange adventures. Just don't read it at work, or else you'll get into trouble for laughing out loud.

There's also the Official Rock Paper Scissors strategy guide which you'll like. I quote:

"Rock: Use of rock as an opening move is seen by many players to be a sign of aggression. Rock also happens to be the most effortless of the throws and fast reactions are never required to employ it with success. By careful examination of the options and atmosphere of play, a well-placed rock will crush a carelessly thrown pair of scissors every time."



Thinkquest and Star Trek
20/2/00 | 22:53 GMT

As my first update, I'd like you to check out Thinkquest - a competition for high school students to produce educational websites. I'm taking part in one this year with friends from Russia and Canada (it's a hell of a problem trying to be online all at the same time), and it'd be nice for other people to enter so we could beat them all. Overconfident? Definitely.

I'm also looking forward to reading Jim Wright's Delta Blues review of this week's Star Trek Voyager episode. I've found that Jim's reviews are generally more enjoyable than watching the actual episode itself - he blends in an original sense of humour into his reviews, often resulting in Star Trek rewrites of classics like 'Grease' and 'Kung Fu Fighting'.



Welcome to my new, improved homepage
20/2/00 | 17:25 GMT

Well, I just spent most of today building my site again from the ground-up; it didn't take as long as I really expected, seeing as the definition of 'most of today' in my case is about five hours.

This will also serve as an impromptu weblog, although I'm going to make an effort to keep on developing content instead of just linking to it. Expect more updates soon.