Saturday, April 15

A neat little idea for a movie; Timecode 2000 [link culled from Culture] - where the film is shot continuously for 93 minutes, and the actual screen is split up into four quadrants, each quadrant following one actor. Believe or not, audience feedback has been positive as well. I suppose it'll be only, what, ten years before we get to see it in the UK?

Testosterone increases the chatting-up capability of males (well, verbal fluency, anyway). But unsurprisingly there's a downside to this; visual/spatial ability is diminished. I suppose it's a little like when you've had a few pints, except the improved chatting-up ability is real, not simply perceived.

The UK's Beagle 2 Mars Lander 'clamshell' design is so good, NASA is planning to 'rip it off' for a new series of 'smaller, cheaper and more robust' Mars spacecraft. At least this time they're planning to use the good old airbags for landing instead of the problematic rockets.

3:59 PM | permalink | discuss

Friday, April 14

The UK's favourite poem of 1995 - If, by Rudyard Kipling.

It'd be interesting to hear some more news about NASA's maglev payload launcher project. I remember discussing next-generation launch methods with a guy from ESA once; he was of the opinion that mass drivers, not the X-33 or Roton, were the way to go.

Power doesn't come from the end of a gun barrel; it comes from the look in a crowd's eye. 100,000 people take part in a rally against Slobodan Milosevic.

10:20 PM | permalink | discuss

Here's an interesting post David Brin recently made to the Brin-L mailing list concerning libertarianism, and those who attack it. How on earth Brin manages to take the time out to write such long posts, I don't know.

I was watching one of the better Star Trek: TNG episodes last night (Emergence, if you wanted to know), but there was one line that cracked me up. Beverly Crusher (the doctor) said:

"There are some life forms whose sole purpose is to reproduce."

(Tangent: you would not believe the trouble I had to go to to find one review for this episode. How ridiculous of me to think that with so many 'high quality' Star Trek sites, I could find a link in a few seconds).

Does anyone here live near or around Liverpool? I'm planning to go and see Jools Holland at the Liverpool Philharmonic in July, it'd be a nice time to meet up with people.

11:27 AM | permalink | discuss

A 73-year old grandfather was told he was pregnant. God bless the National Health Service!

10:35 AM | permalink | discuss

Mind's Eye Fiction have finally added some new short-stories; about bloody time as well, they're one of my few sources of free quality science fiction. Elemental, by Geoffrey Landis, is a good story to start off with - 'a future where magic is a branch of physics.' It's not particularly amazing, but it's entertaining enough for me.

I quite like the way they handle the payment scheme for reading stories there; you can either pay about 60 cents to read the end of a story (the start is free), or just have to load up banner adverts every thousand or so words. It's a positive-sum game; everyone is happy in the end.

Seven year old schoolgirls plan the killing of a classmate (registration may be required). The scary thing is, I don't know whether those girls actually intended to kill their classmate or not. A month ago, I would have laughed at it, but when you read about a six year old boy killing another boy, you begin to wonder.

12:00 AM | permalink | discuss

Thursday, April 13

This year's BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures centre on the problem of sustainable development. Traditionally, there have been several lecturers every year, each speaking on different topics - by having all the speakers concentrate on the same topic (sustainable development), the organisers have broken the mould.

At the moment, only one transcript is on the Internet, of Chris Patten's (former governor of Hong Kong) lecture on governance and democracy. Rather predictably, he talks about the benefits of greater participation and transparency - but of course, that's the entire point of democracy. Summaries of the other lectures are online, which is pretty good since they haven't been aired yet.

If you're hoping to catch the lectures yourself, the schedule is available here. Note that they're also being aired on BBC World Service (so you can all listen to them)

8:08 PM | permalink | discuss

Eheu! (or in English, 'Alas!'). The World Rock-Paper-Scisscors Official Society's website has been destroyed by 'a group of malcontent Spanish hackers'. This is the site that gave us such gems as:

The Helpful "Old Hat" Strategy

This strategy has been in use since the first bout of serious RPS ever played (believed to have occured between two bedouin tribesmen in 345 BC, in what is now part of modern day Turkey). The strategy can be summed up simply, the "Old Hat" simply acts as if he knows what his opponents next move is, acting as if his opponent only had three choices of how to play his next move. Common ploys in the application of this strategy include;

"I knew that would be your next move,"

"Rock? Hmmmm... Frankly I am surprised that Paper obviously didn't even occur to you,"

"This time, actually think before you throw,"

"I don't suggest using the Avalanche gambit on me; I did invent it, after all,"

...and other comments of a similar tone.

The result is often an opponent who feels himself to be inferior and therefore may make obvious mistakes in a blind panic to regain his composure. Please be forewarned that the "Lucky Beginner" is the obvious counter-strategy and can be applied to acheive devastating results against the over-confident Old-Hatter.

12:27 PM | permalink | discuss

A nice factoid from Guardian Online: according to Professor Ben Shneiderman, the real answer why voice recognition will never replace the mouse and keyboard is because 'the cognitive load of voice interfaces is greater than hand/eye co-ordination. Speaking requires your short term memory, whereas hand/eye co-ordination is parallel processed in other parts of your brain.'

Check out the full article here - it's actually a chat between four web design gurus (Brenda Laurel, Ben Schneiderman, Donad Norman, and of course, Jakob Neilsen).

Just because he says it doesn't mean it's necessarily true, but I think you'll agree that it makes sense.

9:57 AM | permalink | discuss

Wednesday, April 12

There's been an excellent post to the BBC News Talkback Forum on GM salmon, which I've copied here to save you looking for it; facts and figures straight from the horse's mouth.

And no, I'm not going to link to the BBC News article about the possibility of large, stable wormholes existing, since I can guarantee that there'll be a hundred similar links in less than an hour.

But if you're really interested, here it is.

7:49 PM | permalink | discuss

I received an interesting bit of news in an email claiming that SpaceHab is planning to create 'the first private broadcasting and production facility based in space.' Along with offering education and space news content, their entertainment strand will include 'everything from episodic, sitcom-like programming in space to staging concerts there.'

Now, I thought this was yet another small company with big ideas. But...

'Mr. Harrison [former NASA astronaut and VP of SpaceHab] said that SpaceHab will also team up with Rocket Space Corporation Energia to build, launch and deploy the Enterprise "module," [on the ISS] with the $100 million cost to be roughly split by the two concerns.

Huh. Now that's what I call real commercial exploitation of space, not this cheap $20 million excuse for a space hotel. Apologies for the lack of a link - I can't find it anywhere, and it was originally taken from the Wall Street Journal (paid subscription required)

7:18 PM | permalink | discuss

Probably the page that has most annoyed me recent is BBC News' survey on Would you eat GM salmon?

It's not people who are justifiably worried about the dangers that irritate me - I'm worried about the dangers of the growth genes going 'wild' myself, even with the GM salmon rendered infertile. What irritates me are people who give catch-all statements such as 'Why do we never learn from our past mistakes (BSE, etc...)'

The British public seem to lump all scientific crises such as BSE and thalidomide under the whole GM-scientists-going-mad banner. Of course, they never mention the advantages genetic engineering can bring to us (gene therapy, anti-sense treatments).

Another random quote: '[Should we eat GM Salmon?] Absolutely not! As for the American eating GM foods for years and years - look what has happened to them - a nation of over-weighters.' What possible revelance does the obesity of American have to GM foods?

9:17 AM | permalink | discuss

Tuesday, April 11

I've been reading some great short-story SF by Michael Cobley recently - check out A Synopsis of a Looking-Glass Rebellion, Tactics at Twilight and the Undertaker Faker Caper. The first story is by far the most impressive, and Michael writes about the background behind it here. All the stories are from the excellent as usual Infinity Plus.

I keep on reading emails by people who go on incessantly about how they don't have enough time to read the huge pile of books they've bought but haven't started yet - if only I could be the proud owner of such a pile...

8:45 PM | permalink | discuss

An online copy of JD Bernal's 1929 essay The World, The Flesh and The Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul [from Culture list]. I believe that the 'Bernal Sphere' space station idea is the one and same JD Bernal (but I'm not sure).

Interesting reading, and some of it is still visionary. You can see why the likes of Freeman Dyson and Bruce Sterling claim to have been inspired by it.

The BBC Knowledge digital channel has recently started airing some excellent original programming - about bloody time, seeing as previously it was used just to air BBC adverts and repeats of exam revision guides.

7:49 PM | permalink | discuss

I was a little worried when I read about the genetically modified salmon that could grow at 10 times normal rate; of course they're all infertile, but still... However, I'm not sure if there's that much to worry about. There must be some sort of disadvantage to this huge rate of growth which would cause the species to be outcompeted. I suppose they could always engineer the salmon so that they could only live in the presence of a specific growth factor, but that's easier said than done.

There's been a strange lack of news in the media about the Mir repair mission, but I managed to find this: Mir crew breathes easier - two modules air tight

2:07 PM | permalink | discuss

Monday, April 10

A tidy summary of Cuba in the world today, and why Fidel Castro has managed to survive in power for 40 years: The Geopolitics of Fidel.

If that's a little too dry, have a read of Burning Bright, a short story by Fergus Bannon. It starts a little weakly, but the development and conclusion of is excellent. And it's free, of course.

There is no 'Face on Mars'

A little dilemma for you. You have a sum of money to invest into stocks. Should you invest the stocks in social issues that you care about (green/humanitarian/healthcare) or should you invest for maximum returns regardless of the 'morality' of the companies you invest in, and donate some of the extra earnings to groups working on the social issues you care about?

Latest endorsement for Vavatch Orbital: "Your website isn't so fascist these days, it's a lot more pleasant now."

10:55 PM | permalink | discuss

There's been a bit of a furore over here in the UK regarding the jury system. It's been a long running debate that it's too easy for people to skip jury duty, which generally results in the 'best qualified' jurors (with doctorates, degrees, A-Levels, etc) always being able to find a valid reason for making themselves exempt. You then have, critics claim, a jury full of school drop-outs who cannot be expected to make an informed and impartial decision on a court case.

An article in the New York Times addresses this: Do Diplomas make jurors any better? Maybe not

It may be necessary to register with NYTimes to read this article, but it's worth it.

Tangent: I personally believe that anything which holds you up in viewing a piece on information on the Internet is counterproductive for the site in question. Mandatory registration in my book counts as the worst sin in this category.

7:57 PM | permalink | discuss

War tourism: Cu Chi, one of Vietnam's most famous battlefields, has been turned into an amusement park.

PAY $1 a bullet to fire a REAL M16 or AK47 gun! TIPTOE across a simulated MINEFIELD!

3:30 PM | permalink | discuss

More things I hate

One stop shop sites: Well, not quite. I know a lot of people at school who believe that that Internet is comprised of search engines, pornography, 'geeky' stuff and bored.com. Taking the last as an example, unsurprisingly it's a site with adverts featuring links to various humorous (and not so humorous) sites for the amusement of those bored or procrastinating. I wonder whether these people realise that there are sites on the Internet that cater for things they're interested in. A recent quote from a friend placed weblogs as a 'geeky' activity.

Sigh. Peer pressure.

There's been a lot of hype over decoding the genome of humans and other organisms. People don't realise that creating a map of our genome is the easy part - understand how the proteins work together is the hard bit.

3:21 PM | permalink | discuss

Sunday, April 9

You know what it's like - in the 'good old days' children were always more respectful to their elders, and people had better manners. Unlike most 'good old days' stories, this one is actually true. This article is exactly what I'm talking about - a lot of people these days lack simple common courtesy. Like a lot of newspaper articles put on the Internet, it has a peculiar layout, but it's worth reading.

Likewise, there's a good article in the Christian Science Monitor about, well, nasty kids.

Myself, I'm not as concerned when people insult me, as when they do it behind my back. If they insult me to my face, at least they have the stones to listen to my (usually scathing and sarcastic) reply. Behind my back, like the kids in the article, well, they're the worst type of cowards.

8:06 PM | permalink | discuss

A treasure-trove of free, quality, science-fiction: Shipbuilding. It was originally published at the 53rd World Science Fiction Convention in Scotland, and has 11 short stories written by Scottish authors. Enjoy.

A funny account of what it's like to be a Star Trek actor, by Robert Beltran of Voyager fame (you may have to scroll down to get to the good bits). A choice quote:

"Of course, there's always the recurring fight scene between [Janeway] and Seven of Nine.... "Captain we should kill that beast or else it will kill us." "No, it's a sentient being. That's not Starfleet." "But it's going to kill us. I'm going to kill it." "You will not". "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." Commercial break. Then, "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "Go to your cargo bay!" "Fine. But I'll kill it anyway." I guess you can tell that six years are kind of getting to me!"

1:27 PM | permalink | discuss

Wow! A Sony Palmpilot/Minidisc player? Pretty amazing.

(Yes, I do know that it's an April Fool's joke, but seeing as I read it after April 1st it did take me in).

What is surprising is that two newspapers (non-English) have commented upon it. I can see the Sony techs working away at it right now - who knows, maybe the whole thing was a piece of deliberate mis-mis-information...

11:48 AM | permalink | discuss

Apparently soft drinks are 'good for teeth,' due to the preservatives in them. I can just see people like Sunny Delight jumping onto this piece of news to bolster their claims that their drinks are indeed healthy, instead of just being a sucrose solution. There was an advert on TV for Sunny Delight here in the UK, where a parent of two teenagers espoused the healthiness of the drink - it tastes great and 'the extra vitamins and minerals are a bonus.' I'm sure they are, but imagine how many vitamins and minerals you'd get if you drunk real orange juice...

Bah. Bloody PR campaigns.

There's been a suggestion that to save the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK from crashing, we should send patients abroad for cheaper treatments. I just want to know how on Earth kidney transplants can be 17 times more expensive in the UK than India - assuming the quality of treatment is the same, that is.

11:24 AM | permalink | discuss

A quite disturbing article by a well-known SF libertarian author (pro-guns) about why Smith and Wesson Must Die.

For me, there simply is no compelling evidence for the use of guns, apart from 'they've got them, so we need them to protect ourselves.'

12:39 AM | permalink | discuss