Saturday, April 22

Apparently a quarter of UK high school students are 'very interested' in the occult - obviously this is just due to the corrupting nature of the Internet. It's undoubtedly true that the Internet allows easier access to, well, illicit or non-mainstream materials. I remember back in the olds days of the net, with Mosaic, I was looking through very convincing stuff about UFOs; in fact, I remember reading the Heaven's Gate stuff about a year before the tragedy, and thinking 'This is a nice story.' I even printed out a copy of it to show to my friends.

Of course, the moral here is that if kids are wise enough to figure out a scam when they read it, they never will. I would advocate some sort of content-rating system where skeptics can tab a comment onto the website saying 'This is rubbish' but people have been pushing for this for years and it's never happened.

Here's the first draft of my A Bluffer's Guide to Essay Writing guide.

4:18 PM | permalink | discuss

Friday, April 21

I was browsing through Eric Raymond's essays (one of the most well-known Linux programmers) and noticed a few gems. Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun is particularly interesting; I don't agree with it at all.

He believes that the act of bearing arms makes men and women more cognizant of their responsibilities, by the fact that they know that if they make a mistake, someone might die. Only the 3% of the population who are dyed-in-the-wool criminals, mentally retarded or psychopaths are incapable of realising this responsibility and so become murderers.

Instead, he says, we believe that we're all incapable of discipline; that we're all psychopaths or incompetents ourselves, which is obviously not the case.

Unsurprisingly, I don't agree. Raymond starts with the assumption that we should, for some reason, have to bear arms in order to show what strength of will we have. But this doesn't make any sense; why should this symbol of responsibility be a tool which should be using to kill others? It's practically a paradox; bearing arms shows that we have strength of will, and having strength of will means we can bear arms.

But exactly what is the point of bearing arms in the first place, if not to defend ourselves against other arms-bearers? What of the accidental crimes of passion? What of the countless school shootings?

10:30 PM | permalink | discuss

I've had a good response from my plea for links; the nanotech article was submitted by a reader, and another suggested this wonderfully good time-consuming gravity simulator. I've actually seen it before, but when I discovered that it had already been covered by a dozen weblogs I decided to try and not be derivative.

So - here's a bit of added value - right clicking in the simulator makes negative gravity.

''Chatting online may be better than watching television, but it's worse than hanging out with real friends...'' It's true. What worries me is that I personally know several younger kids who've received, well, propositions from frankly unsavoury sounding individuals. Thing is, these kids think it's just a game.

Multitasking in the real world; a few do's and don't's (apologies for the appalling grammar on "don't's")

8:11 PM | permalink | discuss

Thursday, April 20

Bill Joy's article on the world-destroying dangers of nanotech is well known, but it's heartening to know that there are people out there who don't agree with him. This article in Reason Online does a good job of rebutting Joy's arguments, and apparently the author, Virginia Postrel, is 'quite the looker' (I'm told by a reliable source).

11:58 PM | permalink | discuss

Pokemon has been called many things; the Mexican Church has called it satanic, the British Police have warned us that it may incite crime. But it's interesting to note that a Vatican TV channel has given it it's blessing because the franchise was based 'on ties of intense friendship'.

And undoubtedly lots of backhanders.

I have to warn you, I'm feeling a bit (web)logged out at the moment. In a network of 300+ million people, it already feels like I've seen all the interesting stuff. If anyone has anything interesting they think other readers here might like, don't hesistate to email me.

That's not to say that I don't have any links to post myself; New Scientist, rather fittingly, did a feature on Creationism today. It's a nice introduction to the subject.

8:02 PM | permalink | discuss

Wednesday, April 19

The second Reith Lecture (all on the theme of sustainability) has been posted; it's about biodiversity, by Tom Lovejoy.

I quite like the way he starts off by saying that the question now is not whether we affect the environment or not, but how and to what extent should we affect the environment. The questions asked for the lecture are almost more interesting than the lecture itself; there are some big hitters there. In fact, all questions bar two were posed by big hitters, which while probably improving the quality doesn't say much for reaching out to the audience.

Frequency, a time-travel movie with Dennis Quaid, is receiving some pretty impressive reviews from test-screenings. It's about time there was a decent SF movie released.

11:52 PM | permalink | discuss

Tuesday, April 18

I have just stumbled across a wonderful site that'll keep me occupied for days - How Stuff Works [from gammatron]. It has hundreds of guides about how 'stuff' works (e.g. how horsepower works, how valentine's day works, how cruises work, how cruise missiles work).

Of course, it doesn't come close to David Macauley's seminal The Way Things Work book, but then, what could match the antics of the woolly mammoth?

11:39 PM | permalink | discuss

Because a Tinky Winky doll from Teletubbies says 'I got a gun, run away', the creators of Teletubbies are being sued by 'an unemployed office worker from Southern California.'

A choice quote from her lawyer: '[Tinky Winky]'s got this evil laugh. He sounds like Chucky.'

I swear, BBC News Online is getting slack these days. I get the feeling that their writers, having exhausted the almost limitless possibilities of Solitaire and Minesweeper, have turned their attentions to typing out semi-amusing, semi-information and completely irrelevant articles.

Like Economics lessons the Pokemon way.

Here's the link to that essay I wrote, Making a Difference

6:30 PM | permalink | discuss

It's a sad, sad world when NASA has a metric converter on it's website.

The fact that the Cassini probe (en-route to Saturn) has made it through the asteroid belt intact doesn't even make the by-lines of the papers is a telling fact, especially when the fact that it'd blown up would be plastered across the headlines.

Zapping brain lesions with super-lasers (or high energy radiation beams, if you will).

I wrote this essay, Making a Difference (link to follow), a fair while ago; it's basically about the fact that while teenagers whine on about not being able to make a difference because the system's against them, it's really their fault for being lazy bastards.

At least, that's what I thought a few months ago. Since then, I've been actively fundraising for a competition, and aside from a few minor successes, no-one is interested. They either don't have the money (the rather grandly-named British National Space Centre, has in my estimation, no more than 30 employees) or aren't interested.

I've contacted specific organisations who give out grants. Now, nearly all of these organisations have specific guidelines about who they can give grants to. The competition I'm organising falls between the cracks of these guidelines because no-one has essentially done it before. So I'm practically tearing my head out, bawling to the computer 'Just give me some goddamn money, for Christ's sake!' while these grant committees are pondering over the latest community scheme to buy an extra wheel for their 30 year-old train set.

By rigidly defining guidelines, these grant committees are simply (and I'm going to try and avoid using the word perpetuating) stamping out originality. Who knows, the people giving the money might be interested in original applications, but they never get to see them because they're culled before they reach them.

So I turn my attention to the multi-billion pound donation service of the National Lottery; surely they'll have some spare cash to throw around? As it happens, yes. But not for me. Again, they have rigidly defined guidelines; they talk about grants being used to help 'the local community' (i.e. not the national community). Suggestions include 'plays, dances, meeting community needs.'

I mean, get a grip! These are all admirable things, but are you really going to spend a hundred million on them? And have you ever realised that no-one actually knows about how to apply for this grant scheme? I'm trying to organise a competition that will both educate and entertain thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of schoolkids for a pittance in one of the most original and up-to-date, go-getting, shining-example-of-British-youth, world-spanning, Commonwealth-uniting initiatives and you don't give a fuck? And you wonder why the British youth is so maladroit and disaffected these days?

Well. There are other grant schemes within the National Lottery; educational schemes, which are more suited to what I want. Unfortunately, I fall down at the first hurdle; your application has to be tied to a specific school in the UK (rather than, for example, being applicable to every school in the UK).

No-one seems willing to say 'I've got a pot of cash, come to me with a good, well-written plan and I'll look over it, even if it doesn't adhere to rule 5, sub-section 3, point 7.'

11:28 AM | permalink | discuss

Monday, April 17

So. I was talking about semi-solicited email, but I'd like to go on a digression. The way we receive information from others is changing now; at first we had letters, and generally they arrive with such sloth and intervening time that you don't have to worry about them; spam snailmail is so easily identifiable you can just throw it into the bin at a moment's notice.

Then, you have the phone, which is a curious phenomenon. As has been noted by many, we're (nearly) all placed at the mercy of the phone. When the phone rings, you rush to answer it because it might be someone important. Up until recently, you couldn't tell who the caller was, or whether the message was urgent, and to be honest, 99.999% of the population still can't, including me. So you have to answer every call.

Answering machines aside (which don't really work), there hasn't been an effective and widespread solution to this.

Email is a completely different kettle of fish. It's a little like snailmail, only amplified by several orders of magnitude. You get so much spam mail that it takes real effort to get rid of it - and before you talk about filters, I still get spam mail from friends who I can't exactly filter out. There are levels of urgency on email, yes, but no-one uses them (apart from someone I know who marks all messages, regardless of content, as 'urgent').

[to be continued]

I still refuse to believe that I am actually going to speak at the TED11 conference next year. All I can think of is - I'd better have something damned good to say, or else I'm going to end up disappointing a lot of people and pretty much shoot myself in the foot. Here's a nice account of the TED7 conference.

10:30 PM | permalink | discuss

First, the links. An article in the Times reminded me of Xlibris, a new publishing house that has announced it will publish any manuscript that is sent to them.

I had a strange case of deja-vu reading this article: 3D mugshots could catch criminals. Haven't people been trying to this this (successfully?) for some time now?

It was the first anniversary of the Columbine shootings yesterday. Unlike many other schools, it's pleasing to see that Columbine isn't acting in a reactionary manner.

I had the misfortune to receive several bits of unsolicited email recently, ranging from a Star Wars name game to the usual Ericsson free-phone offer. This got me thinking; is there ever a time when you would actually want unsolicited email? What's the definition of unsolicited email? If you went and subscribed to a mailing list (such as those that are offered from Hotmail) and received something that didn't interest you, would that be unsolicited?

[Tangent: If only people would check this chain-mail stuff out at Snopes before they sent it on to me (an urban legends reference page)]

Likewise, if you received a spam mail that was genuinely interesting, what would you think of that? Say that this spam mail company knew to send you this email because it'd built up a customer profile of you, cobbled together from the various online questionnaies you answered when you were nary a newbie; unsolicited or not?

Perhaps we need (another) new word: semi-solicited email.

11:07 AM | permalink | discuss

Sunday, April 16

I've started reading the excellent Cryptonomicon; even 50 pages in it's pretty impressive.

Guilt is bad for your health. Does that mean that psychopaths who feel no guilt are quite healthy?

A telling article from a teacher in the UK, explaining why he's leaving his profession. The government has pledged billions for education, but you sometimes wonder whether you'll actually see any improvement.

12:45 PM | permalink | discuss