Saturday, September 30

Larry Niven talks about making money from space the real way - crass commercialism (ah yeah) in Space.com. Imagine how much people would pay to walk barefoot on the surface of the Moon and have their footprints cordened off forever...

An excerpt:

Arthur Clarke has pointed out that a man dropped into vacuum won’t just explode. He’d have roughly two minutes, conscious, to get himself into air again. He’d blow his eardrums (they grow back) and the varicose veins might be spectacular, a badge of honor. If he forgot to exhale he’d burst his lungs.

I note that Space.com has laid off about 22 people, one-fifth of its workforce. Which means that they, at one point, had about 110 people working for them. It boggles the mind to think that it takes 110 people, even working part-time, to maintain a site like Space.com.

ObWeblog reference of the month: Is it just me, or is anyone else uncomfortable about the fact that there are two weblog rating systems now (Blogstart and Bloghop)? I predict much wailing and gnashing of teeth...

7:50 PM | permalink | discuss

I decided I wasn't happy with my old (2 day old) design and so nicked my GenMars design and retrofitted it. I like this. It'll probably stay here for a while.

On reading a BBC News Online article about genetically modified fish, I read the phrase, 'Soon, over half the world's sealife will be consumed.' I snorted, and thought to myself, 'Bollocks it will.' Then I realised that they couldn't possibly have meant that and discovered that I'd misread the phrase.

Tomorrow, I'm going off to Cambridge University so there'll be a brief pause in updates and email from me - only brief, I'd think.

I'm a Robert Jordan 'Wheel of Time series' fan; at least, I started reading the first few books and have been compelled to read the rest, just to have the satisfaction of having read through the millions of words and knowing exactly how the story ends. So I'm quite interested in the fact that the eighth book in the series, Winter's Heart, will be released shortly.

Now, traditionally, Tor Books, the publishers of Wheel of Time, put the 20,000 - 30,000 word prologue of each book online a month or two before publication. This was seen by all to be a Good Thing, since it kept the fans happy and also presumably increased sales. This has changed with the last book - instead of putting it online for free, Simon and Schuster have bought up the rights to sell the prologue online for $5.00. This is, of course, completely ridiculous and I doubt that many people are going to pay to read the prologue of a book that they're going to buy anyway.

Full details are available in the Robert Jordan newsgroup FAQ, but the upshot of it is that Simon and Schuster paid Robert Jordan "a substantial six-figure sum," for the rights to the prologue. At $5 apiece, that means that in order to break even, over 20,000 fans will have to buy the prologue. Somehow, I doubt this is going to happen. I count myself as a fan of Robert Jordan and I only heard about this sale due to the fact that everyone's pissed off with it.

I recently re-read The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod and have come to an understanding of exactly what it's all about, and consequently a deep appreciation. This guy is good. I will shortly be buying up the rest of his novels.

(The reason I didn't understand it at first is because it's the fourth book in a four-part series, and I'd only previously read the third part - which is pretty much self-contained anyway).

4:46 PM | permalink | discuss

Friday, September 29

Those who know me will be aware that I'm strongly in favour of the European single currency, so I was a little disappointed when I heard that the Danes had voted no by a majority of 6%. What irritated me the most, though, was how eurosceptics in the UK were trumpeting this as some kind of outright rejection of the single currency, the European Union and everything they were against in general, by the Danish people.

I'm sorry? Let's remind ourselves, the Yes (to euro-currency integration) vote was 46.9%. The No vote was 53.1%. Hardly a stunning victory to me. In fact, this only goes to show how shockingly dumb and antiquated the whole notion of 'first past the post' polls and referendums (referenda? referendi?) are. The Danes have ended up with a situation where 46.9% of the voter turnout to the referendum are going to be unhappy about possibly their country's most significant political decision of the decade.

Perhaps I'm in a minority here (ha ha!) but I'm sure that others find this more than a little disturbing. I never really gave the 'first past the post' system much thought before (I always did think that 'alternative vote' and all that guff did sound cool though), yet now it seems so much more urgent to change it.

What would have happened if the Danes had taken the vote next week? Or last week? With such a slim margin of victory, if the No votes were 3.2% less, then the decision would have been different. It just seems so... arbitrary.

A final word - the leader of the No camp in Denmark said, "I'm quite sure that democracy has won." Draw your own conclusions as to what my reaction to that was.

8:13 PM | permalink | discuss

It's well known that people are upset about the delay in the rollout of ADSL (high speed Internet) in the UK, but I didn't know that the depth of feeling went so far that people would be willing to say things like this in official interviews:

Philips [Video Networks Product Manager] is as unhappy as the rest of the industry over BT's roll out of ADSL. "It is a lot slower than we would like and Oftel is coming under a lot of pressure to give BT a kicking," he says.

Incredible though it may seem, but it's becoming increasingly likely that the Sony Playstation 2 is going to lose out to the Nintendo Gamecube and/or Microsoft X-Box. The PS2 has been hyped up beyond belief for the past two years and there is going to be a severe shortage of consoles in the US and Europe at launch. Coupled with the fact that there aren't any games that seem, graphics or gameplay-wise, better than Dreamcast alternatives and that all three other consoles (Gamecube, X-Box and Dreamcast) are at least 1/3 cheaper than the PS2 means that Sony is in deep trouble. This I foretell.

What do you think of this poster I did?

2:34 PM | permalink | discuss

Thursday, September 28

"What the hell was all that about," I can hear you think. The only thing I can say is that I was feeling in a bit of a creative mood this afternoon and you can figure it all out yourselves (I'll go and post a proper explanation later). The thing is, fool that I am, I wrote the entries in backwards chronological order, thinking that I was being very clever. However, all this accomplished was to put them in forward chronological order due to the way Blogger arranges posts. Oh well... I imagine it'd read better if it was read from the bottom up (on this page, that is), but it doesn't make too much of a difference, especially if you're into PoMo.

'No limit' to human life span - BBC News Online.

I meet all sorts of interesting people in my line of work, such that it can be called a line of work. While I was chatting to the other workers in office during one of my breaks (i.e. all the time), they seem amazed with the number of people I knew and asked me to name people I knew in specific fields.

"Well, I know someone who writes books about dolphins."

"Nuclear power."
"Hmm... [pause]. I vaguely recall knowing a friend whose dad was a nuclear power station inspector. And one of my teachers at school served on a British nuclear submarine."

"I just got an email off a guy who's been researching nanotech for the past three years. Very interesting stuff."

Okay, so I made the last one up, no-one actually asked me about nanotechnology, but I did get the email.

11:18 PM | permalink | discuss

Two to the Nine: Eclipse

“Here’s how it goes. Clean laser fusion using He-Three won’t be working for at least another –“

“Twenty years?” interrupted a young researcher from further down the table. There was a quiet chuckle.

“My point exactly. Then there are the mining difficulties. Rensselaer’s Lightcraft technology isn’t mature enough. Chemical is too long and too risky, even if you factor in next-next-gen spaceplanes. So we’re left with Orion.”

The assembled faces frowned in almost comical unison, trying to think of objections. The speaker wasn’t disappointed.

“What about fallout, particulate contamination?” ventured one.

“We can handle it. A few… strategic assets… never did anyone any harm.” The table looked doubtful, as much as he did inwardly. But if they wanted to win the project bid, there was no other choice.

2:38 PM | permalink | discuss

Two to the Nine: Three Quarters

The President’s eyes shied away from the sunlight stabbing through the windows of the conservatory, waiting for an answer. He looked across the small table, past the drinks and sandwiches, to the translator.

“I agree with the concept, but as you know, there are several options.” The Chinese delegate nodded solemnly.

The President wanted to take a drink, but stopped himself. “There are only two real options for what we want to achieve. You are probably aware of the option this administration favours. Politically and economically, it is the correct choice, would you agree?”

His translator repeated the phrase in the musical tones of Mandarin, while the President watched the delegate’s face for a reaction. The stream of alien language finished, and the delegate smiled broadly and nodded.

2:19 PM | permalink | discuss

Two to the Nine: One Half

“…by thousands of litres of water, which’ll absorb all the radiation not shielded by the pusher plate.” She paused and looked at him tenderly. “I know you’re concerned, and I know that this is sudden but they need people to go and I’m one of the best qualified. I’ve wanted to do this all my life.”

He nodded, and said nothing. She mistook his silence for concern, and placed her hand over his.

“Anyway, whatever happens, we can still have children. They extracted one of my eggs for storage.”

The next day, when she answered the phone, he leaned against the staircase in the hallway, watching carefully. She was facing away from him, but he knew her well enough to tell what the news was, and looked away.

1:55 PM | permalink | discuss

Two to the Nine: One Quarter

“We must strive to extend our reach not only to the skies above, not only to our own celestial sphere but the countless billions we all see around us.”

His opposite number nodded, and spoke, “Truly this is a symbol of humanity united in a common goal, destroying the swords of the past to plough a shining path into the future.”

The first speaker winced.

A crowd of a hundred thousand milled below the raised platform, eagerly craning their necks over each other to catch a glimpse of the towering screen above them. A thousand alarms beeped from wrists and pockets in a discordant rattle. Some hastily slipped sunglasses on.

Like a field of sunflowers in time-lapse, they turned to watch the second sun rise from the horizon.

11:44 AM | permalink | discuss

Wednesday, September 27

Well, finally, a redesign! I thought that a lot of other sites were relaunching/redesigning recently so decided to give it a go myself. Always wanted to do something neat with the way 'vavatch' is written (for the less observant of you, those strange squiggles at the top of the page actually spell out 'vavatch'... ah, yes, you see?)

I was originally planning to talk about how I didn't want to make a post due to the fact that I'd had less than six hours sleep last night and practically collapsed into my keyboard at the office (luckily, had I done so, no-one would have noticed, but still...). Strangely enough, I feel completely awake now, although I'm sure that I'll pay for this increased awareness when I go to sleep earlier than normal.

The interesting thing about working at an office while doing no work is that you become simultaneously bored, yet also ridiculously well informed about current events. With an Internet connection at work, I'm checking the pages of BBC News, three computer sites and two current affairs sites about every 10 minutes - which is a shorter time period than they're updated. I actually know more about Vojislav Kostunica than the fact that he's the Yugoslavian opposition leader. I have an uncanny knowledge about the fact that Al Gore is playing up to the MTV voters. And apparently, hard drive prices are going up, but RAM prices are going down.

Adding all that to the fact that I've been looking around Britannica.com recently and I know that increased tolerance to poisons is due to antibodies, not enzymes (well, it's sort of both but the fact is, I'm right, not the person I was arguing with); haptens in the bloodstream have something to do with this. There's also the stuff about allergic responses being due to the sensitisation of mast cells by the antibody-antigen complex and thus releasing excess amounts of histamines which, in allergic patients, isn't mopped up (hence the reason why you take anti-histamines).

So, really, the fact is that I have an excellent grasp of truly useless knowledge now!

9:33 PM | permalink | discuss