Change tracks
4/4/00 | 21:07 GMT

Please update your bookmarks to

As you may have noticed, I've had a severe hiatus with this weblog. I recently registed and that should be a permanent redirector to wherever this weblog and my site will be.

Unfortunately, as life is as it is, Windows 2000 decided to spontaneously stop being able to connect to Freeserve, which meant that I couldn't update this. And there are some problems with BT Internet as well, in that I can't use Blogger with it properly. Ah well.


Thinking machines
2/4/00 | 21:30 GMT

NB: This post was meant to be made at the time indicated, except my Freeserve connection wasn't working...

Great quote from some of my rugby-playing friends:

"With the introduction of the new rules, games will only be occassionally interrupted by fights, instead of fights being interrupted by games."

Another interesting fact from one of my friends: the TV license fee in the UK costs about £100. If you're blind, you get a whole £1.50 off the TV license. Pretty generous, huh?

I'm sure there has to be some kind of rational explanation behind this, or else the world must have gone mad.

I'm quite impressed by the lengths at which Nintendo have gone to to publicise Rare's upcoming Perfect Dark game (pseudo-sequel to Goldeneye). Check out the Carrington Institute and Datadyne, good and bad guys of the game respectively. It shows they've put a lot of thought into this, and what's more, it doesn't take too long to implement either.

Pottering about the World of (Richard) Dawkins (you know, the guy who wrote The Selfish Gene) site today, I checked out the stuff on memetics [definition]. Some good essays are around, including The New Meme by David Brin, and Viruses of the Mind by Richard Dawkins.

I hear that there are plans to hold a WXSW (West by Southwest) weblog conference in London sometime next year for us poor UKers who couldn't afford to travel to America for the one you lot had (SXSW). I pointed out that the number of UK based weblogs can be easily counted on the fingers of two hands, but then I suppose there'll be all the tech groupies turning up as well. Certainly worth a visit, if it's on.

About Vavatch Orbital: I've had a few people email me with comments about posts I've made recently, and someone suggested that as part of (or instead of) the green/white concept I've talked about before, I should go and publish email exchanges between myself and others about various topical issues (with links to relevant sources included, naturally).

Taken further, I'd go and move shop to Weblogs or Pitas and give multiple people posting rights. My plan is to wait until something suitably controversial and juicy crops up and invite people to make comments, as a proof-of-concept, then we'll see where it goes. I'm all for interactivity.

In fact, I encourage you to email me anything remotely interesting - you don't even need to load up your email programme.


In the genes
2/4/00 | 10:17 GMT

Humour is not in the genes - another win for nurture over nature.

I transcribed an excellent essay by Richard Dawkins, entitled Is Science a Religion? Required reading for anyone who has a remotely passing interest in science or religion, or any current affairs, whether you agree with what it says or not.

It's been a pretty slow weekend lately, but I'll try and make another posting today if possible.


31/3/00 | 22:57 GMT

I see that we still have a long way to go before we become a true civilisation, especially if this sort of innocuous racism is prevalent.

The electronic text archive I mentioned earlier is officially the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts; it offers 'value-added' access to great works of literature. I checked out their website, and I have to admit that features such as being able to search the body text of a novel, and the 'bookcase' idea are quite well thought out. I can imagine the bookcase idea being very useful to some.

People are offering a £4 million lottery winner who's on dialysis (for kidney failure) in the UK kidney transplants 'for a share of his winnings'. Moral ambiguity, anyone?

So. My thought of the day: Accountability. My headmaster gave a short talk yesterday about how he's tired of hearing students say 'Yes, but...' whenever he rightly accuses them of some misdemeanor. In other words, he's annoyed that students won't admit that they're wrong, and take the blame.

It's human nature (what a tricky phrase, I'll have to talk about that someday) to not like criticism. We like praise, we like to be told that we're the best. But the fact is, we won't get anywhere without accepting criticism. Without admitting the possibility that we might be wrong, we'll continue to make the same mistakes as we always have done. And no-one will ever be accountable for their actions.

My take is - if you do something - anything - then the privelege of being able to do that thing is balanced by your acceptable of the consequences of doing that thing. So we're not just talking about simple stuff like saying you'll do such-and-such a job, but more complicated ideas such as relationships.

Bottom line is - you can't walk away from what you do. There's always a price.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I strongly recommend you should read The Transparent Society by David Brin.

And that leads onto my next point/post. I finally finished reading A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. An excellent book, but not quite a masterpiece. The ending could have been a little stronger, some of the more interesting plot threads could have been expanded. But these are minor criticisms.

What's interesting, though, are the similarities between Infinity's Shore by David Brin, and A Fire Upon the Deep. They both feature universes that have FTL travel, but only in certain places. What's more, the efficiency FTL travel is variable, and turns out to be a big plot thread. They both feature iron-age civilisations bootstrapping themselves up to starfaring capability or thereabouts. They both feature a single ship struggling against the Forces of Evil (OK, that's a bit tenuous, I admit). They both feature near-omniscient transcendant beings.

Most of the stuff doesn't bother me, but this iron-age civilisations bootstrapping thing gets at me sometimes. Both Vinge and Brin seem to agree that you can only bootstrap a civilisation if one or more of its sub-groups are reasonably intelligent and capable of long-range thinking. Also, the sub-groups must not be fanatically religious, as we were in the Middle Ages.

Ah, who cares. I love this bootstrapping stuff really. It makes good reading.

Coming up tomorrow (aka stuff I don't have time to cover now):

A reader's response on the religion in schools link.

A write-up of an excellent talk a teacher gave at school some months ago.

A link to the civilisation bootstrapping vault at the University of Pennsylvania (this is such a ridiculously cool idea that I must find a link).


30/3/00 | 22:57 GMT

Finally. Everything done. Back to work.

The Times article on the Huntingdon's Life Sciences debacle (see earlier posts in my weblogs). Just remember - you heard it at Vavatch first (and read it on BBC Teletext even earlier).

Those who know me will know that I don't approve of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme run here in the UK. I've got no doubt that it's an entirely admirable volunteer organisation that has helped the lives of thousands, but the intentions of those who take part are initially far from altruistic.

There's a tendency of middle-class secondary school students these days to think that to get into a good university, you need more than just good grades. You need some extra-cirricular stuff. Now, since most people seem to lack the stamina to keep practicing a musical instrument for more than 5 years (God only knows how I did it) and have difficulty maintaining any sort of productive extra-cirricular activity whatsoever, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme offers a relatively quick and easy way to get that all important qualification to get you into a good university.

But - wait a second. That's not the point, surely? Apart from the fact that this whole thing is completely selfish, do you really think that university admissions officers actually give a damn whether you or the other thousand applicants got a silver or gold award for doing some generic career-boosting, conscience-salving good deed? Not a chance. When every other person has a Duke of Edinburgh award, it doesn't stand out and it sure as hell doesn't show initiative.

It only gives a leg up to those who pursue other more original extra-cirricular activities. Hey, wait a sec...

You know all those predictions that the Human Genome Project would take years before it's finished? Looks like the appearance of the big nasty Celera Genomics has sped up the process, and 90% of the human genome will be online for public access by June. Hurray for open source!

I finished reading Watchmen yesterday. Maybe it's because I read it too quickly, maybe it's because it's the first graphic novel I've ever read, maybe it's because I read too many rave reviews, but I was slightly disappointed. Sure, it had an interesting storyline and some of the running themes were thought-provoking, but... I don't know. I'll read it again later for the full review.

A Fire Upon the Sky, on the hand, is shaping up quite nicely (I haven't finished it yet). A very strong storyline, some great (and original) ideas and interesting characters.

One thing I've noticed, though, is the increasing prevalence of 'asides' from SF writers. In a fair number of ew-ish SF books I've read have been short sections which are removed from the main plot, often detailing some kind of message-exchange or news article. Sometimes it works (like in Earth, by David Brin), sometimes it falls flat on it's face (like in Time, by Stephen Baxter).

Should religion be a part of school life? I shall withhold comment on this subject in lieu of the fact that you can probably guess my response.

Wow. The TED 11 conference I'm supposed to be speaking at (well, I got an official invitation, even though I'm not listed on the page) is almost sold out, almost a full year before it starts. I really hope that they're still good for me speaking there; it would quite literally be the experience of a lifetime. It's not as if the god-damn tickets only cost $3000...


Phase change
29/3/00 | 23:06 GMT

There'll be a brief hiatus today as I'm in the middle of transferring to Windows 2000 - I still need to install Dreamwever 3 to edit this blog properly. There will be an update tomorrow, and it'll be twice as long (incredible, eh?) to make up for the lost time. Expect such stunning topics as more information on the animal rights protests against Huntingdon's Life Sciences, a critique on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and a few comments on 'A Fire Upon the Deep' and 'Watchmen' along with a link kindly supplied by a reader to a pretty intriguing electronic text archive.

This entry brought to you by Notepad.


28/3/00 | 22:46 GMT

I was planning to do an update earlier today, but I ended up producing a programme for a play at school. As it turned out, the person who was supposed to write it didn't, and 'since Adrian's really good with computers,' he'll be able to knock one up in 5 minutes.

Sure, I could make a programme in 5 minutes. But it'd be rubbish. And I'd never be able to bring myself to put my name on a piece of rubbish, so I end up spending over an hour designing a programme with complete overkill. It's the same with websites or posters I'm asked to do - I start out intending to finish in a few minutes, and finish with a featured-packed site/poster resplendent with animations or 3D diagrams.

It's just an attitude problem, I suppose. Perfectionism coupled with obsessive compulsive disorder.

While looking up artwork on the Internet today for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I accidently misspelt it as 'Techincolor'. Surprisingly (or if you're a cynic, unsurprisingly) enough, I still got 5 results. Very strange.

I'm sure it's illegal to have an entire script of the play online, along with the lyrics to all the songs. But do you hear me complaining? No.

British Aerospace investigating anti-gravity propulsion? I have to admit that this is an incredibly ballsy approach by BAe, not one I'd normally associate with such a large company. But I'm sure the top execs there are thinking that the cost/benefit analysis is favourable; no doubt they've been told that while artificial gravity is almost certainly impossible, there's always that small chance that it could be possible. And imagine how much money they could make with an artificial gravity engine...

I just got told that SXSW is not in fact a weblog conference, it's a music festival. There just happened to be an interactive media session, with a weblog 'conference'. This just proves my point even further.

I heard an interesting fact today. Apparently, people who gesticulate a lot while talking (wave their hands about expressively) are not good speakers because they can't express themselves fully through their voice and words alone. Whether it's true or not is another thing, but apparently this came from a body language dictionary. I've always been a little wary of body language claims, but more about that later...

I would have a link to a site about body language, but there seems to be an unimaginable amount of crap out there. Sifting it would take too long.

Don't you hate it when you're unwrapping a cornetto, and the chocolate filled end breaks off? Well, imagine doing that after CorelDraw has crashed after you've been working for 50 minutes.

I really have to install Windows 2000.