Friday, 28 October 2005

One For My Bro

Civ IV is out soon. It's best for all concerned if you check in at CivAnon now.
It is important that you take control of your life and wrest the upper hand from your addiction once and for all. CivAnon (Civilization Anonymous) is a support community in the mold of traditional 12-step programs that can help you find your higher power in order to break the chains of your addiction-for good.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

In Search Of Lost Time

Slacktivist has a good post, with fine comments, on how tracking what you do at work all day is hardly ever a good or morale building thing to do:
I suppose it's possible that this exercise might have some purpose other than thinning the herd for eventual layoffs. It could, for example, be part of an attempt to improve efficiency by systematically reviewing everyone's daily workload. Such an effort would need to be carefully explained, however, to ensure honest and objective participation.

A guy called Duane begs to differ, slightly:
As a director who sometimes tasks individuals with tracking their time, the goal is generally not for me to see what they are doing. Rather, the goal is for them to see how productive they are (not) being. It usually works.

It is important to remember at a job that we are looking for accomplishments, not activity.

Though another commenter replys to this with:
Asking employees to start tracking their behavior has, in my experience, always registered in their minds as
a: a threat to their long term employment,
b: an indication that their management knows very little about what they do,
c: a waste of often valuable, even essential time, and
d: a source of stress.

You can see where Duane is coming from and, I suppose, applied sparingly and with an upfront explanation it might be useful. However, it seems from the comments that most places just seem to be applying it in order to be seen using yet another management tool, the results of which are hardly cared about by anyone, least of all the management.

Unless your time is billable, I can't really see the point and, to recast the second commenters point b, if the management don't already know what you're doing they aren't managing.

Slacktivist also has a fine post on Rosa Parks and how accidental heroes often need a little careful planning.


Ireland manages to get it done with the minimum of fuss, even Italy, Italy!, bans smoking, but England hums and hahs and then proposes a ban so weak it's barely worth the bother. Absolutely useless.

The Guardian say that "Tony Blair made it clear that he did not want a total ban on smoking". Blair should step down now before he further damages the reputation of the country.

Of course all that money from the high tax on fags did nothing to effect this decision.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Shaft! Badde Mooder-Swyver

Shaft as Chaucer would have written it. Hilarious.

Damn right I'll be calling someone a "badde mooder-swyver" at the earliest opportunity.

Because I haven't stolen enough links from Robot Wisdom this week.

I'ma Hoist Your Hood, Mama, I'm Bound To Check Your Oil

Thanks to this article in the Times about sex advice through the ages, I found out that Haynes publishes a sex manual. I'm sure it's a serious ane thoughtful book, but I can't help wondering if it's like the car manuals and has illustrated, step-by-step instructions for everything you might want to do. Oh! Apparently it is.

Anyway, the Times column gathers together some of the wisdom of the ages at the bottom:
"Rub your penis with the bristles of certain insects that live in trees, and then, after rubbing it for ten nights with oils, rub it with the bristles as before. Swelling will be gradually produced. Then lie on a hammock with a hole in it and hang the penis through the hole. Take away the pain from the swelling by using cool concoctions. The swelling lasts for life." Kamasutra, translated by Sir Richard Burton and F. F. "Bunny" Arbuthnot (1883)

Never marry these women
"Redheads. Any girl named after a mountain, a tree, a river or a bird. Ones with rough hands or feet. Ones who sigh, laugh or cry at meals. Any girl with inverted nipples, a beard, uneven breasts, flap ears, spindle legs or who is scrawny. Girls whose big toes are disproportionately small. Girls who make the ground shake when they walk past." Koka Shastra, The Indian Scripture of Koka (12th century)

And, of course, the sanest advice of all:
“Never fool around sexually with a vacuum cleaner.” Dr Alex Comfort, The Joy of Sex (1972)

Monday, 24 October 2005

Only The Stupid Get Caught

Alt.folklore.urban currently has an amusing/scary thread on the perils of certain sets of self-selecting data.
During the infancy of what is know called 'Operations Research' a study was performed in during to examine fighter aircraft damaged by enemy ammunition, in order to determine which parts of the fuselage should receive additional or improved shielding.
A then-Junior Researcher pointed out that they were only able to examine the aircraft that had been able to RETURN from battle.

Then there's this:
This reminds me of the tale of the researcher who subjected some prison inmates to an intelligence test and concluded that crime was caused by low intelligence. It was eventually pointed out that he had documented that criminals of low intelligence spend time in prison.

It turns out that this might be wrong, and that the more accurate way of presenting the above data is this:
The right conclusion is that people of low intelligence spend time in prison. This could occur just because they're not able to effectively defend themselves when the charges are false.

The more you think about this the more you realise it applies to anything where failure is catastrophic, but success is hardly noticed.

One Star Reviews

You are probably the same. Confronted with a long list of reviews, in a magazine, say, you probably jsut read the 5 star ones. And the 1 star ones. Because while it's nice to find good art, or whatever, it's also fun to read about some of the train wrecks that occur to make good art even more spectacular.

That said Lone Star Statements over at The Morning News (what's happening over there, by the way? When it started I read every new article, then I just didn't bother —I think it just got too self indulgent— now it's got 2 or 3 must read articles a week) isn't quite the train wreck you were looking for. It's one star reviews of classic novels. Some bizarre, some chuckle-worthy:
The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Author: William Faulkner

"This book is like an ungrateful girlfriend. You do your best to understand her and get nothing back in return."

And some you probably quite agree with:
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

Author: Thomas Pynchon

"When one contrasts Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five with this book, it’s like comparing an Olympic sprinter with an obese man running for the bus with a hot dog in one hand and a soda in the other."

Friday, 21 October 2005

New York Changing

The Morning News has a fascinating gallery up at the moment called New York Changing. You can't help but keep flicking back and forth between the paired images, watching a city getting gradually filled in. Or staying eerily the same.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

On Gambling

I was trying to quote something to friends the other day about cards and getting lemon in you ear. Turns out I was half remembering something from Guys And Dolls. Who knew? Anyway, the quote was:
One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider.

Bringing The Pretty

The BBC has a slideshow from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.

via Robot Wisdom.

Bridge Burning For Fun And Profit

Alan Parker has a new book out featuring bitter, sarcastic cartoon he drew while trying to get movies made. The Guardian go and ask him about it. But not before spotting a cartoon with the caption "Mr Parker, I'd just like to ask you some superficial, stupid questions to augment the smart arse article I've already written."

I particularly like his anecdote about Martin Scorsese's story-boarding skills:
Most directors are decent draughtsmen, Parker explains. It goes with the job, whether it involves storyboarding a movie or simply scribbling ideas down on the set. "On the other hand, a lot of directors can't draw at all. Steven Spielberg, for instance, cannot draw. He works from a storyboard drawn by someone else to his instruction. Whereas Scorsese does stickmen. There's an exhibit in the American Film Institute in a big glass case. The first square shows two stickmen standing up. The next square shows one stickman lying down. And that's the storyboard to Raging Bull." He cackles with mirth. "Whoa!" he says. "Go Marty!"

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Rumpole Will Be Relieved

It's been a while since I read them, but I remember a few Rumpole of the Bailey cases where Rumpole used his encyclopedic knowledge of typewriters and how different typists emphasise different letters to great effect. It always seemed a little sad to me that in this age of laser printers and thousands of fonts that all that would be lost.

Well, it seems that the manufacturers of laser printers thought so too, or perhaps had other motives, and made it so that each printed page has a microscopic configuration of dots on it that tells you the id number of the printer and the time and date of when the printing was done.

Boing boing knee-jerkedly call these snitch codes and they believe "that this is done to get your equipment to incriminate you without your knowledge". Well, now it can incriminate you with your knowledge.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Recent History

Scrolling past the excerpt of the excellent Paul Krugman excelling himself, Eric Rauchway has this definition of recent history over at Altercation:
The recent history of the world divides into roughly four phases.

1865-1914: When the British Ran Things All Right, Considering;
1914-1945: When the Americans Made a Bad Mess Worse;
1945-1968: When the Americans Ran Things All Right, Considering, and
1968-present: When It Sure Looks Like the Americans are Making Another Big Mess But It's Still a Little Too Soon To Tell.

I guess you could quibble with this. In fact it's definitly quibblable. But, considering, it's pretty true.

Nielsen On Blogging

Nielsen summarises his article "Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes", thusly:
Weblogs are often too internally focused and ignore key usability issues, making it hard for new readers to understand the site and trust the author.

So you don't need to read anymore. Actually if you're a blogger you probably should at least read the headings. So, er, here they are:
1. No Author Biographies
2. No Author Photo
3. Nondescript Posting Titles
4. Links Don't Say Where They Go
5. Classic Hits are Buried
6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation
7. Irregular Publishing Frequency
8. Mixing Topics
9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

It's tempting to quote Balfour here, you know 'there were some things that were true, and some things that were trite; but what was true was trite, and what was not trite was not true'.

I mean, do photos really matter. I've been put off of plenty of Blogs by their author photo, for a start. As for biographies, quite a few top blogs are written anonymously (also isn't that rule sort of contradicted by rule 9?).

As a Blogger blogger rule 10 seems needlessly snarky. It's true that being free and easy has devalued blogspot addresses, but, surely, given that it's the content of your blog that's important the last 12 characters of your web address is of barely any consequence to anybody.

And as Boing Boing puts it:
[I] take exception to "8. Mixing Topics" in which he advises bloggers to restrict themselves to narrow subject-ranges. I believe that the thing that makes blogs so exciting to read is that they represent a view into the diverse interests of their authors.

So maybe the Balfour is apposite after all...

Thursday, 13 October 2005

And, As If By Magic, His Argument Disappeared

Mark Steyn, in the Spectator, has this to say about Serenity:
[Kaylee's] played by Jewel Staite. That’s right: Jewel Staite. For a space show, the characters all have fairly normal names — Mal, Zoe, Simon — but they’re played by actors who sound like minor parts in Star Wars: Summer Glau, Morena Baccarin. The bad guy is a shadowy operative called The Operative, and he’s played by an actor called Chewitel Ejiofor. Didn’t Chewitel Ejiofor get killed by Mace Windu and Oppo Rancisis in Attack of the Clones?

I'm surprised he didn't go on to question the sexuality of the Key Grip.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

"Ringo Was The Coolest Beatle"

Alex "Franz Ferdinand" Kapranos sets some things straight in light of the fuss over Yoko Ono's recent comments.

By the way, did I ever mention the new bar on my street is called "Franz Ferdinand"? I'm not sure why I find this slightly annoying, well apart from the fact the owner isn't sharp enough to have "champers and lachs fish" on the menu. Mostly, I think, it's because it makes me want to start one further up the road called either "Scissor Sisters" or "Gavrilo Princip".

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Going Downtown

A quick mention of a funny refferal. Twice recently my reffer logs have shown Googles for "Sean Connery" "Petula Clark" "Up the Arse". This makes me happy for no good reason.

BTW the canonical version of this is "1964. Petula Clark. Up the arse". Don't let anyone tell you different.

Mystical Minorites: A Movie Cliché

There's a movie cliché where if the white guy hero has an elderly black or indian friend, that friend will have so kind of mystical knowledge or some homespun philosophy that tells simple truths in a simple way. Because they're more connected to the earth or something like that (I have a whole other rant on that, but I'll save it for another day).

Anyway I think the idea is often that if this simple man can see the truth then it, well, must be true even if the hero's modern life has obscured the fact to him. "Simple" sounds horrible, but it's often then intention. There's an album I have that I mostly like apart from the point where the, black by the way, singer affects a terrible Jamaican accent to make some horridly pretentious quote about music even more unlistenable. What I gather the artist was trying to do, rather than always make me skip that bit, is have a simple man tell a simple truth making it more simply true.

I mention this mostly because I recently watched The Interpreter on DVD. While it never quite trundles in an elderly black man to tell Nicole Kidman a simple truth about terrorism or genocide it does the next best thing. Three or four times in the movie the whole thing just stops so Kidman can recount some made-up custom from some made-up country that has a direct baring either on the point or the emotional state of either her or Sean Penn. The first time it happened I didn't mind so much, it's very lazy script writing but these things happen in movies and you accept it. By the end of the second one I'd had enough.

The idea, as I saw it, was that this was some kind of tribal wisdom carried through the ages and, if it had worked for thousands of years, then a seasoned New York cop, Penn, could learn a thing or two from it. Except, well, except that since the country and it's people were made from whole cloth, whilst, you know, still giving them real world relevance, and these little homilies, quite obviously, were too. They were just tailored to give Kidman here long, emotional speeches while serving the plot as much as possible. The whole thing just became tooth grindingly fake. Instead of connecting with the characters I spent more time wondering how Nicole got through some of the speeches without rolling her eyeballs. That all the "wisdom" seemed to deal with getting Penn's character through whatever grief he was going through -- his wife died or maybe it was his partner it didn't seem totally important except as a reason for him to look hungover through the whole thing -- just made it even more fake.

I think I was supposed to have some kind of emotional response to them. Well I guess I did. I really wanted to Kidman's character to shut the fuck up.

Americans Caught Lying On Survey On Lying

How else to explain the jump from 35% to 43% of people claiming to have made up excuse for not going into work? And why it's only 43% especially in the US where they get two weeks holiday a year if they're lucky.

The following excuses are given as among the more creative:
"I'm too drunk to drive to work;"
"The ghosts in my house kept me up all night"
"I'm too fat to get into my work pants"
"My son accidentally fell asleep next to wet cement in our backyard. His foot fell in and we can't get it out"

The first and third ones in particular don't strike me as remotely creative. Well maybe the third one is a little creative but only if you're not American. Fat git that I am, I've never had a problem getting my trousers on.

Monday, 10 October 2005

He'll Be Cheap In January

Via Mediawatch, who found it in the Daily Star and Sky News Online and comes news of a rumour that a number of teams are trying to sign Man City player Kiki Musampa's brother Kriss.

That's right. Kriss Musampa.

It's almost a pity he isn't real.

Serenity: Never Mind The Reviews Look At The Box Office

Joss Whedon's first movie as a director did OK in the UK over the weekend, it was the most popular moive to see and had best gross per screen. Whatever either of those mean.

Metacritic averages Serenity's reviews as 74 out of 100. "Generally favourable", apparently. The Onion AV Club, who I find tend to have similar tastes to mine, likes it:
Like all Whedon's work, Serenity is steeped in snappy, irreverent one-liners and complicated character dynamics

So that's all good then. Well, perhaps not. The obsessed over at Whedonesque have had a trainspotter-like feverish devotion to picking over every last Box Office report that goes up on the web. Apparently it was second last week and only made $10million, or there abouts. This week's BO has dropped off by about 50% which, again apparently, isn't bad for a Sci-fi film starring people most movie goers could be forgiven for never having heard of. The speculation is that if the movie makes enough money then a sequel could be in the works. Fine. That the movie exists in the first place is a minor miracle and that it's has been glowingly reviewed is a surprise. Can't that be enough for now? (For an example of using the movies money making ability to bash the movie's fans, all the while protesting that you don't hate them, check out this fun example).

By the way, you can watch the first few, nine?, minutes of Serenity over the Internets right here. Plus, just for fun, check out the Whedonesque page where they discuss whether Joss's show and Serenity in particular are naughty, "twixt my nethers" indeed!

Friday, 7 October 2005

Pin Hole Camera Tree

I know the title of this post looks like a few random words, but it's true the gaps between the leaves of a tree can act as a pinhole camera. Here's picture take during the recent partial eclipse to prove it.

Via Robot Wisdom.

Ig Nobels

Recognizing that some areas of science should be more, er, recoginized these awards have been going since 1991. The Ig Nobels are given for research which "cannot or should not be reproduced". The Guardian has a lot of fun with the velocity of penguin crap, but I quite liked the one for literature:
The internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for using email to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters, each of whom requires just a small amount of money so as to obtain access to the great wealth they will share with you.

For those curious about the history of these awards, there is a list of past winners here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Spam Stock Tracker

One of those ideas that's so simple and yet good that you are surprised no-one else has done it before. Some guy has listed all the stock tips he's got from spam and listed how much he would have made or lost if he'd bought 1000 shares of each. He's currently virtually out of pocket by eight and a half grand.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Maybe I'll Just Stay in

Nelson Rocks Preserve - A Disclaimer:
The Preserve does not provide rangers or security personnel. The other people in the preserve, including other visitors, our employees, agents, and guests, and anyone else who might sneak in, may be stupid, reckless, or otherwise dangerous. They may be mentally ill, criminally insane, drunk, using illegal drugs and/or armed with deadly weapons and ready to use them. We aren't necessarily going to do anything about it. We refuse to take responsibility.

Via Making Light

Today I'm Mostly Copying Links From Robot Wisdom

May be you should just check Jorn's blog, instead, but here we go:

Apparently a group of astronomers have found a new planet in the solar system and have decided to call it, for now, Xena. More cutely Xena has a moon orbiting it. The astronomers have called that Gabrielle. Go here if this means nothing to you. Unfortunately it seems these are just placeholder names:
Brown planned to submit a paper describing the moon discovery to the Astrophysical Journal next week. The International Astronomical Union, a group of scientists responsible for naming planets, is deciding on formal names for Xena and Gabrielle.

The Guardian has a profile of Jon Stewart.
The key dividing line in America, he says, referring to the New Orleans flood, is poverty. "I have to say poor is poor. And in this country that's where people really get screwed. If that had been in Appalachia [a poor white area of West Virginia], it would still have been a real fuck-up because they're the people that people think about last."

So, as the host of The Daily Show, does he think about those people first? "Us, no," he says without skipping a beat. "We're thinking about jokes."

World of Warcraft, an On-line Role Playing Game, recently had problems with a plague. The problem was mostly created by certain players, known as griefers, actively trying to pass the disease on to other players. There is, of course, a real world message in this:
"Giving it the ability to propagate at all beyond a limited environment definitely reminds us that self-propagating code is likely to bite us in the ass without careful consideration and planning," Martin said. "This also underscores the fact that adequate testing is a requirement for software, as this--and thousands of other bugs--would have easily been discovered and hopefully fixed had the testing been more thorough."