Friday 30 January 2004

BBC: Manslaughter verdict for cannibal


"Investigators found he had been in internet contact with more than 200 people who shared his fantasies."

Truly, the greatest power of the Internet is for like minded people to find each other and discover they're not alone. But if it's between two consenting and mentally fit adults maybe it's ok? It's just very much on the outer edge of society. A market place for killer and victim. Now there's a thought.

If Air Travel Was Expensive...

I was musing over this thought the other day. This is just a ramble....

We live in an age of massive mobility. Railroads and bicycles were the beginning and their impact was huge. Tourism was born. Motor vehicles came next and eventually became affordable. In the last few decades, mass tourism and global trade really took off with the advent of cheap air travel. This massive mobility has forged the way world works today.

What if energy sources were taxed to reflect their true cost? What if fuel became expensive? What if air travel was no longer affordable?

Some speculation...

Obviously it would quickly wipe out mass tourism. That could be quite a good thing as tourism places a huge stress on many popular destinations. Of course, it would also cause a huge economic shifts for these locations as they found new sources of income. In some cases, this might be better; while others, maybe not.

Holidays would occur closer to home. Less foreign tourists; more local tourists. Less mobility would probably strengthen the use of local languages.

It would dampen globalisation. To be cost effective, goods would need to be shipped by sea or rail and that takes longer. Fresh fruit from exotic locations would disappear. Cut flowers would be expensive. There would be a stronger market for locally grown products.

Distant places would become more exotic - again. There would be less mixing of cultures and a strengthening of local culture. It would be odd because cheap communication technologies would still enable distant interactions. So you can stay informed and collaborate all around the world but you wouldn't visit much of it. Maybe this would undermine sympathies for other cultures. Maybe this is dangerous because media companies would have more influence over how the world is perceived. Or maybe the Internet and video conferencing would reverse that. Hhhmmmm.

World-wide professional conferences would probably have to happen online, if at all.

The nature of business would change with business travel getting too expensive. Person-to-person in-the-flesh interactions are critical for developing trust. Trust is critical before any relationship, businesss or otherwise, is established. All our communication technologies are still a poor substitute for that. It would probably mean more regional business groups and less global times. That's probably true for any social group.

Politically this would put the emphasis on stronger regional economic zones as global mobility became more difficult.

It would be a very different world. Maybe a better world.

Wednesday 28 January 2004

Judo Match

We watched R* in her first real Judo match against another girl in her class. She's so small! But so was her opponent. Jenny was pretty distressed watching the match. R* continually threw herself at the other girl and did well to keep getting on top of her. And she won. She's very chuffed.

The Body As A Billboard

You can either pay for it at Rent My Chest or have it free at Read My Boobs. Can you rent space anywhere else? I can feel a business plan coming on...

Tuesday 27 January 2004

Matrix Reloaded in Japan

Oh those crazy Japanese. Check out this re-enactment. Could be the start of a cult of "Mr Smith".

Monday 26 January 2004

Battlefield 1942

cover I recently bought a second-hand copy of Battlefield 1942 from Amazon UK (list was £30 but second hand it was £15). I thought I'd give it a try after finding out how popular it was as a LAN Party game. I'm not big on First Person Shooters (FPS) as a genre; rarely played them until Halo came along. And I'm crap at Halo. I prefer real-time strategy (RTS) games. In an RTS, you essentially play god while in FPS, you're just a foot soldier. Maybe this implies something about one's personality....

Unfortunately my P4 1.6a is choking quite badly and I've had to configure the game for a very low-end computer to get a smoothish response. The game isn't known for its graphics and at this setting it's quite mediocre. It's getting close to machine upgrade time!

Nevertheless, Battlefield 1942 is pretty good. Very easy to learn. What's makes the game fun is that it's very open-ended with lots of weapons and vehicles to use. You can steer an aircraft carrier, place explosives and lay mines, drive tanks, fly bombers or fighters, etc. Very cool. I can see this being pretty fun in a multiplayer setting. There is a huge community behind the game putting out different mods. If I can get a bit better, I might try out a public game server to see what it's like.

Addendum (28/1/2004) : Installed patch 1.5 and performance is much much better.


Cool tool from Microsoft Research providing an analysis of traffic on netnews.

CNY Redemption

Well after our terrible CNY restaurant dinner last Wednesday, Jenny was very unhappy. To feel better, she's been cooking up a storm of great Chinese dishes. On Saturday, we met up with Joe, Kayoko and friends in London and had a truly proper CNY dinner. Much, much better. Even had a lion dance right at our table which the kids will surely remember well (K* got "eaten" by it). All the noise made it hard to talk much though!

CNY brings a flurry of angpows for the kids so we've finally decided it was time to open up a bank account for each of them. It's at a very local bank - Mom & Dad's Jam Jar Bank Of England and I'm the Branch Manager. Our IT system consists of one account book. To encourage, R* to save money (and not immediately withdraw everything to buy a Gameboy), I'm offering a generous monthly interest rate. This seems to have got her quite excited and might keep the Gameboy at bay for a little while.

MSNBC: Armies of Compassion

The author of “Compassionate Capitalism: How Corporations Can Make Doing Good an Integral Part of Doing Well” proposes corporations donate one percent of its revenues, stock and employees' time to improve the lives of those around them.

I couldn't agree more. It would be almost a miracle if corporations truly served their communities. Honestly, I think the whole concept of corporations as a legal entity and the primary method of organising capital and labour should be debated. Historically speaking, it's a pretty recent concept.

Friday 23 January 2004

BBC: CD settlement forces prices up

CD-Wow! has to raise the prices of it's CD's by £2 due to a court settlement with the British Phonographic Industry that prevents them from importing from outside of Europe. Sucks doesn't it? I'll keep going back to Canada to buy my CD's until they get cheaper here. CD's should be less than £10 with £5 to £8 being competitive.

Media Control (Noam Chomsky, 2002 2nd edition)

coverAt only 100 pages long, this is a very approachable and digestable book by Noam Chomsky. It's subtitled "The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda". It seems to be a minor update to this speech from 1991.

The first chapter examines the lesson of the Creel Commission of 1916 concluding that "state propaganda, when supported by the educated classes and when no deviation is permitted from it, can have a big effect."

The next chapter entitled "Spectator Democracy" traces how the current use of propoganda became rationalised and instituitionalised as an essential element of our modern version of democracy. This is a false democracy where an elite group decides what is the common interest and guides the "bewildered herd" of the population.

Next he covers the rise of the Public Relations industry and its effectiveness in blunting the labour movement using the Mohawk Valley formula. This has led to a business-run society and concludes "the people who are able to engineer consent are the ones who have the resources and the power to do it - the business community - and that's who you work for."

Subsequent chapters build on how opinion is engineered providing many provoking examples. The last chapter entitled "The Journalist From Mars" is a transcript of a talk given to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 15th anniversary celebration (2002) on the media coverage of America's "war on terrorism". Taking the point of view of a truly foreign journalist, he expertly dissects just how blind and tightly controlled the US is.

It's a good read and should change the way you listen to the news. It's also very depressing as the unjustness of it all is unfolded.

Purchase Amazon US or Amazon UK or follow the above links to read most of it.

Wednesday 21 January 2004

Oh Dad Gloriyous Dad

R* created these lyrics to the tune of "Food Glorious Food". Spelling and punctuation all original but you should know that deard is "dared" and beast is "best".

Oh DAD gloriyos DAD.
Sometimes you get a bit mad.
and you are very glad to add.
and allways you get BAD when
thing get a mess. and I have
deard  you too wher a dress and look
your beast to look your beast ........
in a dress!

I should also mention that we have been talking about dares recently and one of the big dares at the moment is if I wear a dress then so shall she (it's a very BIG deal to get R* into a dress). We're still negotiating the parameters of this dare. I think I'd look nice in a floral pattern...

Gong Hey Fatt Choy

Happy Chinese New Year! It's year of the monkey. Our celebration is pretty quiet with no family about. The kids got dressed up in Chinese clothes and we went to a local Chinese restaurant. The food was terrible. *sigh*  For decent Chinese food, you have to drive into London. Tomorrow, we'll do a tea ceremony for the kids and avoid cleaning the house - my favourite part!

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002)

cover An entertaining film but certainly not for everyone. The plot:

"After her release from hospital following treatment for self-harming Lee Holloway gets a job as a secretary to a lawyer, Mr Grey. It's not too long before she begins an affair with him but he suddenly loses interest. She now has to fight to regain the relationship which had been based on masochistic submission... "

Yep, not your regular plot. It's actually quite a slow film as it all concentrates on their evolving relationship. The acting was excellent and the masochistic scenes are not gratuitous. It's tricky tackling a topic involving a woman who likes abuse but it's handled delicately and in the end, it's just a love story.

What Have I Done To Deserve This? (Pedro Almodovar, 1984)

cover We watched this movie as part of our monthly Foreign Film Night gathering. Don't bother watching it. I like its quirkiness and it has it's funny moments but the story and plot just never gets anywhere. By the end of the movie, you're left thinking "What was all that about?". There's better ways to spend your time.

Sunday 18 January 2004

Mission To Mars

So Bush wants to send men to the Moon and Mars just like his father did. The estimated cost given to his Dad was 500 billion and the topic was quietly dropped. I wonder what's changed? The cost would still be enormous and for what? Bragging rights?

I should admit I've been indocrinated in enough sci-fi and Star Trek to quite like the idea of space exploration. Let's terraform Mars. Sure. It's a long term goal we can work on over the next few hundred years.

So the program needs a good vision and slow, steady progress on a series of worthwhile goals with consistent funding. I think the President can provide the vision but he shouldn't be setting the timeline. Personally, I don't see the point of going back to the Moon; a space station makes more sense. And it's seems pointless to send people to Mars when robotics would be much more risk averse and cost effective. But I'm no rocket scientist.

cover For an interesting story about colonising Mars, I can highly recommend reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (Nebula Award 1993). His approach is scientifically accurate but the future history is even more entertaining. It's part of a trilogy but Red Mars was the first book and best book in the series. It's followed by Green Mars and Blue Mars but I found the story really started dragging out too much in the remaining books.

Purchase Amazon US or Amazon UK 

Saturday 17 January 2004

Mummy's Boy Daddy's Girl

So why is it that the phrase "Daddy's Girl" has a relativley warm positive connotation while the phrase "Mummy's Boy" has a negative connotation?

Thursday 15 January 2004

Music Retailing Sucks

So as I was shopping for CDs the last few weeks, it hit home that music retailers really have missed the boat on how to sell music. The problem is that it is assumed that you know what you want to buy beforehand and hence the store is organised like a library for you to find the CD and go buy it. For this to work, demand has to be generated through radio or some other media or through word-of-mouth. It basically assumes that you've already made the purchase decision before coming into the shop. This is stupid.

This system favours only the latest hits and most popular CD's which you're likely to hear in the media. Meanwhile the back catalogues are growing bigger and bigger all the time but it's hard to discover the great songs they contain. It would make so much more sense for a music retailer to organise around helping you to find some great new music to listen to.

The current retailing methods that are employed are to tell you what's new and what's popular and provide a few music listening stations (which many people won't use as they consider them unhygenic). Some stores let their staff write up recommendations. That's it.

I'm not a retailing expert but here's some ideas about what they could do:

  • provide displays that groups similiar music together
  • show how CD's are related to other CD's through trends or artists
  • provide information and displays on seminal recordings in particular genres
  • provide recommendations for what makes up the must-have CD's for specific genres
  • create music discovery workstations
  • provide reviews of CD's from trusted sources with the displays
  • allow you to return CD's you didn't like
  • allow you to bring your own headphones or borrow clean ones for the listening stations

PURE Digital Tempus-1 DAB Radio

coverI bought this radio for Jenny as a Christmas present. It's excellent. Didn't have to crack open a manual to get it to work which is always a good sign. It autoconfigured itself and easy to use. The reception is crystal clear and there's lots of stations to choose from. Good-bye FM; hello DAB!

The radio also includes digital output and you can upgrade the firmware via a USB connection. Turns out the product is based on the Frontier Silicon Chorus FS1010 processor. It's an entire platform on a chip with 150Mhz DSP, 384K RAM and a load of onchip peripherals. Kind of bizarre to know your radio runs four threads!

Wednesday 14 January 2004

BBC: Diamond memories of the dead

Ok, it's pretty weird but I guess it's not a bad way to remember someone:

"The company, operating in Hove, Sussex, but with a US parent, charges up to £11,000 to take a sample of ashes, extract the carbon and create a "memorial" diamond."

I offered to do this for Jenny but she declined. I wonder if you get to choose the colour...

R* Starts Judo

Last term, R* decided she would like to try Judo so we signed her up for the school club. Yesterday was her first lesson (one hour a week). Looks like a lot of fun. She learned a throw and even tried sparring. She's one of the smallest kids in the class so she's going to have to learn her techniques well.

Last summer, she started showing a lot of interest in martial arts. Now is this something one should encourage or not? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing so they say. I showed her how to punch correctly and a bit about kicking. Then later I discovered she had shown this to a friend and also tried practicing on K*! It's probably best to only learn this within a formal context as the responsibility and discipline has to be taught at the same time. Meanwhile, she's reading my old martial arts books...

Jet Lag

Jet lag definitely seems to be worse when you fly from West to East. The kids are sleeping from about 7 pm (very unusual!) to the middle of the night and then getting up. The previous nights, R* got up at 2 am and stayed up. K* got up last night at 2:30 am but luckily he went back to sleep until 5 am. R* was already up by then. I've been falling asleep in the late afternoon for a few hours and then staying up late. All our schedules are fuddled up.

Tuesday 13 January 2004

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

We listened to this BBC Cover to Cover audio book over the holidays and it was brilliant. We're not alone thinking this as it won a golden Smarties award in 2000. William Nicholson is also known for writing the screenplay of Gladiators but this is his first attempt at a children's story.

It's essentially a fantasy adventure of three children on a quest. If successful, they will completely change the nature of the dreadful society in which their family despondently lives. Deeper than that, it's primarily an attack on conformism among children and the dangers of following a group (see interview by Jo-Anna Wildman). There is also a theme reinforcing the merit of a strong family.

Deeper still, it can be viewed as a satire of the absurdities created by a meritocracy and an examination of the idea of social inclusion. It's a book you can read at multiple levels.

Entertaining. Well paced. Superbly read by Samuel West. The audio book is six CD's long (7 hrs 45 minutes) and has no boring bits. Highly recommended. Or read the book yourself of course!

This is the first book in a trilogy and the other two books are available as well. Nevertheless, the climax brings the story to a satisfying close so you don't have to read all three.

Monday 12 January 2004

We're Back!

So this morning I was reaping the benefits of jet lag by building a Lego speedboat with my four year old son at five o'clock in the morning! It's gonna be a long day. Nevertheless, it's always nice to get home, empty the suitcase, sleep in one's own bed and be surrounded with all your own stuff. Ahhhhh!

We had a great trip to Victoria and Vancouver catching up with lots of family and friends we have there. It made for quite a hectic schedule and three weeks wasn't quite long enough. We managed to get a couple of days skiing at Whistler so I'll try and put a short travelogue together describing that. I also splurged buying 22 new CD's from A&B Sound (one of my most favourite places) so I'll review some of those over the next couple of months.