Friday, 31 January 2003
[uk culture] Further to the Birmingham radio fiasco discussed below, my Scientific Advisor has supplied me with the packaging from a typical laboratory package of dry ice, which is covered in warnings like this:
Should be sufficient to tip off any over-eager DJ, you might think, but obviously wasn't. So I've come up with a new warning to help prevent future mishaps. Radio BRMB, this one's for you.
Wednesday, 29 January 2003
Monday, 27 January 2003
[site news] This site used to have a favicon, but I ditched it last year when it started looking a bit dated. Over the weekend I made a new one, following the tips for Mac users here and the server tweaks here, but even though it's getting served up properly my copy of Mozilla isn't using it in the toolbar. Anyone out there have any idea why? [Never mind—here's the answer. Works now.]
Sunday, 26 January 2003
[uk culture] From the should-you-laugh-or-cry department: a Birmingham radio station has just been dragged through the courts for a truly jaw-dropping stunt perpetrated in August 2001: a competition to see who could sit on blocks of dry ice the longest. For the chance to win tickets to a music festival, three of the four competitors ended up in hospital and were left with permanent damage to their buttocks and thighs. In other words: they froze their buns off.
An eye-watering fate. Yet, like any accident involving the nether regions, strangely compelling.
It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to enter such an insane competition in the first place—until you remember that not everyone has taken Mad Scientist photos of their cackling girlfriend holding a beaker of steaming dry ice in her oven-mitted hand. Even though the UK gets pretty cold and gloomy in winter, it doesn't get -78 degrees Celcius cold; those sorts of temperatures are beyond most people's experience. And I guess they trusted that the radio station knew what it was doing.
That was their big mistake. Placing your bum in the hands of a DJ might be a reasonable thing to do in a crowded nightclub, but not when they want to park it on frozen carbon dioxide. (Speaking of which, hadn't these people seen The Empire Strikes Back?) It's a safe bet that the scientific knowledge of your average hits 'n' memories expert is close to absolute zero.
The original reports noted the station's protestations that they covered the dry ice with plastic sheeting. What next? Contestants protected from vats of lava by sheets of foil? Deep-sea diving in lunch-wrap wetsuits?
Even more staggering—besides the fact that they actually had medical advice before the competition (hadn't these doctors heard of the Hippocratic Oath? "First, do no placing of buttocks on -78°C solids")—is the news that the whole idea was copied from another radio station in New Zealand.
I guess the land that brought you such pastimes as tying a rubber band to your ankles and hurling yourself off a bridge would think nothing of a spot of arse-freezing. But New Zealand has courts too, and Kiwi bums are as susceptible to frostbite as Brummie ones. Surely they didn't get away with it?
No. The Kiwi competition also left its contestants in serious medical difficulties: but because it used normal ice, all (all!) they suffered was hypothermia. And that was after sitting on the blocks for four hours:
Organisers tried turning up the heat on the tenacious numb-bums by making them strip to their trousers then blasting them with a cold fan, all to the tune of Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.
So what does the Birmingham station decide? Not "this is totally mad, let's ditch the idea", but "let's use dry ice instead!"—presumably so the contestants don't sit on it as long, and overrun into drive-time. Well, they got that part right: they suffered permanent tissue damage in one quarter the time!
Most people would be glad that the UK isn't as litigious as the US, but in this case a £15,000 fine doesn't seem enough. A spell in Siberia would be more like it. Tickets to Steps included, natch.
Thursday, 23 January 2003
[weblog] We all know that William Gibson has a blog, and Douglas Rushkoff has a blog, and Neil Gaiman has a blog. But this, surely, is far more significant: Dave Barry has a blog [news via Blogroots]. It's early days yet, but give it a few months and Dave will be throwing away his best material and doing himself out of a secure writing career with the best of us (er, them).
And where would any of us be without the publicity that he gave to the exploding whale story? The link to that video is probably the genetic Eve of all weblog entries. Dave is the Alpha Blogger. Even if he does have his entries the wrong way round.
Wednesday, 22 January 2003
[journal] One a.m. Can't sleep. Reading The Mercury before going to bed was a mistake. Arsonists—stupid fucking kids and teenagers—are starting fires in southern Tasmania, which like the rest of Australia is tinder dry. Now as well as the continuing threat to family and friends in Canberra, I'm having nightmares about Mum and Dad's house burning down, with all of the trees in the front paddock turning into giant candles. A bloke from my grade at school has already lost his house in the Channel.
I feel... stretched. Like I've lived in too many different places, and seen too much of south-eastern Australia, and all of it's burning or covered in smoke and ash, never to be the same again. It would be worse to live through it, that's for sure, but in a way this is living through it, with streams of news from the web and email interacting with layers of memory and imagination. I've seen a red sun through thick smoke in forty degree heat before, and all of these towns and districts mentioned in the news reports, and my bastard brain is building a simulation of everything in panoramic sensurround. And I'm stuck here on the other side of the world, unable to temper it with actual evidence from my own eyes and ears, unable to combat anxiety with practical action, unable to do anything but remember, and wait, and hope.
My parents moved to Tasmania two days before the 1967 bushfires, some of the worst of the last century. I was born a year later, and grew up in the shadow of the relict chimneys and bleached skeletons of gum-trees that stood throughout the south. By the time I was a teenager the bush had recovered enough to pose a threat again; there was a particularly scary few days in early 1983. There have been other menacing fires in the decades since, even some that came close to Hobart and the Huon, but never a season as menacing as this.
And now a bunch of dickheads are trying to burn down Bridgewater, and with it the rest of the south—why? Because they've been saturated with war-talk, and are itching for some action? God knows. To think that some idiotic 14-year-old could burn down whole lifetimes of work and memory, in the place where my friends and my brother and I grew up, the place I still think of as home... is not what I want to be thinking at 1.43 a.m. on the other side of the world.
Tuesday, 21 January 2003
Under the EU plan, an island is not an island if it has fewer than 50 permanent residents, is attached to the mainland by a rigid structure, is less than 1km from the mainland, or is home to the capital of an EU state.
The reaction has focussed on the effects on Skye and Bute, among others ("the bemused residents of Muck recently suggested that they could be reclassified as a shipping hazard"), but surely even more significant are the implications of (a) the Channel Tunnel and (b) London.
Sorry, Winston, it looks like you were wrong.
One thing I've been amused by when talking to fellow travellers in youth hostels is the average European backpacker's exaggerated fears of Australia. Many imagine that there are deadly snakes on every footpath, deadly spiders under every dunny seat, and deadly sharks off every beach. Those are real threats, certainly, but no greater a threat to most Aussies than grizzlies are to Americans or wolves are to Europeans.
No, if you want an insight into most Australians' greatest fear, look at this. [Windows Media broadband stream; if your browser can't handle it, open the direct link in Windows Media Player, or get the 56k stream from here.]
The adjective 'hellish' is often hyperbole, but for once it's not. This is the very vision of Dante's inferno.
Monday, 20 January 2003
[weblog] In between frantic report-writing and frantic ACT-news-site reading, life goes on. Here's what I was going to post on Saturday before hearing the news about Canberra: "Daft Punk's Homework is fantastic. Why wasn't I told?" (Because I didn't know about Acclaimed Music, that's why.)
Um, that's all. Okay, so life hasn't gone on.
Once we were in the car I knew I had the most important things in my life right there. Other things are just not as important as my partner of 30 years, all I could do was hug her. I always thought I'd be prepared for something like this, but you have to make quick decisions. I don't regret those decisions, not when I see my wife standing over there.
Sunday, 19 January 2003
Four people have died as a result of bushfires which swept through Canberra this weekend, destroying up to 400 houses. Residents of the national capital are preparing for a tough seven days with hotter weather and stronger winds expected.
More than 2,000 Canberrans were forced to flee their homes during the night as fires threatened dozens of suburbs.
One in five Canberra homes was without power today ... There was also pressure on the water supply, especially after some residents left the taps on in their homes when they evacuated.
The massive hill range just looked like a cluster of volcanoes the way they were lit up when I looked from my balcony ... I saw some flames around the pines in Western Canberra that must have been 100 metres high or more.
Do we sleep, do we not sleep? Sleep in shifts? ... We had to pack a bag last night. What do you pack? ... The wind has shifted again and we've lost the sun for the first time today. I don't know if it will be back.
Saturday, 18 January 2003
[events] My mind is full of maps. Maps of towns, cities, suburbs where I once lived. In my mind, I can walk around Hobart, catch a train into central Melbourne, ride the bus through Edinburgh, and drive all around Canberra.
Jane and I used to be op-shop junkies, scouring Canberra's Vinnies and Salvos for household items, furniture and amusing trinkets. At one point we visited every single one in the phone book. It was a great way to get to know the local geography: the suburbs of Belconnen; the arterial roads of Tuggeranong. Eight years in that city built up a pretty good mental map.
Now that map is burning.
Rowf has pictures of a sky turning yellow, orange, and every shade of red. Monkey describes watching the burning leaves blowing into her yard, and running to put them out. For anyone living there, anyone with friends and family there, anyone with a map of Canberra in their head, these are anxious times. Good luck, everyone; good luck.
(This site sits on a server in an outer suburb in Canberra's north. If it suddenly goes dead, you'll know why.)
Friday, 17 January 2003
Guess who's back
Tell a friend
Thursday, 16 January 2003
[film] With the weather being typically miserable this month, we've been spending a lot of evenings watching a hoard of Christmas-present DVDs on Jane's iBook—one of them the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Where Peter Jackson's epics skillfully reduce thousands of pages to three 3-hour instalments, these DVDs willfully expand one scene to thousands of frames of behind-the-scenes material, that being the one where the elf-lord Elrond addresses the nine with the immortal line, "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Ring!" Immortal because, like Elrond, it shall never die, so long as there is a behind-the-scenes doco maker to replay it one more time.
From Book to Script: It was hard to condense the long council meeting at Rivendell into one scene. "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Ring!"
The Weta Workshop: The prosthetics for Gimli sometimes gave John Rhys Davies a nasty rash, as you can see here. "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Ring!"
Computer Graphics: See how we shrank down the hobbits in this key scene. "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Ring!"
From Vision to Reality: Hugo Weaving had a natural sense of authority in his acting. "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Ring!"
Howard Shore's Score: We needed a stirring theme behind the dialogue at this point. "You shall become..." Yes, YES, shut up, shut UP, SHUT UP YOU NOISY FILM MENS, WE HATES YOU.
Imagine being poor Arwen, daughter of Elrond. She's suffered thousands of years of this.
"Daddy, Glorfindel won't let me have a go on the swiiiingggg." "You shall become... the Fellowship of the Swing!"
"Dad, Mum said to tell everyone it's time for dinner." "We shall become... the Fellowship of Eating!"
"Father, I'm going to drop out of uni and head east with Aragorn to become a Buddhist." "You shall become... the Fellowship of I-Ching!"
"Dude, this is getting seriously tedious." "I shall become... the Fellowship of Boring!"
[film] A knife strops back and forth across the screen, sharpening on a stone, sharpening our senses for what's about to come. A gangly chicken jerks its head from side to side, nervously watching the pot, before making a break for freedom. A gang of kids run after it, guns in hand, through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
The first scene of City of God (Cidade de Deus) is one of those openings that promises an exhilarating movie, and for once the rest doesn't disappoint. What follows is the all-too-believable and at times almost unbearable story of small-time hoods in the slums rising to the rank of drug lords, and their terrible impact on the men, women and children around them. Gang boss Li'l Ze is one of the most menacing bastards depicted on screen in years, and the moments when the narrator, the likeable Rocket, is in his presence are filled with fight-or-flight tension. Worse, it's all based on a true story.
Packed with local atmosphere and the latin sounds of samba and funk, City of God is the most gripping depiction of urban violence since Once Were Warriors, and the first great film of the year. I haven't seen Gangs of New York yet, but doubt that even Scorcese could top the gangs of Rio.
Tuesday, 14 January 2003
[suggested] The first reader suggestion for the year inspired this bit of doggerel. For a change, the suggestion itself forms the last line of the poem, rather than the title.
O noble slice of sirloin steak
I do not know quite what to make
Of you; should I heat up a pan
And bash you flat, like steak diane?
Or does my dining future lie
In using you in a stir fry?
Beef Wellington? Or stroganoff?
Would jerky be a little off?
Medium, or just well done?
Served up with onions in a bun?
That's it—I know just what to do
I'll make mincemeat out of you.
Monday, 13 January 2003
[minutiae] The scene: three of us in a fancy cafe on the Royal Mile. Yours truly reads from the menu.
"Escargots: A dozen French garden snails sauteed in garlic and butter.... Why couldn't they use good old British garden snails?"
"Ah, well, they all came down with Mad Snail disease, you see. The farmers went out to their snail pens one day, and they were all just lying about, frothing at the mouth."
"...I thought they only did that when they ate too many Defender pellets."
Friday, 10 January 2003
[language] A handy cut-out-and-keep* reference guide for you to collect.
|Long fingers of potato fried until brown, served hot||Fries||Chips||Chips|
|Thin slices of potato fried until crisp, served cold||Chips||Crisps||Chips|
*Warning: do not cut actual screen. Print out this page, wrap around a hot, steaming portion of delicious crisps, and serve.
[weblog] Seen 'em everywhere? See 'em again!
- Doctor, meet the Doctor;
- Filers versus pilers;
- Why Microsoft sites load faster in IE;
- Po Bronson on The Question;
- Deborah Tannen on fast talking;
- Why English cricket is dying;
- Peter Jackson, are you listening?
Thursday, 9 January 2003
[journal] The fine dusting of snow that's been lying around Edinburgh all week melted away to slush yesterday, but the annoying cold that's been lying around my lungs over the same period is still there, dogging me with its barking cough. Not how you want to feel when turning a year older.
Reflection and resolution at this time of year is mandatory, it seems, especially if your birthday occurs at the same time, and these northern winters make it worse. When the day shrinks to a few hours of gloom, everything turns you inwards, prompting endless internal debates about what's been achieved, what hasn't, and what to aim for in the coming year.
Worse, the calendar's insistence that 2003 minus 1968 is more than the perpetual 32 I've been in my head since Y2K means that another five-year plan has fallen due. It was so easy last time, turning thirty somewhere over the Atlantic, flying from Canada into Stockholm, all that travel behind me and more ahead. See the world, that was the plan. Now what?
Fortunately, life doesn't actually work to the timetable of Soviet bureaucracy, or we'd all spend our days overproducing tractors. Nowadays I focus on months rather than years; and my new year's resolutions are only the most obvious and quickly achievable (or abandoned) goals.
So, between now and when my parents visit at the end of April, I will:
- Stick to the writing plan mapped out for work (two reports complete by the end of January, three chapter-length instalments complete by end of April);
- Do enough extra work on the Mad manuscript to decide whether to finish it or shelve it. (There may as a result be less activity here. Or there may not; I've given up trying to predict where this site is headed.)
- Switch from IE to Mozilla as my everyday browser (done, but it feels strange);
- Ration and roster my blog-reading (hence the reduced link list on the side-bar; sorry to those I've overlooked, but rest assured that my resolve will probably crack and it'll end up trailing off to infinity);
- Do something completely different with this site;
- Bread, milk, onions, detergent;
- Negotiate lasting world peace (may have to postpone until second half of year).
[site news] The housekeeping is pretty much complete: a range of CSS issues with the new design have been solved; a blogroll has been added to this main page; the 'suggest' button has been removed from all but the main page; and the RSS 0.91 feed has been switched to 2.0, and now has the full text of the past week's entries (the 1.0 remains excerpts-only). Still some work to do in other corners of the site, but it can wait.
Wednesday, 8 January 2003
Tuesday, 7 January 2003
Monday, 6 January 2003
[code] Owen has outlined his new approach to dealing with lingering Netscape 4 users. Elegant, as always. I'd grown dissatisfied myself with the downsides of using an upgrade message—repetitive advertising is annoying—and over time had pulled it off all but a few pages. With this latest redesign, I'd left it off everything except the main index page. After further consideration, I've taken it off even that.
It's almost two years since JZ came up with his clever ploy, and times have changed. Yes, CSS-styled pages like this one still break badly on Netscape 4, but that browser is now five years old, and its users will know that there are newer alternatives, if only because old software looks dated alongside newer software. As for those who are forced to use NN4 in uni labs or public libraries, seeing an upgrade notice doesn't help them much. The broken (but readable) appearance of this page in NN4 should be enough of an indication that it isn't the appearance intended.
Sunday, 5 January 2003
[journal] No sooner do I leave behind the whole sunset/sunrise theme for the site than this happens right outside the window:
Wednesday, 1 January 2003
[site news] A shiny new year means a shiny new look—or the old look, tweaked and polished. I've made a few usability improvements (most noticeably the new navigation bar on the left with its more prominent search box), added trackback links to new posts, and brought back the 'suggest a subject' form for those who enjoy playing along. Last year's posts are all intact, except their comments are now closed—you can still read the old ones, but can't add new ones. Not much point in joining a conversation six months late.
Of course, after weeks of building this design, my head's too full of code to have any bright ideas for posts. And things will be pretty busy for me this month, so this may be a false dawn. We'll see.
A gastropod racer quite needy
Became just a little too greedy
The snail he bought
Availed him nought
'Cos he hadn't shelled out for Speedy
[journal] Hogmanay in Edinburgh is so popular that you have to apply months ahead for tickets to get into Princes Street. Last year we had to stand near the barricades up at one end, but this year we got it together enough to score some of the precious wristbands. From the composition of the crowd, it seemed like relatively few other locals did; we were caught in a crush of Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and South Africans, with a large English contingent making up the difference. Kilts were scarce.
I was sorry to miss out last year, when local lads the Proclaimers were playing in the Gardens—especially once we learned that this year's main draw was Culture Club. Don't get me wrong, Boy George deserves respect for hangin' in there, even if his name will forever mean '1983'. But now was not the time to be seeing in the new year to the unsubtle strains of 'War, war is stupid'.
As it turned out, we didn't have a choice: the main stage was ticketed at thirty quid a head, and the video screens were blinking dots in the distance in either direction. The whole experience was starting to seem no better than standing on the barricades. But we found another stage with a band setting up, which looked promising, and stood there in wait.
Easier said than done. The crowd was streaming past in both directions on either side, washing around us like rough surf past an island; pushing, squeezing, groping and 'happy new year'-ing. It felt disturbingly like a trip down a duodenum. We braced ourselves, dodged the elbows, ducked into gaps as they appeared, and managed to stand our ground.
They were worth the wait: loud bhangra music, the perfect build-up to midnight. Urged on by a bunch of sweating drummers and pissed Antipodeans, we counted down the final seconds of 2002, watched a thousand fireworks go off over Edinburgh Castle, and felt glad to be there. Maybe if George Bush listens to George Boy we'll feel just as glad next year.
[minutiae] 2003 is a prime number, so today's date multiplied by itself—day times month times year—is also prime. The last day for which that was true was exactly four years ago; the next will be in another eight.
Don't say you never learn anything useful here.
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