Monday, 30 June 2003


[site news] I know; I haven't been posting much for a while. The travel in April and May was overlaid with so many extra layers of feeling and thought that I can't face excavating down to the bedrock. There have been plenty of movies, but none worth moving myself to write about. The books have mostly been work-related, and my thoughts about them relate to work. And I'm damned if I'm giving the record companies free publicity when they're busy shafting the punters who've kept them in business.

True, there are other things I could write. The problem is that writing them in any regular and sustained way is too much to take on right now. I've got chapters to finish, on two different fronts.

Sometimes the public aspects of web publication can seem intrusive. Ideas need time to develop, to ferment in the dark cellar of the mind, away from the light of attention. And sometimes I need to stop mucking about and just get on with it, where 'it' equals writing what I absolutely have to, and 'mucking about' equals flinging a few words into Movable Type every day or two.

So if the front page looks more like a What's New than a weblog over the next month or three, and what's new ain't much, you'll know what's what.


Things I Have Already Mentioned

[books] I've mentioned Mil Millington's website and Guardian columns here a couple of times; last week I finally read his book of the same name. It's the funniest novel I've read in years—so packed with clever one-liners and observations that to pluck one out by way of example would be like trying to describe an avalanche by way of its first falling pebble. The English; Germans; moving house; university IT departments: just about everything that's occupied me these past couple of years is mercilessly and brilliantly dissected and disrespected. The results left me awestruck and jealous, as Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About rocketed straight into the top ten Things I Wish I Had Written.

So, yeah, probably worth a look.


[site news] New at detail: station. Newly found: an appendage.


Wednesday, 25 June 2003


[uk culture] A bunch of us were out on Monday night, and Shauna said how much she wanted a copy of the newspaper banner from that day's Daily Record, which read: BIN LADEN CRASHES WILLS 21ST PARTY. And who could blame her?

So we nicked one for 'er.

It wasn't exactly grand larceny. This was at the very end of the day, about eight hours before they were headed for the bin.

On the way home I became more and more covetous of this precious item, which must surely be the ultimate souvenir—combining as it does Scotland, royalty, tabloid hysteria, and the world's most wanted man. (And Osama Bin Laden. Haaa!)

So Shauna nicked one for me.

Why do I mention this? Well, it's hanging on my pinboard at work, and I've been staring at it for the past two days, and if I don't I'll go mad.


The Pipes Are Calling

[uk culture] Walked up the Royal Mile this sunny lunchtime on the way to get some Fringe tickets, and I noticed the tourist season has begun. It's easy to tell: your eyes are full of fresh-faced hipsters with the EDI tags still attached to their backpacks, and your ears are full of bagpipe.

The first piping hot culprit was standing on the corner of the Mile and North Bridge, in the usual tartan regalia, attracting a crowd of middle-aged David Baileys. "Come on baby, give it to me, give it to the camera, give it up now, feel that bagpipe!" weeerrrrrrrnerrrrrrrnerrrrrr "Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!"

I'm joking, of course. They never say anything; they just stand there with their videocams trained on Angus McAirbag and go 'tsch' whenever anyone walks in front of them. Which is often, given that they stand in the middle of the road to get the best wide-angle shot.

But as I walked carefully around this gaggle of Scorceses, I did actually hear one tourist say something. A middle-aged Australian woman walking towards the spectacle with her family said, to no-one in particular: "Is he there for a reason?"


Tuesday, 24 June 2003

Insert Coin Now

[film] Now that it's a month since the opening of The Gospel According to the Matrix and everyone's had a chance to see it, it's time to point out what every other reviewer seems to have missed. The real eye-opener in this by-the-binary-numbers sequel wasn't Keanu fighting hundreds of Agent Smiths, or the mop-head twins running through walls and trucks, or Trinity's hot hot pants... it was the Architect's revelation that this was, in fact, Matrix Version 6. And you know what that means. Prequels.

After November's Matrix Revelations, er, Revolutions, we can look forward to the Wachowski Brothers falling prey to George Lucas's influence and cranking out five more Matrices, each one a little more advanced, a little less buggy, and a little less exciting than the previous one.

But you know you'll want to see them. Who wouldn't pony up for The Matrix 1.0?


Monday, 23 June 2003

All Change

[books] When I haven't been reading for work this year, I've been reading non-fiction, in my first sustained tussle with the genre for a few years. Judging by the books entussled, the theme of twenty-first century non-fiction is The Men Who Changed Everything.

First there was Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed The World, the tale of William 'Strata' Smith, the 18th century Englishman who realised that rocks could be dated by the fossils contained in them, that layers of rock formed in a regular way, and that a map of the entire country showing its various geological outcrops would make it possible to find valuable deposits of coal and other minerals, thereby changing everything. He spent his entire life creating just such a map in the face of unscrupulous opponents, and went slightly mad in the process.

Next was Winchester's The Surgeon of Crowthorne, about the dictionary that changed everything, and two of the men involved in its creation: editor James Murray, a learned Scot, and one of its most enthusiastic contributors, Dr W. C. Minor, an American Civil War veteran and murderer who happened to be mad. Both of them devoted their entire lives to it.

Most recently was Robert Lomas's The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century, about Nikola Tesla, a man as deserving of the title of genius as anyone who's lived. His deep understanding of the science and engineering of electricity led directly to just about every modern convenience we take for granted. Tesla made the widespread use of AC power feasible, invented radio years before Marconi, and devised a method of broadcasting electricity through the air for anyone to receive for free. He then spent his entire life in pursuit of this plan in the face of unscrupulous opponents like Edison and Westinghouse, and went slightly mad in the process.

Other books in this vein include Simon Garfield's Mauve, the story of the Victorian chemist who dyed everything, and Bill Bryson's new A Short History of Nearly Everything (mauve not included), both of which I await in paradigm-trembling anticipation. Once there was a time when non-fiction could safely dwell on the insignificant; now every factual account has to turn your world-view upside down, singing some unsung Victorian hero who spent his entire life guarding his scruples against madness.

But is the pedestrian world of print exciting enough to portray these mental giants' giant mentality? Surely larger-than-life heroes deserve a medium fit for heroes. What these Victorian genii need is the team-up treatment from comics writer Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the imminent movie of which fills some of us with a Gothic sense of foreboding and dread.

The League of Extraordinary Men Who Changed Everything would bring 'Strata' Smith, Nikola Tesla, Murray and Minor, and that mauve bloke together in one unstoppable cogitating team. Tesla would blast open the ground beneath his unscrupulous opponents with megavolts of electricity drawn down from the sky; Smith would point out which rocks they were passing as they tumbled down the resulting crevasse; the OED scholars would find just the right quotation from Pope to match the occasion; and the chemist would get to work dyeing his colleagues a batch of colourful paradigm-shaking tights.

Now there's a tale that would change everything.


Friday, 13 June 2003

Our Work Here Is Done

[infotech] The patents underlying the GIF image format are about to expire [thanks, Jerry], and it turns out that the whole heavy-handed patent-enforcement fiasco of a few years ago was for our own good. You thought the purpose of patents was to encourage the innovative by offering a reasonable period of protection to their innovations? No, no, no—it's to encourage the innovative by protecting other people's innovations:

Unisys credited its exertion of the LZW patent with the creation of the PNG format, and whatever improvements the newer technology brought to bear. ... "it remains to be seen whether the new version [of PNG] will have an effect on the use of GIF images," said Unisys representative Kristine Grow. "If so, the patent situation will have achieved its purpose, which is to advance technological innovation. So we applaud that."

Coming soon: belated enforcement of patents on exclusive 'wheel' technology cripples small car manufacturers, but encourages innovators to invent new, smoother-rolling device. Applause!


Thursday, 12 June 2003

It Was All A Frame

[infotech] I've been scattering comments about copy-controlled disks far and wide lately, mostly at Graham's place, and s'pose I should round them up into a single post here.

It's all been brought to a head by the release of Mike Oldfield's 2003 remake of Tubular Bells. What's that, I hear you cry? A remake of one of the biggest selling albums of all time? A remake to go with the orchestral version, the quadraphonic version, the 7" single version, the live version, the alternate live versions on video, the sequel, the numerous singles from the sequel, the live video version of the sequel, the sequel to the sequel, the CD-S techno remixes of the sequel of the sequel, the video of the concert of the sequel of the sequel, the DVD set pairing the concerts of the sequel and the sequel of the sequel, the tangentially-related millennium-themed addition to the whole series, the concert DVD of the millennium-themed addition, the remaster of the 1973 original, the SACD of the original, the remaster of the orchestral version, and the remastered best-of version of the entire series?

But of course.

And like the sad die-hard fan that I am, I want to hear it, if only to satisfy my lingering curiosity. After all, I once doubted the need for a sequel to the sequel, and it turned out to be Mike's best album in almost a decade. I don't particularly want the limited edition with bonus DVD, or the 'complete' box set with the sequel, the sequel of the sequel, and the remake of the original, but what's a tenner or so for the CD itself?

Except it hasn't been released on CD; it's been released on copy-controlled disk, a format I'd sworn to avoid. Dilemma. A dilemma made worse by knowing that Mike approved this crippling of his recording, with the result that an album recorded using G4 Macintoshes can't be played on them. (Guess what I use at work. Guess where I would have been listening to it, given that my wife doesn't like Oldfield's music.)

Things have been heading this way all year, though. With apprehension I've been awaiting each new release from EMI (which has sworn to uphold its reputation by treating paying customers like potential criminals), watching out for one of the copy-protection stickers they've been slapping on new releases in Australia. I'd reluctantly avoided new disks on other labels from Massive Attack and Spiritualized, but could I resist the lure of the Dandy Warhols, Blur, or Radiohead?

Those albums duly appeared, free of warning stickers, and all of them played on my home iMac and work G4; the fateful day had been postponed, it seemed. And then: the remake of the prequel of the prequel of the sequel of the sequel stabs me in my multi-instrumentalist-loving heart.

Luckily, the Canadian release turns out to be unprotected, and I've now ordered it; saved by the Internet once again. But how much longer before everywhere in the world succumbs to this blight? The multinationals are trialling the technology in small test markets like Australia, and as soon as they figure they can get away with it, they'll roll it out everywhere. It already looks like some of those unprotected UK releases I've bought are actually just unlabelled protected ones (ineffectively protected, but still). And so I'll be reduced to looking for a second-hand copy of the remake of the sequel to the orchestral version of the b-side of the 7", just so the record companies don't get a penny for it. While music still comes on physical objects that can be sold and bought second-hand, that is...

We're all screwed.

[Further ranting reading: comments at VM; more comments at VM; prequel to the comments at VM; sequel to the VM comments at MeFi. Or read the handy edited version.]


Wednesday, 11 June 2003

It's Oh So Quiet

[site news] If this year was like last, by now I'd be regaling you with tales of the trips we just did up to Orkney and around the north and west coasts of the highlands, and through the Lake District, the Pennines and Durham. I'd be dragging you up cramped passages into five-thousand-year-old chambered cairns, sprinting through a park in Kirkwall to dodge the incontinent crows perched in the only trees on Orkney, standing on a deserted Sutherland beach in atypical Scottish sunshine, watching the seals on Loch Glencoul from the deck of a small fishing boat, and reversing down a single-lane road hemmed in by stone walls to find a place to let past a convoy of 4WDs in the Lake District.

But after several weeks away from it all I'm finding it hard to get rolling again, and at the moment have no time to write much anyway.* There'll be more postcard-y pictures soon, but as for words... well, we'll see.

*Although I do have time to write that I have no time to write, which makes a mockery of this sad place-filler of a post.


Tuesday, 10 June 2003

[net culture] de·mos n. 1. The common people; the populace. 2. The people or commons of an ancient Greek state, esp. of a democratic state, such as Athens. 3. The entire population of MetaTalk on a slow Tuesday.


Thursday, 5 June 2003


all shoulder and beak
the albatross
sits awkwardly
in chattering crowds

folded wings
waiting for wind
to alight
and embark on
monumental flight

who leaves with him
shall soar for life


[site news] A first pass through the photo backlog—and at last, some detail that's actually detailed: Stone Maps.


Waltzing Messiah

[whatever] If you're in Australia, you heard a couple of weeks ago—or in the UK, a couple of days ago—that an ABC broadcaster has produced an Aussie Bible. Which is all well and beaut, but got me wondering what would happen if the tables were turned, and them bible-readin' types got their hands on some good Aussie verse, in the form of our unofficial nashnial choon.

So wrap yer readin' gear around this.

Once a holy prophet
Camped by an oasis
Under the shade of a date palm tree
And he sang as he watched and
Turned some water into wine
"Who'll come and wander the desert with me?"

Wander the desert
Wander the desert
Who'll come and wander the desert with me
And he sang as he watched and
Turned his water into wine
Who'll come and wander the desert with me

Down came a stray sheep
To drink from the oasis
Up jumped the prophet
Converting him with glee
And he sang as he stuffed its
Head full of holiness
"You'll come and wander the desert with me"

Wander the desert [etc.]

Up came an angry mob
Led by a pharisee
Down came the Romans
"What's the name of that sheep
You've got in your heathen flock?
You'll come and wander the desert with me"

Up jumped the prophet
And sprang onto the crucifix
"You'll never catch me alive!" said he;
And his ghost may be heard
By any sheep who joins his flock
"You'll come and wander the desert with me!"

(Now that I've written it, it seems unnervingly similar to these.)


Sunday, 1 June 2003


Beatrix Reloaded

Hunting for parking spots in the Lake District does strange things to a man.

I suppose I shouldn't keep away from the site forever. But that six weeks off sure was welcome, especially when half of it was spent roaming around northern Britain. I'll sling a photo or two up here eventually, but for now I'm still enjoying being detached from the virtual and attached to the real.

(There were a few new things here in May, despite outward appearances. More found stuff, mainly.)


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