August 28, 2006
Classics of Western television
On the TARDIS: "Of all the things, they could have chosen back in 1963, they chose something that looks exactly right."
On the Daleks: "Face it, they are bloody scary. I think it's the face that they don't have faces and don't have legs. They look alien. The fact that they go round exterminating everything in sight is a factor too." Somehow I always thought they were scarier in black and white: I ho-hummed at the inept Daleks of the Tom Baker years and beyond, but when I saw the grainy, inexorable, jabbering monsters of The Dead Planet, I realised what all the fuss was about.
And yes, the theme music, again particularly from the earliest series, is still the most unearthly sound ever heard on television.
August 26, 2006
IAU, 16 August: "The world's astronomers... have concluded two years of work defining the difference between 'planets' and the smaller 'solar system bodies' such as comets and asteroids. If the definition is approved... our Solar System will include 12 planets, with more to come: eight classical planets that dominate the system, three planets in a new and growing category of 'plutons' - Pluto-like objects - and Ceres. Pluto remains a planet and is the prototype for the new category of 'plutons.'"
BBC News, 24 August: "Astronomers have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet... The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision means textbooks will now have to describe a Solar System with just eight major planetary bodies. Pluto, which was discovered in 1930 by the American Clyde Tombaugh, will be referred to as a 'dwarf planet'."
But wait still more!
25 August: "Owen Gingerich... blamed the outcome in large part on a 'revolt' by dynamicists - astronomers who study the motion and gravitational effects of celestial objects. 'In our initial proposal we took the definition of a planet that the planetary geologists would like. The dynamicists felt terribly insulted that we had not consulted with them to get their views. Somehow, there were enough of them to raise a big hue and cry.'"
Those dastardly dynamicists!
Brilliantly, Pluto's defenders are now selling bumper stickers inviting motorists to "Honk if Pluto is still a planet."
Science hasn't been this much fun since Stephen Hawking punched Homer Simpson with a giant mechanical boxing glove.
Links on the UK airplane bomb plot
Craig Murray: "Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries... you can get the most extraordinary information this way." Murray is a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was forced out after criticising the human rights record of the Uzbek government.
Analysis of the chemistry involved: "On an airplane, the whole thing is ridiculous. You have nothing to cool the mixture with. You have nothing to control your mixing with. You can't take a day doing the work, either. You are probably locked in the tiny, shaking bathroom with very limited ventilation, and that isn't
going to bode well for you living long enough to get your explosives manufactured. In short, it sounds, well, not like a very good idea."
The Register on movie plot threats: "What do these experts know about chemistry? Less than they know about lobbying for Homeland Security pork, which is what most of them do for a living. But they've seen the same movies that you and I have seen, and so the myth of binary liquid explosives dies hard."
August 23, 2006
Trying out Windows Live Writer
First impressions are that the current Windows Live Writer beta is rough. Very rough.
Second impressions are that it's not so rough after all, but man, those first impressions were grim (see below).
- Autodetection. During setup, I had to enter the URL of my site, and my username and password. Live Writer figured out everything else from that. No need to dig out the XML-RPC endpoint from the Typepad docs, or anything like that: just "here's my weblog, get on with it." I assume it has equally seamless support for services like Wordpress, Blogger and LiveJournal.
- Web Preview. Shows you what the post will look like on the site: that is, with all the chrome (titles, navigation, etc.), and alongside the other posts on the home page. It even includes the article under construction in the navigation bar. That's pretty clever.
- The "save local draft" feature. No annoying file dialogs, it just appears in the "drafts" folder. Clean and simple. And it has an "autosave every x minutes" option. Sweet.
- The text editor. It gets basic things like cursor movement and selection wrong, particularly around the post title. So my first experience of Live Writer was entering a post title and first paragraph, and then struggling to get the cursor into the right place to edit them. It seems to settle down when you get into normal text flow, but this was a disastrous first impression. (Update: Nope. It still sucks. Looks like keyboard selection breaks if anchored at the end of the post.)
- The WYSIWYG edit mode. Live Writer is obviously using the site CSS to show me the post using the right fonts, colours, etc. This is actually quite nice. Unfortunately, because the white space and navigation bar are specified in the CSS , Live Writer faithfully replicates the layout, and I end up with an editing area maybe three or four words wide:
I can get around this using "normal" view but then I don't get the WYSIWYG look.
- "Blog this" (what Typepad calls QuickPost) requires you to install the Windows Live Toolbar and use Internet Explorer. For me, this means Live Writer is suitable only for writing articles, which I hardly ever do nowadays, not for commenting on things I read (not that I do much of that either of course). (Update: Looking at the SDK, they do deliberately providing ways for applications to invoke Live Writer for 'blog this' functionality, so hopefully a Firefox plugin is not far away.)
- The generated HTML is quite hard to read (no whitespace), and random spaces get turned into nonbreaking spaces for no readily apparent reason.
- The local save format is some weird binary thing and is therefore not usable with other tools. Possibly this is some packaging thing but in that case why not use a zip file like the new Office formats?
- "Insert picture" mangles PNGs. The screenshot above used to be reasonably sharp, and where the huge bloated blurred linked version came from I have no idea. I certainly didn't ask for it.
- Questionable EULA: "In using the service, you may not... use the service in a way that harms us or our affiliates, resellers, distributors, and/or vendors (collectively, the 'Microsoft parties'), or any customer of a Microsoft party." This seems to imply that I'm not allowed to write, "You guys should all buy Macintoshes," or "Such-and-such a Wintel OEM sucks," lest anyone listen to me and take their custom away from Microsoft or their resellers. That's surely not the intention, but the phrasing of the EULA is a bit too broad.
August 09, 2006
John Reid says that the UK faces its "most sustained period of severe threat since the end of World War II."
For Dr Reid's reference, I append a useful table showing a strictly random sample of threats since World War II:
|A few dozen suicidal maniacs with backpacks full of explosives||Bad||Five years and counting|
|A hostile superpower with a million Hiroshimas at its fingertips using the UK as target practice||Quite a lot worse||30+ years|
Admittedly this table omits one threat, but I'm sure that can't be the one Dr Reid is thinking about...
|Editorial in the Daily Mail lambasting the Home Office for allowing human rights considerations to get in the way of shooting brown people||To John Reid's career||Until The Sun trumps it with a new paedophilia story, i.e. several whole days|
August 04, 2006
Parodies I wish I'd thought of, number 704
molesworth i dreme of hoggwarts: "Befor skool dinner of super sossages, pies mash potatos dougnuts pork chops trifle jely roast sucking pig ect ect, all new bugs must attend Sorting ceremony where there FATE is decided. Tremble tremble chiz the battered and frankly unsavory hem-hem sorting hat is lowered upon my beetling brow and after a pregnant pause (coo-er posh prose molesworth) it SPEKE: 'Huflepuf. Also you hav a face like a squished tomato.'"
August 01, 2006
The Beeb can remember it for you wholesale
"The BBC reserves the right to edit your memories." Actual quote.