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nick b. 2007
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vendredi 29 août 2003

France Télécom, in its infinite wisdom, has taken those old scratch and sniff cards they used occasionally to hand out for certain not very good comedies at the cinema to a whole new level.
FT R&D has brought to fruition a project to deliver smells over the internet. Of late, 200 French households have been savouring the delights of Burgundy wines and a range of well-known perfumes as a trial run for marketing the scheme, the September issue of 'Univers MacWorld' reports.
The ideas behind the Exhalia (Fr) project took shape three years ago when the R&D people at FT went into partnership with l'Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, de la Cosmétique et de l'Aromatique Alimentaire (ISIPCA; Fr, English pages "under development) and a couple of industrial firms, Ruetz Scent Systems et AC2i®.
How the smells waft into the house is explained, but only in French again, in a new FT press release which also contains pretty pictures.
Commercial applications, they assert, could lie in interactive sniff TV, online perfume promotion, the public health sector (they're welcome to some samples of my Condition), virtual wine "tasting" ... and computer stink games.
You could even get a smelly CD-ROM...
I see no mention of this country's rich cheese industry, but there is an "innovation gallery" Flash site where French-speakers can read and hear about all this (without the odours).


Devon's agentThe tip-off from Univers MacWorld was easy to follow up with the public beta, out on Wednesday, of DEVONagent, shown in action here.
I've had an eye on Devon Technologies and been waiting for this one since I found and favourably reviewed their flexible notepad, database and classifier, DEVONthink, in mid-August. With seamless integration into Mac OS X and its services menus, this multi-search engine cum research tool cum browser rockets the developers into the "killer apps" category.
It took me all of 30 minutes to realise that this one will become indispensable.
DEVONagent informed me, incidentally, that this log is currently valued at $5,734.59. First I knew about that! It seems Blogshares has been keeping an eye on me since March 13 (along with countless others).
So the least I could do was stake my claim to the place once I'd discovered that. What this "fantasy market" is about, I'll find out some other time.
The workings of the stock exchange, virtual or not, have always been beyond my grasp.

11:28:41 PM  link   your views? []

Like the temperature which has plummeted, I've been subdued lately, what with more -- minor -- medical probing and an excess of chores and shopping trips.
I won't bother with Lara Croft's latest race around the world, having reassured Tony that the nipples were intact but he didn't miss anything.
'Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life' was OK fun, but came nowhere near to dethroning 'Pirates of the Caribbean' as my silly adventure movie of the summer. As Brian Webster wrote of 'TR2':

"inspiration is in short supply here. It’s only when Lara and Terry [Butler: the male lead, busted by Angelina from a Kazakhstan prison to help in the hunt for Pandora's Box, no less] are up close and personal that you get the sense that anybody was really all that interested in making this film. And even then, it’s just the contrast of those decent scenes with the drudgery of the rest of the movie that makes them stand out. Butler is charismatic and able to stand up to Jolie’s over-inflated persona here. But that hardly makes the film worthwhile on its own." (Apollo Movie Guide)
No more than 4.5/10 in my book.


Something else that kept me offline was one of the most stupid thing I've done this year. In a moment of sublime inattention, as I cleared my Mac's partitions of many excess MBs acquired over the past few months, I managed completely to trash the 'Documents' folder on OS X, containing several years' worth of material.
This would have been a disaster had I not, by luck, backed it up a couple of days earlier. Henceforth, my backups will be daily again; I was getting lax and I'm almost glad it happened with Marianne here to see for herself the truth of that old chestnut, that if it's never happened to you, it will.


Then my ISP went down today after a storm, not for the first time. This swiftly made the Kid cross, initially because she thought it was her fault our internet connection disappeared and then because it put paid to what she was getting up to with mlMac (abyssoft; donationware), which she rates as the best Kazaa client around for Macs.
I've not tried it myself, but the racket noise next door would indicate that that it's efficient if you're into heavy metal.
At the Canteen, netwiz François confirmed that his Noos cable connection up the road was also dead. After a 'phone call to the ISP, it miraculously returned, but the woman made me hold for so long while she contacted the techies that I suspect they hadn't realised it was down in the first place.
Unkinder still, when I called the Canteen to tell François I'd managed to get through to Noos, he said: "I don't believe what they told you" before I'd even given him any details.
On the whole, I've few complaints about Noos, but it's one of the few ISPs I'm aware of which has its very own active and often disgrunted consumers' association. LUCCAS (Fr) is a long-serving group which derives its acronym from the days before Noos muscled in to take over Cybercable and promptly capped the connection speed for clients of the time.

8:59:05 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 26 août 2003

One previous neighbour's sex life was singularly athletic and rewarding.
This I can tell you with my usual impeccable taste now that she and her live-in boyfriend have moved on to bigger pastures.
But like me, that delightful and civilised pair had a strong aversion to rude wake-up calls, which was hardly surprising given the late hour when the racket through the wall would sometimes come to an exhausted end.
August being the month of the pneumatic drill, I was wrenched out of nightmare well before the permitted hour of 8:00 am. As what passes for consciousness seeped into my system, it struck me that this infernal object was a remarkably regular and peculiar-sounding drill, like a deep heartbeat amplified by several factors of 10.
The vibrations rocking my bed were also dissimilar, like a carpenter using a hammer with inhuman precision, stopping for a second or two to make slight rhythmic alterations every four or five minutes.
All attempts to return to the dark dream proved fruitless. A glance out of the window disclosed nothing untoward in the street.
When I went into the living room, the noise was more disturbing still. Eventually I opened the door on to the landing.
Oh Lord! It was them right next door. Now I heard the rest of it, the occasional electronic screech and some caterwauling from what was once an innocent babe in arms.

"That, Daddy," the Kid informed me when she finally got up in her own time, quite undisturbed by the noise, but still looking like I felt, "is techno for breakfast!"
"Well, it's worse, darling, than anything you've ever subjected me to -- including the band I'm not allowed to insult any more."
Honestly, it's not just my advanced age. A lot of the popular music really was better when I was a lad! Several of the Kid's favourite bands know this perfectly well, otherwise they wouldn't spend time at the beginning of the 21st century making noises which are extremely derivative of what I used to listen to in the late '60s and the Seventies.
It's the LCD factor that comes with computers that I blame for some of the worst contemporary horrors to assault my ears. I speak not of the "liquid crystal display" (Howstuffworks), but the lowest common denominator.

Much as I appreciate the considerable benefits information technology has brought to music, there's nothing more aurally offensive -- in my own very humble opinion, of course -- than a bunch of kids who've learned how to make a drum loop and let the bloody thing run for whole tracks on end, without the slightest creative intervention apart from a few almost equally unbearable additions electronically plastered on top.

I had a hard time yesterday -- as perhaps ½ of the Loyal Three and Three-Quarters might have noticed should (s)he have spotted the chopping and changing in the new sidebar to the right -- picking among Amazon's choice of feeds into this 'blog.
Every time I thought I'd got the balance right, some object would flash up to unsettle me. I "have no problem with" -- more on that in a sec -- helping to promote cultural artefacts which are not to my own remarkably cultivated taste, but I'd much rather not blemish this haven of peace and tranquillity, as rich in its way as a Zen garden, with dog turds.
Such excreta may well be somebody's idea of a best-seller, otherwise they wouldn't be on the list, but they're also a product of our LCD consumer culture, fabricated like junk food with as little polluting human intervention and thought as possible.
Fortunately, if those Amazon people decide to allow me to continue to be a partner in spite of this little exercise in creative self-expression, I gather that I may arrange to customize those feeds even further, offering you exactly what I fancy.
Probably I would also be able to reduce the number of flashing ads to the required minimum, which I couldn't work out how to do by myself.
I hope they don't conclude that, this way, I'd be no use to them at all...


"I have no problem with..."
"You've got a problem with...
"Ah, but that gives me a problem! You see, while I don't have a problem with..."
This exchange, only very slightly exaggerated though the real one was more drawn out and included numerous other "problems with", was characteristic of a whole conversation I endured recently on the Beeb's 'Sunday' programme, a sometimes interesting religious affairs broadcast that begins on Radio 4 at an hour when usually I try not to be out of bed.
I won't steal the thunder of an e-mail Tony's plotting to the Beeb, which will consist almost entirely of the contemporary clichés he finds hardest on the ears. But when it's done, I'll let you have it.
I hope he includes a tiny little news presenter's tick that drives me up the wall when they introduce a soundbite: "This report by so-and-so."
Would it really be so exhausting to say "This report is by..."?


As you can see, I got out of the right side of bed this morning. I have little choice. Getting out of the left side would take me straight through the wall into one of the young neighbour's bedrooms.
So now I'm going to take my excellent humour off to the canteen, along with constipation (the Immodium actually worked for once), and see what other joys I can find to write about.
Or then keep a promise to take Marianne to inspect Angelina's nipples this afternoon.
"You really do have quite a taste, like teenage boys, for bright and beautiful heroines," the Wildcat observed.
"Yes," I confessed. "Women like you."
"But they're also pretty murderous."
"So where's the difference, my love?"

1:42:55 PM  link   your views? []

Why spare the loyal 3 ¾ what I didn't spare myself? Political feelings are running high, chez Glenn of the Beeb, Victoria, Heli, and others.

"WE ARE NOT MARXISTS AT THE BBC: And don't listen to those capitalist imperialists who say otherwise!"
That was Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. He links to a report in 'The Independent'. The views of a top BBC telly exec will be music to Tony's ears.
My friend hasn't bought or read a Murdoch paper in years. On principle. Loathes the bastard.

Victoria gives vent at Blogcritics, but added that the ruder version is at her own place.
Where, of course, I thought I'd enjoy it even more.

"Now, in news sure to offend a hell of a lot of people but after watching the BBC, NBC, CNN and hearing about the bombings in India, the renewed fighting in Israel, and the fact that the International Red Cross is pulling most of their workers out of Baghdad, when the fuck will the United States just leave them to it and let them all just blow the fuck out of each other?"
I can disagree with some of what she writes, but I really like the spirit behind it at 'tekwh0re' (for more). Neat site!

North of me, Heli's also had it up right up to here!

"What do we have here in the Netherlands? Kleptocrats! George Bush has set a very bad example. The only difference with organized crime is that a government can make laws that make their crimes 'legal'." (Heaven and Hell Radio)
They could send you Chirac instead?

On similar lines: "Every year, the Pentagon is allocated $1.1 trillion $400 million, and never has to account for it. Where does the money go?

'More than $1.1 trillion of federal government money is missing. Our government leaders say they will not account for it. However finding this money could solve all of our federal, state and local budget crises. Where is the Money?'"
Cory (but on Sunday) at Boing Boing for the rest...

Victoria wants 'Troops Out' abroad. Bill Gallagher's fuming about conquest much closer to home:

Other than the obvious conquered peoples of the USA, which include the Native American People, and the African Americans, there exist a very large portion of European types who are in the strictest sense of the word, conquered, and who exhibit starkly many social traits of a conquered people.
But this isn't your usual Confederate rant. At 'l.a. indymedia'.

Meanwhile, also across the Pond:

Donald Rumsfeld plans to fight terrorism by goading terrorists into action, and then catching them out. One article mentions this program, the other talks more in-depth about it and aspects of the first article in general (both are from November 1, 2002).
One "disgusted Copolymer" submits outrage to ''

What happened this weekend? We're nowhere near the full moon...

12:41:51 AM  link   your views? []

"Highlights of this release include using Web Kit (the Safari HTML renderer) for HTML display, custom style sheets, displaying differences in updated items, performance boosts, TypePad support, support for gzip compression, and more.
"For more details, see what’s new in NetNewsWire 1.0.4." [Ranchero]
At his place, meanwhile, Jonathan Rentzsch published a hack for people wanting a widescreen version of my favourite newsreader.
Brent tells us so. I've done enough hacking myself for a while. Brent could include this as an option in NNW 1.1. I've joined the little SVP list.

12:10:08 AM  link   your views? []

lundi 25 août 2003

Hacking computers.
I've further explored the delights -- and dangers -- of this activity in the proper and noble sense of the term, which as every geek knows, has nothing to do with the way the word's used in the popular press.
The Condition was so awful that food was out of the question until almost midnight, I really didn't want to talk to anybody or keep up on the news, the Kid had plenty to keep herself busy -- and I kept my mind as disconnected as possible from the goings on in my body by doing some mildly adventurous things with Mac OS X.
There was only one bad half-hour when, logged in as "root", I fiddled with one or two things in what they call the "Core Services" of my machine a little too much and had to boot into Mac OS 9 on a separate partition on the hard disk to undo the damage.

Some intriguing ideas and tips are to be found at one hacking 'blog collective, where contributors currently seem currently to be on vacation.
In audio, for instance, I learn from Nick Sayer that

"that m4a and m4p files are really mp4 files. In fact, if you rename an m4a as an mp4, Windows QuickTime will play it perfectly, and as a bonus will extract a WAV file if you like.
Using mp4info, you can peer inside an MPEG4 file. On an m4a file, you see the expected: a single AAC encoded audio track. On an m4p, however, you see an "unknown" encoding audio track.
These [the Mac OS X MPEG 4 tools] are command line tools, so you will need to play with the terminal to use 'em, but they seem darned useful."
Since the link to fetch the tools in Nick's May 1 entry at OS X Hax is now dead, I'll explore later.
Most of the time, I was trying out half a dozen hacks I've long wanted to implement from Mac OS X Hints and ResExcellence, two of my favourite DIY sites.
Oh yes. Of course I backed up everything I tweaked before delving in. Thank heavens!
Some of the most committed hackers, as well as developers, swear by Resorcerer. But I'm a long way from that league, and some who are in it are unhappy at the idea of forking out ... 256 dollars (235 euros), plus shipping costs!
I'll stick with HexEdit (10 years old last month, free and last upgraded eight days ago). It's at the SourceForge I've written about before.


The changes Marianne likes most about are the obvious ones, such as the ... unconventional things that happen when my Mac boots up.
People fed up with the usual Apple succession of launch screens can let a good and fun tool like Visage ($9.95) from Sanity Software do the work for them, but it's more entertaining to do it yourself. I use Visage mostly as a learning aid.
Ideas from the Deep, one of my bookmarked software developer sites, is an interesting outfit for distributing products for Mac and for Windows (should you really want Nanosaur, Bugdom and the like), as well as for sponsoring Open Source projects (HexEdit among them).


On Open Source development, which I encountered in depth during some research in South Africa a couple of years back, I do plan to write more once I've fully explored the mass of links e-mailed to me by the quiet wizard Jean-Claude.
Mac-addict -- then computer sciences lecturer in SA, now in Queensland -- Philip Machanick gave me the lowdown on the doctrinarian Richard M. Stallman, the Free Software Foundation and his GNU project ("GNU," we're told, "is a recursive acronym for 'GNU's Not Unix''; it is pronounced 'guh-NEW'."). He also told me about Bruce Perens, who recently published a draft for perusal and feedback of an 'Open Source Strategy for the Open Group'.


For now, on Jean-Claude's recommendation, I've just started to read Eric Raymond's "musings on Linux and Open Source by an accidental revolutionary", as he subtitles his essays 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar' (O'Reilly, 2001 Amazon UK*).
I haven't bought this; it's in my new virtual library, where I've been again this afternoon. Enough money has been spent this month on introductory computer books for Marianne's delight.
Last night, I had another, good look at O'Reilly's Safari Books scheme and decided that it's a first-class idea.
The principle is that you pay a monthly (or annual) subscription, the amount depending on how many books you want to take out of the library at a time (I went for the lowest number: five). The choice of more than 1,000 titles from several publishers is excellent.
I initially had reservations about reading online, but it's cleverly done. The full text of each book is split up into easy to swallow bites and it's equally easy to navigate your way around the plate. You can bookmark pages, print and take notes, and the only condition is that the book stays on your private shelf for a month before you can swap it for a new one.
Raymond's book is a great and accessible read, well worth the fuss made about it when it was published. From what I've learned about Open Source via Jean-Claude's updates, I agree with reviewers at Amazon. 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar' is open to non-geeks and far more balanced in its approach than some of the famous names in rival camps.
I've long wanted a copy of Mac OS X Unleashed (Sams, 2002; Amazon), but the O'Reilly site gives me a month with that five-star 1,500-page monster together with four other books for about half the price of buying that alone.
Hmm. When it comes to computers and some other technical subjects, I think my reading habits are in for quite a change...
Like decent software, you can also give the bookshelf a free trial run for a couple of weeks.
Like an idiot, I forgot that...

Oh. As to my own innards, they've been almost as well-behaved today as the Mac's. Blessed relief!


*To answer questions I've been asked: I generally link to Amazon in the UK rather than not only for geographical reasons but because the US links are far more widespread and used at BC.
And yes: I have considered applying for Amazon associate membership myself, with the results you see here as of today.

Buying via my 'blog won't change my bank balance, but might enhance my gift-giving capacity... holy thoughts

10:18:50 PM  link   your views? []

dimanche 24 août 2003


In light of today's nice note from Shoji Ikeda and with a link to the flower cards themselves, this(*) is the purple hyacinth intended for the Wildcat.
Things Japanese constituted a good part of a quiet day.
Except that 'Ghost in the Shell' (IMDb; 'Kôkaku kidôtai') gave the Kid's computer and my speakers a testing time.
At last I've caught up with this 1995 anime cyber-thriller, on DVD (the Kid wasn't interested, but now wants to see it tomorrow) and I'm glad to have done so.
Sure, it was hyped up on first release and adds nothing new in sci-fi to an abundant literature which preceded it, but the 3-D visuals remain stunning and the music that plays an important part is bewitching.
Composer Kenji Kawai first left his mark on me with 'Avalon' (IMDb;' 2001), an extraordinary "love it or hate it" cult movie with a mainly Polish cast from the same writer/director team, Mamoru Ishii and Kazunori Itô. That's another one I'd readily see again for the soundtrack and visuals alone.


(*No credit, simply because the search engine kept the picture from a now "dead" page.)

12:38:19 AM  link   your views? []

samedi 23 août 2003

I hope you've eaten because now that you've asked, here it is.
I haven't had my lunch -- again -- because the nausea won't go away, but it usually does by the middle of the evening.


Some people put babies inside online.
When the Kid saw me reaching for the scanner, she said: "Oh Papa!"
"They did ask."
This offal has no infant in it. It's in Perfect Nick. So they say. I know the Wildcat wants the one in colour, but nobody else does, darling. So you'll have to come and see it for yourself.
If any of the loyal 3 ¾ can see flaws the doctors can't, please let me know.
Aren't I?

3:49:46 PM  link   your views? []

Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio has been joined by a number of bloggers lately in slipping an ironic "fair and balanced" tag into the titles of their places.
They've been inspired, if that's the word, by the Fox vs. Franken case on which Heli today brought us up to speed:
Reuters: "A federal judge on Friday slammed Fox News' trademark infringement lawsuit against Al Franken and his publisher Penguin Group and refused to stop the sale of the liberal satirist's new book that pokes fun at the network and host Bill O'Reilly.
Fox charged that Franken had violated its trademarked phrase 'fair and balanced' by including it on the cover of his book entitled 'Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them'. Fox is owned by News Corp. and Penguin is a unit of Pearson. The book went on sale on Thursday."


If you like needles in haystacks, the Iraq weapons dossier evidence that's shaken the British government and the BBC alike is instructive.
Particularly some of the e-mail:


That's part, self-evidently, of an e-mail from BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, now in the public domain under the 'Evidence' tab on the site of the Hutton Inquiry into the apparent suicide of microbiologist David Kelly on July 17, three days after it was sent.

I've been looking through this stuff -- which takes the shape of downloadable .pdf files -- since picking up Thursday morning's story that Lord Hutton's investigation would start publishing its evidence.

ScratchIt's not easy, when some of the papers look like this, no less and no more. But at this stage, even before Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair himself have their say (Beeb) next week, the site is still worth a visit.

The Net has in the past month carried masses of speculation of the kind launched at Lisa Rein's Radar, a highly readable American 'blog, on July 22. At GuluFuture, another "inside track" where I sometimes hitch a train ride, editor Fintan Dunne was already posting the Kelly murder scenario the previous day.

Get me right: I'm not knocking the speculators and conspiracy theorists, being pretty good at that myself. Indeed, Dunne's kind of site, which has returned to the story since, makes for gripping reading with some good links.
When I told the Wildcat that I'd spent about three hours sifting the Hutton site, she asked me what I made of it and proffered her own "gut feeling" that the single-source aspect to this sorry saga had been a bad idea.
Yes. But in the defence domain, it can be pretty hard, sometimes to do otherwise.
I don't know yet, what I make of it all.
What I've read in this evidence confirms an impression, however: by the time the second Gulf War began, on the most questionable of pretexts, both Tony Blair's government and some in the BBC's news services were spoiling for a fight.
Whether Dr Kelly took his own life or was murdered, he and his family were, in part, victims in crossfire that became increasingly intense with the start of the summer.

One of the most interesting and useful features of what the Hutton Inquiry has put on line, so far, is that it's raw, unadulterated but for those hefty swipes of a thick black pen.


Here the marker is used more sparingly. Never mind the content for now, it's the medium that continues to intrigues me.

"Spin" was one of the major banes of the war coverage.
Spin by governments.
Spin by the media.
Spin by bloggers like me.
For now, the Hutton Inquiry site, as such, is a spin-free zone.
For now, as the evidence mounts, there's reason to hope that it will remain that way. And thus, we might learn a thing or two.

2:34:04 PM  link   your views? []

vendredi 22 août 2003

Comment on the following paragraph and assertions in 600 words:

"Of course, criminals are people who have not received the correct moral education. They are people who have not enjoyed the opportunities of the rest of us. We should pity them, and as a society we should look after them. Punishment is not the answer. It only worsens an already bad situation. If we execute people, this apparently makes us as bad as them . . . Bollocks . . . In the early years of the millennium this was always considered to be the case. The insanities of 'political correctness' blinded many to plain realities: if you execute a criminal, he won't do it again. Punishment of the criminal is good for the victims, if they are still alive. Why should we, as a society, look after and re-educate them when we hardly have the resources to do this for law-abiding citizens? Nowadays, we have grasped these realities, so murderers and many recidivists are mind-wiped. We have not ceased to execute people because we are more 'civilized', but because that would be a waste of a perfectly useful body. And there are many personalities waiting in cyberspace (AI and uploaded human) for another crack at living in the real world."
From How It Is by Gordon.
Now there's a work whose very title would appeal to a wise old friend, who's wry observations on the world almost invariably end with a "That's how it is."
Gordon's little gems are among those chosen for the chapter headings constituting one of the pleasures of 'Gridlinked' (Amazon UK) by Neal Asher (Macmillan/Pan, 2001).
Ian Cormac, the "James Bond" of Earth Central Security, has little time for convention and and kindly law-enforcement in Asher's first full-length novel, which begins with a bang in 2432.
In an earlier fleeting reference, I wrote that any book which starts out with a space travel engineer saying the equivalent of "Beam me up, Mr Scott" and unintentionally blowing up a planet on his arrival has potential. Any parallel with the 'Star Trek' series ends right there. There's no bridge on Hubris, one of the starships to feature in an intergalactic Polity where the bulk of humanity's political and economic business is run by artificial intelligence.
Asher delivers on the promising start, in a tight tale of psychopathic separatist killers and mercenaries, special service agents, almost unbeatable androids from the Golem range, and an ambiguous and cryptic alien Dragon. From the first explosion to a violent climax, this English author works fast, usually sparse in vocabulary to the point of crudeness, but unsparing with the brush strokes in a cinemascope thriller.
Occasionally, to see the same word too often used in one sentence gave an infuriating itch to a reader far better at subbing other people's work than his own. But to call much of the writing crude is not to put down Asher, whose plot is as satisfyingly complex as the several worlds he describes in 'Gridlinked'. You can't put Asher down; twice I found this book on the floor in the morning, with a pair of fortunately unbroken glasses. Only the imperative of sleep kept me from reading all night.
Less equals more for an author who credits a grateful reader with the imagination to fill in some deliberate gaps, such as aspects of his characters' past which he hints at just enough to tell you all you need to know if this is your first encounter with his cosmos.
The James Bond reference becomes explicit in a teasing way which pleases, while those broad brush strokes are not slapdash but could make 'Gridlinked' surefire action movie potential in the right director's hands.
Whether Asher is the sci-fi inventor of his favoured method of interstellar travel, the Runcible and its Spoon, I'm not sure, but 'Gridlinked' builds on the Runcible tales with which he began to make a name and indeed swallows one of them whole, 'The Dragon and the Flower'. (This is mentioned in Asher pages at Authortrek by K.P. Mahoney, who considers him a "sublime master". I wouldn't go that far, but Asher's hot all right).
Such science as he needs makes hard sense, including the Grid from which Ian Cormac disconnects early in the story. This is a cold-turkey break, after 30 networked years, from a link which gave him some of his skills at the cost of his humanity and, potentially, of his life.
I knew how 'Gridlinked' was going to end about 40 or 50 pages from the finish. But Asher's punches were faster and more cunning than my guesswork. He threw me several more times before the penultimate page.

If I didn't have several others waiting on the shelf, I'd probably already be into 'The Skinner' (Amazon US henceforth; Pan Macmillan, March 2003 in paperback).
Asher's nigh on addictive. After this, I can't totally sever myself from what genre-maniacs might label "space opera". Next stop for review: 'Revelation Space' by Alastair Reynolds (2000) or Probability Moon' (& 'Sun'; 2000 & 2001) by Nancy Kress.

8:17:19 PM  link   your views? []

Adjustments: in a delightful letter, Shoji Ikeda apologetically informs me that the flower for the wildcat is not a purple hyacinth, but bletilla striata. In Japan, it's a purple orchid (Botgard) native to Ikeda-san's part of the world.
Thank you! This changes the
meaning of the flower, but that does no harm. On the contrary!
For her part, Catherine assures me that her splendid comment was made not in a job interview but during one with a human relations person. She reckons she'd be on the dole otherwise. Me, I'm not so sure...

In a rare fit of real but short-lived rage, I broke the telephone aerial this morning.
I'd got a letter from the 'Sécu' (Social Security) saying that I'd told them I sent them some missing papers with regard to the Condition, but they had not received them.
The letter was posted on Tuesday, a day after I walked to their local offices twice: first, to see why they hadn't paid me anything since the beginning of July, then to take them two copies of the missing documents.
So I 'phoned to tell them that they now had three copies of what they need -- only to find that, as increasingly often in this world of ours, the number for the local centre had become that of a robo-woman who sent you to a central service.
The point when I banged the 'phone down hard came when I couldn't make out the whole of the new number robo-woman was shouting over a Rossini overture (or something similarly chirpy and irritating) for the fourth time of trying.
On finally getting it all, the reply was at least astonishingly quick and I had cooled down.
"Please take no notice of that letter," the girl said. "It's just the computer."
This kind of tale is so banal nowadays that it's scarcely worth bothering with, but for the equally banal fact that even the best computers are only as good as the people who programme the buggers.
On Monday, I'd been told that my payments had been stopped -- because of "the computer". With a small gap in the records, it was unable to handle anything that came after the missing bit (which was 17 days out of 51).
Once unleashed -- as with the computer at my bank, the BNP, which frequently crashes according to the staff there -- the doings of the machine appear to be beyond human intervention. This I learned the day the bank computer decided my credit rating was appalling, when really, as humans readily acknowledged, it was fine.
There was literally nothing they could do, they explained, until the computer agreed with them. Which it did. Three months later.
As for robo-woman, I told the real girl, in friendly fashion, that the voice was bad enough for me but would be worse for partially deaf people.
I've lost count of how many times Tony and others like him have told me how very annoying it is that many people still haven't learned that when you're talking to somebody who is hard of hearing, you don't gabble like robo-woman, even less SHOUT!
What they need is clear enunciation and direct looks. I mumble too. Often when I'm fighting back irritation close to boiling (now there's a giveaway for my nearest and dearest). But with Tony, I need to talk at little more than the usual level, so long as I pronounce the words properly.


The kid was scared by my unusual outburst. She grabbed the 'phone with the bent aerial and snapped it completely while trying to fix it!
I wasn't cross with her for that, she was doing her best, but unfortunately I was already angry at the way she'd yet again got out of bed and headed straight for her computer to launch into a chat session, quite oblivious of the filthy mess she'd left on the kitchen table yesterday, the clothes and magazines she'd strewn all over the place and the washing-up she'd promised to do last night.
Finally, I've gone on strike with regard to that lot. In the past few days, to her considerable alarm, I've turned into a discipline enforcing machine. Being 14, clever, seductive, usually kind-hearted and as insecure and self-assertive as almost any kid of that age is no excuse for being bone idle.
One advantage of being divorced is that she'll "take shit" from me that her mother no longer dares throw at her, she's almost had to give up for the sake of a relatively quiet life.

I've told the kid that I'm writing this. And why. I've also said that on her own blog I want to see the words: "I picked up Daddy's 'phone and made a call to Slovenia that cost him 70.72 euros (almost 80 dollars) and I will never do it again!"
There's no point in making her write it 500 times as I'd have had to do at her age. When I was a very wicked lad, we didn't have computers that can copy and paste.

Serious moral, though:
I know a lot of people who are divorced (it's unfortunately one of the hazards of journalism too) and far more badly off than I am with Marianne. Some of their teenagers have turned into terrors very fast for two reasons:
- the parents haven't managed to agree completely on matters of upbringing. This matters, because the older the kids get, the cleverer they become at exploiting the points of discord to their own advantage at the expense of everybody;
- it's not because the teenagers of divorcees are a little more fucked-up than all their friends -- which they are and there's very little you can do about it apart from keeping all channels of communication wide open and boosting their confidence -- that you should feel guilty and let them do what they want.
By Marianne's age, most kids should know perfectly well that the divorce of their parents is not their fault, though it often takes some getting to that point.
Learning to differentiate between serious problems and normal teenaged fucked-up-ness is a challenge requiring effort and attentiveness, but it can done much more easily when both parents are on the same wavelength.

When Marianne's mum went for a crucial job interview once, she was asked a difficult question, more or less this:
"What do you consider to be the greatest achievement you've pulled off with success?"
She didn't hesitate. "My divorce."
Years ago, I could have killed the woman when she told me this; today, I understand. It makes me smile even more because I don't think she'd say the same thing nowadays. She's managed even better since!

End of sermon.


purple hyacinthSo, wildcat. And others.
If some very long-distance 'phone calls become a little more difficult, it's because the Scotch tape round the antenna has come off.
What was particularly silly about this was that I did my accounts, oh hateful task. Afterwards.
To find via the online banking site that a large sum of money from the Sécu is poised to drop on to my current account later today.
Now I can turn my attention back to the post office and their hunt for the parcel that they left a notice in my little letter-box about.
The man who didn't want to walk up the stairs forgot to fill in any of the references on the slip as to where the parcel would become available among all the others at the post office.
The kid has greeted this news with relief. As long as the "research operation" they say they've launched is under way, she won't be able to read the Mac book I ordered for her from Amazon France.
Today's offering for the wildcat I found in a remarkable 'Flowers Photo Gallery from Japan, the copyrighted work of "Ikeda, Shoji" -- that comma leaves me uncertain as to which way round I should give the name. But now I know.
The purple hyacinth orchid was not among the free cards at the gallery, but I've alerted its owner to the theft because it's the most beautiful one Google gave me.
Rest assured, darling. I wouldn't dream of ever publishing your real fantasies.
They're far too outrageous. Even for my loyal three-and-a-quarter.

2:02:30 PM  link   your views? []

jeudi 21 août 2003

Tony's stuck with the cricket again or his books, telly or Mac.
Especially stuck since bloghero Yang had to pay him a visit this morning -- with one knee seized up and painful, a stroll to the surgery was out of the question.
I'm stuck too.
Nausea still there, this morning's mighty headache vanquished, the insides back under control. That, I regret to tell Natalie and everybody else, particularly Carole and others asking for a more detailed update, is "The Condition" today.
Tony and I each got as far as our respective pharmacies and no further. Wonderful, isn't it?
But at least I can blog. Catherine, my former spouse, thinks that if T. and I can find n° 3, we could re-enact a well-known French comic strip of her youth (her earlier youth, I mean of course) which recounted the adventures of three incurables...

Post-holiday Yang no longer has pouches under his eyes. We decided not to swap horses (specialists), once he'd studied all the latest results and we discussed them at length. The upshot is that a tanned backside or two will be kicked, with a September 7 deadline for a diagnosis.
The doctor hasn't ruled out the bone marrow probe his partner suggested in his absence, but is more interested in exactly what's happening in the small intestine. It could mean a longer trip to hospital than the last day-visit to find out.
I have yet more tests to do between now and then, but I'm glad the ball is rolling again after a fortnight's hiatus.

No news from 'The Canteen'. It was safer to skip lunch.
Still, I've got a word for that bloghero.
When I returned to the chemists' to fetch the medicines I'd abandoned, such was my need to get back to a loo, people were waiting for a man who really needed a bucket. To put his stock in. He'd been prescribed enough to last him a year in the Sahara.
That's what I thought it might be until my turn came. Eight boxes of 20 painkillers? Eight more of anti-nausea pills! I gave more than half that lot straight back, remarking that "I'm not the entire French Foreign Legion, you know."

As for 'The Kid', she's happy again, after behaving too much like an addict short of a fix for her own good while her new Mac was seen to by Apple.
She's of an age to have kept a slightly embarrassed distance yesterday when I had to get off the Métro, one stop after we got on with the repaired machine, as a matter of urgency. Should anyone else have the same problem at Courcelles station, be warned that the area is a café-less, toilet-free zone.
A merciful RATP woman let me use their private one next to the ticket-office.
Marianne pretended she had nothing to do with me for the duration.

While I'm stuck, so is she to some extent, but was able today to rent and watch her first DVD, now that part of her machine works.
She came back with 'The Animatrix'. Nice of her. Now I can see 'The Final Flight of the Osiris', not one of the four free downloads on the site.

Tony and I have spoken of accompanying Marianne to see what many French people will insist on calling 'Tomb Rider' if mobility coincides imminently.
That he'd even consider this is an indication either of desperation or a most proper and gentlemanly desire to make sure I wasn't telling fibs the day I explained how I gave Angelina her nipples back.
The woman was already worried about them in 2001.

"...something for those hardcore game fans. Lara has those big breasts in the game. We didn't want to make them as big as in the game, but at the same time we didn't want to take away from her the things that are, you know, her trademarks.
But I don't know what all this fixation is about anyway,"
she told NY Rock in what sounds suspiciously like a little fib of her own.
"[S]he finally found true love in the August issue of CosmoGirl!," which is not the first place I'd have thought of looking.
It was less kind of Tony to give me his view on acting:
"Yes, acting. D'you remember that? It's what people used to do on stage and in the movies before special effects and you didn't know what's real and what's gadgetry."
Angelina, on whom I am not fixated, has explained in an interview I've mislaid that in Lara Croft 2, she wanted to round out the whole character, not just the boobs. Instead, here she is talking to
We'll see.

That cricket is robbing Tony, again, of Radio 4 (LW).
He may have to think "broadband", the way the BBC's online choice is growing.
It includes a very moving programme aired this morning.

"The story of British tommies sent 'over the top' to fight the Germans in the trenches of the First World War is one of the most vivid emblems of powerlessness in the face of military discipline and social pressures that required young men to join up and do their duty."
'Voices of the Powerless': a highly recommended half-hour.

Far less moving were the current Labour Pains brought on by the Hutton probe (Yahoo! News-wrap) into the death of David Kelly.
The Hutton Inquiry site will henceforth be publishing what James Naughtie presented as a "bag of gems": "all the documentary evidence relating to the enquiry."
Contemporary historian Anthony Seldon (Amazon UK picks) and Iain Dale of 'Politico's Bookshop gave Naughtie a thought-provoking eight-minute Today interview (direct link to RealPlayer clip) about this unprecedented development.
Though fascinated by the e-mails and "the workings of government," Seldon pleas for more oral records.
"Are the e-mails going to be kept in future?" he asks.

I know I've left out 'The Wildcat'.
But she must have gone to ground. Not even a miaow.
I'm not surprised.
Last time we spoke, she was:
- plotting a murder (acceptable);
- thinking of taking a teenage lover (no threat there);
- showing interest in somebody older (that switched on the warning light).
So, no flower today.
Just a kiss.

And now, Natalie, they all go back into lower case.

9:44:59 PM  link   your views? []

Chipstah! has posted sweet Fanny Adams since 'Claudette plays hard to get' on July 17.
I'd worry about him if it weren't for his appalling Republican politics.

His home page still bears a tribute from me among reviews he's put there.
"The eagle's unloaded its a**hole!" I didn't put the asterisks in the entry he pinched that from during "that War", but he's a model of restraint and decorum.

The fellow came to mind because I was wondering what my reviews and e-mails down the months would say if I wanted them on my home page.

'Merde in France' also posts reviews. But they make some of them up.

This is where some of the loyal 3¾ get to shake hands. Or kiss each other. Dive beneath the sheets if they must. I really don't mind.
Just one of the following quotes -- a selection of direct responses to posts here -- is made up by me. But which one?

"I appreciate your writing. Sometimes I don't know if anyone but the random right-winger reads my stuff (since they always post a rabid complaint/comment). Nice to have the evidence of being heard." (Brian, film-maker, blogger, temporary candidate to govern California)

"Very sad, important, informative and thoughtful, Nick, thanks." (Eric, editor, Blogcritics)

"I enjoyed reading your websitelog, but J. thought it a bit self-indulgent (...) T. didn't comment. I suspect he would have preferred a proper present (...) I believe that would have been nicer, too. (...) What an uncaring family I have." (My mother, on a postcard)

"The thing I like about your blog is that it's personal and yet not self-absorbed. There's enough detachment and awareness to lift it out of the confessional bog (blog bog) (...) I shall keep up with the threads of your various sagas - the Wildcat, the Kid, the Condition, the Canteen, etc. - almost sound like chapter headings of that unwritten novel?" Natalie d'A, London cartoonist, alter ego)

"Of course you tried all the orthodox things already?" (Rainer B., software developer, Brazil-based website baron)

"Made me smile. Thanks for this cool review. And, yes, it's all about the quirky sense of humor." (Lyda M., American novelist and critic)

"God, Nick! People are going to guess who I am!" (The Wildcat)

"If you put that in your blog, I'm going to put pictures of the inside of your bowels in mine." (The Kid)

"I think that as a journalist you have the right to express yourself in citing the real facts; transformed or interpreted, [they] can be damaging to people who are perhaps not necessarily the cause of your problems. But it's the job and I can't rebuke you.
"For my part I don't adhere to this kind of criticism (...)" (Patrice G., Executive Relations, Apple France)

"Apple was kind enough to replace one of my PowerBook G4s after a negligent Airborne delivery man left it out in the pouring rain so it was soaked through. Sometimes I've had to ask to speak with a supervisor to get real action, but eventually Apple usually comes through." (Mac Diva, pantry-keeper, critic)

"You write like a cross between Monty Python and Jeanne d'Arc. More of the porno pictures, please..." (Heather F, self-professed "houseslave", Perth, Australia)

"As you probably know, under French law you can purely and simply be sacked for such things..." (David S., colleague, prudent chum, union activist)

"Always nice to find an office conversation piece, yes? ;)" (Franklin in Florida, self-professed "whore")

"How is it you've usually managed to avoid falling over the edge of the limits you've pushed? (...) That was risky." (Julie V., Bristol, England, no longer a Mac newbie, painter, movie-maniac)

"That's a very nice review, now I've read it." (Justina R., British novelist)

"Good review, but you mixed up Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp. (...) Huge difference..." (Ryan, musician, blogger, critic)

"I took a look at your blog. It is interesting reading." (Alan, "Z", "a pretty ugly mass of organized chaos (...) a lot like you," traveller)

"Yes, I liked it. But I've got a couple of quibbles..." (Gina D., news editor, colleague, reporter, on what I did with her Algeria photolog)

" Mr Barrett (is that better?) (...) Don't DARE install Movable Type on your own." (Lee, round a few Parisian corners, student, blogger)

"When are you going to write about me again?" (André B., literary lion, artist)

"However, it is not easy for me to understand what [is] the purpose of your web site" (John, "in Seoul, Korea", photographer)

"can't read you every day but catch up when I can. we have two power cuts a day now" (Protected identity, friend in Zimbabwe)

"Wow! Quite a review--intimidating, in fact. I'm not sure anything else I do is going to measure up to your expectations now. :-)" (Karl S. novelist, founder member of SF Canada)

"No biggy, I just pass um along........" (Mark aka "Sandbox", fellow founder of TS, blog tipster)

"Many, many thanks for sharing Beatrice's pix with us ... brought back fun memories of Nigeria (including Beatrice and myself truly wading thru filthy waterlogged Lagos streets" (Abhik K.-C., AFP journalist in Abidjan, Ivory Coast)

"Woooow, i noticed you mentioned me at your blog :D. Gosh, i'm honored..." (Marcel D., TechSurvivor in Belgium)

"Rejoice with me: I've just achieved my first dry fart in a fortnight" (A.N. Other, complete content of an e-mail headed 'Not for blog')

By the way, you're welcome to be as nice or as nasty as you like in the "comments" box, rather than e-mail. I can't do anything about the fact that it appears not to work when you send something.
It does.

4:31:20 PM  link   your views? []

I'm removing this story. Not from the Internet, but here.
Not because Apple has asked me to (they wouldn't dare), but because it bogs down the 'blog.
When I saw how long I posted it late last night, it gave me the shivers.
So now it's sitting at the place it was really intended for, currently still on the front page at Blogcritics. Among other fine pieces...

"After Apple's icebath, I warned that another article was imminent, even sent a draft and a chance to respond to three unanswered questions."
In fact, cordial relations have resumed with Apple France, but the responses I naïvely plan to obtain from Cupertino are still absent. Thus a dart fired across the Pond. Like William Tell in the land of the cloud-cuckoo clock.

2:01:48 AM  link   your views? []

mercredi 20 août 2003

In Sergio Vieira de Mello, the senior UN official who died after one of the two massive bomb attacks (AFP) that dominate today's headlines, the world body has lost one of its finest men and the whole planet a noble soul in the quest for peace and human rights.

"C'était vraiment un chic type!" journalist Sonia B., who knew the man in Bosnia, told me this morning; a really fine guy who "spent less time with his UN colleagues than out on the streets with the people" who bore the brunt of the siege of Sarajevo.
"De Mello was a pragmatist, not a man for the institutions," my colleague and friend added. "He didn't bullshit we journalists and it was people he cared about, the ordinary people. He saved lives in a Christian way. A truly Christian way, I mean, discreetly, without the least fuss about it.
"When [late French former president François] Mitterrand came to Sarajevo [in June 1992], there was applause. When De Mello left Sarajevo, many people were weeping."

Yesterday's lunch at "the canteen" was rich when it came to people in this small world. I found Sam, currently running the pizzeria, deep in local geography and tales of childhood with a pretty young woman he'd long taken for a Moroccan but who turned out to come from almost next door to his own village in Algeria's Kabylie.
I struck up a friendship with Philippe, who knew many parts of Africa, India and Afghanistan that I've been to, and more besides, after a long civil service career under successive French governments in fields ranging from defence and intelligence to humanitarian cooperation.
It was a pleasure to be able to talk to an open-minded and humanitarian man about both the successes and foul misdeeds of this country's various rulers, as well as those of "obscure" places like the Central African Republic, without a host of preliminaries and explanations.
Philippe has been on mission to some of these countries alongside staff from a range of UN organisations, developing considerable respect for the people who keep the United Nations going despite its flaws, the more idle appointees and the weight of a bureaucracy which comes with the juggling of a myriad members and opposing policies.

Neither of us mentioned the late UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, because we didn't know that he was pinioned under rubble after the Baghdad blast that was to claim his life, along with at least (update) 23 others, while more than 100 people were injured.
"He asked for a glass of water before he died," Sonia said. "It was atrocious."
She can be a tough nut when she needs to, Sonia. Not only has she covered the Balkan conflicts, she comes from that region. But De Mello's death still shook her to tears.

The appalling news I got from the wildcat, who was tapped into AFP's wires and is among another friend to have met De Mello. Like her, the Brazilian was a "doer", efficient in an office but often happier out of one. His predecessor in one of the toughest jobs in the UN, Mary Robinson, said on the radio this morning that he was a field man to the core, ideally suited to the task of UN special representative in Iraq.
The BBC will no doubt be updating its brief background piece on the UN's work behind the scenes in Iraq.
In Africa, De Mello won respect -- though often with one hand tied behind his back for lack of funds, international commitment and the bloody-mindedness of the "local players" -- as a coordinator in the tormented Great Lakes region, seeking to restore a semblance of order and keep humanitarian assistance functioning after the Rwandan genocide and with the war in Democratic Republic of Congo.
He went on to play a key role in helping steer East Timor to independence and -- ah! buzzphrase of the new century, "good governance" -- by former "terrorists" four years ago.
That BBC story says

"there was no obvious participation on [De Mello's] part in the formation of the new governing council for Iraq, which was billed as one of the key steps in the country's move away from an autocratic regime to a democracy."
But every journalist who knew or has written about the gifted diplomat will read that "no obvious participation" for the semi diplo-speak it is. Moreover, the United Nations -- its senior staff, not the Security Council -- has done its best to keep a distance, particularly "on the record", from any plans drawn up by those who engaged in what a large part of the world still considers an illegal, unjustified war, whether it ended Saddam's barbaric regime or not.
Realpolitik is complex. De Mello, a thoroughly good and immensely patient man, will have had strong opinions about who is rightfully and indeed legally entitled to run Iraq. There's no doubt he will have made those views known, through channels whose tortuous workings he mastered, to its current overlords, particularly the United States.

In my corner, another civil servant -- and also, I would say on the strength of a first 90-minute conversation in some depth, another good man -- knew perfectly well that when you talk to a journalist nothing is off the record for ever as we "swapped notes" on the differences between the Americans' behaviour in Baghdad and that of the Brits in Basra.
Philippe, with his defence and satellite expertise, also filled me in on a question I've long wanted a better answer to than "jungle", but frequently forgotten to ask: how it was that scores of thousands of Hutus could "vanish" in eastern Zaïre, as then it was, after the Rwandan butchery. That's for some other time...

I am not suggesting there that De Mello's death and those of other UN personnel among the victims was a direct result of the policies of the occupation forces in Iraq. On the "why?", the BBC's Paul Reynolds has already made an interesting first stab at an analysis.
Most of the analysis will come later, just as some of the "facts" will eventually out. Doing their best at "the factory", my own immediate colleagues are still quite properly wrapped up with the shocking event, its immediate aftermath, the quest for survivors and the fallout.
The same goes for yesterday's other brutal bombing of a central Jerusalem bus, with its similar toll. But that equally appalling crime is sadly of another order, part of a fearful but long-standing "pattern of death", with likely consequences which are only too predictable.

In the often frightening "New World Order", what happens in Israel and what journalists are not allowed to call Palestine makes some kind of shocking, tragic and historic sense. Unacceptable but understandable.
The savage murder of De Mello and almost a score of others is a far less immediately comprehensible consequence of the gross injustices and the resulting fanaticism which constitute the wicked side of that so-called order. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "senseless".
Certainly it is one of the most brutal blows the United Nations has sustained since one of the Ghanaian's predecessors died in the Congo when his plane blew up in the air and crashed in September 1961.
There are those who contend that Dag Hammersköld, who supported the electoral process then in hand in that benighted country, was also assassinated. Film-maker Hans Rudiger Minow made an intriguing documentary about this, shown last April on Planète television (Historia article; French). He pinned it on a mining company and the Belgians.

When a teenager, I read Hammersköld's 'Markings'. The man said very many wise things.
"Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only a soldier can do it," was among them. Especially soldiers who work alongside people of the calibre of De Mello, whose brain and looks were enough to "melt the hearts of women in Sarajevo", Sonia also remarked.
In the blogosphere, Dave recalled another Hammersköld comment in February, when he said that "forgiveness breaks the chains of causality" (Joyce's Paradiso).
Yesterday's atrocity in the wake of barbarism by so many parties in the Middle and Near East could make forgiveness an even rarer quality than ever.

12:51:50 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 19 août 2003

"So what is PC exactly? When I lived and worked for a major university in the heart of the District of Columbia, I was given an HR handbook that outlined in exact detail what PC means.
It means keeping your mouth shut PERIOD!"
Hmm. I don't know what an HR handbook is. Yet.
But I do know how Dawn Olsen feels. Not that I saw this at the lady's blog.
Oh, but yes! On being PC at BC. Or not.
Almost anyone who begins like this is off to an excellent start: "Everyone knows I have no tact, taste or decorum, but what isn't clear to all is that is a conscious choice on my part."


In wild timesAnother flower?
You bet! This one came off something absent from my wardrobe: a I found a pretty one in Austria. It was ©. I found an ever nicer one in a Peapod. It was for personal desktop use ONLY!
But today's special. I wish a favourite cat a year full of the qualities of the iris, which also bears another, more secret message.
Iris was sister of the Harpies as well.
In times when they had a much better press than they do now.

P.S.: for reasons almost beyond my control, posts are few and far between right now.
Better blog service will, I hope, resume tomorrow.

7:37:42 PM  link   your views? []

dimanche 17 août 2003

I returned to the canteen today, notwithstanding the state of my insides, to learn if anything mind-blowing has been happening hereabouts, which it hasn't.
Somebody was upset because the bike I lent them for the duration has run away. Then literary lion Baudier, also upset -- by ill-treatment at the hands of people who should know far better -- darkly warned me that the computer I've given Marianne may end up being a "barrier 'twixt you and your daughter if she spends all her time on it".
I passed this cheering news on to the charming youth, who said: "You can tell Mr Baudier that I don't need encouragement from a computer to abandon you to your fate."
"Eh takk!" she added. "Voilà my revenge for KoRn!" (Flash site; load your lugholes with wax -- ouch!!!).
Not my day.

I blame the wildcat (for a change). Given the choice between sound effects I could offer from the bathroom or what Marianne was yet again listening to next door, I thought the sleek hunter would prefer the latter.
So it was.
"What are those dulcet tones that waft to my ears?" she enquired down the 'phone.
"Wonderful, aren't they?" I said. Such sweet enchantment. But I got caught in a cunning trap yesterday and am no longer allowed to say or write anything objectionable about the joy for the ears of KoRn.
I promised.

polianthesThe wildcat changes the subject when I tell her that she's the "sexiest beanpole on the planet" and not Keira Knightley, whatever the critics might say.
She steals my breath away with descriptions of what she's wearing, even down to the length of the slit in the skirt, and leaves plenty of scope to imagine the remainder ... and then won't allow me to reciprocate.
Where the wildcat is, it is hot. Dare I say sultry? But when I suggest spraying her like the more ordinary cat or providing the massage she's dying for with the most exquisite attention, she starts talking about things like Serbian food! Knowing full well what that total irrelevance does to my insides.
Today, life is hard!
But ... she defended my daughter, rightly pointing out that Marianne is nice when she says nothing about my musical tastes. And she wants a flower. I choose the polianthes, just what she needs today.
. "Could you send a sword?" she asked. "Have I become a blog-heroine?"

Evidently she's a blog-heroine. Did it need saying? She's the blog-heroine here, avec sa beauté sans pareille!

rapiersTake your pick, sweet heart.
Perhaps a well-balanced rapier, to match the fine sweep of your claws just before the weeks I missed you so much (even if I deserved it)? They say the one in the middle is deadly in the right hands.

freedomCould it be 'Freedom's Sword' you need, this one the work of Scottish artist Andrew Hillhouse for MacBraveHeart? Just let it loose...

fireheartThe 'Sword of the Spirit', with a flame to match that heart of yours, was painted by an American, Jeff Haynie, but intended only for games and for a religious symbolism.

mangaswordThis one I found in the hands of a generous physics professor, Julien Sprott. The sword by René Hard-to-Read may not interest you, but your foes would be dead already should you choose to do battle clad like the manga lady wielding it. I know I would...

romanDespite the hot Mediterranean blood that must run in your veins, I can't see you wielding the sword that conquered we Brits (Roman Britain). Your methods are more far subtle, if equally effective...


But for close-range operations, I could easily envisage you pulling a Spanish dagger (by Rainmaker) from its fortunate sheath running up the length of your slender thigh...

"Oh Papa!!"
Yes, she's right. Time to return to earth, even if the lass was protesting about something completely different.
The polianthes, held at the Botanary in Dave's Garden to mean "grey flower", is a singular plant.
More commonly known as the tuberose, it is a magical plant, whose nectar is held by some to have special powers. Seeking its likeness, I learned that the Aztecs used its oil to flavour chocolate. It can be found in the same zones as the yucca cactus, sometimes called the 'Spanish dagger'.
Its essence is today used in perfumes and I have seen pictures of Hawaiian lovelies wearing a tuberose lei at weddings. Such a necklace would also look well on the wildcat's brown shoulders, never mind the occasion!

But it's secret significance, as ever, is something else again.

What say you, wildcat? Fancy a prowl on some long white beach on Pacific shores?
Then you'd be ready to fight your way to liberty...

8:06:28 PM  link   your views? []

A black cross and a black-bordered notice concerning the church mass and funeral arrangements went up during the week on the communal board in the entrance hall of our building.
I've since seen similar sad little announcements of loss in other old apartment blocks nearby. The man who succumbed to his ailments here in the overwhelming heat was in his 80s, a frail fixture of the building, often to be seen and swap a few words with as he leaned against the main street door, keeping up with the doings of the district as best he could.
When Marianne's mother, looking better but still shaky on her pins after the heatstroke, brought the youngster round the night before an elderly spinster neighbour told us of the death of her brother, she said: "When the figures come out, it'll be a hecatomb!"
This, I thought, was an exaggeration, until I saw a blog link to Thursday's CNN story on France's "heat emergency".
The estimated 3,000 deaths referred to there are very many more than everybody was speculating on at the start of last week.

"But the head of the doctors' emergency association, Patrick Pelloux, criticized the estimate as low. He said emergency physicians estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people had died in the Paris region alone.
"Saint-Antoine Hopital in Paris, which has no air conditioning, was packed with patients -- many of them elderly, and many of them in beds pushed into hallways.
"The head of funeral services for Paris said the city's morgues were full. The French television network TF1 aired video of air-conditioned tents that had been erected to hold the bodies of the dead."

Normally, I've disliked them far too much since the first Gulf War to go to CNN for any of my news, but I'll readily acknowledge that the above story and this one -- from AP, in fact -- about 'Modesty melts in steamy Paris' are right on the mark.
As my 3¾ regular readers (yes, it's gone up!) will know, I don't have a telly and don't want one, especially now that the reality show offered by the neighbours has been far more fun. Enough to make you regret that the temperature has dropped to a measly 25°C (77°F) in the shade.
My only quibble is that they overdo the bit about bad tempers, certainly in this part of town.
Though I suspect that Apple France must have been extremely hot under the collar about my rant of the 9th. They've got until Tuesday morning to come up with a satisfactory reply. Should they not, I will simply, as promised but with due warning, publish the icy but totally uninformative response I've already had, with their views on my style.
Obviously they operate on that only rarely true premise that if you ignore a problem long enough, it will simply go away.


My Condition has delivered the direst of reminders that it is still very much present. I loved 'Pirates' and enjoyed writing it up, but three films in as many days and yesterday's trip well across the Seine (the furthest I've been since the shits started too long ago) have taken their own toll.
This morning saw nasty nausea back with a vengeance, after the long, troubled sleep of the drained, and there was still plenty left for the first couple of hours of the day, making me spend much of them in the loo.
But bloghero Yang is back tomorrow. I'll let the doctor endure his miserable Monday among the masses bound to pack out the surgery, then inform him that he must be delightfully refreshed, buzzing with renewed energy, and just dying to kick a few specialist asses hard to get, at last, a Diagnosis!
Natalie's written me a lovely long letter, and won't mind me lifting the bit where she says that "I understand that Chinese medicine, diagnosed and administered by a properly qualified practitioner, can work very well if you can put up with the foul tasting stuff they give you. But I have no personal experience of it."
This particular bloghero, Natalie, is half-Chinese, half-French (in a way which makes his female patients swoon) and thus eminently well-placed to consider such options alongside the western ones.


Meanwhile, without further ado, since Natalie's lifted the "strictures" that stood between me and Augustine, here she is with Saddam:


I've already given the reference to read on and see Augustine's more recent doings. But should you have forgotten, just click the cartoon.

1:39:00 PM  link   your views? []

samedi 16 août 2003

Pirates[Egg-on-face correction: Johnny is not Orlando; thanks, Ryan] The likes of 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' have been rare indeed since the days of Errol Flynn. But forget him. This movie never asks to be taken seriously.
A fast-paced, wild adventure with magnificent ships, fine locations (and sets), and a more than adequate period feel, this is a film for a big, big screen and the best sound you can find (we settled into our favourite seats in the Max Linder (French).
Young Elizabeth Swann, daughter of a British governor, gets her first inkling of the ruthlessness of pirates right at the outset as we join her on board a naval vessel making its way to her Caribbean island home.
There and then, as the crew haul a boy who survived the attack from the sea and mayhem looms out of the mist, we know this film is going to be a knock-out. It's the medallion the youngster is wearing round his neck which is part of the curse of the Black Pearl, the fastest and most feared pirate ship on the high seas.
The brief introduction over, almost no opening credits to worry about, the story takes off and doesn't stop for a second, full of action, good jokes, a fabulous treasure, spectacular fights on land and on sea and stunning special effects which never get in the way.
Johnny Depp as dare-devil pirate Captain Jack Sparrow; Orlando Bloom as the lad plucked from the waves turned blacksmith's apprentice, first-class swordsman, hater of pirates and ready to die for the governor's daughter; Geoffrey Rush as the wicked mutineer in command of the legendary Black Pearl; and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth, a heroine off the best of the old blocks, with brains and bravery as well as beauty: these four head an impeccable cast.

Though heads and other body parts fly and there's a wonderful gag with the cutlery, the gore is comic-book enough only to leave you with minor shivers regarding what a monstrous machine of war the early 19th-century flagship of the fleet must have been. The pirate attack on a garrison-port is just realistic enough to give you some notion of why the blighters were sometimes summarily hanged with scarcely a trace of a trial.

This said, the story is irredeemably absurd from beginning to end!
Unless you've miraculously missed all the trailers, magazines and other write-ups on the Net, you'll know that the curse has turned the crew of the pirate ship into the Undead, suitably horrible by moonlight with the rotting flesh hanging from their bones.
The villainous Barbossa (Rush) can undo this ancient Aztec (but of course) curse (official site; Flash) only by reuniting stolen treasures and, so he believes, liberally spraying the lot with Elizabeth's blood.
Almost every imaginable cliché is here and relished to the full; I will happily do so again. Schwarzenegger's a has-been, Orlando Bloom has got real style! That there's no point in His Majesty's Royal Navy doing ferocious battle with pirates who can't be killed is beside the point. That a most entertaining Johnny Depp and a sexy Keira Knightley walk bedraggled up a beach to get thoroughly drunk on it (and adds to an already ponderous list of transgressions at Screen It! (parental review, one of my more perverse pleasures) bothers me not a jot. (That the heroine happened to remind me more than a bit of the wildcat is by the by, and this won't go into the Blogcritics review.) That Disney puts its name, with producer Jerry Bruckenheimer, to crime as justifiable action appeals to my sense of subversion.
That by the end, disbelief has not only been stretched beyond breaking point but walked the plank is one of the film's many virtues.
Director Gore Verbinski (last stop, 'The Ring') handles his cast and blockbuster budget material with such panache, helped by a noisy musical score attributed to so many people you don't know who to credit, that 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is pure family rubbish to be thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Even if you think you got all your critical faculties into the cinema, they'll soon be blasted away intact. Or you're tougher than I am. An easy 8/10.

10:39:07 PM  link   your views? []

vendredi 15 août 2003

Unless you're a diehard Rowan Atkinson fan, spoof spy thriller 'Johnny English' is hardly a film worth taking any trouble to see. Sure, the man wants to shed the 'Mr Bean' image a little, but it will take more than this.
Still, if the bungling British secret agent tasked, for lack of anyone else, with protecting the Crown Jewels and saving the nation from a wicked French pretender to the throne comes your way, you might like some uneven entertainment.

jenglishAn absurd London car chase apart, the movie remained stuck on the tarmac for me until at least halfway, when a predictable twist of the plot opened the way to rather less foreseeable and sometimes funnier muddling through.
John Malkovich lets down more hair than I've seen in his serious roles and assumes an outrageous accent to occasionally comic effect as the villain of the piece, private prison entrepreneur Pascal Sauvage.
The film, mainly a vehicle for this odd couple, is directed by Peter Howitt, who last took a swipe at corporate America and rather evidently Bill Gates in particular with the 2001 cyber-thriller, 'Anti-Trust.'
With that, Howitt had pretentions to delivering a message, if not an original one. 'Johnny English' has no such ambitions, but once again left me reflecting that Britain's creaking monarchy is a fabulously expensive tradition to keep going for the sake of a spectacularly ceremonial day every now and then.
Ben Miller gets a mention for braving it out as English's long-suffering deputy, Bough.
The girl is Aussie composer-singer Natalie Imbruglia, who is getting hitched, my pop culture source of the day tells me, to Silverchair's Daniel Johns. (I presume the purloined picture, widely used without a credit, belongs to Rogue Male Films; a main distributor is Universal -- 'Johnny English' Flash site.)

Certainly no more than 4/10, which is about the rate at which the jokes amused me anyway. I was told this film was irreverent, but the humour is stale both there and with regard to the French.
When it comes to having a seriously dark go at British institutions, I've yet to see this better done than in 'If...' (director: Lindsay Anderson) and 'The Ruling Class' (director: Peter Medak, with a superb Peter O'Toole). And both of those date back to my latter school years: 1968 and 1972 respectively.

(Yes, I know I said we were going to see the pirate thing.
But this one was nearer. In English, anyway...)

10:54:27 PM  link   your views? []

This is a message to Natalie:
"You had better not let her off the hook.

"The pair of you are very dangerous and your © stricture is so stern and intimidating that I shouldn't have helped you out at Blogcritics.
"I don't think you wanted anybody to rise to the bait anyway...

"For now, I've left your 'Interview 4: Saddam (Part One)' where it is.
"Stolen, but on my desktop.
"I will not incite people to swim across the 'Manche' (the sleeve, for the ignorant) from my place to yours, where they could have read on.

"There will be no health warning about how seriously funny you are, representing a danger to the weak of stomach.
"No daring to suggest that joining the 'Creative Commons' might (or might well not) suit you both.
"No more mention of 'more power to the woman cartoonist' and all that PC bullshit.

"(As bad as my daughter, who also does wicked art, you seem to need two blogs, both in incomprehensible language. This may be your solution, rather than so callously eliminating poor Augustine.
"(Also like my maddening daughter, you appear not to have heard of the 'permalink'.)

"I will not declare the virtually simultaneous comment-link-post a new feature of the Blogosphere as of this afternoon.
"You will not both be going into my 'Blogroll'. Even if you did, I wouldn't know where to put you: 'politics, pundits & piss-takers' or 'playfully weird'.
"I thought I had a 'category' for everthing, but quite evidently I don't. Especially schizophrenics and alter egos."

Until Natalie replies, meet Augustine. Worse than liking France, she's part of something which also likes Americans. Conceived in a brain that was born here, and now has dual nationality.
It's terrifying.
Rather than run the risk of posting Augustine's chats with Saddam and others and being made to walk the plank, we're going to see the 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Or whatever it's called.
I also need to discourage Marianne from pursuing her photolog (heavens, a permalink, of sorts). Next thing we know, she'll be dragging me into it.
Or the wildcat! She'd claw my eyes out!
We'd be ruined.

4:33:08 PM  link   your views? []

Ghibli cats"It wasn't long enough" was all Marianne objected to in 'The Cat Returns' ('Neko no ongaeshi'), the latest fine fable from Hayao Miyazaki's Ghibli studio to reach the French capital.
At 75 minutes, the story of Haru, a schoolgirl who is only too richly rewarded for saving the life of a cat, lacks the epic sweep of a 'Princess Mononoke' but clearly it mainly targets a younger audience.
The Miyazaki magic shines through in this humorous screen-poem by Hiroyuki Morita, henceforth another name to watch. The small children in the cinema thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as all cat-lovers will. They were too young to notice how the sorcerer's apprentice more than tipped his cap to Lewis Carroll.
The elegant feline Haru rescues from the wheels of an articulated truck proves to be an eligible prince, whose grateful and decadent father decrees that the girl deserves to visit the Kingdom of the Cats and will make the ideal spouse for his son.
Light as a child's dream, the fairy tale packs in plenty of adventure. Haru finds allies in the most aristocat Baron (on the left in the Ghibli pic) and in Muta, the bruiser tomcat with a heart of gold.
These characters apparently made a first appearance in 'Whispers of the Heart', drawn from work by the same manga artist, Aoi Hiiragi, which we missed.

Music, as ever, plays a big part in the film. Yuji Nomi's score can be sweeter than syrup at times, there's a funny chase and a wonderful waltz, and fans of the more "modern" classics will enjoy picking out pastiches of Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and others. It works very well. Those who fell for 'Anastasia' will know what I mean, but the only song comes with the credits.
For the youngsters, there's also a gentle moral presented with the humanism characteristic of the bigger productions from Ghibli (a Sahara wind). Haru can only avoid a marriage she doesn't want by "becoming herself".

The French called this one 'Le Royaume des Chats'. Let's hope it's a prelude to longer, more developed plots from Morita, who hitherto animated some of the key passages, according to Allociné, in films by the master himself.
The art director here was Naoya Tanaka, whose style is pure and often pastel. If Haru herself is little different from many a Japanese screen child, Tanaka is very attentive to the portrayal of the cats ... and pulls off a stunt I've not often seen in a 2D movie with a venture into slow motion.

1:56:18 PM  link   your views? []

jeudi 14 août 2003

Tonight we saw where two vandals slashed the face of Attilio Maggiuli with a knife for staging 'George W. Bush ou le Triste Cowboy de Dieu'.
The whole façade of the 'Comédie Italienne' in rue de la Gaîté is currently battleship grey, stage-bloodied with splashes across even the international press tributes to the writer-director and the show. Above them and a "BUSH & CO" panel, US combat gear and weaponry leer over the street.
It's effective. The show did go on, in savage commedia dell'arte style, after being withdrawn for a fortnight in May when Maggiuli was put in hospital.
On the rest of the walk home, I was trying to recall those words of Bush the Father. Yes, these were they:

"And much good can come of this: a world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread."
Looking up the 1992 State of the Union address took me first to William Blum's 'Rogue State' pages, whence comes virtually all this list of now thriving democracies Washington has set to rights with missiles and bombs since World War II:

China 1945-46
Korea 1950-53
China 1950-53
Guatemala 1954
Indonesia 1958
Cuba 1959-61
Guatemala 1960
Congo 1964
Peru 1965
Laos 1964-73
Vietnam 1961-73
Cambodia 1969-70
Guatemala 1967-69
Grenada 1983
Lebanon 1983, 1984
Libya 1986
El Salvador 1980s
Nicaragua 1980s
Iran 1987
Panama 1989
Iraq 1991-2000
Kuwait 1991
Somalia 1993
Bosnia 1994, 1995
Sudan 1998
Yugoslavia 1999
Afghanistan 1997-2002
Iraq 2003

In Cheerfulness Street, 'God's Sad Cowboy' -- Maggiuli's small testament to the unfailing success of aggression in Washington's name -- will be back on stage on September 5, after the summer break.
Most of those who've already seen it describe it as better than his last such show, 'The Very Edifying Destiny of Silvio Berlusconi,' which needed doing, won praise but was reportedly less finely tuned in the detail.

10:44:11 PM  link   your views? []

"I live off the beaten path, and to my horror, on one of the filthiest country roads in existence. The people I live around throw used baby diapers out along with their McDonalds Happy Meal Boxes."
Many comments from around the planet commended a Finnish initiative called LitterMovement, which I tripped over during a look at wiki-world. The home site for the campaign, launched by Finnish journalist Tuula-Maria Ahonen, recently vanished but left traces all over the place.
It saw a small good idea translated into 16 languages: pick up at least one piece of somebody else's litter every day and put it where it should have gone.
Simple but effective, going by hundreds of responses.
More on wikis, the brainchild of Ward Cunningham, another day.


The quick trip north began after Safari downloaded a FileBuddy update at 171 kpbs, which surprised me. I was also listening to the Beeb online, the 'blog-ware and my mail were functioning, and Marianne was on the Net too.
Henrik Gemal's BrowserSpy is a staggering piece of work: much more than a bandwidth speed test.
Its Danish inventor keeps a Psyched Blog, but is more occupied by the important business of getting wed at the weekend. May it be long and fruitful!
Get an earful of the different voices available with Henrik's 'hear this entry' tweak; they make a change from Apple's variations on American accents.


"Today is Left Handers Day. There is some interesting stuff on the site. Watch out for the OOT JavaScript effects on the home page!"
Of course, I missed it (thanks Mike, at Journalized).


The MacMusic logo link might have to go, I briefly thought, when the people behind the site I've joined primarily to lurk and learn suddenly started this week to ask for money.
The move might have been a matcher for the considerable fuss generated when Apple sprang paying .Mac membership on us all. But no. The logo certainly stays.
At MacMusic, they explain that they are going "shareware" since they're non-commercial, not for profit and now hosting more than 15,000 visitors a day.
The new scheme to meet the costs is very sensibly done. You could either pay an annual $60 (53.2 euro) subscription ($100 for companies), perhaps too much in one whack, or you can collect points at a dollar apiece. Nobody gets blocked if they don't, but they run into an increasing number of witty "speed-bumps" as they browse. That's cool.
If I wanted, I could ask the team for between 10 and 30 points merely for writing this, which is very generous, all things considered.
The easygoing sharing approach is shared by most of the forum members. One guy, who's better off A. Non, came breezing in with an "I've got an awesome studio set-up. So what's yours like?" kind of post.
Rather than the brush-off this greeting deserved, the feller wasn't put down, but gently induced to explain himself. He volunteered an apology for the error of his ways and a good discussion got under way.


"Getting a chance to show off your knowledge of pop esoterica is one of the guilty pleasures of volunteering for an activity like this – that and making fun of other peoples’ musical tastes."
'Recycling can be fun,' Bill suggests at the 'Gadabout'.


"One of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear industry today is the storage and disposal of waste that will remain radioactive for millions of years. (...) However physicists in the UK and Germany have now demonstrated a new laser-driven approach to "transmutation" by converting iodine-129, which has a half-life of 15.7 million years, into iodine-128. The half-life of this lighter isotope is just 25 minutes" (more on 'physicsweb', J. Phys. D to be published; via Moreover).


Proloxil® (flash advert): the chemical cure for pathetic mutants without normal brains. At Astonished Head (via Cruel Site).

2:10:04 PM  link   your views? []

mercredi 13 août 2003

"iCab 3.0 will be the next release and will have CSS 2 support (lack of CSS 2 support is usually the only reason why some web pages don't look correct at the moment). The new CSS 2 support is already implemented in large parts but it is not yet active in the iCab 2.9.5 release."

iCab 2.9.5

Softly, softly, and apparently heading straight down the home track, this browser gets better and better. I wasn't expecting another release with big changes before iCab 3, but Alex Clauss has bowed. C'est la mode de l'année: almost everyone wants tabs (iCab's own screenshots), while the Safari-style search engine doesn't limit you to Google.
It's a 2.3 MB light download and a fast and powerful 6.8 MB application. I've really liked other features of this baby for so long that I got a licence long ago, but when the final release comes out, Alexander will be asking 29 euros (29 dollars is his rate) for it. Worth trying now.
With an admirable Omniweb 4.5 also out of beta less than a week ago, we're getting spoilt for choice on the Mac OS X browser front.
Still with the Omnigroup, the cheerful lass's Powerbook came, I noticed, with OmniGraffle installed: their application to "draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and other directed or non-directed graphs."
I didn't get a chance to see whether it was bundled for free, but this by 'joulesverne', among several other rave reviews on its VersionTracker page, says it isn't:

"I just discovered this software laying in wait on OSX... I can't believe what a great package this is sitting without a whole lot of advertising... Just upgraded to pro because folks that write software like this actually deserve some money...
It's way nicer than Visio and it doesn't come with windows....:>)"
I took my iCab shot with SnapNDrag, which saw version 1.2.2 released today and, simple but nifty, allows you to choose the format (JPG, TIFF and PNG) and to drag your picture to another application, including e-mail. Its Yellow Mug makers have joined my growing list of developers' sites to watch.


Marianne, exploring OS X, is listening to that amazing Icelandic music again. If you can stomach passing talk of eating whale meat, check out the Sigur Ros 'dazed and confused' article. Their site also has offers mp3 downloads and long movies (Real Player, Windows Media and QuickTime, but sadly not the latter for all of them).
Each time I hear them, the more I get into what they do, which occasionally reminds me of what I would have liked to hear Pink Floyd doing had they spaced out some tracks even further.


Setting up the lass's machine gave me further thoughts of sorting out a mess of my own. Last week, Giles Turnbull wrote 'Outboard Brains for Mac OS X' for those splendid O'Reilly people. It's a comparison of data-filing applications for the busy.
"Consider the likely usage of a secondary brain: most people will want to throw things into it quickly, probably while doing another task elsewhere. Multiple clicks is a no-no, as is having to open new windows or begin new database fields. It should be as simple as cut and paste or drag and drop."
Prices range from free to a whopping 145 dollars (129 euros) when Giles looks at six options, from simple Stickies to Tinderbox. His request for more brought a host of ideas, which included two I'm keen on.
I've long been using Dan Schimpf's MacJournal. It's donation-ware (though he doesn't trumpet his request), does a very great deal and won him an Apple Design award in May 2002.
You can also lock it easily.
This sophisticated notepad won't be disappearing from my Mac now that I've tried and liked DEVONthink, which includes an "auto-classify" feature, and is well worth $35 (31 euros) particularly if you add outboard Devon Technologies freebies, which do even more useful things to your "services" menu.
The German company is in beta with DEVONagent, which promises to add some very useful tools for getting detailed stuff off the Net.
It looks like a journalist's dream, potentially even better than Copernic, whose makers regrettably -- and with genuine regret -- had to drop the Mac platform to concentrate on Windows.

11:26:01 PM  link   your views? []

"In order to run in California's recall race for governor, you just needed 65 signatures and $3500. But to vote in this election, you'll need the patience of a saint."
And this is just what the rest of us needed: 'The California (thumbnail) Candidates Guide' (BBSpot). No less. Not much more...


Some may think Marianne was spoiled rotten with her new PowerBook. She doesn't. One guess what she's telling all her friends with her chatware. It's enough to get her beaten up.
This gave me more pause for thought:

"Research by marketing consultancy reveals that one in nine five to nine-year-olds has a mobile.
"It predicts that this will rise to one in five by 2006, making this the fastest expanding group of mobile phone users (BBC tech).


"Gates said that 5 percent of Windows machines crash, on average, twice daily (...) I think that when we put all the numbers together, we can estimate that there are a minimum of 30 billion Windows system crashes a year" (John Dvorak, via LinkMachineGo.)


"RSS is the content carrier wave of the future. And everyone with a weblog can or is already creating a compatible broadcast channel" (Adam Curry; here's his essay).


wild geraniumIt's cooled down today to something pleasant.
But I'd told her about the states of undress in visible apartments. And about the neighbour who told me that she liked to lie in bed at night in her ground-floor flat and look across right up four storeys into mine, often the only one with lights on.
"Ah," said the wildcat. "Just think: you give so much pleasure at so little cost!"
For that she gets a flower.
And I'll leave those lights on because that neighbour is about the only person who bothers to keep the whole garden alive.
The wild geranium: constancy.
And guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of the Hungarian florist downstairs. Ah! Those thoughts of home...


"So fair, so balanced, you'll be sued into agreement."
No, not the wildcat. On the 'blog for Creative Commons, Derek Slater links to more on a big bad Fox.


"So José Bové©®™ is out of the joint in exchange for a ficticious job and he's already acting up (...) violent and dangerous like many pacifists..." (Merde in France).

1:54:15 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 12 août 2003

It's so darned hot under the eaves today that I almost wish the chill in the tone of a brief letter from Apple in answer to my challenge to Cupertino would leak out of the mailbox to chill down the room.
The defective new PowerBook at issue is back in its box, so Marianne can discover it for herself. When she opens it, I hope the work I've done will be compensation for the news that it must go back to Apple for a couple of days.
The mail from Mr Gauthier wasn't "posted" until America was up and at work, but I don't know whether the Executive Relations man at Apple France, consulted California.
In any event, he suggested I take the Mac across town to AppleCare, where it will be fixed within 48 hours.
I hope he didn't take my story personally, once read. Gauthier has always been courteous and efficient during my very few dealings with him.
However, my rant here and at Blogcritics brought me a mixed bag of more correspondence than I'd imagined, with a slender majority of mails from people who haven't had my kind of problem or who report trouble with new Macs roughly in the same proportion or lower, as figures I've had from dealers and technicians.
Others were less lucky.
From Brazil, Rainer sent me to a report on Applelinks, which helpfully provides the big picture for a temporary fix with a business card on a fairly similar machine.
I've told Apple I'm not posting the initial response straight away. It answers none of my questions. I spelled out even more clearly, I hope, that I've got neither reason nor any wish to undermine the company's reputation, but have other facts -- and a handful of fancies -- gathered over the years which explain why the article was not a gratuitous, angry outburst.
There I'm happy almost to leave things, but if this reply of mine brings a fuller response, I'll post that rather than the one that tells us nothing we didn't know already.


The cat scratched me in thanks for doing for what Marianne's mum suggested. She might be able gently to stroke her with an ice cube in a plastic bag, but not me.
I reckon Kytie, who no longer objects to being sprayed occasionally like the geraniums, will be happy to go home once Catherine is able to fetch her. Here, she has taken up permanent residence in the bathroom, emerging only to eat.
Her chosen spot is right between the toilet bowl and a cat litter I can't put anywhere else, which doesn't help when My Condition urges.
I've warned Marianne, who's decided to come tonight but won't venture into the furnace of a suburban train this afternoon since she doesn't have to, that the flat has now become the heat-trap we were told to get ready for by the meteorologists and no longer gets cooler during the night.
The end of their holiday down in the northern part of Provence was spoilt for Catherine by heatstroke, two days in bed -- and she's a cautious woman, knows the rules.
If every summer is like this, which wouldn't surprise me now, will architects rethink the famous zinc roofs of Paris (big picture) from a pleasing gallery by Francis Toussaint)?
The domed arcologies ('halfbakery' - nice name for an "ideas" site) of several near-future "historians" could be what we're going to need soon.


On My Condition, I've fixed up an appointment for an abdominal echography. Tomorrow morning, when the temperature is supposed to start falling. I don't want the situation to stagnate, like the alarming white blood cell count, still far too high.
The wind is hot in the shade outside, more so than yesterday, which saw a trip to Sainte-Anne's, a few stops away near the Glacière M-station.
I went with a friend to the neuro-surgery department for a check of his own at what in less-PC times would have been called the lunatic asylum on Health Street. The rendez-vous was at the worst time for taking a sometimes overground line and the trip was gruelling for my friend, but the hospital itself is like an uncovered arcology of its own, with long, verdant well-shaded alleys which were almost cool.
Apart from the striking, friendly modernity inside the pavillons, each named presumably for a renowned physician (I hadn't heard of most of them), we soon noticed a detail.
The alleys bore such names as Hector Berlioz, Gérard de Nerval (French site) and, yes, there was a Van Gogh.
I thought Allée Franz Kafka was stretched a bit far. Marianne was glad to hear there was also an Edgar Allan Poe (not on the map), whose work she reads more than ever I did.

3:21:07 PM  link   your views? []

lundi 11 août 2003

I've got sloppy.
Sprawling, even. I can't blame the heat. Simply, it's been too long since anybody else edited my stuff.
After a morning spent working out what to wire across to Marianne's new Mac until it goes away, come back and works properly, I submitted a couple of pieces to Blogcritics.
Yesterday's "Apple-rant" direly needed tightening up. I've done so here too, trimming some of the fat, leaving in a few details for friends who don't know about computers but might be interested.

With luck, telling myself that every piece here is being written for a site like that could sharpen me up.
It's no substitute for a good sub, but a worthwhile exercise in "what do people really want, maybe, to read?"
I despatched the rant because of nice "more power to your elbow"-type comments at TS, where I found myself in particularly playful mood on Saturday night.

Kelly, the human search-engine (a cool fellow-founder of TS), commented of Apple service in the United States: "They have a fairly good reputation here. (For a Multi-Billion Dollar Corporation).
There's no reason they shouldn't be as good there."

The "welcome aboard" e-mail from Blogcritics founder Eric Olson was a kind one. My arrival there just followed the place's first anniversary, late as usual for a birthday.

1:01:21 AM  link   your views? []

samedi 9 août 2003

"Thursday, ministers from 34 nations and several nongovernmental organizations are meeting at the State Department to lay the political foundation for pulling together disparate systems of sensors - from 'floats' gathering data deep below the sea surface to satellites in Earth's orbit. The idea is to create a more tightly linked set of tools for tracking and forecasting environmental changes that can affect fisheries, agriculture, water resources, and climate.
"If successful, the effort would be historic."
The 'Cooperation: Earth' (Christian Science Monitor) article was in 'rebecca's pocket'.
The "trouble" with Rebecca Blood is that, apart from writing good books about blogging, she can fill her own log in a day with more data nuggets than some people can fully digest in three.
Hardly surprising then, that in mid-July, she wrote about her Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder. But in so doing, she turned out some material I am still meditating on.
"We are moving into a post-literate society, where pattern-recognition will replace the linear thinking of the current period. This doesn't require a rejection of reading as a mode of understanding--pre-literate Greece, after all, gave us the basis for our current mode of thought.
"At high dosages, 'always on' may become counter-productive but at least it's easy to correct. The Web and email combine to create the biggest distraction machine ever invented. (I've long predicted," Rebecca says, "that in the near future, being unplugged will be the status symbol. As our environments become increasingly frenetic, uncluttered time and space will be a luxury few can arrange.)"
In some respects, Marianne's generation embodies post-literacy, except that my kid, and one or two of her friends, read books as voraciously as I did when I was their age.
Pattern-recognition is undoubtedly a part of modern journalism. The sheer volume of information an agency news editor has to process in an hour could be handled no other way.
But it is only a part of the job. At Amazon UK, one reviewer, Andy Barnes, is scathing about 'Scoop':
"Waugh's lampooning of an African state in chaos is supposed to provide a biting insight into the politics of that region (in the 1930s) but reads as it was written, as an ignorant diatribe by an upper middle class writer with nothing new or unique to say. This may appeal who don't like to think to hard about their politics. It is not a political satire. It is full of cheap shots and obvious stereotypes."
If you want to be politically correct, Barnes is right about Evelyn Waugh's shots and stereotypes, but for many journalists, there has been nothing fundamentally "new or unique" about the profession since 'Scoop'.

Journalists still have a weather eye out, like global warming watchers, for changes in the pattern, and especially exceptions to the rules. 'Man bites dog.'
My sixpenny copy of the 'The Press', one of the first paperback Penguin Specials, by Henry Wickham Steed, belonged to my grandfather.
I devoured it again a few years ago. It's out of print and shouldn't be:

"People are bewildered and disheartened. They, especially the young, throw themselves into every kind of sport and amusement, the riskier the better. Many of them try to keep themselves 'fit,' though few of them could answer the artist's question to a sturdy young fellow who had answered how the artist could get on without exercise, and had said: 'It takes me all my time to keep fit.' 'Fit for what?' enquired the artist. Many become 'air-minded,' heedless of crashes, or drive 'sports cars' at breakneck speed. Their elders dance 'hot jazz' or seek mental exercise in doing 'cross-word puzzles.' In regard to public affairs they have no reasoned standpoint; and in politics, which ought to mean care for public affairs, they have no well-thought-out creed. Nationalism, as such, they do not find wholly satisfying. Communism attracts comparatively few, while the appeal of its milder version, Socialism, has lost glamour. Still less does Nazism or Fascism strike them as a panacea. Of liberal principles they know too little to find in them a source of inspiration though unconsciously most of them are liberal in tendency. While pacifism is alien to their temperaments, the senselessness of war estranges them. They seek something bigger than themselves to which they can devote themselves--and seek it in vain. Literature and the pulpit, politicians and Parliament, philosophers and scientists offer them pebbles in place of bread, and the growing mechanisation of life curtails their opportunities for creative activity.
The Press reflects all this disjointed aimlessness and ministers to it without rising above it. Here is a chance for a newspaper-maker of vision with an ideal and purpose of his own, both of which he might hide in his heart lest they be mocked by fools before he could vindicate them. The newspaper I dream of would reflect the distractions of modern life no less faithfully than existing papers reflect them, but it would treat them as distractions, not the things that matter. It would search out the truths behind those appearances and proclaim them, sparing no shams, respecting no conventions solely because they happened to be conventions, giving honour where honour might be due, but calling cant and humbug by their names.
It would be quite fearless. It would not 'hedge' in its treatment of thorny subjects; and if, as would be inevitable, it made mistakes, it would avow them. (...)" (pp 245-6, Penguin Books, 1938.)
Wickham Steed had no ADD problem and demands - in paragraphs like that - the same of his readers. Nearly needless to say, in 1938, his pressing case that "the problem of the Press is the central problem of democracy" was written partly because he saw what Adolf Hitler was up to with the media and the neighbours.
For his "newspaper-maker of vision", these days I'd look rather to some of those groups forming what Rebecca calls "clusters" on the Net. I mentioned this notion of hers back in April, along with her misgivings about them.
Only in one respect now, do we all look further than Wickham Steed. While the Web may evolve beyond recognition in my lifetime, computers and internet access evidently offers the individual who can afford it and make the time unparalleled "opportunities for creative activity", as well as for games and amusement.

J.D. Lasica today passes on from Karen H. an ironic take on "the battle over media consolidation" as preached, but not practised, by the Chicago Tribune. There is no basic difference between this small empire and the ones that developed in Wickham Steed's lifetime. Some, indeed, are the same.
It is simply a matter of scale.

9:42:43 PM  link   your views? []

"Hot story, means big bucks.
Hmmm ... flash in NY hits Toys R Us on wednesday.
Thursday, in Toronto, Toys R Us again!
There's never been a good idea that hasn't been hijacked by corporate guerilla (sic) marketers.
mobsters beware!"
Most people told the man who shouts "YOU'RE BEING USED" at "So What?" Why think too hard about thoughtless fun?

One idea I liked, mentioned in a "Mammoth ... Round-Up (Smart Mobs) as I slumbered last night, was the Antimob one at the end.
Parisians have done this since France invented holidays for everybody. Eleven of the 13 apartments I can easily see across the back garden are completely shuttered up.
But they don't regard it as performance art, keep it up throughout August, and the tourists haven't been told about the ghost town idea.
One place is most unkind. Due warning. The piece at GPSter/Geograffiti is called "Wankmobs vs Barfmobs".
GPSter seeks to give weblife to a passably interesting concept:

"Since time immemorial, people have stared up at the heavens and wondered:
"what if I could use my GPS location to leave data right here for others to see?"

7:44:23 PM  link   your views? []

This is a last shot across the bows of Apple France and their paymasters across the Atlantic. A first and final one in public. Twice privately warned, they privately said "so sorry"!
Why, in the name of all the gods they worship in California, should buying a very expensive new product from Apple be like playing a non-fatal game of Russian roulette?
"Don't expect a rapid repair," one technician told me yesterday. "I'm not allowed to mend it. There are no 'special dispensations' except for VIPs. Apple's very fond of VIPs, but for the likes of ordinary people like you and me..."
Marianne's PowerBook G4 is the second Mac in four I have bought partly dead straight out of the box, the tape and all the foam.
If you're mean enough to count the Indigo iMac that a dealer took back for another one in May 2001 because it wouldn't even start up, that makes three rotten Apples out of five in the past six or seven years. Had the first one not been completely dead, I wouldn't have had an instant replacement.
Are we expected to tolerate a 60 percent failure rate?

What's wrong with the PowerBook?
A sleek and gorgeous machine refuses to spit out (... and the remainder of this gauntlet, thrown down to "les irresponsables" at Apple France and their masters, is on another page. For once, I'm ready to start a fight. Details and reasons are too long for newsreader programmes. [Rant edited for length, and posted to 'Blogcritics' (blogroll) on Aug 10.]).

1:03:43 PM  link   your views? []

jeudi 7 août 2003

The dragon-in-waiting this afternoon wore the shortest miniskirt I've seen this year, displaying tanned and remarkable legs.
Tony wished to know more, equally remarkable in a man as old as him, but perhaps he practices his faith each Sunday with zeal enough to make up for the rest of the week.
The answer was "yes", plus the note that she quite evidently never had the Angelina problem I mentioned yesterday.
She chatted me up a little in English. All this was diverting and due reward for the stupidity of offering my place in the queue to a woman who then made use of it for a full 27 minutes. Won't do that again.
But she has yet to become a proper dragon.
The one she will fully replace when the latter shortly retires never disappears to make a "nice cup of tea", letting the doctor answer his own telephone. She glares through old horn-rimmed spectacles and fiercely defends all three practitioners in the cabinet and their sacred Book of Rendez-vous from any pretenders to their Precious Time.
Like all dragons, she has a chink, which I have found.
But this must remain a secret -- for now -- between me and bloghero Yang and his partners. Her successor, in the meantime, must learn to wear armour, even on days when she is inclined to wear almost nothing.

"Worse yet, meteorologist Jerome Lecou of France's national weather service Meteo France said the cooling effect of nighttime was being progressively reduced so that each day risked being hotter than the previous one," they warn from 'the factory'.
Will duty call me tomorrow to check on the young dragon's lack of progress? There is no reason the armour has to be visible...
The Norwegian male bus driver who is wearing a skirt, contravening no regulations at all and declaring himself far more comfortable, is the item from AFP I can't find, though it was on the "wires" yesterday.
Maybe somebody who should know better "buried" that bit in the story. If so, they shouldn't have let it through like that. Frankly!


"You haven't cheered me up at all," the wildcat said at the end of a conversation last night. "I shall call you back tomorrow for a pat on the head."
"You can have the pat now, along with a big kiss," I informed her.
"That's not what I wanted to hear."
There's ingratitude for you. True, I was perfectly beastly to her, told her several things in regrettable taste and teased her relentlessly when she had done nothing to deserve it. But I failed to see that as sufficient cause to behave otherwise.
So now I stand accused of recovering some warped sense of humour at the very moment she has mislaid hers.

oleanderIn the winning way we men have, I promised her a flower and she pretended, in the way they do, that this would make her feel better.
The oleander, held to represent grace and beauty, survives even the Texas August heat with fortitude, say the gardeners at the place I found this one, a Mr Bruce Miller's Nursery, which also offers a recipe for each month.
Given that the two seasons there are generally said to be hot and hotter, almost every one of these well-seasoned dishes looks quite right for now. Not the peanut brittle. So be hardy, ma belle, and remember those boarding-school weekends.
The supermarket lettuce may be off, but you're not in Guantanamo Bay. And wash your claws! The oleander is poisonous.


Everybody has their off days. Even Brian Hughes. I had high expectations of 'Rant of the Week', but the feller just doesn't seem up to it today. Even insults us! And should that link take you to yesterday's page, as it currently does me, then it's all his fault too.
Silly sod.

10:23:13 PM  link   your views? []

A minor drawback of the newish trackback (good description) feature is, I noticed last night, the way I track back myself should I refer to a previous entry.
I'll try to work out how to prevent this annoyance, but have never tried to penetrate the code of a "macro" before.
That explanation of the feature, saving me sweat in the sun, comes from 'Al-Muhajabah's Islamic Pages,' where I've loitered not only to learn more about the religion but to enjoy such offerings as "full-veil rock 'n' roll".


There are a mere six blogs gathered on those pages, along with a Creative Commons licence.
During the night, I spent a couple of hours hopelessly waiting for the oven to cool down and browsing the license pages (to give them that S for once) in more depth.
The aim, in short, is to provide a structure for people either to put their creative work into the public domain or to keep copyright on it but licencing the use of it, on terms you can specify yourself with the help of a series of proposals.
The ... er... Commoners have designed their models for work such as music, photography, literature, websites and academic offerings (but not software), explaining that they wish to put more "raw source material" online and provide easier and cheaper access to it.
The initiative was launched in 2001 with assistance from the Center for the Public Domain and a few well-known names (check it out). It has since been extended beyond the United States to Brazil, Finland and Japan, as part of an international project "dedicated to the drafting and eventual adoption of country-specific licenses".
Almost needless to say, the CC people are looking for expert volunteer help in producing drafts. In the States, they point out in a page (with links) about the legal background, creative works have been automatically copyrighted under changes effected since 1976, but they "believe that many people would not choose this 'copyright by default' if they had an easy mechanism for turning their work over to the public or exercising some but not all of their legal rights."
This approach appeals to the anarchist in me, in a proper sense of that much-abused term, nourished by people like Ursula K. in the 'The Dispossessed' (Amazon UK; no digression here into a book I re-read at least once a decade).
I lack the expertise (even if I didn't, I no longer volunteer for something I wouldn't have the time to follow through), but I can surely write about it.


At an hour when I would normally be asleep, I modified my own CC licence, which should be clear enough from the few words at the bottom of each page.
I was also overheated enough to decide that in approaching six months now, I've buried a gem or two in all the drivel.
So this site became an active member of Common Content after I'd had a fresh look at the application of CC principles in the wide range of work and play gathered there. The list has been growing, bit by bit, for nearly two months.

7:40:03 PM  link   your views? []

The Mac Diva did it again; he's been taking a look at the torturer Taylor's reluctance to quit (Mac-a-ro-nies).
I hope that a bunch of us, though not on the continent but usually luckier with the speed of our netlinks, may help gradually bring Africa deeper into a blogosphere currently mainly the realm of people with our privileges.

What drew me back to his 'blog (the Liberia piece is second on that archived page), however, was a good sci-fi 'Mixed Grill' (Blogcritics), where escritora looks in particular at Greg Bear.
I'm passing on this enthusiasm because Bear's not on my own review radar yet, but has been heaped with praise by Jean-Claude in more than one chat at the "canteen".

Mac Diva surprised me nevertheless.

"People," he began, "are often surprised that I read some so-called genre fiction because they have me pegged as an 'intellectual.' Actually, I don't perceive a conflict. The best of the genre fiction I read, usually science fiction or, if you prefer, speculative fiction, has the same merits as the literary fiction I read and write."
A very likeable French woman who runs the "kid's" books section at Brentano's, which is among the best of the Paris bilingual bookshops, has added Marianne to her little band of budding reviewers.
This was excellent news for the lass, but one reason the woman chose her was because of her tastes and the idea that she could help pull sci-fi and fantasy out of the second-class literary ghetto to which some of the finest writing remains confined in France.
That such idiotic labelling persists -- "often" -- the other side of the Atlantic was news to me.

A propos (of nothing), J.-C., I've got your e-mail on open source software, for which many thanks.
The reason I've said nothing about some fascinating links here yet is that you sent me so many of them!
Still exploring.

1:48:09 PM  link   your views? []

mercredi 6 août 2003

"When I was in Ind-ya,..."
You know you're really in for it each time Tony begins like that.
('s OK, chum, only teasing...) But when I was in India, even in the south, I never saw the like of what I've just seen.
I simply had to go out and buy the wherewithal to make some more "mélange infame", the disgusting mixture so named by Marianne before she decided that even she quite likes the latest variation on the theme of Diet Lemon Coke, Schweppes and ... my secret ingredient. That thing on the wall outside the chemists' shop read + 42.
I did stand there long enough to watch it do its date, time and temperature thing three times before I believed it, then it was straight down into the refrigerated bowels of Monoprix.
42°C, for anybody still fighting metric, is 107°6 F.


Don't bother with any "You said you like heatwaves; are you satisfied now?" 'phone calls, thank you.
The media will be full of this tomorrow and predicting it as the pattern we should generally expect for years to come, like the increase in the number of big storms. I will post up those weather risks (Beeb) after all.
They say, like other such advisories, that there should be less mélange infame (since it contains caffeine) and more water, but I'll settle for both.
We will hear more from Britain about "the wrong kind of sun" and efforts to slow down the rail network even more than governments have managed so far, in order to stop trains flying off tracks that go ping in the heat.
A clickable global warming map has been put on the web, with detailed 'Early Warning Signs', by, among others, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Resources Institute.
The map's in Fahrenheit, but the explanations include the conversions.


I had a look at the Daypop Top News to see if the weather was firing up non-British bloggers too, but no.
Iraq is still tediously top of the search list, and second comes Angelina's anger about absent nipples.
Complaining after the surgery, the 28-year-old said: 'I wanted my nipples to be there to see.' Heavens, I felt for her! As deeply as any superheated male can.

nuggetBut I am sometimes ready to oblige.
Or at least go halfway.
To forestall questions:
- she has covered the other one because she doesn't want it stolen again,
- she didn't have her hair cut, she ungrew it (it's well known that Lara Croft is a time traveller),
- Rotten Tomatoes was very mean-spirited to splatter her with a "36% rotten" rating, since she badly needed the money when she made 'Gia',
- her boobs get a much higher Daypop rating than George Sr's pathetic little Bush (which is scarcely surprising since his daddy wasn't even imaginative enough to think of a different name for him),
- the tattoo is still there (or so she showed told me in her undying gratitude),
- the new "trackback" thingie that went in a little while ago was how Angelina ("Miss Jolie" to you, please) and me got it all back together again.

The best, quick explanation of TrackBack I found on the web came in an excellent blog by a Muslim woman, but I'm not going to link to her veiled site in the same post as Angelina's teat.


Radio made tracking very easy for Userland users on Monday, for which we should thank Jake Savin (and Liz Lawley, who likes being pinged, but not more than once.
Should I commit this sin, please be gracious and put it down to an inadequate grasp of the "tool", rather than the bug. I think my root has been updated, but today the inner workings registered "0 new parts" and the blood's gone to the head).

7:39:17 PM  link   your views? []

"Freeman passed by 253 light-years. The second runcible caught him, dragged him back over the horizon and channelled the vast build-up of energy he was carrying ... only ... only this time something went wrong. Freeman passed through the cusp still carrying his charge. The Einsteinian universe took hold of him and ruthlessly applied its laws, and in that immeasurable instant he appeared at his destination, travelling the smallest fraction possible below the speed of light.
On the planet Samarkand, in the Andellan system, Freeman supplied the energy for a thirty-megaton nuclear explosion; the atoms of his body yielding up much of their substance as energy."
In other words, the engineer said "Beam me up, Mr Scott". And accidentally blew up the planet on arrival.

If it was an accident; I don't know yet.

Yes, I thought, after Stephenson. This will do me nicely, perusing my shelf and a few sets of opening pages for the next victim for review.
Enough near-future forecasting, complicated writing and nanotech fiddling with brains and bodyparts for now. Give me another ordinary, straightforward space opera.
Well. Neal Asher's 'Gridlinked' (2001, Pan, Amazon UK) is already proving neither ordinary nor straightforward.
But he beat, say, John Courtenay Grimwood and Nancy Kress, into the nightly bill for the heat. More to come once I'm done.
The extract, by the way, is no spoiler. Samarkand got plunged into a freezing winter on page 6, in the 'Prologue'. We haven't even met the "James Bond of Earth Central Security" yet.

4:37:59 PM  link   your views? []

There's been curious feedback from a couple of people who did indeed know about Mr G. and his Easter present plan.
Charlie says it comes, partly, from his Dad.
I have learned more about Hutton Gibson's passions and writings than ever I cared to be told!
Since that's in among the other Urban Legends (Snope's home), it must be true.

Only a little digging will take you to Gibson Sr's privately published explanation of why the Pope is not a Catholic. Hell, if you really need a cold shower, you can even go on 'ICE' and listen to the man tell you why income tax is unconstitutional and why George W. and that crew are "err ... Communist"!
As for that film, it would appear that the son, as erudite as the father, has decided to dispense, probably, with subtitles.
Unless the audience also master Latin and Aramaic, they may need to await Pentecost and the Holy Ghost.

3:29:48 PM  link   your views? []

Rainer's decided he's a "bright".
Not white, not quite a sight, not even alight, but a ... what?

"One of the advantages of the word 'Bright' is that it allows a really simple and straightforward assertion. You state—'A Bright is a person whose worldview is naturalistic (free of supernatural and mystical elements)'.” (from 'Being a Bright.'
Unlike him, I'll stay in my "(dark) closet" until such time as I have managed to work each and every one of the supernatural and mystical elements of my existence into Barrett's Embrace-All Understandable Theory of Intelligence and Functioning of Universal Laws.
'BEAUTIFUL' is only likely to take another seven minutes or so to complete. But not on a day when the Brits are chuntering on about global warming and have girded themselves for the "hottest day of the year" (authoritatively announced on the radio this morning).
The temperatures there are approaching what they have been here for the past few days.
Lee is back.
And regretting it.
Last night I was too busy lying down in my own oven under the eaves to respond to her 'You can't stand it' moan from Odessa Street.
Well, I welcome her back. Since today she's heated again, I can only recommend that she drop down a floor or four and have a mutual commiseration session with Tony, whose place is (apparently) marginally cooler.
With considerable courage, he braved it all the way just round the corner from here this morning for a medical appointment. Even though it was at 9:00 am, when I'm usually up and about but dangerously dysfunctional, the least I could do was put in a show of solidarity.
For my trouble, Dr Marc recommended Vogalène for the bouts of nausea. By Jove, the chap was spot on! Sillily, I have had an unused packet of the stuff sitting in the bathroom for days. I thought it was only for vomiting.
Fans are no use at all, not the two I've got anyway.
You can't lie in the bath for ever.
But Danone, whose products I think we're still supposed to be boycotting because of the scandalous way in which the food giant laid off loads of workers, unfortunately provides pharmacies with Adiaril.
"Unfortunately" because it tastes far nicer -- which is saying very little for such a dose of salts -- than every other variation on the theme, which is theoretically to rehydrate babies and small children ... and people with things resembling My Condition.
Guess what exactly the same kind of product is used for in Africa when it's as hot or hotter than it is here now?

Oh, yes. 'BEAUTIFUL', while cheating, is a belated tribute of sorts to one of the finest MetaFilter threads, which, though fortunately deceased, is already legendary in some parts of the blogosphere.
Some of my favourite bits were the excursions into Haiku.

2:31:56 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 5 août 2003

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, today responded to efforts by the American members of the Anglican Communion to elect an openly gay bishop by declaring the Episcopal Church of the United States of America to be in schism with the Church of England and ordering its members to be arrested and burnt.
'The old sweetie's really got a bee in his mitre over this one,' said Canon Douglas F.X. Ramsbottom, a Lambeth Palace spokesperson. 'It's not so much the gay thing, I mean we are British clergy, after all; it's the power thing...'" (read on at DeadBrain).

More like this and I could consider tailoring a Humo[u]rFeed into this place.
For now, most of the offerings are like those aggregators.

11:56:16 PM  link   your views? []

Mel Gibson's latest film as director will be in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin.
'The Passion', due for release next year according to the iMDB, details "the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ". It's just had a highly selective screening.

"The star has claimed the 'Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelise.' But a panel of three Jewish and six Catholic scholars, who have studied a draft script, say the film is anti-semitic and theologically inaccurate, portraying Jews as bloodthirsty and vengeful and reviving the worst traditions of the passion plays which contributed to deadly attacks against Jews over the centuries."
A story yesterday in the Guardian is being hotly pursued (

I'm not sure all this makes Mel a "moron", but did you know he's a fundamentalist?

1:10:07 PM  link   your views? []

"...Gone are the days when we admired scenes from Hollywood, craved to rub shoulders with celebrities and even be part of a music award ceremony similar to the American Grammy's.
We are not talking about the upcoming red carpet Miss Uganda event. Something else is knocking at the door. On October 4, Uganda will witness the very first national music award ceremony.
Dubbed the Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Awards, the event will see our local artistes from 23 categories win among other things, a recording contract as well as a slot into the African Kora Awards later in the year (...) The categories include hip-hop, contemporary, Gospel, cultural, mataali, kadongo kamu, and ragga, R&B and live band. Others are best female and male artiste as well as audio producer, video and lifetime achievement award."
This excellent initiative (via 'allAfrica') takes that "when nobody else will do it for you ..." stance.
South Africa's Channel 'O' will film the event.

12:46:42 PM  link   your views? []

lundi 4 août 2003

We look set to bust the record again.
When that thermometer in the shade outside read 30°C well before 10:00 am, it was time to keep an eye on the cat and take note of what she considers the best places to lie on the floor.

ArrêtBut I did get to the postbox, Carole, and though this latest arrêt de travail wasn't mailed within the specified two days, it's on the way.
The acting desk chief at "the factory", Carole was kind in giving me a title for this entry, since the "small stuff" I'm not supposed to sweat includes a top story still unfolding on my habitual patch.
Carole was too busy to linger on the 'phone. She said: "We're waiting for the peacekeepers".
Well, I shan't sweat it, though I miss the line though to the correspondents working in the real heat.
Total Shit of the Week award goes to the tenacious butcher Charles Taylor, once described by a colleague who met him as "dangerously charming".

"Do you envision playing a political role from exile?" he was asked by Tom Masland of 'Newsweek'.
"President Bush said I shouldn’t. The most powerful man on the planet besides God is George Bush ... I think if President George W. Bush had two minutes with me as a man of God he will see the light. When he gets to know the truth he’s going to be really upset."
It's an interview to be avoided when you're not feeling strong of stomach.


PeggsSpeaking of snakes, I was happy to see netwizards Jean-Claude and François come in for a late lunch at "the canteen". I had a look the other day at the former's home page, which entirely consists of these 'Python Eggs.'
Rimbault's riddle is swiftly cracked, unlike his pet programming language. About all I retained from today's lunch was a Flying Circus, François tapping the side of his own egg, and an umpteenth lesson in trying to be too clever.
I'm posting J.-C.'s page because I don't imagine many other people have put about 350 Python-related links in one place and I know that at least one of my readers is almost as barmy.


François thinks I'm greedy and he's probably right.
I did confess to feeling guilty about upping my net connection speed this month to the fastest offered by my ISP.
"Planning to cable your whole building?" he teased. Or just to pillage Kazaa?
Well, no ... but I am downloading a heck of lot of "trialware" these days, particularly in the open source domain, things I want to check out.
"Guilty" because I've reopened the file I worked on pretty hard in Jo'burg early last year, but haven't had time for since, on Africa and the Web. Awareness of statistics such as these on African Internet Status have led to the latest little changes here.
So that my work doesn't take forever to load for people stuck with slow connections, I this morning shifted the "heaviest" recent pages packed with photos.
You'll henceforth get a "read on" type offer should the entry interest you, with no more than the start of such photologs on the home page.
That was a bit of small stuff worth the sweat.

Carole told me that I'm not even on the rota any more through till September now! Yikes...
I can only hope that some of the things I've been learning during this long absence might be put to good use when I do get back.

11:17:05 PM  link   your views? []

"Anybody who liked 'Snow Crash' should get 'Diamond Age' as well. Great stuff.
As for 'Cryptonomicon', though, I think the whole thing would have benefitted from an editor. And a 200 page cut.
And, by damn, Ste[ph]enson should be sent back to school till he learns to write proper endings."
Thus lectured Mumin in the Counterglow forum, which lays claim to being "a site for alternate views and debates on the things that really matter in life".

With the 'The Diamond Age' (Amazon UK), it's Neal Stephenson who plays teacher of sorts in another near-future nanotech novel, an astonishingly multi-faceted 'Pygmalion revisited'.
Nell is the poor little girl from the backstreets who gets hold of The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a magic book illicitly copied by neo-Victorian engineer John Percival Hackworth, who lives in a lofty, well-protected enclave across the Causeway from Greater Shanghai.
It's gratifyingly impossible to pigeon-hole a novel which crackles with wit, brilliant ideas and stories-within-stories. Most of these are dark fairy-tales concerning Nell's quest, with the help of the Primer, to find the Twelve Keys she needs to save her brother Harv from a Dark Castle.
Equally hard is to give much notion of the immensely complicated plot, which is part thriller whose chapters bear arch titles like

'Hackworth departs from Dr X's laboratory; further ruminations; poem from Finkle-McGraw; encounter with ruffians'.

Stephenson sets the values of his economically dominant neo-Victorian tribe, incarnated in the interactive educational primer, alongside those of a China which has returned to Confucian law and social principles. The portrayal and deeds of several characters on either side, such as the increasingly hapless Hackworth and the Chinese Judge Fang and his sidekicks, often had me chuckling out loud, since the book is full of clever jokes as well as heroes and villains.
Two other aspects of 'The Diamond Age' interested me. A confrontation develops throughout between two kinds of technology, one embodied in more or less western notions of scientific advancement and the Net, the other in something Stephenson describes as The Seed (which has a Book of its own). This latter takes us into a more Oriental perspective on social and technological structures, and also gives us a curious creation: the underwater community of "the Drummers" in which it's people who form the network.
Sadly, however, I can only agree with Mumin about Stephenson's endings. Here, as in 'Cryptonomicon', he seems to lose both steam and the track in the closing part of the book. A conclusion which leaves plenty to the reader's imagination has never bothered me, but one which gets sewn up with almost every stitch snapping at the seams is something else.
This is an irritating flaw on a par with the author's occasional failure to develop an idea sufficiently to give you the wherewithal to pick it up and run, so that the glitter of style gets in the way of substance.
The guy probably won his Hugo Prize for all the fun, verbal and technical wizardry and dazzling fancy on the way, but by the time he's done, you could get that dazed feeling that comes after a wonderfully rich meal with just a little too many trimmings.

7:04:32 PM  link   your views? []

dimanche 3 août 2003

Marianne's cat is averse to drinking from bowls.
Instead, whenever I go into the bathroom she follows and stares at me till I turn the tap on and let her lap from the trickle.
The heat's got to her today. She still miaows until the tap goes on, but then she simply watches the water as if contemplating a shower but reluctant to risk it after falling into the bath too often.
I like heatwaves, as I've said before, but my friend Tony and I reluctantly agreed that though it's high time we got together, neither of us had the energy today to go to the other's place. Tomorrow. Yup. When it's hotter...

What I don't like is going on here about My Condition, which is becoming tedious in the extreme. But since people are asking, suffice to say that behind one brief mention of my difficulty in extracting information from the specialist last week lay a three-episode horror story of turning up for appointments cancelled without notice and finally getting my grubby paws on the full report.
The scanty details I gave on Friday are almost all I have as a basis for more tests. It may now prove impossible to get these done until "la rentrée". My next appointment with Vincent de P. (the specialist) is not until September 5. Any hope I have of progress before then is following up leads from either bloghero Yang, once he's back in a couple of weeks, or his partner Marc D., whom I saw at length on Friday and is now fully briefed. Partly by the records Dr Yang left on the computer network (I was astounded to see how complete they were, including things I'd long forgotten).

All we know for sure, pending more probes, is what I haven't got, but the white blood cell count remains, inexplicably, very much higher than it should be, while I get brief spells of remission from the shits (not to put too fine a point on it). So far, a range of experiments with diet, plus extra salts for the dehydration, have led to little change.

The most irritating thing is the fatigue ... along with last week's lengthy spell of nausea. Dr Marc seems to have sorted that out at least, but for a while we're still going to have to concentrate on symptoms rather than the cause unknown.
Doing, right now, the kind of travelling we enjoyed last year and described in my previous photo-post on Madeira is out of the question.
That's a bit more than I wanted to say, but it's written now. So you know!


Am I bored? No way, though I'm careful not to let the "virtual world" take the place of friends and family, the Net -- and the innards of its machinery -- are fascinating places when others are absent.
Indeed, I've been out and about so much, in small but constructive ways, that I remain a little behind with my e-mail, not to speak of the 'blogroll' and other things.
I'm still reading, and following those African affairs that have even come to dominate headlines on the Beeb sometimes, presumably for lack of anything else. It's a summer trend I commend, these reminders that the continent exists; a switch to the state of things in Jo'burg, where northern hemisphere news usually comes pretty low on the list...

As to the 'roll', I've seen so much to entertain or even to prod my neurons hard that I may end up doing what others, like Tom at PlasticBag the other day, occasionally do. It's a serious blogger indeed who's so reluctant to let something slip that all we get is "the links, all the links and nothing but the links"!
I would draw attention (among a hundred other things I'd like to) to Tom's coup de gueule, arguing for a "Balkanisation of Blogdex":

"If it wasn't for the fact that many of these articles are concerned with the war in Iraq, you could be excused for thinking that nothing else was happening in the world at at all - even perhaps that there was no world outside the US."
That most justified moan leads on to some excellent thinking about "aggregrators", which are things my own mind has been turning around of late. Even if you don't yet know what news aggregators are, give it a read, because such reflections concern a far wider media world than the blogosphere.


I didn't trek far yesterday for the real coup de folie. It was just that I had to go back to the shop because I forgot the extra RAM!
Madness, of a sort, it was, but I always find sound excuses for such things, even if making sure it wasn't dangerously so had me triple-checking my financial reserves.

PB_G4_867mHzSo here's what she looks like: Marianne's very first Mac. Given the beauty and the power of the beast, she'll also be the lucky youngster's only Mac, I hope, for a good long time to come!
The girl, who returns to Paris next weekend, has been warned that entrusting her with this comes with a catch, if not several. The one least to her taste is called 'RTFM' ... and not just the "fabulous (non-existent) manual", but also the book she'll get. No, it won't be O'Reilly's 'Learning Unix for Mac OS X', which I've begun to struggle with myself, but she's of the age now to sort out her own messes (and indeed, usually, does).
Nor do I expect her to learn Greek. Big cat-speak will suffice. It simply happened to be a store in Greece which offered the best picture I could find.

So. While Marianne's as displeased -- but also, I hope, as unworried as I usually manage to be -- about My Condition as her crazy dad, saving holiday money you end up not spending does have an advantage or two.


The title to this entry got me thinking that French simply wouldn't be the same without "coups".
From a lighting strike (not a good idea as a headline here) to a coup d'état, they've got blows and punches for everything. These range from the coup de barre that hits someone after a heavy lunch to the coup de mer that my own tummy last week often felt it had got, though I've hitherto never been subject to seasickness in heavy swells ... which is, I suppose, a coup de veine (good luck).
Just about curious enough to check, I find that the Anglais-Français dictionary I consider the best, the Robert-Collins, has a whole small-print page of coups.
Which is perhaps the best place to leave them. It's time to catch up on the blogosphere.

11:28:00 PM  link   your views? []

MariaThe Santa Maria. Apart from a few trivial details like an engine, a bar and flush toilets, this vessel is supposedly an exact replica of the original. Indeed, she does take to the seas under full sail when the occasion warrants.
Right now, however, she'll doubtless be somewhere off the southern coast of Madeira, packed with tourists, after sailing this morning from the capital Funchal.
A year ago, it wasn't my insides misbehaving, but I took a spine-jarring shock when one of my plunges into clear but deep Atlantic waters from the boat was less elegant than I like to believe the others were! Still, it was almost as hard to persuade me back on board as it was Marianne.

(The rest of this photo-voyage in nostalgia, m'dears, has moved elsewhere. No family mugshots on the home page, quand même...)

7:31:34 PM  link   your views? []

vendredi 1 août 2003

"Perhaps the most furtive use to which the device has been put involves software theft.
It is a simple matter to walk into a computer store, connect the player to an Apple computer and quickly transfer software from the computer to the iPod.
Back home, the user can transfer the stolen software to their home computer and use it."
I've yet to see a Mac shop in Paris where such a feat would be conceivable, though Jon Wurtzel said it has happened in a quick look at the popular iPod's new guises (Beeb) more than a year ago.

illegalThings have taken a sharper turn now the Brits have banned the iTrip. You could turn Apple's multi-gigabyte pocket music machine into a mini-pirate radio station (Beeb) using this accessory from Griffin Technology.
Much of Europe could well follow suit, though the maximum range of the troublesome device is specified at 30 feet (nine meters). France, for starters, is almost as cautious about unlicenced broadcasting as the UK's Wireless Telegraphy Act. Lawmakers here are unlikely to even start scratching their pates about the device's fortunes until after the summer.
The Griffin people, whose iMic stereo input and output device is used by two or three of my seriously musical friends with both Macs and PCs, make no comment on their website. MacCentral reports that UK distributor AM Micro (from whom I nicked the pic), hopes to get round the ban.
A product which costs 35 dollars (around 31 euros) has begun to cause a mighty stir. The iTrip version for the latest iPod models, originally due for release on July 21, has yet to go on the market, while Griffin says "overwhelming demand" is stalling availability of the older one for up to two weeks.
About a fortnight back, somebody named as "Reader 'Terry'" told iPoding that a Griffin representative put a sudden delay with the new version down to "political reasons".

Could be quite a wait...

10:09:47 PM  link   your views? []

All 3½ of you may have seen this blog disappear at intervals. I've been as far into the entrails of Radio Userland as I dared and, perhaps unwisely, farther still...
Among the Userland discussion threads (hard to access at "peak times"), somebody launched one complaining about a lack of response from the "admins". Others jumped on the bandwagon, with a chorus of "We paid for it, so where's the service?"
This riled me enough to mention here.
The pioneering Radio software is the work of people you could almost count on the fingers of one hand. They have their own weblogs and help pages too, often packed with info, such as Russ Lipton's 'Radio Docs' and Andy Sylvester's more technical Ruminations. Plenty, technical and otherwise, has been written by Lawrence Lee, aka Tomalak. If they responded to everybody who now uses Radio, asks questions -- and even benefits, like me, from space on their server at a more than reasonable price -- they'd be doing nothing else.
Perhaps some small indication of just how many people use Radio comes from an entry on the same page by Dave Winer: more than 10,600 reads have been registered so far for a post where the Userland founder announces a new "Google It" feature.
Responding to a "thank-you" note for purloined pictures, one victim told me he didn't quite get "the purpose of your website". He might be interested in Dave's potted history of weblogs.


I've also had to delve deep into the bowels of my Mac for a dose of more than routine maintenance. Easiest thing to do when my own insides were behaving so horribly that I steered clear even of "the canteen" for several days.
It took much more prodding than I would have liked to get an update out of the specialist who probed me a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted news before he joined everybody else going on holiday for a month. Tomorrow I hope to see his full report; his attention has turned from my big intestine to the little one, not the pancreas after all. (Update:) Or maybe it's the bone marrow. The mystery gets as thick as my white blood cell count!


Lunch at the canteen was a welcome return from limbo. The pizzeria was doing nicely. The Métro station across the road has reopened, bringing the tourists with it. I went down the hole today and didn't see as much evidence of refurbishment as one might expect after a closure of more than two months.
Often, the workers decided that most other people's lunchtime would be appropriate for the use of pneumatic drills, bringing joy into the lives of customers at the canteen and other nearby restaurants and cafés.
Lynda, who occasionally helps out at the pizzeria when she's not pursuing her studies to become a world-famous architect, celebrated the end to the racket today by getting a computer of her own.
When I realised that Das's cooking had put an end to two days of nausea, I followed Lynda and Sam to the FNAC to "help", knowing from experience what misinformed menaces a few of the sales people there can be. The fellow I found them with proved not to be one of them. Unfortunately, I didn't quite succeed in persuading Lynda to join the happy band of Mac users, but let her "borrow" my FNAC card all the same.
The myth that Mac OS X software is still lacking is belied by sites like 'Architosh', but becoming an architect looks like an expensive business. Sam drove us back to Lynda's place, where both of us were impressed by her beautiful scale models of work in progress.

A cable router was what I got at the FNAC, having installed a new modem this week. Too late now for any second thoughts about getting Marianne online with a Mac of her very own.

12:57:50 AM  link   your views? []

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