May 2002

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31
May

A guy on the TV is describing eating the still-beating heart of a cobra. Apparently, they bring the snake to your table still alive, cut it open and pour the heart down your throat like an oyster. The heart keeps beating all the way, as you wash it down with the snake's blood.

Suddenly, I don't feel so culinarily adventurous.

The first few pages of the introduction to John Pilger's The New Rulers of the World

(Any typographical errors mine, footnotes/references elided)

When American Vice-Presidend Dick Cheney said that the 'war on terrorism' could last for fifty years or more, his words evoked George Orwell's great prophetic work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. We are to live with the threat and illusion of endless war, it seems, in order to justify increased social control and state repression, while great power pursues its goal of global supremacy. Washington is transformed into 'chief city of Airstrip One' and every problem is blamed on the 'enemy', the evil Goldstein, as Orwell called him. He could be Osama bin Laden, or his successors, the 'axis of evil'.

In the novel, three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Today's slogan, 'war on terrorism', also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism. The most potent weapon in this 'war' is pseudo-information, different only in form from that Orwell described, consigning to oblivion unacceptable truths and historical sense. Dissent is permissable within 'consensual' boundaries, reinforcing the illusion that information and speech are 'free'.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 did not 'change everything', but accelerated the continuity of events, providing an extraordinary pretext for destroying social democracy. The undermining of the Bill of Rights in the United States and the further dismantling of trial by jury in Britain and a plethora of related civil liberties are part of the reduction of democracy to electoral ritual: that is, competition between indistinguishable parties for the management of a single-ideology state.

Central to the growth of this 'business state' are the media conglomerates, which have unprecedented power, owning press and television, book publishing, film production and databases. They provide a virtual world of the 'eternal present', as Time magazine called it: politics by media, war by media, justice by media, even grief by media (Princess Diana).

The 'global economy' is their most important media enterprise. 'Global economy' is a modern Orwellian term. On the surface, it is instant financial trading, mobile phones, McDonald's, Starbucks, holidays booked on the net. Beneath the gloss, it is the globalisation of poverty, a world where most human beings never make a phone call and live on less than two dollars a day, where 6,000 children die every day from diarrhoea because most have no access to clean water.

In this world, unseen by most of us in the global north, a sophisticated system of plunder has forced more than ninety countries into 'structural adjustment' programmes since the eighties, widening the divide between rich and poor as never before. This is known as 'nation building' and 'good governance' by the 'quad' dominating the World Trade Organisation (the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan) and the Washington triumvirate (the World Bank, the IMF and the US Treasury) that controls even minute aspects of government policy in developing countries. Their power derives largely from an unrepayable debt that forces the poorest countries to pay $100 million to western creditors every day. The result is a world where an elite of fewer than a billion controls 80 percent of humanity's wealth.

Promoting this are the transnational media corporations, American and European, that own or manage the world's principal sources of news and information. They have transformed much of the 'information society' into a media age where extraordinary technology allows the incessant repetition of politically 'safe' information that is acceptable to the 'nation builders'. In the West, we are trained to view other societies in terms of their usefulness or threat to 'us' and to regard 'cultural' differences as more important than the political and economic forces by which we judge ourselves. Those with unprecedented resources to understand this, including many who teach and research in the great universities, suppress their knowledge publicly; perhaps never before has there been such a silence.

I've come to the conclusion that what needs to happen for the last Star Wars movie is that George Lucas goes back to being producer, Joss Whedon writes the script, and David Fincher directs.

Sponsorship can be so apt sometimes...

Big Brother is proudly brought to you by the Genital Herpes Facts Pack.

If you do a Google glossary search on surrealism, one definition it finds is:

You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

The Register reports that there are more problems with biometrics than just fake gelatin fingerprints. German magazine c't has tested consumer face-recognition, fingerprint-reading and iris-scanning devices, concluding that most of them can be fooled pretty easily.

While at work, I use Windows 2000. This it not by any choice of mine, it's based entirely on a choice made by IBM several years ago to never finish fully functional Linux version of their Java IDE, VisualAge for Java. (The replacement for VAJ, Websphere Studio Application Developer, is available for Linux. We still have a lot of projects tied up in VAJ, but once we stop working on them, it's bye-bye Windows.)

Today, I got around to doing what all computer users, regardless of OS, must do. I had to install the latest set of patches. When I got to WindowsUpdate, I discovered that there were three "critical updates" that I had to download, or be faced with ruin and damnation. The problem was, you couldn't install all three. You had to download one, install it, reboot, download the next, install it, reboot, download the third, install it, and reboot.

I remember when I first installed Win2k and was amazed how few times I had to reboot to set the machine up. What happened to those good old days?

Even if I were to accept that I had to reboot, I still take offence at this disgusting waste of my valuable time. One of the whole points of computers was supposed to be the automation of repetitive tasks. There is absolutely no technical reason why I should not be able to download all the updates I want, and then hit a button to tell Windows to just keep rebooting itself until they're all installed.

No technical reason, but a significant practical one - Microsoft just don't give a shit that my time, and my employer's time, has to be used up playing nurse-maid to their incompetent update system.

Oh, and while writing this, I discover that I have to reinstall the first update I downloaded. It reappeared in the list of critical updates, presumably because it was trashed by one of the other patches. The software should have known this was going to happen, and told me to install them in the other order.

The computer should be serving me. Not vice versa.

Attack of the Clones lists:

The top 10 Things We Want To Hear Samuel L. Jackson say in the Star Wars Prequel: 'What' ain't no planet I've ever heard of! Do they speak Bocce on 'What'?

Top 15 new Star Wars euphemisms for masturbation: Lightsaber practice with Captain Solo

Jamie Zawinsky does fridge-magnet poetry. ...since a day without dada is like fish ventricle capacitor

Slashdot talks about the RealNames "Blame Microsoft" game, making the long post I was going to write on the subject completely redundant.

A company whose business plan solely consists of maintaining a single contract is doomed. A company whose business plan consists of maintaining a contract with Microsoft, notorious for only ever looking out for number one, is doubly doomed. That RealNames got investors at all is another example of the dot-bomb lunacy writ large.

Today's "yeah, right" quote comes from page 4 of Programming Web Services with SOAP by Snell, Tidwell and Kulchenko (O'Reilly)

Every business issue will have a software-based solution

Yeah sure, whatever.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled angst in order to geek out some more.

Google Sets look rather interesting. Go to the sets page, and type in "Dave dee" and "dozy" into the first two boxes. Click the "small set" button, and the set is filled out to include "Dave Dee", "Dozy", "Beaky", "Mick" and "Titch" (who are an obscure 60's band)

Type in "Kennedy", "Lincoln" and "Reagan", and get a list of 13 other presidents' names. I tried putting in random terms, but it seems that "fish", "Elvis" and the "Magna Carta" don't have quite enough in common to form a set.

At this particular moment I have no idea what use this technology will be put to, but it's still a really good example of the cool things that you can do when you've got such a gigantic store of data, and a lot of smart people looking for new things to do with it.

I was going to write a review of "Attack of the Clones", but it seems that someone else has beaten me to it: "Evil Gerald"

Triumph for Lucas as new Star Wars film hailed as "not shit"

...

Peter Walker of the Evening Standard has been even more effusive. "Lucas has really come up trumps with this passable, mildly diverting movie", he wrote. "It's not appalling, and that's good news for Star Wars fans everywhere".

For the Nerds: Bruce Schneier's "Fun with Fingerprint Readers"

Matsumoto uses gelatin, the stuff that Gummi Bears are made out of. First he takes a live finger and makes a plastic mold. (He uses a free-molding plastic used to make plastic molds, and is sold at hobby shops.) Then he pours liquid gelatin into the mold and lets it harden. (The gelatin comes in solid sheets, and is used to make jellied meats, soups, and candies, and is sold in grocery stores.) This gelatin fake finger fools fingerprint detectors about 80% of the time.

Oh, and while I was at Slumbering Lungfish...

The king of the "make an impression while remaining comfortable" movement, however, was the Wearing of the Black. Having been exposed to beatnik imagery and The Lost Boys, we were under the impression that no matter how much of a social maladroit one was, no matter how much one resembled Barbapapa in shape and texture, wearing all-black made one inexpressibly cool. And, as an added bonus, unlike most other forms of looking cool, wearing all black required no effort or iron. Plus, it was easier than picking an actual outfit, because you didn't have to match hues, and the color helped disguise gravy stains. And, near as I can tell, it's since been growing in popularity among the techno-savvy and socially-clueless.

The problem is that when the stigmatized do something, that thing becomes stigmatized. It's the same thing that happened to the word "special." You can't just assign something cool to someone uncool and expect it to remain cool. When I see someone walking down the street wearing all black, even in Berkeley where all-black is considered picnic wear, I don't think "Poet with a tortured soul." I think "Doesn't like picking out shirts, doesn't like doing laundry, probably has a favorite Linux distribution." Two of which apply to me, you guess which ones.

I resemble that remark.

At last. After a week of reading everyone else's apologia and Microsoft-blaming on the RealNames collapse, Joel Spolsky bluntly points out the facts.

Banner Ads We'd Like to See. I like the Oracle and Andersen/Accenture ones. Warning, requires geekiness.

There's no reason to treat software any differently from other products. Today Firestone can produce a tire with a single systemic flaw and they're liable, but Microsoft can produce an operating system with multiple systemic flaws discovered per week and not be liable. This makes no sense, and it's the primary reason security is so bad today.

(Bruce Schneier's April Crypto-Gram)
The last time I had custom sounds set up for Windows starting up and shutting down was when I used Windows 3.1. The startup sound was from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: ("Hi there! This is Eddie your shipboard computer and I'm feeling just great guys! And I know I'm going to get a bundle of kicks out of any program you care to run through me.")

On the other hand, this was the shutdown sound.

I recently bought the NIN "And All That Could Have Been" DVD. If you're an incurable nerd like me, you can read how the whole thing was done with regular DV cameras and Macs.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow.