The Aardvark Speaks - August 2002 Archive



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Friday, August 30, 2002

Lots of other things to do, so I'm going offline for a week. I should be back online and blogging on happily next Friday, September 6th. Until then, have fun and take care.
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[Link to the ALA's Banned Books Week page; http://www.ala.org/bbooks/]Just to remind you that the American Libraries Association has declared September 21-28 Banned Books Week and invites everyone to "celebrate the freedom to read." They have set up a web site and have posted on it the list of most challenged books of 2001 and the top 100 of challenged books of the last decade. Also check out this weblog for additional information.

As I'm living and working in Austria, my library will not participate in the BBW; censorship of books is virtually non-existent hereabouts. Still, it would be something to think about... I guess a selection of formerly banned books might make a good exhibition. Let's see.
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Aah, reader mail - love it. With your permission (not that you have much of a choice) I'd like to use today's blog to answer a couple of emails that came in:

Q: Your blog seems to focus a lot on your penis. Is that going to be an ongoing trend?
A: No. Even the two posts I made weren't really about my penis, but rather about those spammers who want to enlarge it. Unless I get more fun mail (and I really mean 'fun' mail) from them again, I won't keep this thread going. I think the joke is wearing thin after a while

Q: I found your blog on a list of library-related blogs, but it seems to be on a lot of things other than libraries. Is that list wrong, or am I mistaken?
A: I am a librarian, and in my blog I'm talking rather freely on all sorts of things that I come across privately and professionally (see subheading 'random thoughts and ramblings'). Sometimes this will be a lot about books and libraries, sometimes it won't. It's not really a library blog, it's more a librarian's blog, and thus it is of course (though sometimes rather loosely) library-related.

Q: You posted a lot of news items yesterday. Are you continuing at that rate?
A: Yesterday was odd. I don't know what came over me. No, I won't continue at that rate. I guess my average posting rate is 0-2 posts per day. If it's more it's an exception. To prove this point, I will not post anything for the next 6 days.
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Thursday, August 29, 2002

Still troubled by the fear that my penis might be too small (see yesterday's story), and after receiving yet another two of these spams this morning, I disabled my cookies, visited the spammers' web site, which is apparently hosted on an Ukrainian server, and had a good laugh. "Why Have a Bigger Penis?" they ask. Why indeed. Well, here's the answer: "With today's technical advancements in chemistry and medicine, there is no reason for a man not to have a larger, healthier penis." Uh-huh. There's also an explanation for the "1-2 inchs" vs. "3-4 inches overnight" phenomenon: "Your results may vary."
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Still laughing my head off over this little bit of silliness from Davezilla. And after all this, Dave still wonders why Toho can't tell the difference between Davezilla and Godzilla? [davezilla.com]
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Joe Jenett, most probably referring to my post from earlier today, writes:
"After just reading yet another blogger attacking three different weblogs for their choice of colors which are difficult for him to read, I've just got to bring this to your attention. In IE, under the Accessibility options, you can choose to: 'Ignore colors specified on Web pages', 'Ignore font styles specified on Web pages' [and] 'Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages' [...] So -- why publically attack others for their design choices when you have the power to override them? Accessibility, indeed, is important, but why do you choose to overlook already implemented solutions and go after others' designs?"

I agree that I was wrong in posting URLs to three web sites; they were intended to be examples of a general trend, but it looked as if I was attacking those sites in particular. I wasn't. I have now deleted those three links and apologize to the three people running those web sites.

However, I disagree with Joe that all I need to do is set my browser's color preferences to my preferred values. My preferred values are to see the page as it was intended. I think that every well-designed page should not only please the viewer aesthetically, but also be functional, and that means readability as well as navigability. As the Austrian architect Otto Wagner put it almost 100 years ago: "Was keine Funktion hat, kann nicht schön sein" (if it is not functional, it cannot be beautiful).

In the long term, my criticism doesn't really matter; but if more people have difficulties reading those web sites and will for that very reason not return to them, the design choice matters to the people running those web sites. If they don't care about it, so be it; I just hate it when I come across an otherwise well-designed web site with excellent content and it's just the text colour that keeps me from reading it. I guess that's really all I wanted to say.
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Bill Turner:  "The weblog evangelists are constantly getting a more bloated view of their 'profession.'" [jenett.radio]
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On MetaFilter, a discussion on the Schockwellenreiter's fakeMail() script has started. Most people don't seem to think it's a good idea and are suggesting other solutions. [Der Schockwellenreiter]
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Here's an interesting article by Daniel Brandt about Google's pageranking mechanism, why he thinks it is highly problematic, and how it has significantly changed the WWW landscape over the past two years. Salon.com, on the other hand, has an interesting article on Mr Brandt that adds some more perspective to the picture. [Der Schockwellenreiter]
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Cnet.com has two new, interesting stories on unsolicited commercial bulk email, a.k.a. spam (here and here). Both predict a dire future: By the end of this year, junk messages could make up the majority of e-mail, leaving corporate network administrators struggling to stay afloat in the flood, and frustrated consumers are deleting spam without reading past the subject lines, making it hard for bona fide e-mail marketers to get their message through. [CNET News.com]
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What's this with so many people writing their weblogs in light grey or light blue letters on a white background? Yes, it looks good and it's got that certain aesthetic touch, but somehow it seems to me that these web pages are more designed to be looked at rather than read, and I wonder whether that's a good thing. I wouldn't care if these blogs weren't worth reading anyway; the trouble is that many of them are, and their design just keeps me from accessing their content. That is truly annoying.
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zaloydkh@jdrqfjzxug.nl, jymjmez@zgwxaronez.com, wvgy@hsjvbcmzuqu.fr, jquir@hbxnc.at, yjvedwwy@hdxwkoc.org, imfsfyzecq@mxgefaemylv.com, gzjab@gcmsxtq.biz, fynov@sjlgidfwtmot.de, hzrmxarbn@szeyyyrqdhx.pl, wnaiqhi@ckrytiwuod.pl
As usual, this page tells you what this is all about.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The Macintosh operating system's corny but somewhat loveable startup icon appears to be a victim of the latest upgrade. And Apple doesn't want to discuss it. [Wired News] As Happy Mac was the primary reason that I took a serious look at the Macintosh back in 1987 ("a computer that smiles at me - how cute!"), I am particularly sad about its demise.
posted by Horst URL | Comments? []

I'm being spammed like crazy by people who want to enlarge my penis. Why they want to do it I don't know, but they seem very keen on doing it.

I find this disquieting. Do they know something about my penis that I don't know? Up to now, I have never thought twice about the size of my penis, but since I've been bombarded by about six spams per day by people who seem to know something about my penis that I don't seem to know, I'm not so sure any longer. Maybe it is too small? Not that any of my girlfriends have ever said anything, but when I was in the gym lately, in the shower, I thought that perhaps... naaaah.

Or perhaps I should reconsider. After all, for days several (apparently different) people have told me that "Women agree: size DOES matter." Maybe a little bit more size might help? Now let's see, apart from the size-does-matter mailing I'm apparently getting two distinctly different spams: one promises to "add 3-4 inches" to my penis, whereas the other is more moderate (but also less spell-checked) and promises a mere "1-2 inchs" [sic]. Now the question is, how big do I want my penis to get? Hmmmm.... four additional inches actually sounds a bit dangerous, but I don't really trust people who can't spell. Not that it would really matter -- all three spammers are advertising exactly the same product. I am eagerly awaiting my Mac OS X 10.2 update. I'm told the spam filter in the Mail application is working wonders.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

jsgai@rbxa.it, uvtabvni@iznismf.ca, pxtccttjy@dvdltpdt.net, zvjswiasz@bjfdxdvx.de, vlayrh@cghe.de, npsc@uxlwc.net, jwhe@mkok.nl, ddrjsiofe@tcuaesppraqf.br, uowfd@jymncomkfu.nl, qcsap@gvgytkpwa.at

Wanna know what this is about? Click here.
posted by Horst URL | Comments? []

Prompted by a story in The Register, which attempts to shed a more realistic light on the record companies' complaints that they've done everything right and it's the evil Internet that is causing their shrinking revenues, I decided to write down my own thoughts on the matter. As I see it, the record companies haven't got a clue. The companies' statements are apparently released by managers who don't understand anything other than numbers. Net download numbers go up, sales numbers go down -- obviously it must be the one that's causing the other. These people have no idea of demographics, no idea of the human mind, and, sadly, no idea of basic economics. Read on...
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First, there was just a TV ad in which a student named Ellen Feiss explained how her dad's Wintel PC ate her homework: "It went beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep [...] My paper was gone." Rumours spread that Ellen was stoned when she made the commercial, and immediately a number of fan sites (like this one or this one) emerged. People are even selling T-shirts and plates with Ellen's picture on them. On July 10th, Wired ran this article about Ellen's rise to stardom. Now, as Ellen is becoming more and more of a celebrity, NPR ran a feature on the Ellen Feiss phenomenon: "The ad has become an underground hit on Apple's Web site, turning Ellen Feiss into a worldwide cyber star, with fan sites and chat rooms popping up by the dozen." The LA Times has followed suit, publishing this story about Ellen's elusiveness. Apparently Ellen is a real teenager (she was present at the Macworld keynote where her spot was shown), but that's about all that is known about her. I must say I also found the ad intriguing. This girl has a certain something, though it's hard to say what exactly it is. If she's clever, she may have a big future ahead of her. [thanks to MacSlash for some of the links]
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Mozilla 1.1 is out. This new version adds a number of great features, plus significant performance and stability improvements. Mozilla became the browser of my choice about a year ago. It's faster than IE, more standards compliant and considerably more secure. So far there's been only one major security hole, which was fixed within a week. Compare that to one new security hole that is discovered every week in IE. It has the most advance cookie-blocking feature that I know of, and it will also eliminate most of those annoying pop-up ads. Download it. Use it. You'll love it.
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Sunday, August 25, 2002

jhfh@gixamorcac.biz, nszgm@ymums.ca, aew@mcgnqcnnla.ar, ohsdolkh@phuno.at, dztot@tbjsmta.tv, fmh@tcpk.fr, cbzsq@pkrxe.com, egguwvnyki@qezmioen.dk, pjhzdbwo@idszvaxnyqtl.de, mfnjthby@cdrosvy.org

What's this about? Click here for the answer.
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Jane Galt pointed this interesting piece of trivia out to me: according to a British study, shorter women are more likely to have long-term relationships with men, and more likely to have children. It seems that the average man is attracted to women of less-than-average height (apparently 1.51 to 1.58 metres is the magic zone), whereas the average woman is attracted to men of more-than-average height (you have to be over 1.83 metres to be deemed attractive). While I can confirm that I too find smaller women more attractive (without knowing why), the question remains where this will eventually lead to and what us people of average height can do against it. Evolution works in mysterious ways. [Live from the WTC]
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I'm teething. My right upper back molar (a.k.a. wisdom tooth) has rather unwisely decided to start pushing through. Why it is doing this at my age I don't know. It just seems odd to have my body relapse into infant behaviour at a time when I should be having a mid-life crisis. Or maybe this is my body preventing me from getting one by quietly suggesting "just look how young you still are." Well, whatever. I'd go out and buy one of those cooling teething rings they make for babies, but I doubt I can shove the thing far enough into my mouth. Hope this stops soon.
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Saturday, August 24, 2002

fjgh@zytwg.com, ntjxaouzmn@qekrwo.biz, ytu@gmtmkdn.ar, gqo@bcbmtlc.tv, mgpgrihdj@tcerllykovr.de, upmhpjx@ysar.nl, ixrthwen@ophy.mil, zzmzooi@lpvkek.ch, risiz@zczbo.pl, iyzdtibrkx@isbcyhv.com, bdgbrk@mxdcmpxuanm.dk, zeiedspogc@kgkdmrdub.com, mdsdmp@tuxobydxfknr.de, otve@hykkvyxaxnuv.de, ycpfsv@ailyiwqkef.edu

If you don't know what this is all about, read the next item.
posted by Horst URL | Comments? []

More news from the Schockwellenreiter: growing increasingly tired of having his mailbox clogged with 80% spam every day, he has decided to fight back. On this page, he explains his new strategy against spammers, which is basically to feed them... spam.

As we all know, spammers get addresses by grabbing them from web pages, UseNet newsgroups, and the like. He now encourages webmasters and news posters to include fake e-mail addresses on their web pages and in their postings. If about 1000 people take part in this, he says, and each of them posts 20 fake addresses per day for ten days, that makes 200,000 pointless addresses that clog up the spammers's address lists. If this is kept up long enough, the ratio of fake vs. real addresses in the spammers' address books should be totally subverted, making them useless. He has even written a Macro for Radio UserLand that generates fake addresses. A PHP script has followed suit. Personally, I'm not sure if this will actually accomplish anything or just use up even more Internet bandwidth, but what the heck. [Der Schockwellenreiter]
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ShirtDer Schockwellenreiter found a picture of this T-shirt on Grenzschichten and says he wants one. Me too.
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Willy Puchner called to say that I can use his picture on my web site. Excellent. I once again fell victim, at least partly, to the Awe factor. Not so good.

The Awe Factor, if you are not familiar with the concept, is the degree of being unable to communicate properly with a person you greatly admire for his/her work. Usually, the ability to communicate with somebody you deem famous or a genius is reverse proportional to the degree you admire them. Willy Puchner is one of the more innovative photographers in Austria; despite the fact that he keeps a low profile, I consider his work highly influential. His Die Sehnsucht der Pinguine [The longing of the penguins] was just great; and his archive of discarded family photographs from the last century, of which examples are published every Friday in the Wiener Zeitung must be remarkable.

Surprisingly, the Awe Factor was remarkably low -- I'd say 3 or 4 on a scale reaching up to 10. I remember a great Firehose gig after which I was totally unable to say anything to Mike Watt, my all-time bass guitar hero (Awe Factor 9.5) and stuttering along with a couple of band members of The Schramms, even though Dave Schramm and Andy Burton were really friendly and seemed interested in what I had to say (Awe Factor 8). But what could I say to people who had just played such a great gig? Or perhaps there wasn't really much to say between a (then) part-time teacher from Austria and a guitar player from New York, other than "Hey, I really liked what you played." -- "Gee, thanks."
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Friday, August 23, 2002

Salon.com has a story about two "bookish" films; Gwyneth Paltrow playing the lead in the film adaptation of A. S. Byatt's "Possession" and Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours", two films that look like a must-see to an EngLit book buff like myself. The gist? "Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf is far more possessed, and thus far sexier, than Gwyneth Paltrow in 'Possession.'" [Salon.com]
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Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Right, here's a personal statement that will probably reveal more about me than should be revealed, but never mind... I still maintain that blogging is not really about relaying news that's published everywhere else anyway (like today's story about Dontlink.com on Cnet was relayed by pretty much every blog I read, as if the site hadn't been around for quite a while now); I think blogs should be original and personal. If you read this regularly, you've probably noticed that I'm still struggling to achieve this (I hope to find my way eventually).

So now for something completely different and completely personal: recent random encounters on the street have forced me to rethink one of my fundamental beliefs. Fact is, I have a certain weakness for women wearing bib overalls (a search on the Internet revealed that I'm not alone, even though I'm not as enthusiastic as this guy and nowhere near as obsessive as these folks). Or rather, I used to have this weakness. It's apparently not there anymore. Back in the days when overalls were kind of fashionable and many young women wore them, I thought that you could take just about any young woman aged 18-33, put her in a bib overall, and it'd look good. It seems I was seriously mistaken.

These days, when overalls are kind of out of fashion, I keep noticing that whenever I see a young woman in overalls, I can't help thinking that any kind of clothing would look better on her than overalls. For some obscure reason, it's only the women that shouldn't wear them who are wearing them now. Nowadays, many seriously overweight women wear them, and they always seem to choose the kind that is tailored to accentuate the female body, whereas thinner women always seem to wear the baggy kind that looks ten sizes too big. I wonder if there's any kind of logic behind this. I accept every human being's right to dress as they please and look unattractive if they want to, but this just seems... well, misguided.

The one consolation that I do have from all this is that at least I found out that my former partiality to women in overalls was not a fetish. I'm quite relieved to notice that apparently it was truly the women that I had found attractive, not the garment. Phew.
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Librarian.net talks about the new spot the Ad Council is running: "This kid walks into a scary future library and is questioned and harassed about his reading habits. The tagline is: Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect it. I can't tell if this is supposed to portray a post terrorist-takeover America or a post police-state America." A valid question, considering the effects of the Patriot Act on libraries throughout the U.S. [librarian.net]
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From Salon: Evidence that American allies in Afghanistan slaughtered captured Taliban soldiers first surfaced last spring. Will a Newsweek cover story force an investigation? So far, the U.S. and U.N. say no. [Salon.com]
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Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Periodically, I check my referrer logs to see where the people who visit my web site come from. From time to time, I get quite interesting results, like finding a pleasant review ;-) of my web site somewhere; sometimes I'm just baffled. This one, for example, has me at a total loss. Either I have a totally different sense of humour, or I'm just plain stupid, but while I think I know why he linked to me (and thanks for that!), I have no idea whatsoever what this guy is talking about.
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The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about a shortage of academic librarians in the U.S. Nothing at all like the situation hereabouts. Still, I don't feel like emigrating. Not that they'd let me in anyway. [netbib-weblog]
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The Missoula Independent has this article about librarians and the US Patriot Act: at this year's meeting of the Pacific Northwest Library Association (PNLA), the most pressing business addressed is the role of librarians in the wake of the USA Patriot Act, a sweeping piece of national security legislation passed by Congress last year in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Deborah Schlesinger, director of Lewis and Clark Library in Helena, said that she is deeply concerned with her role as a librarian under the USA Patriot Act, specifically, about being an accomplice in the violation of Americans' civil liberties. [Privacy Digest]
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Monday, August 19, 2002

My musings on burnt toast have been delayed. Please be patient.
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In Vienna, the rain stopped last Thursday. Contrary to many other cities in Germany or the Czech republic, Vienna was not flooded. The construction of a second river bed for the Danube in the 1970s turned out to be a good idea. Today's weather was sunny and hot.
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Following my recent story, it seems that the Austrian government has now decided to buy only 18, not 24 Eurofighter jets. The Vienna University library is, however, still not getting the much-needed underground stacks.
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Question 1: How do you notice it's summer? Answer: The stories in the newspapers are getting reeeeally weird. Question 2: What is news? Answer: "Dog bites man" is not news. "Man bites dog" is news.

Here's a new variation on the "man bites dog" theme: According to this story, Nasim Bibi, a 25 year-old woman from New Delhi, was just about to go to bed when she was attacked and bitten by a deadly cobra. Without hesitating, she grabbed the snake and bit it, effectively breaking its spine. Ms Bibi received immediate medical treatment for the snakebite and survived. The snake died.
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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Other work awaits, so I'm taking a few days off blogging. I'll be back with some musings on Burnt Toast (does that sound exciting?) on Monday.
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Jessamyn of librarian.net remembered on August 12th that the feast of St Lawrence, patron saint of librarians, was two days before (Aug. 10th), and it takes me another two days to relay the news. Talk about speed in the age of the Internet. ;-)

Well, this wouldn't really newsworthy were it not for two things that constitute a remarkable coincidence: One, previous to her posting, I had had no idea that St Lawrence was the patron saint of librarians. Two, three years ago I moved into a new apartment situated across the street from a small church. A few months later I get a new job as a librarian. Guess who's the patron saint of the church. Why, St Lawrence, of course.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

I have already mentioned the Austrian government's controversial decision to buy 24 Eurofighter jets after raising taxes to an all-time high and cutting a number of social benefits. In the meantime, over 10% of the Austrian electorate have signed a petition against buying the jets, but in all likelihood, they will be bought nevertheless.

Our library is in desperate need of space. We have some 2.4 million books in the main library, plus 3.2 million more in external libraries throughout the city, which makes us the largest library in Austria. The stacks of the main library were initially built for 400,000 books and extended in the 1960s. Now they're again full. Last year, there were plans to build new underground stacks and completely modernise the existing library, and pre-construction work had already started, when, about two months ago, the government decided not to fund it after all and stopped the project. With our stacks almost full, all the room we have left is for the acquisitions of the next two years, and that's it then.

The new underground stacks, including modernising the library, would have cost 36 million Euro. The 24 Eurofighter jets cost an estimated 1.79 billion Euro. This means that the University of Vienna could get a much-needed, completely new library for the price of a bit more than half a fighter jet.

Now I don't know if anybody is actually reading this, but if anybody is, could you please post a comment and tell me what you think: Should the Austrian government (a) buy only 23 fighter jets and sacrifice half a jet for a new library because knowledge is more important than defence; (b) buy all the 24 fighter jets because defending Austrian airspace is more important than books; or (c) just shut us down to avoid any further costs in the future?
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With the water level of the Salzach river slowly sinking, it currently looks as if the historic center of Salzburg won't be flooded after all. However, it's still raining heavily in Eastern Austria, and it doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon. Many railway lines and roads are still blocked, and every other hour the radio news has reports of yet another area that has been flooded. Thanks to the extensive regulation of the Danube, Vienna has so far not been affected, but the "Copa Cagrana", a recreational area on the left bank of the river, is now partly under water, and is is expected that the Danube Island and the A22 motorway, which is running alongside the river, will be flooded later this afternoon.
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Monday, August 12, 2002

After what was a particularly mild winter and a particularly hot spring, Austria now seems to experience the monsoon season. The only disquieting thing about is that we are not located in a tropical area where this kind of weather is to be expected; it must be a side-effect of global warming. At any rate, it has been raining for weeks now, and many parts of the country are flooded [pictures from last week] [pictures from today]; if it doesn't stop raining real soon, then even the historic city center of Salzburg will also disappear under water. It won't help us much now, but as a preventive measure, could anyone please convince President Bush to sign the Kyoto Protocol anytime soon?
posted by Horst URL | Comments? []

Over the past year and under the powers granted by the Patriot Act, the FBI has repeatedly forced libraries to reveal their readers' borrowing and browsing habits and seized library computers. Some 85 libraries have so far been affected, and so are many other businesses loaning, renting or selling books, videos, magazines and CD-ROMs. As a consequence, the American Library Association has set up a web page helping librarians to deal with this situation.

The Detroit Free Press writes: "Unlike other search warrants, the FBI need not show that evidence of wrongdoing is likely to be found or that the target of its investigation is involved in terrorism or spying. [...] The court that authorizes the searches meets in secret; the search warrants carried by the agents cannot mention the underlying investigation, and librarians and booksellers can be prosecuted for revealing an FBI visit to anyone, including the patron whose records were seized." A recent posting on Slashdot also refers to this artcle in USA Today and a broadcast on NPR.

As a librarian living in Europe, I find this development extremely scary, because it is an exact copy of what the Communist regimes in the former Eastern Bloc countries were doing to control those people they referred to as "enemies of the state". The parallels are plain to see and deeply frightening. [ALA; Detroit Free Press; Slashdot; librarian.net]
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Sunday, August 11, 2002

I was at my favourite museum, Vienna's MAK (Museum of Applied Arts) yesterday and noticed that the museum shop had a book sale. There I found and bought the book that nobody wanted, "Neues Bauen heute: Europäische Architektur der Neunziger Jahre" (New Building Today: European Architecture of the Nineties), a 280-page, well-illustrated overview of 1990s architecture. How do I know nobody wanted it, you ask? Well, the remarkable thing about it was that there were no less than four different price tags on it. Apparently, the original price had been ATS 935 (EUR 67.95). At some point, it had been reduced to ATS 450 (EUR 32.70). That had been crossed out and replaced by EUR 20, and again that had been corrected to EUR 10, which I thought was a fair price and at which I bought it (funny enough, it's still available at Amazon.co.uk at its original price, GBP 49). It's almost as if the book was telling a story; a story about a poor orphaned tome that nobody wanted until I stepped in and showed some compassion (and a 10 Euro note). I will take good care that all the price tags will remain on the book.
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Last week, George Bush defined enemies of the people as regimes intent on building up weapons of mass destruction, oblivious of international law and UN resolutions, governments who imprisoned their opponents without trial and who could not claim democratic legitimacy at home. In a highly sarcastic and ironic article in The Independent, Adrian Hamilton points out that "it is pretty clear reading the descriptions whom he must have meant. The government which is spending by far the most on weapons of mass destruction, and is now planning to raise its budget by an increase greater than the total defence spending of Europe, is, of course, based in Washington. Not only is it building an arsenal the like of which the world has never seen, it has unilaterally withdrawn from the treaties designed to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, and has refused to accept any kind of international monitoring of its chemical or nuclear weapons facilities. It has a government in power without the legitimacy of a democratic majority [...]. Its rhetoric is one of violent aggression against anyone seen as its enemies. It opponents are locked up without trial or the right to habeas corpus." Read the full story... [The Independent]
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Krone-PlakatRecently, while sitting on tram number 9 and looking out of the window, I noticed this poster (click on the picture to enlarge) in one of Vienna's outer districts. It is part of the new advertising campaign of the Kronen-Zeitung, Austria's best-selling daily newspaper. They had already run a similar campaign with the Austrian skiing team during the Winter Olympics 2002; the pose had been identical, only they had been wearing skiing suits. I hadn't liked that poster, mostly because it made use of an aesthetic quality that I found too reminiscent of fascist propaganda photography of the 1930s. This new poster seems to be a further step in that direction. Not only do they look even more martial than before, this time a strong dose of homoeroticism has been added -- also an important ingredient in fascist aetheticism.

While I don't like it, I'm not particularly surprised. After all, a book of Leni Riefenstahl's photographs was published by Taschen last year; it was so successful that they published calendars and posters soon afterwards. Apparently the aestheticism of the 00s is taking a swing back to the 1930s (Helmut Newton had made use of it during the 1980s and 90s; now it seems to have become publicly acceptable). The notion of athletes as quasi-soldiers fighting for the newspaper seems odd and anywhere between absurd and frightening, but then it's also strangely adequate as the Kronen-Zeitung is well known for its extensive sports coverage. What is surprising is the use of obvious homoeroticism by a newspaper whose readers are not particularly known for their tolerance in sexual matters. But then that might be the double-bind of ideology. Even though homoereoticism was a key element for the Fascists and Nazis in the 1930s, homosexuality was unacceptable, and many homosexuals were imprisoned and/or killed.
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Saturday, August 10, 2002

Previous visitors might recall my article on how I became a coin collector. I have now added a totally useless blog category to this site, which merely tracks which foreign Euro coins I get each day. I won't mirror it to this page, but there is an RSS feed for anyone who's interested (not that I think anyone is).
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I just did a Google search on my name (yes, I do that sometimes) and found this article on my employer's web site, which seems to be a kind of summary of a presentation I gave during the so-called "science week", a kind of university-goes-public event that took place last June. And no, nobody had told me that this would be published, nobody had approached me about it in any way, and nobody had asked my permission to put it online (I must consult my work contract if they really have the right to do this).
Anyway, my presentation had been on using the Internet as an information resource and on search strategies that should apply. Finding myself quoted on this page, I realized a couple of things:
  1. I must remember that the Enemy is always among my listeners. I am positive I made a couple of remarks about the university administration during my presentation that I wouldn't have made if I had known one of them (or one paid by them) was present.
  2. Either I must have sounded extremely negative, or I was significantly misunderstood, but from the article it seems that I said the Internet was basically useless as a source, which isn't true (as far as I remember I just told people to be careful -- funny that today I should also find an article by Marylaine Block that's illustrating part of what I was explaining).
  3. No matter how you structure your presentation or how much you take care to stress what's important and what's not, it seems in the end people will alway pick on the details and overlook the basics.
So finding myself quoted was an utterly unpleasant experience; not only had I had no idea I was being quoted and published, I also found myself substantially misrepresented. I know this happens with newspapers, but it's sad when your own employer's press department does it.
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Friday, August 9, 2002

Regarding yesterday's item on the web services sending out the "someone has a crush on you" notes, I have now found the full article at Salon.com. In The Bot Who Loved Me, Katharine Mieszkowski asks whether those secret-admirer e-mails are real, or just the latest excrescence of an Internet marketing machine grown unfathomably sleazy, and tells some of her more amusing experiences with the Crushmaster. [Salon.com]
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This article by yours truly deals with an architectural project that has spawned quite a controversy in Vienna lately. The Wien Mitte office complex [English] to be erected close to the Vienna city centre is a huge building project that will radically change the Vienna cityscape if it is built -- so much that the UNESCO is currently considering deleting the historical centre of Vienna from its World Heritage List. While the city council has approved the building and construction may start in a few weeks, a huge opposition has formed against the project, claiming that the building is totally out of proportion (the height of the office towers being the main point of critique). My article argues that the discussion so far has gone into the completely wrong direction: the point is not the height of the office towers, but rather whether an office complex of this kind should be built in the city centre at all; whether the architectural project is satisfactory both aesthetically and functionally; and whether it will truly have the effect on urban development promised by the companies behind the project (which I find doubtful). After all, even the tower of Babel didn't go wrong because of its height, but because it was built for the wrong reasons. N.B.: this article is written in German. [Der Standard]
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Thursday, August 8, 2002

In this comment, the Guardian's John Vidal is talking about pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables in supermarkets. What I find alarming is the degree of urgency in his article; I have always regarded the British as being not particularly consciuous about food additives and pesticide residues. Here in Austria, where people are very careful in that respect, no such discussion has seriously started yet. It's time we took notice. [Guardian Unlimited]
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On Slashdot.org, ewhac writes "Salon is running an article about how that cryptic email saying someone has a crush on you may not be what it seems. Portrayed as services to foster romance, some voice concern that some such sites -- two with falsified WHOIS records -- are preying on people's insecurities to build spam lists and directed relationship graphs (who knows who). [Slashdot]
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From Privacy Digest: On Slashdot, DaveAtFraud writes: "It took a little digging to find an on-line copy of this article that I first saw in my treeware daily newspaper. Thanks to the Salt Lake City Tribune for having it on-line. According to the Spamhaus project, a handful of people are responsible for 90% of the spam that clogs you in box. This is your chance to hear from them and what they have to say is quite interesting. If you don't think the filters and blacklists work, one spammer whines, "My operating costs have gone up 1,000 percent this year, just so I can figure out how to get around all these filters." Stopping spam is simply a matter of economics. When its uneconomical to send spam, people will stop sending it." [Privacy Digest]
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In the recent edition of the Library Journal, Carrie Bickner from Rogue Librarian is writing an article on the importance of adhering to web standards when creating web pages. In particular, she is advocating the use of XHTML and also gives a brief introduction to converting HTML 4 to XHTML. My own experience with XHTML is that it's certainly easy to learn, with the added bonus that its syntax forces you to write very clear, well-structured code. However, I recently had to rewrite an entire web site written in correct XHTML, because it failed to display properly on older browsers. The rewrite, also written in XHTML, displayed just fine. As usual, one should always bear in mind that the lastest standards can lead to problems with older browsers. A similar article advocating the use of web standards by Paul Boutin was published recently on Webmonkey. [librarian.net]
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Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Weirdness: a woman working at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs is apparently planning to file a lawsuit against her employers, claiming that ever since her PC has been upgraded with a new Intel Pentium processor, she has been suffering from skin rashes. She assumes that the Pentium processor must be emanating some kind of radiation to which she is allergic. No idea if this story is true or not, but this is the stuff that urban legends are made of. Anyone seen Nessie yet this summer? [Planet Multimedia]
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If you are, like me, working in a lowly, badly-paid job with little or no social prestige, you'll understand that my ego got a major boost when I noticed that someone of the same profession somewhere else in the world had made an outspoken statement about The Truth About Us and demanded a little respect. My colleagues at work were equally delighted about this page and also the accompanying web site. Kudos to Erica Olsen, who will one day certainly be revered as a kind of saint.
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Regarding the recent item about Euro-induced inflation in Austrian restaurants being an average 20 percent, today Der Standard reports that the number was apparently a translation error on behalf of the European Consumers' Association. It turns out that what they meant to say was that 20% of all complaints were about higher prices in restaurants; the actual inflation seems to be something between 1.1 and 5 percent. Personally, I, like many of my friends, have the feeling that the original 20% inflation rate reflected our experiences somewhat more accurately. For example, a large beer used to cost about ATS 35; now it's about EUR 3 -- an 18% difference. [Der Standard]
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In yesterday's New York Times, an article on AOL's management shakeup reported that AOL discovered its membership was fleeing in the face of increased pop-up ads and decided to change their ad policy. Is that supposed to mean that before they thought that users liked pop-up ads? [Radio Free Blogistan]
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Tuesday, August 6, 2002

I find this story about identity theft rather scary. I wonder if it's easier to commit such a crime in Canada or the US than here in Austria, where bureaucracy should make it more difficult, but it's scary nevertheless. [CTV]
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Required reading for bloggers: Dorothea over at Caveat Lector talks about the pressure bloggers put on themselves if they can't or don't want to blog, but feel they have to. Her argument in a nutshell: if you don't feel like blogging, don't do it. Considering how much pointless blogs there are, that's a thought that should occur to more people.
Meanwhile, Tom Shugart at Insiteview has noticed the same thing: "a lot of boring stuff in the blogosphere". Hey yeah, I mean what do you expect from people who spend enough time online so that they can manage a blog site? A life?
Like Tom, I'm also starting to wonder whether we really need blogs as a relay for news items. Some 20% of everything posted on blogs seems to be material that was already posted on other blogs. Shouldn't blogs be more original than that?
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Monday, August 5, 2002

Despite the fact that the official numbers published by the government indicate that inflation in Austria has been a mere 1.8% since the introduction of the Euro earlier this year, consumers are complaining that prices have risen at a considerably higher rate. The Austrian Consumer's Association (Verein für Konsumenteninformation, VKI) has now published a web site where customers can log their complaints about Euro-induced inflation. The European Consumer's Association BEUC is criticizing that especially in restaurants and at vending machines, prices have risen by an average of 20%. [Der Standard]
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In a special goof-up, Mac OS X is listed at the CompUSA online store for PC-compatible systems... at a bargain price of over $82,000. The Register has the details. [Andrew Orlowski, The Register]
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In this new article, I wonder if there might be some dire plan behind McDonald's constant raising of package sizes for soft drinks and fries -- and thereby constantly feeding more sugar and fat to a population that is increasingly overweight.
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Navigating my way through lots of blogs recently, I wish some of these people had read this article. It's not just about why web journals suck, but also about what to do so that they don't suck. [Radio Free Blogistan]
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Sunday, August 4, 2002

One of the more interesting junk mails I received lately was a spam advertising anti-spam software. When I read it, I felt like I was caught in some kind of vortex, a paradoxical loop. "Annoyed with all the spam you get in your inbox? Angry about losing time deleting all that junk email? Want to eliminate this irritating stuff?" Yes, I felt inclined to say, but... erm... you realize that you are spamming me just now, don't you? Plus, the obvious question, how trustworthy is a company that uses spam to propagate its anti-spam software? Would it detect their own spam? I'll never find out.
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The Houston Chronicle reports that on a typical day, Hotmail subscribers collectively receive over 1 billion of junk mail. These account for 80% of messages received -- not counting those blocked by Hotmail's junk filters. And it's increasing every day. [The Houston Chronicle]
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A new kind of spam is currently spreading throughout Austria: mails that were apparently sent by the Minister of Finance, Karl-Heinz Grasser and Prime Minister Wolfgang Schüssel are filling users' mailboxes. Probably spawned by the government's controversial decision to buy 24 Eurofighter jets for the Austrian army at a time when taxes are at an all-time high, a fake mail using Grasser's email address claimed that Grasser was really opposed to buying the jets; a successive mail apparently sent by Schüssel stated that the jets were an absolute necessity and that those opposed to the jets are enemies of the state. Several other spam mails followed (DerStandard.at reported on the most recent round of spams). The whole thing looks like a poignant satire on the present government, which hasn't exactly given an impression competence since taking office in 2000. At any rate, it's a change from the usual spam topics, and one of the first purely political/satirical uses of spam that I know of. The police and state attourney are currently investigating. Impersonating a member of government is a criminal offence.
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Another couple of hours spent on adding new entries to my site on Things To Do And Places To Eat in Vienna, mostly on museums, which had so far been MIA. A mail from a reader reminded me to put in something on Danube cruises as well. Also, I noticed that I had forgotten to include coffee houses in the restaurants list -- quite an oversight. It's fixed now.
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Windows XP Service Pack 1 and Windows 2000 Service Pack contain a new condition which asks you to allow Windows to go and install future updates. [Andrew Orlowski, The Register]
See also this related story, which I wrote in early July.
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At a bleak time, when other vendors are pulling in, laying off, and riding out the recession, Microsoft is partying like it's 1999. But not everybody is invited. By piecing together what Microsoft tells each of its constituencies, we can make some predictions about where Windows and the Windows server stack are going and how changes will affect customers and competitors. [Tom Yager, InfoWorld]
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Saturday, August 3, 2002

I'm currently reading Eric Schlosser's bestseller Fast Food Nation about "what the All-American meal is doing to the world", and came to the chapter on flavours (partly reprinted here). While I was aware that almost everything we eat contains additional flavours, it was still a learning experience. Not only did I learn that "natural" flavours are as man-made as "artificial" flavours, I also suddenly had a thought that had never occurred to me before: Maybe, just maybe, Burger King isn't really better than McDonald's. Maybe they're just using better flavours.
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Apple's recent "Switch" TV ads have been their most talked-about ad campaign since the "Think different" ad almost five years ago. The new ads, based on interviews with average users, have now inspired a couple of spoofs, which got the spirit nicely, but the content is slightly... well, see for yourself:
Switch: Ani Moller
Switch: Ben Brown
Switch: Drunkgamers.com
(Don't watch if you are easily offended; not suitable for minors)
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Having joined the blog community and sifted through some of the links to other blog sites that comes with my new software, I have one overwhelming question: Just how much time do these people have on their hands? Can Jenny, the Shifted Librarian, really read all the blog sites she is scanning in her news aggregator? And just what will I turn into once I have caught the blog bug? Or am I immune? And, of course, the most important question of all: with all those blog sites everywhere, is anybody actually reading this?
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I finally admit that, like many other city dwellers, I hate pigeons. In this article, you'll learn more about pigeons than you probably ever wanted to know. Includes: Why pigeons don't build nests, how a pigeon colony survived 45 years without food or light, why pigeons might start to limp even if they're perfectly healthy, and what God must have thought when he created the pigeon.
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All of the previous stories have been moved to the new blog site. Since the archiving possibilities seem somewhat limited, I'll also leave them on my old server, just in case I want to go back. In case you haven't read them yet, it's about how Microsoft's Palladium project might control your entire online and offline life, the fact that the web is less anonymous than ever, and how I became a coin collector.
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Okay, so I finally migrated my blog page to Radio UserLand. I won't bother re-posting all the old blogs, but I will migrate my old articles soon.
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