The Aardvark Speaks - February 2003 Archive



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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Yesterday, I had a link to a London Tube Map that showed that London geography is very different from what is shown on the Tube diagram. A while ago there was a discussion on uk.transport.london as to what were the most misleading areas on the Tube map. Here are a few that I know or remember from the discussion:

Covent GardenThe route most frequently travelled by tourists is from Leicester Square to Covent Garden. However, in the time it takes you to get down to the platforms at Leicester Square, you can also walk directly to Covent Garden, as the two stations are less than 250 metres apart, the shortest distance between any two stations on the Underground network.
Charing CrossThe interchange between the Bakerloo and the Northern Line at Charing Cross is extremely inconvenient, as the two platforms used to be two separate stations, and are therefore situated at some distance from one another. The interchange at Embankment is actually much shorter.
BankOn the street level, the distance from Bank to Mansion House is the same as from Bank to Monument, about 200 metres, or about a five minutes' walk. Taking the tube is a major waste of time.
Bayswater vs QueenswayBayswater station is a two minutes' walk directly north of Queensway station, on the same street. There is no need whatsoever to travel via Notting Hill Gate.
Paddington vs Lancaster GateSame area, larger scale: Paddington is directly north of Lancaster Gate, only a 5-8 minutes' walk away (incidentally, Edgware Road is about twice as far away). Unless you carry heavy luggage or have a lot of time to kill, it makes no sense to take the Tube from Paddington to Lancaster Gate.
Baker Street vs MaryleboneIf you're in a hurry, don't change to the Bakerloo Line to get from Baker Street to Marylebone. It's only about five minutes away, the same time it takes you to change platforms at Baker Street.
Canary WharfIf you are on the Docklands Railway and want to change to the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf, you should get off at Heron Quays, not Canary Wharf.

As far as I remember, Bank/Mansion House won the contest, followed by Charing Cross. Still, I find Paddington/Lancaster Gate the most striking one.
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What's all this fuss about libraries and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? I can imagine things that are a lot worse than scantily clad women -- for example, people who think that seeing women in swimwear is morally corrupt or something. [via Library Link of the Day and librarian.net]
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Doc Searls has an interesting and compelling quote from a speech by Senator Robert Byrd:
This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world. This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. [...]

This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.

Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant [~] these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good.
Sounds like a good and intelligent man. Here's more. [via The Doc Searls Weblog]
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The New York Times has ann article on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), tiny computer chips in consumer products that send radio signals and allow the manufacturer to trace the whereabouts of the product -- raising possible privacy issues:
The companies are tagging clothes, drugs, auto parts, copy machines and even mail with chips laden with information about content, origin and destination. [...] "We want to track all of our merchandise, and that includes items that people are unlikely to steal," William C. Wertz, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores, said. [...]

Consumer privacy is also an issue. It would be easy to combine credit card data with information from the retail chips to know who bought what, and when -- and, conceivably, track the product even after it left the store.

"I don't think the average consumer understands the threat to personal privacy that these kinds of technologies can present," said Alan N. Sutin, a partner specializing in information technology at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. [Privacy Digest]
One more big brother to watch us.
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Yoz Grahame on ThreeDegrees, MSFT's new "kid-friendly," DRM-laden IM/filesharing app:

As you can see, the kids have to be down with installing a metric arseload of supporting extras before they can get jiggy with the winking action. This includes MSN Messenger 5.0 and the MS Black Ops P2P Infiltrator. I had a brief bout of swearing when MSNIM 5 started up because it was clearly ignoring my preference to hide the never-used info tabs on the left. Investigation showed I was wrong; it hadn't so much ignored my preference as removed the option entirely. [...]

It's part of a worrying trend MS have been displaying recently that I'll call (for want of something wittier) feature-creep-away. Version 7.0 of Windows Media Player removed the ability to install .mov support. Now the latest version has removed streaming MP3 and AVI support (i.e. play during download). The lockdown has started.
Here's more. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Mystified by weblog jargon? Try this: Phil Gyford has produced An introduction to weblog terms for weblog readers. It explains RSS, permalinking and trackback - some of the more commonly mentioned weblog-specific pieces of jargon. [via The Shifted Librarian < Blog.org]
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The German Internet Library (Deutsche Internetbibliothek) is a German web index similar to the Librarians' Index in that it is compiled by German and Austrian librarians from over 70 different libraries. [netbib weblog]
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I have compared the American reaction to French and German politics as "kindergarten-like" before, and so Karlin Lillington's post about anti-French and anti-German sentiments struck quite a chord:
I am really saddened by the pathetically childish comments some Americans are making about "The French" and "The Germans" (as if the tens of millions of people in these two extremely diverse nations are somehow two undifferentiated lumps). [...]

When did a nation I love and in which I was raised,  the US, turn into this place of low bigotry -- especially about places many of the loudest critics have undoubtedly enjoyed visiting, the people they have enjoyed meeting? Conversely, I have yet to meet a European of any nationality who hates Americans, as opposed to some American policies (not that the Yank-haters aren't out there -- but they're pretty damn hard to find. See the French opinion survey I posted below, for a counter to the silly [and incredibly self-centered] US assumption that any disagreement with policy is "anti-Americanism"). [...]

To make petty and cutting remarks about a whole people based on their disagreement with you -- why, that is to sink to the level of kindergarten playground battles, the stance of the bully. More... [techno\culture]
It's time for a number of people to grow up. From a non-US perspective, it's not the Germans and the French who are making proper fools of themselves.
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Cars still cost more in the UK. Money: Britain is still the most expensive place in the European Union to buy new cars, a survey showed today. [Guardian Unlimited]

Cars still cost more in Austria. Money: Austria is still the most expensive place in the Euro zone to buy new cars, a survey showed today. [Der Standard]
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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

And finally, here's yet another website on London's abandoned Tube stations.
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In 1933, Harry Beck designed the London Underground Map. Being an electrical engineer, he created a schematic layout inspired by circuit diagrams. The map became an instant popular success and a design classic. But was design's gain geography's loss? Is our image of London distorted by the Underground Map? How much has the map itself changed since 1933? How has the network changed since then? Sam Rich answers all these questions with The Real Underground Map (requires Flash). [thx Giles]
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Mark Pilgrim has written a tutorial on How to block spambots, ban spybots, and tell unwanted robots to go to hell. [dive into mark]
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The Saddam and George show: Tim Dowling reveals what would have happened had George Bush accepted Saddam Hussein's TV debate challenge. [Guardian Unlimited]
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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Compelling article by George Monbiot in today's Guardian:
The US, in other words, seems to be ripping up the global rulebook. As it does so, those of us who have campaigned against the grotesque injustices of the existing world order will quickly discover that a world with no institutions is even nastier than a world run by the wrong ones. Multilateralism, however inequitable it may be, requires certain concessions to other nations. Unilateralism means piracy: the armed robbery of the poor by the rich. The difference between today's world order and the one for which the US may be preparing is the difference between mediated and unmediated force. [...]

[However,] by wrecking the multilateral system for the sake of a few short-term, corporate interests, the US is, paradoxically, threatening its own tyrannical control of other nations. [...]

The institutions through which it has worked [...] have provided a semblance of legitimacy for what has become, in all but name, the construction of empire. The end of multilateralism would force the US, as it is already beginning to do, to drop this pretence and frankly admit to its imperial designs on the rest of the world. This admission, in turn, forces other nations to seek to resist it.
[found via My Life in the Bush of Ghosts]
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If it hadn't been for his untimely death, George Harrison would have been 60 years old today. His contributions to the Beatles' song catalogue has gone largely unnoticed, probably due to the huge shadow cast by superstar songwriters Lennon and McCartney. It took him until 1969, the year before the Beatles disbanded, to get the recognition he deserved, when Something was released as a single.

Still, many of my personal Beatles favourites are George Harrison compositions: Don't Bother Me, I Need You, If I Needed Someone, Taxman, I Want to Tell You, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, It's All Too Much, Old Brown Shoe, Something, and of course Here Comes the Sun. Some of these songs connected to me instantly; could be because George was a fellow Pisces.

I didn't follow his solo career too much, but I bought (and still like) All Things Must Pass, his first proper solo LP from 1970. Here's a few lines:
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life's strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day
[Thx to Niek for reminding me]
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Seems like Barbie is not becoming a librarian after all... back in November, it seemed to be the profession of her choice, but now her interests seems to have changed. Or the poll has been manipulated by the architect mafia. [thx netbib weblog]
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In an unexpected groundswell of support from ordinary readers, the UK Book of the Year prize went to Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, which complains that his country "has been seized by a ne'er-do-well rich boy and his elderly henchmen" [Guardian Unlimited]. So much about the British public's support for the war.
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Okay, get your anoraks out, here's one for the trainspotters: 25 years ago today, the first section of the new Vienna Underground ("U-Bahn") was opened. The first line ran from Karlsplatz, near the Vienna opera house, to Reumannplatz, in the city's 10th district.

However, passenger traffic on what are today's underground lines had started already 80 years before. Construction of the Metropolitan railway ("Stadtbahn") started almost exactly 110 years ago, in February 1893, and the first section of that railway opened 105 years ago, in 1898.

The 25-year anniversary therefore seems something of an understatement; all that happened in 1978 was the opening of a new, additional line, and the successive re-opening of the older, merely modernised lines. Though many were destroyed in World War II, a number of station buildings from the 1890s still exist today. Check out my Vienna Underground web site for details.
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Last week, I received an e-mail, in which the person who sent it (I accidentally deleted the mail, so I don't know his name) doubted the fact that the Fall's Hex Enduction Hour was "absolutely essential", as I am claiming. He said that if there's one "essential" album by The Fall, it's surely Perverted by Language.

I'd say it's a matter of taste. Perverted sure is a great album, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi that Hex has. Anyway, here's a brief list of the Fall's regular studio releases and what I think about them:

Live at the Witch TrialsStep Forward, 1978***Recently voted one of the seminal British punk records. Sounds very proto-Fall, unlike later stuff. Not as strong as their early singles.
DragnetStep Forward, 1979****Enter Craig Scanlon (gtr) and Steve Hanley (b), who would be defining the sound of The Fall for the next 17 years. Developing low-fi into an art form.
Grotesque (After the Gramme)Rough Trade, 1980******Gaining momentum. Less hysterical, more streamlined. This is probably their most imaginative stuff ever, and it rocks. The recent CD reissue (with bonus tracks) is, however, a total mess.
SlatesRough Trade, 1981******True genius and energy. Just six songs, but all among the best songs they ever recorded.
Hex Enduction HourKamera, 1982******Slightly more pensive and restrained than the two previous albums, but wittier and equally (if not even more) powerful.
Room to LiveKamera, 1983****Denounced by many fans for its fragmentary nature and lo-fi approach, it's actually not really that bad.
Perverted by LanguageRough Trade, 1983******Fully back on track and back at Rough Trade, this album gets some decent production. Exit Marc Riley, enter Brix Smith and, along with her, the pop element.
The Wonderful and Frighten-ing World of...Beggars Banquet, 1984*****The Fall become almost accessible. The original vinyl is good, but the CD contains too many bonus tracks, totally obscuring the rather tight focus of the original album.
This Nation's Saving GraceBeggars Banquet, 1985******Reaching new peaks of energy with the arrival of Simon Rogers. Perhaps the most powerful (in terms of energy) outing; slightly over-produced: sounds 1980-ish. Again too many bonus tracks on the CD.
Bend SinisterBeggars Banquet, 1986****Slightly disappointing, but then Grace was hard to follow up to. There's a slight sense of fatigue on this album, which lacks much of the punch of everything up to then.
The Frenz ExperimentBeggars Banquet, 1988*****After a brief creative pause, synth-pop strikes with a vengeance. The punch is back. Good stuff. Again the shorter vinyl is better than the CD.
I Am Kurious OranjBeggars Banquet, 1988****Music written for a ballet by Michael Clark. Some of it is good, some of it sounds like leftovers.
Seminal LiveBeggars Banquet, 1989****Half a studio album with some good and some disappointing tracks, half a live album. Seems to have been released mostly out of contractual obligations. Not entirely satisfying.
ExtricateFontana, 1990****Exit Brix, re-enter Martin Bramah. A good effort, focussed, but musically not really exciting or inoovative.
Shift-WorkFontana, 1991****Exit Martn Bramah. Another decent effort, but not earth-shaking.
Code: SelfishFontana, 1992**A half-hearted attempt that won't be remembered. Why they bothered to release this remains a mystery.
The Infotainment ScanPermanent, 1993*Just when you thought it couldn't get worse...
Middle-Class RevoltPermanent, 1994**A futile attempt at redefining themselves. Profoundly boring.
Cerebral CausticPermanent, 1995****Re-enter Brix and Karl Burns, and with them a sense of direction. Much better. You can hear them gearing up for more.
The Light User SyndromeJet, 1996*****Exit Craig Scanlon, and still the Fall roll out one of their best albums ever. The punch is back, this is almost a full recovery.
LevitateArtful, 1997**Trying to take the electronic road provides interesting results, but you can't help feeling they got lost on the road somewhere.
The Marshall SuiteArtful, 1999****Exit Steve Hanley, enter an almost completely new line-up, playing powerfully.
The UnutterableEagle, 2000*****A solid outing, with a bit more edge on some songs. Eminently listenable.
Are You Are Missing WinnerCog Sinister, 2001**A completely new line-up, but once again it feels as if the direction has been lost somewhere on the way. No punch, no new ideas. This album is going nowhere.
Country on the ClickAction, 2003 Well, let's see...

All of the above is my very own subjective opinion. And despite a couple of weak albums, the Fall are still one of the best and most important British bands.
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Monday, February 24, 2003

Today, I cut back on the blogging and tweaked my blog home page template a bit. If you're back from the weekend and looking for new stuff, there's not much here today, but be sure to check out yesterday's and Saturday's entries -- I was quite productive over the past few days.

As for the layout changes to this page, you shouldn't really notice a difference. What I did was basically getting rid of some nested tables, which served no real purpose other than slowing down page loading times. My blog should now load noticeably faster, except on IE 5/Mac, where, for some weird reason, you have to wait until everything is loaded before anything is displayed. The good news is that Netscape 4 users will now see a bit more than they used to see. It's still a mess, but you get a better idea of what it should look like.

I also got some insights into the idiosynchrasies of various browsers; it's quite a pain that they can't seem to agree on such a lot of things. One caveat: I haven't yet had a chance to check the page with any Windows browser. If it looks really awful with IE 5 or 6 on Windows, it'll take a while to fix it.
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UK to challenge US energy policy. I suppose the incentive came from recent research, which shows that huge parts of Great Britain will soon disappear into the sea if global warming is not stopped.
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There's a thin line between idealism and stupidity -- frankly, my compassion for these people is limited. What exactly did they expect? Even if you're opposed to war, you should be aware of the fact that Saddam Hussein is not a nice guy. [link via Exploding Cigar]
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The Washington Post reports that messages from U.S. embassies around the globe have become urgent and disturbing: Many people in the world increasingly think President Bush is a greater threat to world peace than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein [via WorldWideKlein].
"It is rather astonishing," said a senior U.S. official who has access to the reports. "There is an absence of any recognition that Hussein is the problem."
The question would of course be how exactly the "problem" is defined; I venture to say the perceived "problem" is very different from a US vs. a non-US point of view. First, let's see how Iraq and the USA compare on a number of counts from a non-US point of view:

 IraqUSA
Has weapons of mass destructionunknownYes
Has used weapons of mass destructionYesYes
Has potential to lead war on a global scale-Yes
Has potential to completely destroy the world-Yes
Is preparing to attack a foreign countryunknownYes
Is preparing to invade a foreign country-Yes
Is asking/threatening other countries to help invade a foreign country-Yes
Is trying to circumvent UN resolutionsYesYes
Is exerting pressure on UN to vote in its favour-Yes
President elected in questionable circumstances, or not by majority of citizensYesYes
President is ruthless dictatorYes-
President has ordered directly or indirectly responsible for the killing of a substantial number of his citizensYesYes

Let's face it: we all know that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous person, but we know very little about the weapons potential of Iraq and we have absolutely no idea whether it is going to attack another country anytime soon. It is possible, but we just don't know. On the other hand, we know enough about the weapons potential of the USA to know that it could destroy the world several times. The current administration has also made it very clear that it is immensely keen on attacking Iraq. And we know that an attack on Iraq could have major global repercussions. Therefore, if you ask people who the bigger threat for world peace is, you'll get the obvious answer: the one nation which they see pushing for war.

Besides, it's not just that people in other countries are more afraid of the USA than of Iraq; according to a recent poll, even in the USA more people seem to hate the French than the Iraqis. That is also something that the US administration should think about.

Update: Mike James found a very frightening George W. Bush quote. [Update 2003/03/03: Mike James has corrected his entry. Apparently those words were not said by George W. Bush after all.]
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This whole duct tape thing is getting more and more out of hand. Now BoingBoing reports that there may be a huge duct tape conspiracy, and Jim and Tim from St Paul, Minnesota aren't just sealing their doors and windows... scary!
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I herewith advocate the use of the <COLGROUP> tag. Use it if you write web pages with big tables on them. Like, for example, table-based weblogs. I didn't even know it existed until a few days ago; then I built it into my weblog home page on Saturday, and I hope you have noticed the same thing that I believe to notice: it loads considerably faster now.

What <COLGROUP> does, is basically allowing your browser to display tables before they have completely loaded by providing the general column layout. The syntax is fairly simple, and the benefits far outweigh the bother of having to learn a new bit of HTML code.
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Sunday, February 23, 2003

Save yourself from bad music This pictogram from the US government's official paranoia website feels so true: actually, I feel like this every time I accidentally tune into Ö3, one of the national Austrian radio stations, or whenever I hear it playing on somebody else's radio. Unfortunately, it's also the most popular Austrian radio station, and that explains why I spend so much time running out of buildings and sobbing under tables.
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Will Sturgeon from Silicon.com had some fun with a bunch of Nigerian Money Scammers. Acting as if he were interested in their scam, he had an extensive e-mail exchange with them, which he has now published online. What's truly surprising is how much time those Nigerians seem to spend on writing letters and crafting responses to those who actually write back. There must be an awful lot of money in this.
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The World Turned Upside DownFirst it was the Germans who were worse than the Iraqis, now it's apparently the French: Francophobia in the USA seems to be getting totally out of hand, according to this article in the Frankfurter Rundschau (in German):
Local newspapers are even worse [than the Murdoch press]: Gordon Dillow wrote in the Orange County Register: "I hate the French. I really hate the French." The Orlando Sentinel writes: "If the Eiffel Tower had been destroyed on 11 September, France's new Vichy government would currently be searching for someone to surrender to." Only the talk radio stations surpass this. In front of a Las Vegas radio station a 14-ton truck squashed a framed picture of Chirac, a French flag, cups of French yoghurt, French bread, wine, vodka and Perrier, all to the cheers of a large audience. Irate callers ask if France even remembers what the USA did for them in World War II: "Who are they anyway? Cheese-eating rats?" [my translation, more here; via Monoklon]
Strange -- isn't destroying flags and pictures of presidents something that's usually done by fundamentalist Arabs? I see another sign of the World Turned Upside Down. Next, they'll probably be removing the Statue of Liberty -- it was, after all, a gift from France. Come on guys, get real!

Tom Fox also writes on Francophobia in the USA today, answering, among other things one of the questions about what the USA did for France in World War II: "[Following the German invasion] France declared war on Germany. The US at the time was neutral, despite the fact that Germany had already invaded Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands." [Paris]
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Mark Fiore has found out the meaning of the US government's colour-coded alert systems. Buying duct tape never hurts, apparently. Also available: Spot The Terrorist. See how well you score. [via jenett.radio < Sugarfused]

South Park fans can now kennify any text using mffpmp, the Kenny translator. Mfffmp'fmm mfmppfppfmpm mpffmfppp, mmmmmffmpfmfmmmpmfpmfffm! [via netbib weblog]
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Archbishop Rowan Williams says that political leaders should lay off "heavy artillery of a religious kind" in their speeches:
Both President Bush with his "axis of evil" soundbites and the prime minister in his recent campaign to provide a moral justification for the conflict have become increasingly messianic in tone as they strive to persuade sceptical electorates, he said. "There is no war that is holy and good in itself and to bring the heavy artillery of a religious kind, to say that is the only way of resisting evil, is something that has to be watched out for." [Guardian Unlimited]
Wise Words. Personally, one of the things I cannot stand about Bush's war rhetoric is the constant invocation of God, like Bush was on some kind of holy mission. Please. The crusades took place 800 years ago; we need a 21st-century president now, not a 13th-century one. With Bush seeing himself as sent by God to destroy the axis of evil and Islamic fundamentalists declaring a holy war in response, I see little difference between the two opponents, and the outcome of such a holy war is definitely unholy.
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On audioblogging, having a cold, and PowerMac G4 fan noise.


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Bill Gates: "I worry about whether our society will support public libraries so they can sustain this critical community service. In my view, investing in public libraries is an investment in the nation's future." [The ResourceShelf].

Interesting statement from a man who is pushing Digital Rights Management and supporting the Digital Copyright Millennium Act, both of which are severely impeding the work of libraries.
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"A lot of people seem to think the internet might be used to transform education, but is this likely? The internet has a number of implications for modern societies and for their governments or would-be rulers. But in the area of education it assumes something which is simply not true: that more information will lead to better learning. Or that more fun, education as a game, will lead to more willing learning. Neither of these assumptions is true. Most schools possess libraries. How many school children have read all the books they contain and are clamouring for more information?" (from Christopher Ross, Tunnel Visions, London: 4th Estate, 2001.)
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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Two posts below, I linked to the Malkovich Mediator, a cute online tool by Ka-Ping Yee. And it would just be like me not to find the most obvious use for this tool. Fortunately, there's Joe Jenett, who read my post and promptly suggested putting the Malkovich Mediator to use on ready.gov, the US government's official website for the promotion of paranoia. Brilliant!
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The World Turned Upside DownFrom the "World Turned Upside Down" department:

A recent study shows that in early February, Germany was less popular than Iraq among US citizens.

However, the same study also shows that news coverage in German media was more critical of the USA and the UK than of Iraq. Here's more (in German). [via Monoklon]
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Click >>here<< to enter my head.
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Yum
Niek Hockx tries to explain why Europeans are not too enthusiastic about entering a war by talking about Dutch cuisine during World War II. [shutterclog]
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Austrian citizens are not happy that Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel has just announced in a radio interview that the new government, which hasn't even been formed yet, will most likely raise taxes even further, even though Schüssel's previous government has already raised taxes to a record 47% -- the highest level ever in Austrian history.
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Universities in Austria are not happy that education minister Elisabeth Gehrer nominated a number of extreme-right activists with possible neo-Nazi affiliations into several of the country's newly-formed university councils as the government's representatives.
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The Austrian media are not happy with the new (= old) coalition government between the Conservative People's Party and the right-wing Freedom Party. Even traditionally conservative newspapers that used to support this government unconditionally when it first took office three years ago today have op-eds that express strong criticism of Wolfgang Schüssel's political choices: "A walk into the Valley of Wailing", writes Christoph Kotanko in today's Kurier, and the Presse's Andreas Unterberger, once a spearhead in the media support for the right-wing coalition, concludes: "Everything remains worse" (both articles are in German).
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The Guardian reports that the American media are not happy with President Bush's hard line against Iraq, with a majority of the country's top newspapers now opposing unilateral action.
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Hmmm... could this be a toxic substance?It is quite a relief to see that almost immediately after the launch of the US government's official paranoia website, there would already be three parodies of it: [1] [2] [3]. There is sanity after all. [via Sick weirdo, jenett and Dave]

Plus, there is Noah Shachtman's excellent deconstruction of the site: "It's better than a hysterical call for duct tape. But Ready.gov [...] still ignores an obvious truth: that such strikes are nearly impossible for al Qaeda-like groups to pull off." Here's more. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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It's only a whisper, but Quarsan may (or may not) have found the reason for Tony Blair's uncompromising support for George W. Bush. [My life in the bush of ghosts]
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First we had Library Science Jargon That Sounds Dirty; now there's pick-up lines to be used on librarians. [via Memepool]
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Friday, February 21, 2003

Guess what -- after not even a month, I am again suffering from a terrible cold. Nose is blocked, throat is as sore as can be, and the coughing is only kept in check by generous quantities of herbal anti-cough tea.

I will now move from my computer to the sofa, switch on the TV and DVD player and overdose myself with episodes from the 5th season of Ally McBeal. Yes, it's that bad. When I'm numb enough to think that lawyers are actually fun people (my personal experience at university would mostly indicate otherwise) I'll just fall into bed and sleep.

PS. Almost forgot: I was on TV yesterday. I was as impressive as I could be in 2 seconds with captioned text obscuring most of my face. (Reminds me of "L. Boom, C P M'Coy, - M'Intosh and several others.")
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The Toronto Star has the story of an Indian-born Canadian citizen who was flying home from India to Toronto, and transferring at O'Hare, where INS decided her passport was funny-looking, destroyed it, denied her access to the Canadian consul, and deported her to India via Kuwait with her papers in such disorder she might not have been able to get into India if Kuwaiti and Indian authorities hadn't been so co-operative. Frightening. Makes you wonder whether this was caused by racism, paranoia, or just plain stupidity. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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An audio stream of radio communications of the DC combat air patrols is available online. Doc Searls: "The background is utter silence broken by aircraft chatter. Makes me feel safer already." [The Doc Searls Weblog]

In the meantime, the US has sufficient troops and equipment in the Gulf to attack Iraq at any time, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says.

No surprise that Get Your War On No. 19 is out now. [Radio Free Blogistan]
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Guess what I just ordered. It took me less than a split second to decide that this was exactly what I needed. Says on the website orders will begin shipping on March 10. If I'm lucky, it'll be here for my birthday. [thx MacCentral]
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Thx
Thank you Fritz Fekete for your "random act of kindness." It's much appreciated.
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Last September, the coalition government formed by the Conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) split because, according to Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, it had become totally impossible to work together. So Schüssel broke up the government and new elections were held last November.

Today, Schüssel announced that the coalition talks held after the elections had come to an end, and that there would be a new coalition between the People's Party and the Freedom Party.

The words "impossible to work together" must have radically changed their meaning since September. If they haven't, the question is why exactly the government broke up and why exactly the elections were necessary.
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In life, sex and death are two important issues that everyone must face. But can you tell the difference between a selection of murderous, human rights-abusing dictators and some Hollwood porn legends, simply by examining their moustaches? [via techno\culture]
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The Vatican says it has no problems with the Harry Potter novels:
The good vs. evil plot lines of the best-selling books are imbued with Christian morals, the Rev. Don Peter Fleetwood told a Vatican news conference Monday.

"I don't see any, any problems in the Harry Potter series," Fleetwood said. [...]

Fleetwood was asked whether the magic embraced by Harry Potter and his pals at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was problematic for the Roman Catholic Church. Some evangelical groups have condemned the series for glamorizing magic and the occult.
Yep, but us Catholics have been living with angels, devils and supernatural phenomena forever. One of the tricks of the Catholic church with which it managed to increase its following in early times was to incorporate many of the old pagan beliefs and rituals which preceded it. It was only the Protestant Puritans that had (and, seeing how often the Harry Potter books are challenged in the USA, still have) problems with that. [via Boing Boing Blog]

Still, in the UK, the Catholic and the Protestant Church seem to agree on one important thing.
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There is now an official US government website for the promotion of paranoia: http://www.ready.gov/ [via Sick weirdo]
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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Scott Rosenberg writes that rumours of Salon.com's demise are grossly exaggerated. [Scott Rosenberg's Links & Comment]

Out-Law.com writes that Eight out of ten spam e-mails contain covert tracking codes which allow the senders to record and log recipients' e-mail addresses as soon as they open the message. [via jenett.radio < The Old JMason Distillery]

Steven Frank has tested Jaguar's Inkwell handwriting recognition. [~stevenf]

And the Nigerian scam mails have stopped being funny now that Czech police hold man after what could be the world's first 419 revenge killing. [The Register]
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An American restaurant gets huge support for renaming French fries 'liberty fries' in protest at France's stance on Iraq. [BBC News | World | UK Edition]

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, William Pfaff asks a good question:
I was in Germany when Rumsfeld arrived in Munich this month after comparing German policy to the policies of Libya and Cuba. A very senior retired officer in the German Army (and NATO) asked me, "Why are they doing this?" He said: "You Americans have been telling us for 60 years that we must never go to war. You have made the Germans pacifists. We have accepted that war is never a solution. We believe that even more because of our own history. Now you attack us because Germans are against this war."
[found via Paris]
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New Wire album Send will be published on April 26th; if you're very impatient, you can pre-order it now directly from Wire or via Amazon.co.uk.

New Fall album Country on the Click will be published on April 14th. Can be pre-ordered via Amazon.co.uk if you're interested. Their last album wasn't so great, but they're always good for a surprise.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Instead of cats, I'd like to talk about waterfowl today. Specifically, ducks.

All About Ducks for Kids is designed as a resource for children and teachers and will tell you the most important things you need to know about ducks.

By the way, whatever happened to Quack, the Travelling Duck? It seems that the project has been abandoned...
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The New Scientist reports that US plans for a mini-nuke arsenal have been revealed:
A leaked Pentagon document has confirmed that the US is considering the introduction of a new breed of smaller nuclear weapons designed for use in conventional warfare. Such a move would mean abandoning global arms treaties. [via jenett.radio < Generic | Synthetic]
In the meantime, Molly Ivins answers Newsweek columnist George Will, who thought he had made a very clever joke about the French in the current War of Words:
George Will saw fit to include in his latest Newsweek column this joke: "How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No-one knows, it's never been tried." That was certainly amusing. One million, four hundred thousand French soldiers were killed during World War I. As a result, there weren't many Frenchmen left to fight in World War II. Nevertheless, 100,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to stop Hitler.

On behalf of every one of those 100,000 men, I would like to thank Mr. Will for his clever joke. They were out-manned, out-gunned, out-generaled and, above all, out-tanked. They got slaughtered, but they stood and they fought. Ha-ha, how funny. In the few places where they had tanks, they held splendidly. [via Craig's BookNotes]
More on America's new nukes here and here. More on brainless journalists in a newspaper near you.
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First webloggers got their referrer logs spammed, now there appear to be malicious referrer links that can hijack blogs through mendacious JavaScript code. Not nice. [The Register]

The good news comes from the far corners of Blogland, where somebody discovered the Automated Nigerian scam response machine. Just enter some details from that Nigerian 419 scam letter you just got this web form generates a blathering reply. [Boing Boing Blog]
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A weird and frighteningly relevant take on Kubrick's Dr Strangelove is P.O.E. - one man's quest for purity. It helps if you have seen the movie. [via jenett.radio]
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MacCentral reports that Microsoft acquired Virtual PC from Connectix. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. On a scale of bad things that can happen to Apple in terms of software, this ranks pretty high. This is not good at all.
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There will be an IFLA meeting on Leadership and Risk-Taking in Library and Information Management in Vienna in August, 2003. A first tentative programme is now online, and online registration has started today.

I spent much of today writing the website for this meeting. It's my first website that validates as HTML 4 Strict. It was quite a learning experience, especially figuring out what I had to do to make pages that looked just fine on IE 5/Windows to look just the same on IE 6/Windows or IE 5/Mac. Why some of the CSS syntax that was supported on IE 5 breaks on IE 6 is beyond me. Anyway, I think it works now. It's a total mess on Netscape 4, though.

One thing I still haven't figured out is how to center a table on a page. In HTML 4 Transitional, you can use TABLE ALIGN="CENTER"; however, that's not possible in HTML 4 Strict, and I have found no alternative yet. Can anybody help me?
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Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Bush's approval ratings are down. Blair's popularity is down.
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The Seattle Times has an interesting piece on the kinds of political choices that make North American cities livable -- or not. Thirty years ago, Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC decided to employ new ways in urban planning by deemphasizing cars, promoting walkable streets and compact development and investing in transit. The results: two of the most livable cities in the world.

Ken Livingstone's plan of a congestion charge for London might well turn out to be a similarly important step. From what the media say, it's also working on Day 2, with traffic being down 25% from normal levels. As there seemed to be no significant passenger increase on public transport either, I guess this goes to show either how much unnecessary, easily avoidable traffic there is, or how just much space is wasted by the cars.

As the tramway was such an important factor in the regeneration of Portland, it will be interesting to see what effect the various tramway schemes for London will have, should they be built. They'd be badly needed.
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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Microsoft's plan to improve computer security could set off fight over use of online materials: "Colleges would decide whether to buy Palladium-capable software and hardware, and then whether to activate Palladium's security functions. But practically speaking, they would face enormous pressures to do so, especially if publishers of books, journals, software, and other electronic "content" were to adopt Microsoft's standard to deliver their materials online. The publishers could dictate that colleges had to use Palladium or else be denied access to the material. That worries many in academe, who believe that publishers would use Palladium to bar some uses of digital materials to which scholars argue that they are entitled under copyright law. That loss may outweigh the advantages of tighter security over student records, the critics say." [via Privacy Digest]
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John Robb: "If we are going into a war that will cost hundreds of billions over the next couple of years, does anybody object to the the crass way Bush is allowing the wealthy in America to avoid paying for the war? I think it is amazingly underhanded. Not only do the wealthy in America NOT fight in American wars (a volunteer army shields them from this), under the Bush formula, they won't pay for them either." [John Robb's Radio Weblog]
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Monday, February 17, 2003

If you are authoring a weblog with Radio UserLand and Mozilla 1.3b, be sure to turn the new "Link Prefetching" feature off in the Advanced/Cache preferences, or you will experience nasty and seemingly random freezes. It took me a while to figure this out.

Update: After having a stable system for a while, I'm again getting freezes, even with Link Prefetching off. It must be due to something else.

Update: Can it be that turning off the Prefetching option in Mozilla simply doesn't work? Even with it turned off, the status bar keeps saying "Transferring data from..." plus the address of whichever web page is in the front window. While I'm writing this in Radio UserLand, it says "Transferring data from 127.0.0.1...". This is pretty strange. There's some major bug in this somewhere.
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The Cat in the Hat

Honestly.
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Salon.com reports that among the hundreds of thousands protesting in London, most saw Bush and Blair as a bigger threat than Saddam Hussein. Scary. It's obvious why and how this has happened, but it's still profoundly scary that people should fear their own governments more than a despotic dictator.

Meanwhile, in New York City, hundreds of thousands of people wanted to protest against war last Saturday, but weren't allowed to. The police apparently built barricades, cordoned off the streets and used force to prevent protesters from joining the rally. 295 people were arrested in New York; that compares with zero arrests in the rest of the world. Toby Sackton, Michelle Goldberg and Ronda Hauben report.
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You live in the USA and are not yet scared stupid? Then check out the latest career opportunity and become a Homeland Security Specialist. [via Meme List]
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Brilliant. Just when you thought he was gone for good, Austrian right-wing politician Jörg Haider returns from wherever he has been hiding for the past few months and offers his services as mediator in the Iraq conflict. Now while we all know that he has been in Iraq several times on "humanitarian missions" and has even met Saddam Hussein (or his double) twice, I am quite sure that neither the UN, nor the EU, nor the NATO, nor anyone in Austria except Haider himself will think that this is a good idea.
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Car drivers on a busToday marks the beginning of London's congestion charge. Generally, I think it's agood idea, but I wonder if they shouldn't have waited until the Central Line was fully operational again.

Will the charge alleviate congestion? That depends on whether enough car drivers use public transport and whether there is enough capacity on public transport. Theoretically, as you can see on the picture, it shouldn't be too much of a problem: cars simply take up such an enormous amount of empty space that one single bus can easily transport the people whose cars would otherwise block an entire street.

Update: First reports indicate that London's first rush hour with the congestion charge in place passed more quietly than expected: "[T]here was little evidence of chaos."
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I resolve that from now on and until further notice, every political posting on this weblog that exceeds factor 5 on the grimness scale will be followed by a non-political one that is either about cats, elks, or waterfowl, or is truly and utterly silly. This drastic measure seems to be necessary (a) to provide comic relief, (b) for my mental health, and (c) to make sure people don't think this is a political blog. It's not. It's actually about cats. Sort of.
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Steven Den Beste is bashing Austria for not letting US troops pass through the country. Maybe he should read the law that expressly forbids just that before speculating wildly about our government's motives. What the Austrian government did was certainly not "trying to pretend" something, it was following laws.

In fact, I very much doubt that the present right-wing provisional government, led by the very pro-American Conservative People's Party, has any problems whatsoever with US politics. As soon as there is a resolution by the UN, the EU or the OSCE, I am sure it will support any US military effort. Until then, it is bound by law not to do so.
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Sunday, February 16, 2003

This weblog is becoming too political. I have to do something about this. Sadly, I have no cat that I could write about. However, I have a cat allergy. I could write about that, if that's okay with you.
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The Observer reports that the US is going to withdraw all its troops and bases from Germany and end military and industrial co-operation between the two countries:
The hawks believe that making an example of Germany will force other countries heavily dependent on US trade to think twice about standing up to America in future. [...]

'We are doing this for one reason only: to harm the German economy,' one source told The Observer last week. [...] Another Pentagon source said: 'The aim is to hit German trade and commerce. It is not just about taking out the troops and equipment; it is also about cancelling commercial contracts and defence-related arrangements.'
Yes, I'm sure that showing what happens to countries who dare to speak up to their masters will guarantee the co-operation of countries all around the world. Plus, it will end anti-Americanism once and for all, and it will assure that the states of "New Europe" know how they're supposed to behave.

You think I'm being too sarcastic? Sorry. You just gotta admire American diplomacy these days.
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The BBC reports, as pretty much every paper here in Austria, that the coalition talks between the Conservative People's Party and the Greens have failed, "leaving Austria still without a government three months after the elections." Which is not entirely true, as Austrian writer Robert Menasse pointed out in an article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung last week:
Rumour #1: Months after the election, Austria still has no government. Fact: Austria has a government -- the same as it had before the elections.

Rumour #2: The elections [...] were necessary because the Conservative Party and the Freedom Party could no longer reach an agreement. Fact: Ever since the elections, the two parties have so far had no obvious problems governing the country together.
[Full article in German here]
Actually, I'm not surprised that the talks failed. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel wants the absolute majority in parliament. That in itself is not a bad thing; every politicians wants it. But while other politicians try to get votes by means of empty phrases and promises, Schüssel does it by means of a tactical poker game, which involves political rhetoric and invoking new elections whenever he sees a chance to win more votes. It's a dangerous game, as the voters might at some point notice what happens.

In his online diary, Green politician Peter Pilz writes about the coalition talks (in German, no permalink, scroll down to February 16th) and notices that while other Conservative Party members were quite co-operative and achieved compromises with the Greens over many issues, everything changed once Wolfgang Schüssel entered the room: "Everybody begins to notice that the talks are different now that Schüssel is present. We're no longer moving forward, everything goes around in circles. [...] Suddenly the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It's simply empty."

My prediction for what will happen next? The present government of Conservatve and Freedom Party ministers will continue working. There will not be an official coalition agreement between them, but the Freedom Party will most likely be backing the legislative acts worked out by the Conservative Party. At some convenient point within the next two or three years, Chancellor Schüssel will call for new elections.
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Did you notice that yesterday's protests were largest in the countries where the governments have said that they would unconditionally support any US military action against Iraq with our without UN backing? There were 2 million protesters in London, 1.5 million in Madrid, and over 1 million in Rome.

On the other hand, the protester/inhabitant ratio in Germany and France was nowhere near as high: 500,000 in Berlin and 200,000 in Paris sure are impressive numbers, but they show that the people in these countries trust their governments to end the Iraq conflict peacefully, while the British, the Spanish and the Italians were sending a clear message to their governments rather than to the USA, and that message was: we beg to differ.

The turnout in Vienna was not too exciting. Even though opinion polls indicate that well over 80% of Austrians oppose a war without UN backing, only about 30,000 people showed up. That's about as many as in Stockholm and not too bad, but not too great either if you consider that ten times as many people protested against the participation of Jörg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party in the Austrian government three years ago.

Okay, so it was bitterly cold yesterday (the motto was "freeze for peace"), but then yesterday's poor attendance might well have to do with the fact that the Austrian government is very strictly following the lines laid down in the 1955 neutrality treaty -- i.e. no support whatsoever for a military strike against Iraq without UN backing -- and has even managed to force the USA to abide by the same treaty (which it signed) by blocking the passage of US troops through Austria.

Here's what I thought, and maybe other people thought this way too: As the USA has repeatedly shown that it thinks Europe is irrelevant and gives a sh*t about how many people in Europe protest for peace anyway, the only thing that can be achieved through the protests is to convince our own government to oppose the war. Well, our government seems to be convinced. Those in the UK, Spain and Italy are not. It's not just the message, it's also the addressee that matters.

Update: Alan Cowell of the New York Times seems to agree.
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It seems my suspicion was correct. Quarsan reports on the terror scare in London:
[T]housands have been severely inconvenienced and a nation alarmed.... and for what?

After all the fuss we have the following:
• a Venezuelan held who arrived with a possible grenade in his bag;
• a couple of guys arrested near the airport "as a percautionary measure";
• four people nicked in Langley described as "precautionary and not significant";
• the airport shut down because of an unattended bag

In other words, a complete waste of time and money with no real purpose other than to scare a nation into backing an unpopular war and prime minister.

Meanwhile 1,700 armed soldiers wander around, helicopters and a Nimrod patrol London's skies and the police are stopping anyone who looks like a foreigner.

If Blair doesn't go, every day will be like today in Britain. Bye, Bye centuries of democracy.
Will Blair go? The Observer thinks he is playing a dangerous game staking his political future on beating Iraq. The speakers at yesterday's rally in London were pretty outspoken in their criticism. The Labour Party is divided on the issue, but the voices demanding that Blair resign -- not just a few among yesterday's 1.5 million protesters in London -- are getting louder, among the public as well as in the Labour Party.
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Saturday, February 15, 2003

73
It's my mum's 73rd birthday today. Happy birthday, and all the best!
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Irony: US shops have seen a 200-300% rise in the sales of duct tape since being recommended by Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge. However, it turns out the market leader for duct tape in the US is a subsidiary of the German company Henkel. So is anybody calling for a boycott of German duct tape, asks PapaScott.

But now that the government-sponsored mass hysteria is getting totally out of control, with people like a man from Connecticut sealing his entire house with plastic and duct tape, Washington advises against sealing doors and windows. So what was the point in asking people to buy duct tape in the first place, asks Karlin.

And I thought duct tape was only used in bad movies.

And Mike James asks a very different question: Is the Bush administration's use of religious vocabulary really a useful measure of its spiritual condition? As I see it, it is rather a persistent violation against the Second Commandment. Maybe this (or perhaps something to do with the Eighth Commandment) prompted this suggestion for an alternative use of duct tape.
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Recommended listening today is this album from 1985:

Minutemen: 3-way tie

Notice the sign ("anti-war sympathizer") below Mike Watt's head. I wonder whether he joined these guys somewhere today.
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'Isolated' Hussain may quit. Sadly, that's Nassar Hussain, not Saddam Hussein. [Guardian Unlimited]

Donald Rumsfeld sound archive, by courtesy of BBC Radio 4. [thx F.S.]

How Republican are you? I'm 15%. [via Craig's BookNotes]

These guys rock, but they're a bit too cute to be credible (25 MB QuickTime movie). [via Boing Boing Blog]

These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed [via Boing Boing Blog]

Dolly is dead. [Guardian Unlimited]
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I was getting ready to respond to Dave Winer, who had disputed the argument that unlike the US, France and Germany know what war is like, and showed a picture of Ground Zero. However, Karlin Lillington wrote a response that is so much to the point that I'll just quote her instead:
Well, you could also include Pearl Harbour. But I think this not the point of the comparison. In both cases, these were solitary and extremely unusual events within the borders of a country that has not seen actual battles fought on US soil since the Civil War. As terrible as the Twin Towers strike was, the death toll was well under 3,000 people. Over 135,000 people died in a single event in Germany in WWII, in the bombing of Dresden, which was not militarily or strategically important in any way whatsoever. And that was just one event in a long war with huge numbers of deaths on all sides, not to mention six million Jews.  Let's not have a more-of-a-victim than thou contest about such things, but the reality is that the US has always carried on its wars outside 'the homeland', as it is now termed, and a single day of incidents, no matter how horrific, is quite a different experience than a war fought day by day over many years with an enemy within your own borders. [techno\culture]
Not to forget decades of post-war occupation. Further enlightenment comes from Burningbird:
Such a deliberate provocation when, with all due apologies to Ben for again bringing World War II into this debate, one only has to search for photographs of the firebombing of Dresden, the air attacks against London, the bombing of Nazi strongholds in France, the tears on the faces of the French as the Nazis marched into their home. The price paid by many people, during and after the war. Our own losses in these places so far away. And this was just one war. Just one. We don't really know the devastation of war.

It is within these photographs that I find the core for my own strong beliefs against this war. [Burningbird]
It's good to see people who understand.
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I don't look like this guy at all. Only my hair line is adapting to the prescribed model. [via netbib weblog]
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In the late 1930s, Hitler's Germany was the world's second largest industrial economy and commanded its most powerful military machine. It openly espoused an ideology of territorial expansion, had annexed the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia in rapid succession and posed a direct threat to its neighbours. It would go on to enslave most of Europe and carry out an industrial genocide unparallelled in human history.

Iraq is, by contrast, a broken-backed developing country, with a single commodity economy and a devastated infrastructure, which doesn't even control all its own territory and has posed no credible threat to its neighbours, let alone Britain or the US, for more than a decade. Whatever residual chemical or biological weapons Iraq may retain, they are clearly no deterrent, its armed forces have been massively weakened [...]. The attempt to equate the Iraqis' horrific gas attacks on Kurds and Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war with the Nazi holocaust is particularly grotesque - a better analogy would be the British gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the 20s or the US use of chemical weapons in Vietnam.
Here's more. [The Guardian, via megnut]
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Friday, February 14, 2003

Austria may be about to join the axis of evil: US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is angry that Austria does not allow the passage of US troops through its territory, causing a delay of "several days" in transporting troops from Germany to Italy.

However, this is not due to Austrian pacifism or anti-Americanism: it is due to the neutrality treaty of 1955, signed by Austria, the USA, the UK, the USSR and France, which expressly forbids the passage of foreign troops through Austria. The problem is, this is not just your average treaty that can easily be broken. It's the treaty that led to the withdrawal of Allied troops from Austria after World War II, and thus it's nothing less than the foundation of the democratic Second Republic built after the liberation from both Nazi rule and Allied occupation.

So what does Rumsfeld want -- that we violate an international treaty and negate the foundation of our democracy?
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How much more kindergarten-like can the conflict between the USA and Europe get? In a twist that could have been taken from the satire I linked to two days ago, some US congressmen are now considering imposing trade sanctions on France and Germany because of the two countries' refusal to join a war against Iraq. And they're not kidding. Until they're ready to pass the respective laws, patriotic US customers are cancelling their cheese orders. No kidding either. Seems like the world has turned into one huge pythonesque comedy show. Or, as Meg Hourihan sees it, a bizarre sequel to The Godfather. The one difference being that the bodies that we count at the end will be real ones.
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You think Google is "way kool"? Think again. There are people who believe that Google is a privacy time bomb, and they do have a point. [via John Robb]

In the meantime, take the fear out of Total Surveillance by buying a Total Information Awareness teddy bear. Thankfully, it looks as if the US government's attempts to further invade citizens' privacy is being stopped by Congress.
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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Big anti-war demonstration in Vienna on Saturday, February 15th.

Big anti-war demonstrations pretty much everywhere else, too, by the way.

Come and have yourself denounced by the American yellow press as "Hitler's children" or "pro-Saddam demonstrators staging an anti-U.S. rally" like these people in Munich:

Hitler's children -- thx to Schockwellenreiter
[thx to Schockwellenreiter for the picture]

You know, it's odd. 50 years ago, Hitler waged a war than spanned all over Europe. Thankfully, Hitler and the war were both stopped, to a large degree thanks to the USA. Today, Germany, having learned from history, fiercely opposes a war that could span the entire Middle East, and not only is the USA trying to force Germany to join such a war, in a total reversal of semantics, the US press is also calling the Germans "Hitler's children" because they are opposing war.

'The World Turned Upside Down', from a Diggers pamphlet, 1647

I don't get this. I mean I do, but it's just too absurd. It is truly the world turned upside down.
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For the past few days, netbib weblog has been full of dire reports about German cities closing their public libraries due to financial constraints. "We don't want to cause any damage," one politician is quoted, "but there have to be deep cuts." Cut someone and they'll bleed. How can that not cause any damage?
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MacNN reports that Apple released the Mac OS X 10.2.4 update. I wonder if this fixes the problem I'm having with the German localised version of Mail.

You see, if I tell Mail to regularly empty my Junk Mail folder, it empties my Sent Mail folder instead; however, this does not work in reverse: if I tell it to empty my Sent Mail folder, it keeps the junk mail and probably does something else which I haven't figured out yet. If I tell it not to keep a copy of my Mail Trashcan on the server, it generates a copy there -- I have to tell it to keep a copy on the server to make sure no copy is kept. And I have lost my entire mail archive twice because I foolishly attempted to rename my mail account (just the account name, not the user ID or mail server name).

Did I mention that this is both confusing and profoundly annoying? What exactly were those programmers smoking before they did that localisation job? Their mantra should be Localize It, not Legalize It.
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You know something is seriously wrong with world politics when you find yourself believing that a story like this is not really true, but has merely been fabricated to increase public support for war against Iraq. Whether this story is true or not doesn't really matter any more; what matters is that some political leaders we once trusted have now lost all credibility. This is very sad.
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I came across two attempts to explain the current icy climate between the USA and Europe, and I think that both pretty much hit the nail on the head: from the US perspective, Steven Den Beste is remarkably non-clueless as to why communication fails between the two continents -- basically, it's a culture clash. I don't agree 100% with what he says about Europeans, and I don't feel qualified to correct his statements about Americans, but I think that generally he has got it right. What's missing from his article, sadly, is a conclusion as to how Europeans and Americans should deal with one another in the future.

From Germany, Professor Herfried Münkler looks at things from a politological point of view and explains it from the different political behaviours of states and empires (including the role of the NATO in all this). He says that some of the current criticism of the USA can be attributed to the disillusionment of those who used to look up to the USA in the past, and that by clinging to the policy of exerting power like a military empire, the USA is alienating its former allies, who no longer deem such behaviour adequate. Both articles are certainly worth reading. [via PapaScott and Schockwellenreiter]
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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

A team of TV people appeared at the library today to record a brief scene for a show called "Die Sendung ohne Namen" ("The show without a title"). I'm not sure what the feature is all going to be about, but I'm sure it'll be pretty absurd. They asked a few people to say some fragmentary sentences, and they asked me if I was willing to participate. As I haven't given up on my plan to become famous yet, I was. The sentence I was supposed to say was something like "If the books do not reflect the will of Allah, we shall not keep them."

What a strange and un-librarian-like thing to say, especially at a library where we keep all books, regardless of content, and where Allah is of minuscule relevance. The show will be broadcast on February 20th at around 11 p.m. on Austrian national TV (ORF 1). It probably won't make me famous.
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This is going to be a longish post. Please feel free to skip it if you are as fed up with the whole Iraq war business as I am. This is merely a jumble of disconnected thoughts and links about world politics, posted with the sole intent of venting my frustration. Also, this article contains satire and sarcasm. Deal with it.

I'll start on a light note, by denouncing one of my favourite warbloggers. Glenn Reynolds (like most other warbloggers) spends an awful lot of time stating his point over and over again that he thinks Europe is irrelevant. Au contraire, Glenn. It's the USA that is becoming more irrelevant every day with each new country it manages to alienate. Its economy is on a downward spiral, its president clearly not in control, while the country is run by multinational corporations beyond the control of the people. The whole war business we are experiencing at the moment is nothing but a show of American insecurity and fear, as its military strength is all that it has left.

Speaking of irrelevance: I agree with the Dutch comment (7th down), which says that the Nato is also becoming irrelevant. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, its function was already in need of redefinition; after 9/11 it became clear that far from guaranteeing military stability, it has instead pretty much deteriorated into becoming an instrument of the USA to force other nations to participate in its own private wars. It's about time that the European nations determine what they want in terms of military and defence policy and find out whether they shouldn't form their own military alliance without the USA. The sole reason why Nato still exists is because the European leaders seem totally incapable of doing just that.

Next:

Konrad Paul Liessmann, with whom I rarely agree, writes in a recent analysis of the European-US relationship: "The truly insidious part in all this is that every criticism of [the USA's] obviously propagandistic manoeuvres is countered with arguments that amount to blackmail: by denouncing criticism as anti-Americanism or by reminding critics that instead of criticising the USA, Europeans should be thankful for having been liberated from the Nazis 50 years ago" (my translation). I agree -- they really should have told us back then that the liberation came with the price tag of having to blindly support American politics, whatever they may be, for an indefinite period in the future. See also this bit from iMakeContent.

Xian has found this gem over at The Onion:
Saddam Enrages Bush With Full Compliance
WASHINGTON, DC: President Bush expressed frustration and anger Monday over a U.N. report stating that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is now fully complying with weapons inspections. "Enough is enough," a determined Bush told reporters. "We are not fooled by Saddam's devious attempts to sway world opinion by doing everything the U.N. asked him to do. We will not be intimidated into backing down and, if we have any say in the matter, neither will Saddam." Bush added that any further Iraqi attempt to meet the demands of the U.N. or U.S. will be regarded as "an act of war."
This is pretty grim satire, because it shows where the sympathies are and where they are not. It's only thanks to the fact that the present US government is so completely and utterly incompetent in dealing with Iraq that we have arrived at a point at which Saddam Hussein, one of the world's most ruthless dictators, gets more sympathy than the USA.

Meanwhile, in the UK Tony Blair is having problems, too: not only is he increasingly seen as George W. Bush's mere lap dog; his lack of backbone is also costing him dearly: once far ahead of the ailing Conservative party in opinion polls, his lead has now shrunk to just one percent, and his doctored "evidence" on Iraq cost him a lot of credibility. Still, his government fiercely opposes the French-German plan to intensify the weapons searches in Iraq. Commentators are warning that ultimately this could unseat Blair, and people start wondering whether his seemingly unlimited loyalty to the USA isn't due to the fact that he is being blackmailed by the CIA (at any rate he is having a hard time explaining it).

Comic relief at the end of this post: it turns out that Donald Rumsfeld's German relatives are embarrassed to be related to him.
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According to an article by Michelle Delio at Wired.com, spam seems to be nothing other than "a bizarre cannibalistic pyramid scheme", in which spammers aren't really interested in selling any products to customers. Instead, most of the money is apparently made through harvesting e-mail addresses and selling them to other spammers. [Wired News]
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Satire: Seven weeks that change the world. A hilarious (if slightly unlikely) projection on how the conflict between the US and Germany might escalate over the next few weeks. Warning: Requires knowledge of German, and is a lot funnier if you have some knowledge of German interior politics and German culture. [via vowe dot net]
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What if Microsoft had been the first to invent books? Well, here's a likely scenario:
  1. Before you can open the cover of your new book, you must obtain a book activation code by phoning Microsoft.
  2. Sorry, only one person may ever read your book.
  3. It's full of spelling mistakes and typos.
  4. When you're reading your book, the type can mysteriously disappear.
  5. Libraries, which are for sharing books, are illegal.
And there's more... [thx Library Stuff]
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The University of Queensland Library has published the truth about how journal subscriptions are bleeding money out of libraries: Price Shock! [via Library Link of the Day]
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There's a good chance I might finally be meeting Scott Hanson in person at BlogTalk in May. His paper sounds mighty interesting, too.
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Charles Singleton has a difficult choice to make: Either not to take medication and go insane as a result, or take the medication and be killed. Yesterday, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that a mentally ill inmate can be put to death even though he would be too insane to qualify for execution without his medication. [via Dan Gillmor's eJournal]
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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Internet pundit Clay Shirky writes about power-law distributions and the popularity of certain blogs. Reactions to this came from Mark Pilgrim, Dave Winer, Christian Crumlish, Thomas N. Burg and Shelley Powers, who all argue off in different directions (read them if you're interested -- I'm not going to bore you with the details here).

None of them doubts Shirky's postulation that reader distribution of weblogs is crassly off-balance with less than 20 percent of weblogs generating more than 80% of the traffic. They differ on the reasons why this is the case. Shirky says it's mostly mathematical, the others say content is also involved.

I'm not sure whether it's content. Today, Xian posted a link to Blog startup advice for newbies. Advice number one reads: "Give the market what it wants." To me, this sounds stupid and opposed to the weblog concept, which -- as I see it -- is not about adapting to the market, but rather about providing a new, unique voice. But then who am I to talk about these things? I'm just a tiny speck of dust in the blogosphere, who leaves less of an impression on the world than an abandoned blog on holiday cottages in France.
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Another example for a creative idea for earning a few bucks extra:

The Kabalarians believe that "when a name is attached to an individual, certain specific forces of conscious intelligence are combined, which then constitute the nucleus of the mind. The conscious forces combined by the name can be represented by a numerical formula in much the same way as the basic chemical elements combined in a chemical compound can be represented by a chemical formula. The mental characteristics of an individual can be read from the numerical formula representing the person's name, just as the characteristics of a chemical compound can be read from its chemical formula."

Confused? No need to worry. Just look up your name in their database and see how it influences your personality. If you have too much money, you can also order a more detailed report and even suggestions as to how to change your name in order to be more successful in life. I'd have done it just for the fun of it, but the $120 price tag seemed a bit steep for a brief laugh.

I wish I'd come up with a lucrative idea like this, but my parents must have given me the wrong name...
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Gary Turner: "I think that Word will become extinct in about 3 years. [...] That means the only app worth having in Office will be Excel because I also predict that Powerpoint will be out of favour in a couple of years too, when people finally realise that death by PowerPoint presentations are not entirely healthy." [Momentary lapses of dilution]

As someone who has experienced several instances of death by PowerPoint, I wholeheartedly agree: I see a certain tendency to move away from PowerPoint, or at least to completely rethink the way that PowerPoint presentations are done. That would be quite a relief, actually.
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The Augustinus High School in Weiden/Oberpfalz, Germany has ended up on the Axis of Evil: the mutual student exchange programme with a partner school in Indianapolis, Indiana was cut off because the principal of Perry Meridian High School believes that exchange programmes with German schools are unpatriotic these days. Augustinus High School is now looking for a new partner for its exchange programme, preferably in Canada. [via Der Schockwellenreiter]
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Monday, February 10, 2003

Thanks to Allan Moult for finding this:
George Bush is visiting an elementary school today and he visits one of the fourth-grade classes. They are in the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings. The teacher asks the President if he would like to lead the class in the discussion of the word "tragedy." So their illustrious leader asks the class for an example of a "tragedy."

One little boy stands up and offers, "If my best friend, who lives next door, is playing in the street and a car comes along and runs him over, that would be a tragedy."

"No," says Bush, "that would be an accident."

A little girl raises her hand: "If a school bus carrying 50 children drove off a cliff, killing everyone involved, that would be a tragedy."

"I'm afraid not," explains Mr. President. "That's what we would call a great loss."

The room goes silent. No other children volunteer. President Bush searches the room. "Isn't there someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?"

Finally, way in the back of the room, a small boy raises his hand. In a quiet voice he says, "If an American Air Force plane, carrying Mr. and Mrs. Bush, were struck by a missile and blown to smithereens, by a terrorist like Osama bin Laden, that would be a tragedy."

"Fantastic," exclaims Bush, "that's right. And can you tell me why that would be a tragedy?"

"Well," says the boy, "because it wouldn't be an accident, and it certainly would be no great loss."
[Source: G'day cobbers]
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The New York Times: "At next year's projected level, Washington will be spending nearly as much on defense weapons as the rest of the world combined." (my alteration). [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Joe Jenett points to the Björk Video Gallery (all of Björk's videos in Quicktime) as a positive example of another artist sharing her work online. In this case, there's a bit of irony about it, as the German/Central European distributor of Björk's records (only this one, not the UK nor the US one) publishes Björk's CDs only in a copy-protected version. I had to bring a copy of Björk's lastest CD from my last visit in the UK in order to get a CD that would play on my computer and DVD player.
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The Guardian reports that UK trade union leaders today warned that there could be "massive" strikes if and when an attack on Iraq was launched. Are they serious?

Also today, we witnessed what I believe to be the first step in the eventual break-up of NATO. I also believe that only two things can prevent this: (a) NATO bureaucrats who fear for their jobs, or (b) a regime change in the USA.
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Expatica's John Scott takes a look at the Dutch love affair with all things milk. [via shutterclog]

Sounds pretty scary to me. I firmly uphold the belief that cow milk is for calves only, and that humans should reduce their milk intake to the absolute minimum after they're weaned.

Why? It feels wrong to eat food for newborns (and, for that matter, newborn cows) when you're an adult. Two thirds of the world's human population can't even digest milk, because they lack a certain enzyme, and it is only due to genetic mutation that one third can digest it. My digestive system reacts very strangely whenever I drink milk, and I know three women who more or less lived on dairy products and had to have gall bladder operations in their mid-20s. They were told by the doctors to cut down on milk.

I tried to find information on the Internet about the effects of milk on your body, but most of what I found was either clearly sponsored by the dairy industry or seemed to come from hard-core vegetarians who believe that milk is the root of all evil. Sites such as milksucks.com or notmilk.com were among the more harmless examples, but they still seem extreme enough so that I can't really take them seriously.

I'm at a loss here. I feel I'm right on this, but I can't prove it. I'm not a vegetarian; eating meat seems to make sense, but drinking milk just doesn't. Don't ask me why, I really don't know.
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Sunday's edition of the New York Times has a good summary of the spam problem:
Spam is not just a nuisance. It absorbs bandwidth and overwhelms Internet service providers. Corporate tech staffs labor to deploy filtering technology to protect their networks. The cost is now widely estimated (though all such estimates are largely guesswork) at billions of dollars a year. The social costs are immeasurable: people fear participating in the collective life of the Internet, they withdraw or they learn to conceal their e-mail addresses, identifying themselves as user@domain.invalid or someone@nospam.com. The signal-to-noise ratio nears zero, and trust is destroyed.
...
"Spam has become the organized crime of the Internet," said Barry Shein, president of one of the original Internet service providers. "Most people see it as a private mailbox problem. But more and more it's becoming a systems and engineering and networking problem." He told the 2003 Spam Conference in Cambridge, Mass., last month that his service is sometimes pounded by the same spam from 200 computer systems simultaneously. "It's depressing. It's more depressing than you think. Spammers are gaining control of the Internet." [More]
And we haven't even seen the worst of it yet. More and more spams are getting through my spam filters undetected, because the spammers keep resorting to new tactics to mask their spams to avoid detection.

I wonder why nothing is done about this. Otherwise, e-mail will certainly be useless in a few years. I can see myself restricting the mails I accept to people in my address book, but surely that can't be the point?

I remember writing an article on spam for the Wiener Zeitung, a Viennese daily newspaper, back in 1997, over five years ago. Compared to now, what was happening then in terms of spam seems laughable. I was working for an ISP then, and we had customers complaining when they got 5 spams per week. Now 20-60 spams per day (but well over 100 if you're very active on the Net) is more like it. Even with a linear rise in spams in the future -- and I  think the rise will be exponential, not linear --, it is easy to see why we will have to think about spam-proof alternatives to e-mail within the next two or three years.
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Sunday, February 9, 2003

Happy birthday Scott.
Columbia's last flight online.
A scheme to block Democratic phone lines backfires on the Republican Party.
I'm having a quiet evening. See ya tomorrow.
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This has been all over the news already, so you probably already know about Tony Blair's latest gaffe: in one of the most awesome mistakes ever made in public indoctrination, an "intelligence dossier" released by 10 Downing Street and heralded by Colin Powell as "exquisite" turns out not to be intelligence at all. Frustrated by the failure of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq to find the "smoking gun", Downing Street resorted to plagiarising a 12-year-old US doctoral thesis, as Channel 4 reports:
Large sections do indeed appear verbatim. [...] In several places Downing Street edits the originals to make more sinister reading. [...] Even typographic mistakes in the original articles are repeated.
[...]
It took them nearly 24 hours, but Downing Street was eventually forced to admit it made a mistake. A spokesman confessed that it should have credited the authors of the articles it used in the document, particularly Ibrahim Al Marashi -- he's the graduate student whose thesis was copied, grammatical errors and all.
'We all have lessons to learn', was the word from Number Ten on this embarrassing affair. [More]
Indeed. Let's just hope the lesson they are learning is "don't tell lies" and not "cover your tracks better next time." Why am I not very optimistic about that? Anyway, today The Observer reports about the possible political implications of the faked report:
There has been significant collateral damage - and at the worst possible time. A crucial vote in the UN Security Council is pending. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, praised the document as a 'fine paper' and has been embarrassed by association. The anti-war campaign has been handed a large stick with which to beat the Government.

As Downing Street mounts an investigation into how it went wrong, questions are being asked by a public that is still sceptical of the case for war on Iraq. Does this mean that the Government is starved of decent intelligence? If our security services are coming up with good material, why are we not being shown it? If our information is untrustworthy, what about that gathered by the Americans? Who -- what -- can we believe? [More]
Good question.

[Because we're talking about plagiarisms here, I'd like to point out that this posting contains quotations from Adam Curry's Weblog, Guardian Unlimited and Channel 4 News]
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Doxdesk.com has information about parasites and how to get rid of them. No, they're not talking about lice and tapeworms:
'Parasite' is a shorthand term for "unsolicited commercial software" -- that is a program that gets installed on your computer which you never asked for, and which does something you probably don't want it to, for someone else's profit.
Xupiter, which has been plaguing users for the past two weeks, is one example of such software. [via netbib weblog]
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Davezilla has the flu, and he also has some good advice. Get well soon, Dave!
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Saturday, February 8, 2003

Since I have been asked what my paper at BlogTalk will be about, here's the 100-word abstract I submitted:
Blogging to, for or at? Weblogs and author-reader communication

Whereas weblogs and their possible uses have received extensive coverage lately, much less has been said about the relationship between authors of weblogs and their readers, or user interface and usability issues of weblogs. I will therefore take a look at the various communication processes that take place through weblogs. Is there an actual exchange of information, or are webloggers merely writing at, rather than to their readers? What is the role of content and design in those failing attempts at communication, and in what ways is a certain failure to communicate inherent in the weblog concept?
I hope this sounds interesting enough. If yes, I hope the final version of the paper will be as interesting as this sounds.
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Sabine mailed me two links [1] [2] with self-esteem tests today. I'm puzzled. Does she think I'm having a problem self-esteem-wise?

Update: Apparently I do. I just took the tests, and while I'm not a total loser, both tests assure me that my self-esteem needs some improvement. And that is despite the fact that my self-esteem has been boosted significantly recently due to (a) yesterday's poetry reading (see previous entry) and (b) the fact that I've had more hits than Ursula Lotze on three consecutive days (yay!). Both tests suggest working for a charity. How odd.
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Yesterday evening, I attended a poetry open-mic event organised by Labyrinth, the Association of English-language poets in Vienna. I'd already read a few of my poems at one of their events last year and got some good response, so I returned yesterday with some new stuff. What can I  say -- they liked me, they really liked me.

After some heavy stuff from other people, my more lightweight, slightly tongue-in-cheek poems seemed to have provided some much-needed comic relief. The audience laughed quite a lot (in the right places, fortunately) and generally seemed to like what I was reading. The applause and the fact that three people approached me afterwards to tell me that they had really enjoyed my stuff felt great.

Just in case you were wondering about the subject matter of my poems: they were about Belgian beer. Seriously.
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Jenny Levine: "I've slowed down buying DVDs anyway because I'm tired of purchasing a movie and then finding a few months later that a more "special" edition has come out with even more extras." Yes, I also find that pretty frustrating. And the DVD rot problem is not funny either.
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Good paper by Sébastien Paquet on Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research; or what you can do with a weblog in a scientific/academic setting. Plus: how weblogs work, and what makes them tick and how that resonates with the audience [via etter det vi erfarer]. Will I use it in the paper that I'm preparing for BlogTalk? Probably not.
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Harry Potter 5, to be published in June will have a retail price of $29.99, making it one of the most expensive children's books in history. I don't think J. K. Rowling will have to worry about the high price affecting the sales, though. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Speaking of terrorism, fear and the media, a recent poll revealed that by now only 17 percent of Americans remember that none of the hijackers of 9/11 were Iraqi. Fifty percent of Americans believe that most or some of the hijackers were Iraqi; 33 percent said they did not know enough to offer an answer. Repeat a lie often enough and at some point everybody will believe it. More here. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Friday, February 7, 2003

I've had CNN running in the background for the past two hours or so, and it was all about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, Saddam Hussein, terrorism, fear of weapons of mass destruction and fear of terrorist attacks. I'm totally fed up now. It's like the world consists of no other people than the US government, Saddam Hussein, terrorists and frightened US citizens. The level of fear and paranoia that emanated from my TV during these two hours is totally unbearable. Can't we just simply shut down TV broadcasts like this? The whole situation seems so absurd and so fabricated that sometimes I feel that without these broadcasts there would be next to no case for this war left.
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I just saw today's Columbia accident press briefing with Ron Dittemore. He showed the picture of Columbia before the crash some media were talking about (which looks rather inconclusive to me), plus he answered a question I felt I had wanted to ask all along, namely whether the sequence of sensor failures might be indicative of something, by illustrating the off-nominal or offline sensors in a series of slides, showing just how these failures occurred. The timeline is still tentative, and there are no conclusions as of yet, but the diagrams still kind of answered my unasked question.

I was slightly saddened to hear that it was the last press briefing with him for the foreseeable future. It's not so much that I think these daily briefings are necessary -- in fact I thought something yesterday which he also mentioned today, namely that after the first burst of data earlier this week new information is now coming in at a much slower pace as more analysis is needed to evaluate the data; as a consequence there is significantly less to say per day now than there used to be. In addition to this, with the waning interest of the media, daily press briefings are most likely no longer needed.

My disappointment is not really with the fact that there'll be fewer briefings, but rather that they'll no longer be held by Dittemore. I must say that I know nothing whatsoever about him as a person, but as I saw him almost daily in the briefings he held over the past week, I was seriously impressed by the amount of dedication he seemed to show, by the openness with which he answered the journalists' question, by his attempts to always separate fact from conjecture and make sure that neither he nor the journalists jumped to easy conclusions, and by how instructive these briefings used to be. I learned a lot more from them than the summaries published in other news sources on the following day, which would almost always be distorted in some way.

I think I actually grew to like the man. Over this week, he totally earned my trust. As I said, I may be totally mistaken here, but even if I am, I'm still impressed by how he did it. Thank you, Mr Dittemore, for the great job you did after this accident. By the way, the collected press briefings can be found on this page (RealPlayer required).
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I finally submitted a paper for presentation at BlogTalk today. Now let's see if they like it and invite me. Then I might -- finally -- become famous in the blogosphere.
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Thursday, February 6, 2003

All of a sudden, Radio UserLand, the software with which I'm managing this weblog, is acting up. First, it refused to upstream any new posts all day, then, after various restarts, it finally did, but now it's stopped again, giving me cryptic error messages like
Can't upstream because "Can't find a sub-table named "3577"."
This sounds like serious trouble is approaching fast. I think I'll make backup copies of my weblog archives and get ready to abandon ship software if necessary. If you don't hear from me during the next few days, you'll know what happened.

Update: Rewriting an entry from earlier today and replacing some non-alphanumeric characters with their corresponding HTML tags seems to have solved the problem for now. I hope.
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pornography?
You decide. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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George W. Bush's record budget deficit is inviting criticism. But hey, after all he is on a mission to destroy the Axis of Evil at all costs. But then there are still those who think he's a liberal lefty. [via Radio Free Blogistan, Tread lightly and Salon.com]
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Penguins in Antarctica are burying an historic shack in guano. A statement of what they think of human civilisation, perhaps?

Microsoft's Home Of Tomorrow Has No Bathroom. But it comes with a full supply of Microsoft Diapers, which, unfortunately, are somewhat prone to security leaks.

Psychedelic Republican Trading Cards. As if the world didn't look distorted enough already.
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Here's news from Donald 'Old Europe' Rumsfeld: testifying to Congress, Rumsfeld put Germany in the same category as Libya and Cuba. Berlin has not reacted yet, but Rumsfeld is sure to have made a lot of new friends in Germany that way. Nico's response: "Axis of Dullness."
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Dorothea Salo is becoming one of us, it seems. Congratulations.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Having watched most of the NASA press briefings on the Columbia disaster (especially those with Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore) and reading what the newspapers write on the next day, I can't help thinking that either the journalists don't listen to what Mr Dittemore has said, or they don't believe him, or they prefer their own conclusions, which, if Mr Dittemore is saying the truth, lack all substance. Or, of course, they're unhappy with they get from NASA and prefer fabricating juicy stuff to entertain their readers.

At any rate, today Mr Dittemore told the press that it is very unlikely that the damage to the Shuttle was caused by the piece of insulation foam that fell off the external tank during lift-off: "Right now it just doesn't make sense to us that the debris should be the root cause for the loss of Columbia. There has got to be some other reason. We just don't know yet what."

Meanwhile, on CNN Saddam Hussein is once again totally dominating the programme. Dittemore's press briefing of today wasn't even broadcast anymore. Instead we got Colin Powell presenting absurd dialogue to the UN Security Council:
GEN: Yeah, yeah.
COL: Yeah?
GEN: Yeah.
They'll get their war soon enough. By hook or by crook they will.

Still, I'd be more interested in knowing what caused the 30°F temperature rise in the Shuttle's wheel well (below the left wing) and simultaneously a 60°F temperature rise on the Shuttle's fuselage (above the left wing). And I'd really like to see this picture. Contrary to Mr Bush and Mr Powell, I prefer playing detective to playing war.
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The BBC reports that hundreds of inmates are to be removed from Britain's first privately-run young offenders institution after it was condemned as the worst prison in the country. Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, condemned the jail's operator for its unwillingness to do any work which fell outside the remit of its contract with the Prison Service. [BBC News]

Why the British government seriously thought that a private company would do anything not laid down in the contract is beyond me.

And Doc Searls found what the World Socialist Web Site says about the reasons for the Columbia disaster. Call it biased, but they do have a point. [via The Doc Searls Weblog]
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PC World reports that digital music fans get a break in Europe: The European Commission has presented a draft directive that punishes copyright infringement for commercial purposes, but leaves the home music downloader untouched, infuriating the entertainment industry. [via Adam Curry's Weblog]
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Just when I thought that I had uncovered their sinister plans, they (and I am talking about Them) are beginning to remove part of the scaffolding. I am now slightly disappointed.
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Dorothea Salo responded to yesterday's post about the woman at the front desk (well, actually, she's more responding to Clay Risen's original story than to my rather unoriginal relay).

I'm not sure if Clay Risen's story is really a rant. To me, it seemed more like satire. I'm not entirely sure whether it's satire about that particular woman (which might admittedly be unfair) or satire on a society that produces this kind of person. I read it as the latter, and that's why I posted it. And I am aware that she is a human being, trained to function as a robot. I had tried to express this (perhaps in a slightly inarticulate way) in the concluding paragraph that I added to the quote from the story.

I posted it to raise a point that I've been thinking about for a while now: with the service industry expanding as it is and more and more people being employed simply to negate their own self and simply serve the customers, what do we prefer: the robotic employee with the perpetual smile and cheer, perfect hairdo and make-up (which we all perfectly well know is totally fake), or the real human person, who may not be functioning perfectly at all times, but who is at least genuine?

I started thinking about this after being a long-time reader on rec.travel.europe, where Americans often complain about the grumpiness or gruffiness of European service employees (French waiters are mentioned mostly, but I am sure that Viennese waiters and shop assistants would also feature prominently if more Americans visited Vienna). They are certainly right -- the number of professionally friendly staff in Europe, while on the increase, is somewhat low compared to the U.S. On the other hand, the tolerance level of what is perceived as unfriendly seems to be higher here, too.

I have been asking myself for a while now whether US customers really prefer the robotic, friendly, but essentially fake employee to the not-so-perfect real thing; I would hope not, but my limited evidence has so far been remarkably inconclusive. Clay Risen's article was actually one of the first who seemed to indicate that they do not.
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What a coincidence that I should come home from watching Star Trek: Nemesis at the cinema yesterday, only to find this posting on Slashdot in my news aggregator.

I must say I actually enjoyed the movie to some degree, but overall I coudn't help the feeling that something was wrong -- the friend with whom I'd been at the cinema said pretty much the same thing. I'm not sure whether it's just us growing older or that these are just not the times for this kind of science fiction any longer. One of the commenters on Slashdot calls it "your daddy's sci-fi", and sadly, that's just how it somehow felt: like an anachronism, a thing of the past, not of the present and certainly not of the future.

I guess that's why Nemesis failed so badly at the box office: the generation that grew up with Star Trek has, well, grown up, and after 1000+ episodes of Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise grown tired of the concept. Let's admit it, science fiction is pretty dead these days. At least for now, the realm of the Phantastic in film has been taken over by Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I also take this as a sign that we have become so afraid of the future that we no longer see it as the place of our hopes and instead prefer to escape to alternative worlds that reflect a nostalgic past.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Steve Bowbrick writes that the best blogs are written with conversation in mind: "This is where weblogs can approach the quality and texture of real conversations. Great bloggers leave lots of gaps and readers rush to fill them, producing insight in the synthesis of the original words and the reader's response. The whole really is greater then the sum of the parts." [Guardian Unlimited]

I read Steve's article not once, but twice, and I still have no idea what he is talking about. What he writes just doesn't seem to make sense: apparently you have to write disconnected pieces of nonsense to increase your readership? Is that why Ursula Lotze is getting more readers than I, because her weblog is not a weblog at all? Is my writing simply too "gorgeous, perfectly-phrased and knowledgeable" to be interesting?

I almost sat down to write an email to Steve asking what the heck he meant, when I suddenly realised he had won. He was right, and he had won. Even as I am writing this, I realise he has won. Steve is right; I am a loser.
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Clay Risen talks about why he is afraid of the woman at the front desk:
Far from being happy to go into work, I am starting to dread it. Not the job itself, which I'm enjoying (for once), but the actual 'going into work' part; in the 11 times I have entered my building's lobby, the exact same woman has said the exact same line: 'Good morning, how are you today?' The same smile, the same slight tilt in her head. [...] It's not just that it's the same greeting every morning; it's that she says it in the exact same tone, with the exact same force in her voice, and I am always at the exact same point between the door and the elevator when she says it. [The Morning News]
Sounds to me like the service industry's wish come true: a human being perfectly trained to respond like a robot, or like a dog, showing as little personality as possible. But I guess that even at a time when androids will be available at reasonable prices, these posts will still be manned with people, for that special "human" touch. The full story can be found here.
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Mark Frauenfelder almost fell for an identity theft scam. Read and take extra care if you ever encounter a similar thing. [Boing Boing Blog]
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Famous record producer Phil Spector has been charged with first-degree murder after a woman was found shot dead inside his mansion in Los Angeles. Apparently Spector was "extremely eccentric" and mentally somewhat unstable.

And, to add insult to injury, an un-Spectored version of the Beatles' album Let It Be is to be released soon. So we can finally see if these tapes are as vastly superior as Paul McCartney claims they are. Actually, I have very few complaints about Let It Be, it's actually one of my favourite Beatles albums. My one major complaint is 'The Long and Winding Road,' which sucks big time, but that's not because of the production (the version on Anthology 3 is just as bad, if not worse). Let's face it: it's just a bloody awful song. [thx Karlin and Doc]
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Matthew Engel on the Columbia disaster: "[A]ny field of endeavour that only gets attention every 17 years, when disaster strikes, is in serious trouble. In the 1960s, astronauts were heroic figures, as remote, admired and glorious as generals in the 1940s or Wall Street analysts in the 1990s. Now hardly any of us hear about them until they are dead." [The Guardian]
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The Observer has an interesting special report on The British and sex. For example, there's the The A-Z of British sex, with entries such as
BUSINESS SUITS: Only 15 per cent of Britons said their ideal partner in a fantasy love tryst would wear a business suit.

IMPOTENCE: It is believed that smoking is responsible for impotence in 120,000 men in the UK aged between 30 and 49.

QUICKIE: According to research from the 1960s, men averaged only 11 seconds before ejaculating during sex. Today this has risen to a massive 15 minutes.

UNSEXED: Twenty-nine per cent of us are virgins when we marry.

ZZZZZ: One woman in three is too tired to have sex, but more than half lie awake at night because of stress.
The report was, of course, sparked off by the new UK anti-sex legislation which is making more things illegal than is necessary, as some people argue: Whose sex life is it anyway? "Only a state that likes locking up people would dream up even more sexual offences," says The Observer's Carol Sarler. [Guardian Unlimited]
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The Boston Globe Magazine has an article on how the Internet search engine Google is changing what we can find out about one another - and raising questions about whether we should:
Maybe it was a stupid fraternity prank or a careless posting to an Internet newsgroup in college. Perhaps you once went on a rant at a selectmen's meeting or signed a petition without stopping to read it. Or maybe you endured a bitter divorce. You may think those chapters are closed. Google begs to differ.

While most of your embarrassing baggage was already available to the public, it was effectively off-limits to everyone but the professionally intrepid or supremely nosy. Now, in states where court records have gone online, and thanks to the one-click ease of Google, you can read all the sordid details of your neighbor's divorce with no more effort than it takes to check your e-mail.

"It's the collapse of inconvenience," says Siva Vaidhyanathan, assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University. "It turns out inconvenience was a really important part of our lives, and we didn't realize it."
[via The Shifted Librarian]
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Monday, February 3, 2003

In a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like most of us, the people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility.

Scientists refer to this contamination as a person[base ']s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Der Standard reports that Vienna travel guides will have to be rewritten: One of the prime sights of Vienna, the colourful Hundertwasser house could probably have to be renamed to "Hundertwasser-Krawina-House".

Most people believe the house was designed by Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Not so. It turns out that the principal architect was actually Professor Josef Krawina, and Krawina has just won a copyright case that went all the way to the Austrian Supreme Court. As of now, it is expressly forbidden to sell pictures or reproductions of the house without mentioning Krawina as co-architect. Theoretically it's even possible to sue anyone who publishes information about the house without mentioning Krawina. This means a lot of guidebooks will have to be rewritten.
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From Harper's Index, December 2002:
  • Number of names on the State Department's list of "suspected terrorists" : 70,000
  • Number of times George W. Bush has said Osama bin Laden's name in public since July 8 : 0
  • Hours after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld learned Bin Laden was a suspect that he sought reasons to "hit" Iraq : 2.5
  • Rank of Israel and Turkey among nations in violation of the largest number of U.N. Security Council resolutions : 1, 2
  • Minutes that service on two New York subway lines was halted this fall after a Sikh worker was seen emerging from a hatch : 92
  • Minimum number of times the United States has deployed troops abroad in its 226-year history : 277
  • Days it takes an adult in Los Angeles to breathe in more air pollution than EPA guidelines recommend for a lifetime : 25
[via techno\culture]
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What truly amazed me about the Space Shuttle disaster is how the media turned an accident of which virtually no footage exists and about which next to nothing is known into a 24-hour news event. The only thing of substance that I saw on CNN were the two technical briefings with Ron Dittemore on Saturday and Sunday. The rest was filler material and speculation, repeated over and over again across all TV stations like some strange visual mantra.
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The French historian Emmanuel Todd talks in today's Neue Zürcher Zeitung about the waning of the USA as a superpower (in German):
America's theatralic military activism against insignificant rogue states [...] is a sign of its weakness, not its strength. However, this weakness makes it unpredictable. The USA is about to become a problem for the world at a time when we had become used to seeing it as a solution.
[...]
Iraq [...] is also supplying Europe and Japan with oil. But they can afford to buy it with the money earned through exports. They are economically strong enough so that they don't have to control Iraq with military force. The US on the other hand is running out of money with which to pay for its gigantic use of oil. This is why military control of this region on the other side of the world is vital for them.
An interesting thought. Here's more (in German). [Found via Monoklon]
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Sunday, February 2, 2003

Michael talks about mourning for the seven Columbia astronauts in the face of thousands of children dying of hunger every day in Africa. [Monoklon]

I think that comparison is, well, not entirely fair; it's all about very different things.

The astronauts are what we would like to be, whereas the dying children are what we're glad we're not. The astronauts represent our success in science and technology, the dying children represent our failure in humanity. The astronauts are symbols of the future, our hopes and aspirations, the dying children are symbols of the present, or greed and egoism. So is it so strange that the astronauts are what we'd like to remember, whereas the dying children are what we'd like to forget?

I don't want to sound unfair, though: I realise that for many people in the world the astronauts do stand for their hopes for a brighter futures and a better world, a world in which no children have to die of hunger. Still, in the present circumstances, this is at best wishful thinking.

Update: Just found that Dave Winer is talking about a very similar thing in two articles on DaveNet: [1] [2].
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Der Standard reports (in German) that antiquarian book dealers are not affected by the current economic crisis. "If anything, we are selling more books now that stock options are becoming increasingly unpredictable," as one of them says in an interview at the Stuttgart Antiquarian Book Fair, which was opened last Friday.

However, they also notice that public and academic libraries, who used to be their best customers, have almost completely stopped buying old books: all of these publicly funded institutions are affected by budget cuts. Soon old and valuable books may be predominantly in th hands of private book collectors. [Der Standard]
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This weeks's New Scientist reports (subscribers only) that fast food has an addictive effect similar to that of hard drugs. In a lab experiment, mice that had been fed with a salt/fat/sugar combination like that in a typical fast food meal showed withdrawal symptoms like morphium addicts once the fat/sugar content was removed.

Scientists agree that fat releases opioids in the brain, substances that make you feel happy, while sugar "can pave the way for the regular use of legal or illegal drugs," as one scientist says: "It's a substance that is not found in nature in the form we consume it. It dissolves vitamins and leads to the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, causing an imbalance in our bodies." A summary (in German) can be found here. [Der Standard]
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DVD media is susceptible to decay, which rots the disc over time and makes it unplayable. In order to make a backup of your disc, you have to break the law, because the DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent the access-control systems that prevent this. It's also illegal to distribute tools that do this.

During the Betamax wars, when the VCR was ultimately legalized, Hollywood proposed replacing VCRs with something called a "Discovision," whose media was prone to decay and couldn't be written to. The idea was to force purchasers of prerecorded movies to buy the same films over and over again. Apparently, Hollywood got its wish: the DVD player, as crippled by license agreements and the DMCA. [Boing Boing Blog]
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Saturday, February 1, 2003

Quarsan reports that a child-sex scandal that threatened to destroy Tony Blair's government last week has apparently been squashed and wiped off the front pages of British newspapers: "Operation Ore, the United Kingdom's most thorough and comprehensive police investigation of crimes against children, seems to have uncovered more than is politically acceptable at the highest reaches of the British elite." Here's more. [My life in the bush of ghosts]
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Space Shuttle Columbia is gone. Apparently it disintegrated during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, only 16 minutes before its scheduled landing. Latest news coverage here. Dave Winer and Steve MacLaughlin have more.
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I just read that patrons at the new Salt Lake City Library will be free to nibble food and sip beverages while browsing the bookshelves [sez the Library Link of the Day]. So I thought I'd let you in on the secret why our library is still banning food and drinks:

Drinks are a problem because contrary to your regular city library, we don't just have current publications which we chuck out after a year or two, we have books going back to 1480, and we'd prefer not to have coffee or Coke stains on those, thank you.

Food is out partly because Leberkäse leaves nasty grease stains on paper, but also because we have a mouse problem. Not this kind of mouse problem -- I'm talking about real, live mice. They thrive on the breadcrumbs that our readers leave behind. Problem is, once you have a couple of hundred mice, they start nibbling on books sooner or later. Which is why we encourage the use of mouse traps, but discourage the comsumption of food in the reading rooms.
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The University of Vienna is presenting a trial version of their new home page design. While it is something of an improvement over the previous design, I challenge you to the ultimate usability test: spot the library!

Here's your task: how long does it take you until you find the website (not the online catalogue) of the university library on the old site and the new site? And here's question 2: the library's website currently gets about 8000-9000 hits per day. After the redesigned site is permanently in place, will it be (a) more, (b) less, or (c) about the same?
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This sounds like a great idea. [via jenett]
This and this looks like a good blog. [via xian]
This is the ultimate nose quiz. [via boingboing]
This is worth a thought or two. [via Paris]
This is to scare us into total surveillance. [via BBC]
This is ridiculous. [via Library Link]
This requires Real Player and is hilarious. [via Cartoonist]
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We will walk on a hill.
Red hats and blue coats, and everything still.
Snow will cover until
we can't tell the sky from the ground.
Where are the buildings, the old wounds of mine?
Did I ever once cry?

Waiting for you to arrive,
where does the time go,
where does the time go?
The full text (and music) can be found here.
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Last update: 28.07.2003; 18:20:02 Uhr

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