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Saturday, 1st March 2003

About

A library of George Orwell's works has been published online, two months after I bought 1984 to read (it's still sitting in the cardboard box in my room, waiting for me to get around to it). But it means that I can read Animal Farm online, and then I'll buy it if I want to reread it (this is also what I'll be doing with Cory Doctorow's Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom). And there's a fair chance that I will, because I always reread books multiple times unless I really didn't like them. It's a natural consequence of being a fast reader - you start running out of books and so you either end up very poor, since you have to keep buying more of the things, or you reread the ones you've got. I usually get the most out of a book the second or third time I read it, anyway, so the system works for me.

At the moment I'm writing an About page, for me and for bent back tulips. Warning: it will be loong. And I don't know if I have time to finish it this weekend because I have to complete my Physics coursework by Monday morning.

Better go and do it then...

Monday, 3rd March 2003

New shiny technology

This website (the sidebars, at least) is now being brought to you through the astounding technology that is SSI, Server Side Include. I just learned how to enable it this afternoon, and I'm feeling very pleased with myself, although it's really simple. The only techie bit is the .htaccess file which I had to create, but I got all the content of the file from my webhost's support pages, so it was just a copy&paste job really.

Look at that; I successfully managed to deflate my sense of pride in the space of half a sentence. Didn't know you could do that before.

I think this is the part where I say: "Anyway..."

Well, whaddy'a know, I managed to procrastinate enough this weekend to write the About page after all. And yes, it did turn out to be long - a little over 2000 words. I think I may have digressed from the subject a little in places...

Despite that, I did manage to finish my Physics coursework, having settled down in earnest to do it at 8.30 last night. Dribs and drabs of effort during the day, but it never really felt that urgent until after dinner. On which note, I'm kind of annoyed that I did manage to complete it, since I always fall into this trap - put it off, put it off, put it off, then a huge drive at the end and it's done. Well good, except that this is the reason why I only got four hours' sleep last night and also have had a vague guilty feeling at the back of my mind for the last two weeks. I mean, I really should have done it (or at least started it) during half-term, or even last week through the mocks, but nooo. My semi-valid excuse is that this is how I work most efficiently - long bouts of concentrated effort, even when I'm revising for exams. Contrary to all those revision guidelines that advise you to take a break every half an hour, I find it difficult to break off what I'm doing and so I revise for three or four hour stretches at a time. Except when I'm using my 'cramming for exam an hour before it starts' technique, which I employed last week. We'll see if it worked when I get my results back this week! Seems to have done the trick so far though - two physics papers, 28/40 (high B) and 54/60 (high A). Just another seven papers to get back now :)

Anyway, this is why I didn't apply to Oxbridge for uni - no self-discipline. I kept waiting for the guilt to kick in for leaving it all to the last minute, but it never did; the very last minute eventually being 2am, when I went to bed.

Oh, and I found out this morning that the final deadline had apparently been changed to next Monday. Gah.

It seems that with season 7 of Buffy being the last one, it'll have all finished by the time I catch up - I've got just less than two series of Angel and two series of Buffy left before I even start watching S7. Oh well, there's always Angel (and Ripper, and the possible Faith spin-off...)

And I leave you with news that, according to one of the biologists who discovered the structure of DNA, stupidity is a curable disease. Yay to that.

Friday, 7th March 2003

No more Font Bitch

I was very excited yesterday, because I finally, after twelve years, found out the answer to the riddle: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?", which is from Alice In Wonderland. The answer isn't revealed and actually I think Lewis Carroll probably had no answer in mind when he wrote it. However, a completely feasible answer is that Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both.

Yes, I know. *groan* And here's a copy of The Raven if you haven't read it.

I've been doing a little bit more behind-the-scenes stuff for bbt, as a result of which I am a Font-bitch no longer! Watch all the little letters change size as you View -> Text Size in IE!

Getting a bit too excited there, wasn't I? I'm just going through Dive Into Accessibility, which anyone who goes near HTML markup of any kind should be forced to read. The next thing I want to do is to add a site search, and then I think I'm done, except for getting in the habit of using title attributes in links (which I've previously refrained from doing since in Opera 6, hovering over the link displays the title in the status bar and masks the URL, which really annoys me).

According to voters of Radio 4's World Book Day Vote, the book that most "epitomises" England is George Orwell's 1984. Unfortunate choice of wording there, I feel.

Testing willpower - someone created a site called Don't Go There that was designed to shut down after 100 people had clicked on the link (after being warned what would happen). It was apparently an exercise in willpower, as the author wanted to see how long it would last while people abstained from clicking in an attempt to keep the site up. It lasted 57 minutes, a little bit less than his estimate of 24 hours.

And Google has done the first announced thing for Blogger - closing some security holes.

The hole Lamo demonstrated did not require him to take over an existing weblog. Instead, he bypassed the process BlogSpot used to prevent new customers from establishing weblogs with an address already in use.

After confirming that an address was available, the enrollment application stored it in the user's browser in a hidden form field. A hacker could simply change the name in the form field to the name of an existing weblog to create a new journal that would supercede the legitimate one. "I would characterize it as an outstandingly common problem," says Lamo.

I'm still thinking about moving to Movable Type, since you ask...

Monday, 10th March 2003

Riddles and exposure

Firstly, in reply to a comment from my last entry:
Why is a raven like a writing desk?

"'Because it can produce a few notes, though they are VERY flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an after-thought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all."
  -- Lewis Carroll, in the preface to the 1896 edition of AAIW.

Let me say (in a knowing tone of voice): "Aaaah." Thanks, Daniel :) - it's good to know that Lewis Carroll did write an answer to the riddle himself. Even if I do prefer the answer that I found :P

Last week the Internet Book List was launched:

The Internet Book List (IBList) is a hobby project started by Patrik Roos in early 2003. Its purpose is to provide a comprehensive and easily accessible database of books, since Patrik considers the Book to be humanity's greatest creation.
In other words, the book equivalent of IMDB, which is a great idea. It seems to rely solely on user submissions though, so it may take them a while to build a truly comprehensive database - they're up to just over 2500 book titles at time of writing.

Their front page, showing the 'Most Popular' searches/submissions is very heavily skewed towards SF/fantasy, and Neil Gaiman currently is 3rd most popular author, with two books in the top 5 titles. Finding this, and bearing in mind that I think IBList needs some publicity, I submitted a little message to him:

Neil,
I thought you might like to know that the Internet Book List (http://www.iblist.com/) has been set up, which is the equivalent of IMDB for books. Of the 1300 book titles so far databased, American Gods and Coraline are both in the top 5 most popular books, and you are third most popular author ;)
Hopefully you can plug this site in your journal, because I think they need a few more submissions at the moment!

Oh, and my blog as well if you like! (http://cyoung85.port5.com/blog/) Sorry, just being cheeky ;)

And he quoted, uh, the whole message in his online journal, which I didn't expect him to! That's why the last sentence was separated from the rest of the message by a new paragraph, for ease of snippability. Anyway, I'll extend a thankyou in that general direction :)

Regarding Dune (which I'm reading for the first time) I'm only 100 pages in at the moment, but definitely enjoying it. Unlike the first book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series - dammit, I've forgotten the name of it! - of which I read about 130 pages before abandoning it last year. I will return to it at some point, honestly (I've been assured it's worth the effort)... maybe when I've ploughed my way through all these?

Tuesday, 11th March 2003

New comments

Due to receiving a couple of complaints via comments (which isn't a good percentage out of 14 comments ever received) about the 400 character limit imposed by my now-previous comments system, I have changed to comments via Enetation, who I don't believe have a character limit. The only major feature I've lost is the ability to send private comments, but hey, what's email for?

The downside to this (well, you knew there had to be one) is that all previous comments have been lost. Oh well. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, 11th March 2003

Relaxing in traffic jams

Having been a Good GirlTM last week and changed to using relative instead of absolute font sizes in my stylesheet, I discovered that while the text looked fine in IE5, IE6 and Opera 6, the font was absolutely tiny in Opera7 and Mozilla. Hopefully I've fixed it now, although I can't tell because I'm at school at the moment and only have IE5 accessible.

So, apologies if it all looks peculiar in other browsers - I'll check when I get home.

Two things:

  • Why isn't washable blue ink washable? My fountain pen's been leaking and I just spent more than five minutes with hot water and Carex and still there are stains on my fingers. Grr.

  • Why, on my drive to/from school, are there so many 30mph speed limit zones where I am the only person driving at 30mph? It really annoys me when all I see in front of me are cars zooming off into the distance (some of them having just overtaken me) and all I see behind me is a car about 2 feet away from my bumper, doing the driving equivalent of glowering at me. I swear my speedometer must be wrong, or the council has changed the speed limit without changing the signs, or... grr. (What a useful word that is.) It's always on the same stretches of road; the wide ones (unsurprisingly) of which at least one definitely used to be a 40mph zone. Last week I was overtaken on three different mornings by the same car, which overtook me again this morning, on pretty much the same stretch of road. You know who you are, Mister P### PGO, in the, uh, silver car. (I'm a girl, alright?) Actually, it's a Rover [picture]. But all last week I thought it was a Peugeot 206 [picture]. Oh, stop laughing, they don't look that different!
This morning, I was stuck in a large traffic jam trying to get over Hampton Bridge. It didn't affect me that much really - 20 minutes added to my journey, and good exercise for my left knee with the clutch pedal - except I had to change cassettes from frenetic, thumpy music to calm Silverman music which left me in a strange serene cocoon-like state whereby I didn't mind the traffic jam at all, thanks to one particular song which I had on repeat. [Note: having songs on repeat is more difficult with cassettes than with CDs. I want a car with a CD player.]

I've just checked Silverman's website and unfortunately the song in question isn't one of the ones you can download. However, for future reference (should you ever buy their album, if they become more well-known) the track is called Nothing I Do, Nothing I Say. Caaaalm. There's a beautiful harmony to sing with the chorus as well (you can hear it in the instrumentation).

I was feeling particularly de-stressed when I finally arrived at school - almost makes me wish there were traffic jams more often :)

Wednesday, 12th March 2003

Breaking browsers

Gaaaah!

If you can read this, well done. If the page looks particularly blank or just wrong, that's because I appear to be very talented - whilst trying to write something into my stylesheet that would display fonts the right size in different browsers using font size keywords (eg small) I seem to have broken every browser except for IE (and you didn't think it could be done, did you?) Of course, I didn't know this since at school I only have access to IE.

So when I got home and witnessed the devastation, I downloaded the new stylesheet that I'd uploaded at school (inadvertently overwriting the old version on my computer, but that's another story), rewrote it to be the same as the previous version, and, stunningly (you'll love this part) managed to break IE but no other browsers. And then I altered the width of my Reading content box by 20px, and then all the browsers broke.

Ahem.

So, we're going back to fixed font sizes for the time being, until I can figure out how to change it without breaking something. This could take a while.

Wednesday, 12th March 2003

Back again

*big sigh of relief*

After about half an hour of effort, finally this page looks like it did this morning, before I did anything to it. Yay. But this means there's no changeable sized fonts coming for a while yet.

Thursday, 13th March 2003

Toast wants to be free

In addition to the list already started [you know you've been using the computer too much when:] there is now:
  1. You start subconsciously transcribing common typing errors when you write longhand. Yesterday I wrote "unfornutately" (and had to stare at it for at least ten seconds before figuring out what was wrong) and today - twice - writing "than" instead of "that".
Worrying?

Y'all heard about the renaming of French fries to "Freedom fries" in America:

The cafeteria menus in the three House office buildings changed the name of "french fries" to "freedom fries," in a culinary rebuke of France stemming from anger over the country's refusal to support the U.S. position on Iraq. Ditto for "french toast," which will be known as "freedom toast." Across the country, some private restaurants have done the same.
In addition to that - this is Bill H.R.1072.IH, which states that no funds under the control of any United States official that are expended for post-conflict assistance for Iraq may be provided, through grant, contract, or other means, to any French firm. Via Aquarion.

Thursday, 13th March 2003

A bad tech day

To balance the beautiful weather we've had this week - [oh hang on, look at that five day forecast! Sun, sun, sun, sun, sun!] - I've had a really bad technical day. Blogger wasn't working on and off during the day, then my whole site went down for an unknown amount of time, but at least 2 hours, and then the FTP server for my host was down for 24 hours from Thursday afternoon until Friday (today). And I was going to change the site design to bright red and have a big Red Nose background image just for Friday, for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day 2003.

[The following was written during ftp server downtime]

"Only connect" says EM Forster. Which is exactly what I can't bloody well do at the moment. It's unbelievably frustrating to be sitting here, wanting to upload things and publish new entries and not even being able to connect to the ftp server - every time I try I get a response of ftp: connect:10061, if that means anything to you techies out there.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just Blogger being dysfunctional - at least I would be able to edit my blog index and upload the page manually, and I'd still have access to the rest of my site. I've just added a new Search function as well, but didn't quite manage to add it to the side menu before losing access.

God, I hope this doesn't happen again - although to be fair, this is the first time I've ever got that error in three months of using Portland. But I really don't want to change web hosts, because as far as I know Portland is the only company who do free subdomains with no adverts. And they also allow full CGI access and support PHP4 and Perl, which is great. And they are based about 10 minutes' drive from my house, which is nice :)

Speaking of PHP, I decided to start learning it today. Didn't get terribly far - in about half an hour, I got up to Defining Functions. And I couldn't even test a "Hello world!" script, because the server was down.

Friday, 14th March 2003

FTP offline

Ah. It appears that the ftp server is "currently offline for maintenance", as posted on their site five minutes ago (despite it having been offline for at least fourteen hours, with no message).

Gah. I shouldn't be bitching really, Portland have been really good so far in the three months that I've been with them. I'm just annoyed because, what with not being able to upload anything, Aquarion beat me to it with the Red Nose Day design :P

Friday, 14th March 2003

Redness, redness everywhere

Okay folks, here it is for One Day Only (actually a bit less than one day - see below) - the Red Nose Day design!

Saturday, 15th March 2003

Restored

As quickly as it went, my normal design is back up again now. (Everyone breathe a sigh of relief if you didn't like my charity special...)

Monday, 17th March 2003

The units of music

Visual art is often lost on me. However, the photographs of Jean-Luc Bénazet, which I happened upon by chance, held me captivated for a full half an hour, just looking through the intriguing tangle of landscapes, portraits[1], architectures and, um, other types of photographs which I am not sufficiently clued in to photo-jargon to name. They're stunning anyway. Go.

Have you ever wondered if there's a foolproof way to make your essay arguments hold water? Well, you could write it on paper cups. Definitely worth a look :)

And in amongst all of this, there's this:

Our service people in the Middle East deserve our respect. So do the people of Iraq. It just breaks my heart to see two groups who deserve respect having to kill each other because a few men, deserving of no respect, have demanded it in their arrogance.
A very apt thought from one of Shelley's latest entries concerning the war, which is likely to be officially confirmed as inevitable before I post again.

Damn, and I thought I could get through a whole linky post without referring to the war. Never mind.

Tom Coates has been musing on music albums and iTunes. In reference to Clutter which works with iTunes to create album playlists he says:

Many of us using toys like the iPod have got used to thinking about the future of music as being song-sized - componentised.
It's true that since getting my MP3 player and using Winamp all the time that I've been on the computer in the last three and a half years, I have neglected listening to albums on their own. You'd think that having more than eighty albums' worth of music all in the one place would encourage me to listen more to albums - you don't even have to change the CD over! Just double-click and voila, the album starts playing. However, I seem to just set my whole playlist to 'Random' and leave it (aside from clicking 'Next' on about 4 in 5 songs, since I'm picky about my music according to mood). This means that the only time I'm likely to hear an album in its entirety, uninterrupted, is when I first acquire it and want to familiarise myself with it.

There's another thing - Tom also says:

[But it] could be that the 'album' is about to enjoy a resurgence. I'll tell you one thing for nothing - the predictable and consistent noise of an album is much easier to work to than the on-the-fly "Greatest Hits Of Your Life" approach...
True, I suppose - but not for me. It irritates me intensely if there's music on 'in the background', ie. just loud enough to hear suggestions from the bass line, but to not quite hear it fully. It leads to me straining my ears, and makes me, if anything, more consciously aware of the music. What I like to do when I'm working with music on is to have it loud enough to hear it properly, and sing along. And then I won't notice it most of the time. The number of times when I've suddenly started actually listening to which song is playing when it's two or three minutes in... and I've been singing along the whole time without noticing. In harmony, no less.

[1] - Ah, printer page alignments. Didn't do that deliberately. Honestly.

Monday, 17th March 2003

Looking for something?

Oh, there's something I forgot to mention - bent back tulips now has its own Search page. Yay.

Thursday, 20th March 2003

Send him pretzels!

The comeback to "Freedom fries":
A French Web Site is urging people to send pretzels to President Bush, who fainted and fell off a sofa in January 2002 after gagging on the salty snack.

The Web Site, www.bretzelforbush.com, says the pretzels will be stored at a secret location before being sent to the White House in a historic mass action.

And it's obvious that they're serious about this, which is more than can be said for GiveItBack.net, which has launched a petition to return the Statue of Liberty to France. Their laughable press release states:
Due to the abhorrent actions of the French Government, namely preventing the United States from the most basic right to protect itself, we have decided , in protest, to send back to them the Statute of Liberty.

[ . . . ]

We believe that only such a drastic measure would send a strong enough message to the French Government to cease these threatening actions, which, in the end, will just promote terrorism worldwide.

As they said, abhorrent.

A rather unfortunate typo on Amazon.co.uk yesterday meant that they were selling HP iPAQs (RRP 290) for 7.32. Due to the sudden influx of huge sales of the PDA (after this was reported on b3ta.com, amongst others) with some customers ordering dozens at a time, Amazon.co.uk was offline for an hour yesterday lunchtime (redirecting people to their .com site). Unfortunately, they won't be honouring the sales, since according to their Terms&Conditions no contract is made until the credit card is charged when the item is despatched.

Thursday, 20th March 2003

Lies and statistics

Gregory picked up on what Ari Fleischer said in the White House press briefing on Tueday - in his words:
"Take a look at what Ari Fleischer had to say in today's White House press briefing:

Q: Will U.S. troops enter Iraq, no matter what, at this point? In other words, even if Saddam Hussein, in some off chance, takes this ultimatum, leaves the country with his sons, will U.S. troops, nevertheless, enter Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed that last night. And the President made clear that Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time last night. The President also made plain to the American people that if Saddam were to leave, the American forces, coalition forces would still enter Iraq, hopefully this time peacefully, because Iraqi military would not be under orders to attack or fire back. And that way Iraq could be disarmed from possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: So the bottom line is, Americans are going to occupy Iraq, no matter what, at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The bottom line is, a coalition of the willing will disarm Saddam Hussein's Iraq, no matter what.

Notice anything odd? Focus in on the claim that American forces would enter Iraq peacefully if Hussein left the country, since Iraqi military would not be under orders to attack or fire back.

Still not getting it? Look at those last two words.

On reflection, I think it was just an unfortunate choice of wording. Still, it did cause me to double-take.

Just one more thing - a small statistical roundup from Clusterfsck.

→ Number of Congressmen with a child in the Military: One
→ Number of Congressmen with a child going to Iraq: None

→ Projected civilian casualties (Pentagon): 600,000
→ Projected civilian casualties (UNHCR): 1,5 Mio

→ Worth of Iraqi Oil reserves: $4 Trio
→ Projected cost of War in Iraq: $200 Bio

Thursday, 20th March 2003

Doom and gloom

Due to world events, I'm afraid this will be a doom and gloom post - and quite a long one at that. As Aquarion says rather well, "we have probably passed the increasingly blurred line that?s labeled 'War Begins Here'."

Firstly let me state for the record: I have been against this war all the way. But now that it has started, I just hope that it's over quickly. There's no doubt as to which side will be the victorious one, so from now on the best outcome is one which involves the least number of casualties.

I tried to look up "the first casualty of war" on Googlism, to follow up to Mike's competition, but used Google instead when Googlism didn't reply. Which is how I came across an article by Terry Jones, published in the Telegraph in December 2001: Why grammar is the first casualty of war:

The other thing that worries me about Bush and Blair's "war on terrorism" is: how will they know when they've won it? With most wars, you can say you've won when the other side is either all dead or surrenders. But how is terrorism going to surrender? It's hard for abstract nouns to surrender. In fact it's very hard for abstract nouns to do anything at all of their own volition - even trained philologists can't negotiate with them. It's difficult to find their hide-outs, useless to try to cut off their supplies.

Moreover, in its current usage, terrorism cannot be committed by a country. When America bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory under the impression that it was a chemical weapons establishment, that was stupid. But it was not an act of terrorism because the US Government did it officially. And it apologised for it.

That's very important: no self-respecting terrorist ever apologises. It's one of the few things that distinguishes legitimate governments from terrorists. So, it was difficult for President Bush to know whom to bomb after the World Trade Centre outrage. If Bermuda had done it, then it would have been simple: he could have bombed the Bahamas. It must have been really irritating that the people who perpetrated such a horrendous catastrophe were not a nation.

The whole article is well worth a read.

The Onion, as ever, has a rather good article on the second Gulf War:

"Gulf War I was done 11 years ago, and war-making technology has advanced tremendously since then," Rumsfeld said. "From the guns to the planes to the missile-guidance systems, what you'll see in this one puts the original Gulf War to shame."

"The budget for Gulf War II: The Vengeance is somewhere in the neighborhood of $85 billion," Rumsfeld continued. "And every penny of it is up there on your screen."

I mention the above because, dammit, I'm trying to not be cynical - but it's hard not to notice, as others have done, that with the first bombs being dropped at 0230GMT, this translates to 2030EST for the east coast of America, which just happens to allow prime-time ratings for the news coverage of the event.

The first round of bombing seems to have been surprisingly minimal - Kevin regards this as a positive sign: "It gives me more faith in the idea that we are going to help rebuild Iraq afterwards." However, Shelley has pointed out that: 'With the whole world watching, waiting to condemn, the US was not going to go in and drop 2000 missiles all at once on Baghdad. In prime time news hour no less. Besides, what did one former general say last night on TV? Something along the lines of, "We can't use all our missiles in this conflict. We have to save some for the next war." '

I was pleasantly relieved to wake up this morning and learn that instead of the catastrophic bombing raid expected there had only been a relatively minor one. Iraq Body Count has so far reported only sixteen civilian casualties, which, although sixteen too many, is still far fewer than had been predicted. Still, I imagine the US is just breaking us in gently, and saving their "Shock and awe" tactics until later.

Coming back to the point about the bombing starting in the prime time news hour, questions have already been raised about media coverage of the war, particularly in America. There have been reports of a huge influx of American readers to online European news sources, suggested to be because of the number of Americans who do not feel that they can obtain sufficient unbiased media coverage from US sources. And now, a recent report from Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting has found that the four major nightly network newscasts (from ABC, CBS, PBS and NBC have largely acted as mouthpieces for the Bush administration's propaganda, completely abdicating their responsibility to provide balanced coverage of opposing viewpoints leading up to the war in Iraq.

More than two-thirds (267 out of 393) of the guests featured were from the United States. Of the U.S. guests, a striking 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. Only one of the official U.S. sources-- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.)-- expressed skepticism or opposition to the war. Even this was couched in vague terms: "Once we get in there how are we going to get out, what?s the loss for American troops are going to be, how long we're going to be stationed there, what?s the cost is going to be," said Kennedy on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03).

Half of the non-official U.S. skeptics were "persons in the street"; five of them were not even identified by name. Only one U.S. source, Catherine Thomason of Physicians for Social Responsibility, represented an anti-war organization. Of all 393 sources, only three (less than 1 percent) were identified with organized protests or anti-war groups.

The report analysed two weeks of news coverage from the four stations starting from the end of January.

In addition to this:

Last week, 12 Republican congressmen, including Duncan Hunter, the Californian who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, signed a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, raising pointed questions about his policy of allowing journalists to travel with American troops. The congressmen said journalists - specifically Peter Jennings, the ABC News anchor - were asking soldiers "inappropriate" questions, like what anxiety they had about fighting. The congressmen asked Mr. Rumsfeld to explain why he was not imposing "censorship."
So much for the ideals of freedom of speech in the press.

Now for two rather contrasting sources - an intelligent article from The Times - "Why we are really at war" - which explores some of the false propaganda put forth by the Bush administration and examines probable key motives for the war.

A second unstated objective is simply to demonstrate military power. Even before September 11, key members of the Bush Administration were convinced that America should demonstrate its immense military might ? and its ability to use it. This, they believed, would help to preserve global order by intimidating potential enemies such as China, Russia and North Korea.

[ . . . ]

As the war begins, I can therefore share an aspiration with the anti-war lobby. Let us hope that Saddam is gone by the end of next month ? and George W. Bush by the end of next year.

And a blogger in Baghdad - no, not Kevin Sites, the other one - Salam Pax, who offers an insight into the situation first-hand. It makes for very poignant reading, and what's being impressed upon me at the moment is the awfulness of not being able to do anything except wait for the bombs to hit, somewhere.

Friday, 21st March 2003

Statistics and job interview

Every so often you come across a metaphor or a turn of phrase that catches your eye and dials in directly to your mental circuits - Tom Coates' phrase "a burnt-out grey headache" caught my attention, because I've never quite known how to describe those low-grade, non-painful but persistant headaches that you get at the end of a long day, and which result in not being able to think since your thought processes have been wiped clean.

A burnt-out grey headache. I'm going to use that now.

Reinvigorate.net, a website traffic monitor/analyser, launched recently to the instant approval of quite a number of bloggers. I've been using it for the last two days and so far I've been amazed by the difference between it and my previous site stats monitor (which I had known was unreliable, but not too bad, I thought). Reinvigorate is recording every request I make to the server (always a good thing), and showing 12-15 times the number of unique visitors per day than the previous monitor. From this I found that Beth had linked to me, and had presumably found my blog by typing 'alt.fan.pratchett blog' into Google - it seems I am the fourth search result for this, which is relatively surprising.

Further update on the ongoing issue of "Am I going to get a job for my gap year next year" - Year In Industry offered me an interview for an IT/web design based placement at an MOD-owned company next week, which is brilliant news because the same company actually offered me a different interview in December, for a physics placement. Whereupon I had to explain that although I'll be doing a Physics with Computer science degree I'd prefer an IT placement. They didn't believe me, apparently, because I subsequently received another Physics placement offer, which I had to turn down as well. I thought that YinI were getting a bit fed up with me actually, seeing as to date I've turned down four interviews and one job offer.

But anyway, the interview's next week (to be confirmed). Hope I get it, although I also now have to contend with potentially juggling this and IBM, whose pre-university employment scheme I applied to in October. They managed to send me an email in February, confirming that they'd like to interview me at some point. Nice of them to let me know.

Saturday, 22nd March 2003

Endless Love

Please, if you haven't seen it already, go and watch this superb video of Blair and Bush duetting "Endless Love". Much-needed comic relief, and probably the funniest thing I've seen on the internet this year.

Also excellent is Bremner, Bird and Fortune's Between Iraq and a Hard Place, broadcast two or three months ago, but still available to watch online, thanks to Ian Hixie. After watching it, you might understandably think there's a connection between the latest series of BB&F finishing and then the allies going to war against Iraq.

However, that would imply that the UK government had some kind of say in the matter of the deadline. So much for that theory...

On a similar subject, Shiny Blue Grasshopper has joined the ranks of PeaceBlogs et al by organising an online demonstration of blogs against the war on Iraq.

My bookpile is growing no smaller - I'm up to 54 books in my room that I'm planning to read, and the vast majority of which are new. There's also the twenty or so books on my wishlist. My aim for the next couple of months is to reduce my book pile to a height that is shorter than I am. This prospect doesn't look promising at the moment though, since the amount of reading I'm doing seems to be miniscule - it's taken me sixteen days to get just halfway through Dune, which is unprecedentedly slow going for me. At this rate, it'll take me until next year just to get through them all...

On which note, it seems that having a book wishlist on your site does pay off - a friend of a friend has offered me their copy of Smoke And Mirrors. Thanks, Clair :)

Monday, 24th March 2003

A non-apology

First off, a non-apology.

Some thoughts that have come to mind recently have been of the "What is it all about, really, when you get down to it?" variety. Not, however, concerning life, the universe, or anything so profound. I have been musing on reasons for the existance of bent back tulips, this journal/weblog, prompted by this blogging survey (now completed) flagged up by Wil Wheaton a few weeks ago.

Why do I maintain bbt, and what form do I want it to take? When asked by the aforementioned questionnaire "Why do you blog?" my answer, as nearly as I can remember, was the following:

  • To make myself do some writing, if not every day then a few times a week, in order to develop practice in writing
  • To encourage myself to keep up with HTML, JS, and CSS skills and prompt myself to learn other scripting languages such as PHP
  • To have somewhere to comment on articles and websites of interest, and point them out to other people
  • To give my thoughts form somewhere
  • To have my own space on the web which is just me
You, the astute reader, will notice that nowhere above does it say, "To campaign and protest against the current war in Iraq". I do not want or intend for bbt to become an anti-war blog and I realise that postings like last Thursday's must be quite tedious to many readers, not least since I imagine it was not terribly dissimilar to many other people's blog entries on the subject. I wrote it because I was feeling angry - it was the day after the first night of bombings - and there was such a slew of both news and weblog entries that tapped into what I was thinking. It was very tempting to just grab this information and collect it all together to show the world, as something I could do about it (as indeed I did).

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that I would be quite so impassioned about the whole issue if I didn't have all the information available at my fingertips and if I couldn't act on that information. This is a disquieting thought, and one that I'm going to have to cogitate on a bit more.

Having said that, while I regret writing that entry in the first place, I make no apology for it since it was purely my reactions, comments and opinions, utterly me, and that's what bent back tulips is fundamentally all about.

See? I'm not even trying to disguise the shameless ego-centricity of it all. Isn't that really what most weblogs are for, though?

But I digress. Somehow we've got into the position where the war has begun. It's happening, I hope it's over soon, and that's more or less the end of the matter for this weblog. Not to say I won't occasionally comment on it, but there'll be no more huge long postings completely focused on it.

Bad Cathy. No biscuit.

Tuesday, 25th March 2003

An inner muse

Apparently I have an inner muse, which completely took over my writing hand yesterday afternoon. Except that I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't my muse, in fact, but someone else's. I have never before been known to just sit down and spew out a whole mess of words in that way, so that I was writing without pause for eight pages, two and a half hours, and still managed to say nothing of much substance. Like Vaughan has said, it was just words spilling onto paper. And I still had a little list of unwritten notes that I didn't get anywhere near writing about, because I ran out of time (and my wrist ran out of energy). Also, it was getting silly. I mean, I didn't want to say I spent the entire afternoon writing garbage now, did I? I doubt I'll post the 3000-word article (yes, I'm a slow writer)... I might, though. Wait and see.

And all this to the detriment of any work I was meant to be doing, such as statistics and pure maths practice exam papers, and physics homework, as a consequence of which I was working solidly from 8.15 this morning until 1.45 this afternoon. And I still have a load of work to do tomorrow as well.

I know, I know; wait until I join the real world of work, yes?

To which end, I've sent off my finalised choices for university - Warwick as my firm acceptance, and Bath as my insurance. I was deliberating for a while over whether to choose Bath or Royal Holloway as my backup; do I give preference to syllabus or campus? It was campus in the end. Hopefully it won't come to that in any case; I should get the grades required for Warwick. Fingers crossed :)

And it seems that GiveItBack.net, the campaign to give the French back the Statue of Liberty (since they're not supporting America in their invasion of Iraq) was in fact a publicity stunt - the domain is for sale on eBay, and it seems someone wanted to generate a lot of traffic for it.

Thursday, 27th March 2003

Blogger and browsers

Who'da thunk it? Mozilla isn't infallible after all...

Since the great Google takeover (or, at least, in the last few weeks), Blogger has been rather unreliable, with the server being down, or just not being able to publish entries, or simply eating posts. I've also noticed it acting very temperamentally in different ways in different browsers, the net result of which is that I can no longer compose, post and publish entries in one single browser.

For example.

In IE6 I can write my entries and post them, but whenever I try to "Publish" it 404s at me. No publishing allowed in IE6. Opera 7 will publish things, and allows me to edit posts (barely... black text on a navy background isn't the best of combinations) but I can't compose any entries. Opera 6 doesn't even let me do that - I get an error of "The system cannot find the file specified" after clicking through from the Blogger main page. On the now increasingly rare occasions when it does let me in, I have to type in a text box of about 100x50 pixels.

So I turned to Mozilla. Write, post, publish - fine. (Although you do get a text box only half the size that it is in IE.) However, try to delete an entry, and the whole browser freezes and crashes, which is pretty impressive. This has happened about five times now, and there is unfailingly the same result each time. I could live with that, since I don't tend to delete entries that often - only when I'm deleting an unfinished draft.

But (this is the curious part) - I edited the template for my main page, in order to add an RSS feed, using Mozilla. When I looked at my site, all four of my sideboxes had disappeared, leaving their text strewn across the whole page, straight onto the background and behind the central content box. I looked again and it turns out that when displaying the template, Mozilla stripped the id="foo" from the <div> tags for each of the four boxes, but not for the main box. So here was all this text without anywhere to go, so it got dumped all over the page. Mozilla keeps doing this each time I look at my Blogger template.

Any ideas which browser I should be using? I'd have thought that, from a choice of four leaders of the world of browsers there might have been one that worked properly with the Blogger interface...

Say it with me. "I must move to Movable Type."

Saturday, 29th March 2003

How many do you need?

Seen in the Mother's Day section of the card shop:
3 for 2, this section only

Saturday, 29th March 2003

BlogShares

I've just discovered the next thing that will take up more of my time (as if I needed any more) - BlogShares is a "fantasy blog shares market" where each blog has a valuation based on the total worth of all its incoming links. The value of each incoming link is valued as follows:
  1. Proportional to the worth of that blog
  2. Inversely proportional to how many outgoing links that blog has
So basically your blog gains value as more and more high-profile blogs link to it.

You get $500 (fictional) to play with - buy, sell shares as you wish. I found this site late last night, and didn't have time to look properly at it - and I've been too busy today - but tomorrow I'll spend some time deciding which blogs are worthy of virtual investment in. Oh, and I've just found that, since I signed up yesterday and BlogShares only officially went live after alpha testing sometime today, I get an extra $500 for being an alpha tester. Which is nice :)

And I went all squeaky last night when I saw that someone had already bought some of my shares! However, I was still listed as #1 Lowest share price, which I thought was rather unfair. But since then another 5 people have bought shares, which has doubled my share price to, uh, $0.02.

Being relatively new to blogging (I started at the beginning of December last) I still get overly excited when someone finds bent back tulips, by accident or otherwise, and likes it enough to link to or comment on it. Forgive my naivety :)

Anyway, clicking the graphic below will take you to my BlogShares profile, where you can register and buy some of my shares if you are so inclined!

Listed on BlogShares

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