Archive for November, 2003

the yellow hole

Sunday, November 30th, 2003

One of the small and simple innovations that will sweep the world, like putting wheels on suitcases, is to make the inside of laptop bags some kind of fierce bright colour so that all the otherwise identical black gadgets that we own can be identified. I trudged round numerous shops in Boston and NYC trying to find such a thing and failing horribly. But in the throbbing heart of downtown Saffron Walden, I have found a laptop rucksack which has a bright yellow interior. In this case, I can now finally distinguish my black laptop from its black power supply, and also from the black digital recorder, the three black pens, a black spectacle case, a black modem lead, a black USB cable, a black pouch for headphones, a black headphone adaptor, and a black Moleskine notebook. And it’s not really expensive, by which I mean it is less than three sessions at the physio, which is what I am paying for lugging the laptop about in a messenger bag.

OOo thoughts

Saturday, November 29th, 2003

I have been using OpenOffice for the last two years as my primary word processor, even for the sort of short articles for which Word 97 is probably better. I wrote the whole worm book in it without any disasters or even excitements. In fact, one of the things I had meant to do when I started this blog was to record the large number of small things of nerd interest which come up while using it. In order to make OOo useful, I have had to write quite a number of macros. There was the famous word count, which now pleases me a lot; there are a set of small macros to attach styles to keystrokes; and there is transpose characters, the first macro I write in any word processor.

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Glass half-full or haaaargh?

Friday, November 28th, 2003
Should I feel safer because of this?
The study of the medical histories of 6,643 men in 24 towns over a 10-year period and found that only 2.8% died from coronary heart disease, instead of the 4.3% predicted using methods recommended in the framework for heart disease. This represented a 47% overestimation, the researchers said in an article in the British Medical Journal.
Or should I concentrate on the bit lower down in the story, which points out that the risk is much higher when no one knows about it?
The authors also found that 84% of the deaths from heart disease occurred in the 93% of men classified as being at low risk, those who had a less than 30% risk of having a coronary problem within 10 years.
As faras I can see, this is a study which can give comfort only to those hypochondriacs whose doctors have told them there is something wrong with their hearts, thus upping their anxiety levels, which is bad for the heart; the rest of us, blithely confident

Natural merit

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003
The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and engaged in sex with him. He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them.
(from the Houston Chronicle account of Neil Bush’s divorce proceedings.)

Of course, with the younger brother, it’s British Prime Ministers knocking on the door with a wordless, winning smile, waiting to be screwed.

political action

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

I don’t often like web sites that are flashy in any sense of th e word; and this one has music on it, which would normally put it completely beyond the pale. But it is actually a stunning piece of agitprop. f you want to know how slick propaganda can be on the web, go there and marvel.

spamming today

Monday, November 24th, 2003

Two new tactics in the war against humanity conducted by spammers. the first is to use a security hole in MT to send spam onwards from our accounts. The second is to use messages whose text is random nonsense. There is a hidden payload in the HTML. The point is that a human eye can spot these in seconds. The subject lines I have had this morning are

*Boatyards podge
pour advertisement
Pocketbook crewcut
Hounds accrue

But if it were possible to write a program that recognised these as nonsense and threw them away, it would do rather more than simply abolish spam. the only thing that will do that at reasonable costs is the idea of a postoffice that takes micropayments for email. Cheap for humans, prohibitive for spammers.

wide-eyed provincial

Monday, November 24th, 2003

To London for the weekend. Best to treat these things as holidays to a foreign country, especially when you factor in the cost of restaurant meals. I could have flown to Rome and back for less than the cost of a meal for five in Percy Street. In fact I have just flown to Philadelphia and back for less than the cost of that meal and a quiet family lunch in the excellent Vietnamese restaurant in Churton Street. On the other hand, when you live in the country, and friends won’t come out to be entertained, how else to thank them for years of kindness, including lending us a house in France for a week one summer? Two bottles unextravagant wine, two bottles of mineral water, one vin santo, one campari soda, one grappa; four mains, one pasta, three starters, two puddings — £180.50 with service.

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wonder drug

Wednesday, November 19th, 2003

It was Joan’s funeral yesterday, and an old friend came down from Scotland for the wake. The three of us were all wearing ties simultaneously and in the same room probably for the first time since 1970, when I left Marlborough. The other two were thrown out in the following two years. Ah, youth. We had for a while shared a cottage in the Scottish borders, attempting to make money from various cottage industries. Talk rambled.
“Do you remember?”, said someone, “When we were going to rescue our finances by selling a quarter pound of dope, but then the two of us decided to smoke it all instead, and we did it in ten days?”
“I have no memory of that.”

George, down from Scotland, has given up cigarettes, which means that he smokes a lot of small cigars. My son Felix, who is Julian’s godson, was more or less chain smoking rollups made from tobacco brought in from Germany by his girlfriend. I haven’t smoked properly for fifteen years and have been fighting off a rotten cold for the last fortnight, but this was a wake, so I bummed four roll-ups off Felix and smoked them with huge pleasure, and without inhaling much. This morning I woke to discover the tobacco had done its stuff. Every last bacterium or virus in my throat has been exterminated. Even my cough has gone. Felix, however, complained all the way into London of a pain in his stomach brought on by laughing excessively at these stories of his father’s (and godfather’s) youth. I’m sure there must be some culture where tobacco is treated properly as a medicine.

black hawk down

Wednesday, November 19th, 2003

I stole the headline from the Guardian’s leader but wouldn’t you, too? There is only one thing left unsaid about the fall of Conrad Black, and that is the monstrous, unfathomable greed that lies behind it. Here is a man who has removedfrom his public companies more than $100m over seven years — quite openly — on “management fees” paid to his private company. These were distressing enough for outside investors to contemplate, but, on top of that, it turns out that another $19m has been passed to him and his friends, off the books. Part of that figure was $7.4m to Black personally in the last three years.

hard-boiled

Thursday, November 13th, 2003

In Boston, I suppose I ought buy Robert B Parker’s thrillers, but it’s been decades since he tipped from pastiche into self-parody. I’ve always thought that the reason America is full of serial killers is that they kill women on the off-chance that their victims might resemble Parker’s heroine Susan Silverman, and who can blame them?

But I found instead a work of Loren D. Estleman, the most under-rated thriller writer I know of in the USA (the most under-rated British thriller writer was the Gavin Lyall, who died this summer, and whose books can be reread over and over for the beauty and elegance of their clockwork).

Estleman doesn’t do character in his Amos Walker books. But he does dialogue and atmosphere superbly.
“Francisco requested me to tell you that you won’t be out anythign for the inconveniance.” “I laugh at money, How much am I laughing at?”