Archive for September, 2005

Bloody Michael Crichton

Thursday, September 29th, 2005

Owing to a tragic scheduling error, his testimony before the senate came in time for the Gdn’s front page, which meant that my carefully crafted thumbsucking was thrown away in favour of a report from someone who had the vulgarity actually to be there. I don’t know what journalism is coming to. But I like the CCT, so it’s here. Note joke at the end stolen from Dr Baber.

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de mortuis

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

a memorable obit in the Daily Telegraph today of M Scott Peck, the self-help guru, which closes with two paragraphs that could hardly be improved:

Latterly he suffered from impotence and Parkinson’s Disease and devoted himself to Christian songwriting, at which he was not very good.
He married Lily Ho in 1959; they had three children, two of whom would not talk to their father. She left him in 2003. He is survived by his second wife, Kathy, an educationalist he picked up, while still married, after a lecture at Sacramento, and by his children.

The most disgusting story

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

I have done for years is in G2 today. One snag I hadn’t foreseen — the copy was delayed by an hour when it got caught in the company’s spam filter. UPDATE What I originally filed is below the fold now.

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Petrol prices, again.

Monday, September 26th, 2005

James Surowiecki reports that there is a serious movement in some American states to suspend all “gas” taxes until — well, I don’t know, because things are never going to go back to what was normal in 1999. There used to be a construction in Python that went “from future import” and in that spirit I record that I brought yesterday roughly 62 litres of petrol for £59.66 or, in American, 16.4 gallons for $106.50. This is the cheapest petrol for miles.

Administrivia

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

I have a sort of review of John Battelle’s Google book up at the First Post, which is an interesting shot at a commercial site run by two real journalists (and old colleagues) Mark Law and David Jenkins.

I’ve also been ill: ear infections. I mean to take it easy for the next few days, and very probably there won’t be a wormseye next week.

small smugness

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

There may not be many readers of the wrap, but at least one of them is the editor, which is why yesterday’s worm’s eye column pitched up on the front of today’s Guardian.

Serious ethnographic note

Monday, September 19th, 2005

The festival of diversity took place on a day when Trevor Phillips, who seems a very sharp cookie, was warning that there is a real danger of the emergence of a ghetto-ised and segregated underclass in this country, however much we may think of that as an American problem.

The evidence of the say suggests he’s right. We’re only about fifty miles from London — an hour from Victoria Station if you’re lucky with the tube change. Yet the reports about gun crime, or Polly Toynbee’s argument that

“Nationally 27% of people have no savings, not one penny; 25% of the poorest have at least £200 in debts … 12% of households (many more individuals) have no bank account”

might as well come from another country. I do know there are pockets of real poverty on the estates here, but nothing like half the children live under the poverty line, as they do in London.

All this happened almost imperceptibly. But it will be very hard to undo. Trevor Phillips suggests bussing — surely a counsel of despair. Polly says it would require only quite small redistributions of wealth to reverse. But quite small shifts in the tax burden have a way of growing at election time to intolerable proportions. It’s quite possible that wehave reverted to the two nations attitude that seemed natural in 1939, when Evelyn Waugh wrote a very funny squib about children being evacuated from London to the quiet countryside whose inhabitants would pay almost anything to have them billeted elsewhere. It took six years of real war to produce a government which would really exert itself to end this condition. Six more years of the “war on terror” are unlikely to have anything like that effect. In fact, if there is a war on terror here, it will be a civil war.

Silly Ethnographic note

Monday, September 19th, 2005

Yesterday was Uttlesford Council’s diversity day, with a fete in the grounds of Audley End house. There was a fair cord and I did see one black person there. Though there are four or five whom one sometimes sees shopping in this town, where 14,000 people live, the only really visible sign that anything has changed in the ethnic makeup of the area since about 1950 are three Indian restaurants, one Turkish, three Chinese, and a Thai place.

Everyone was given forms to fill out, specifying their ethnic origin; I don’t think the results will show much diverstity. But the funniest evidence of the whitebread character of the even came form the entertainments. There was a Bollywood dance troupe, which almost consisted of four Indian dancers in glorious silk dresses: except the second from the right was about nine inches taller than the other three, and white.

Then there was a full troupe of ethnic traditional dancers; about twelve, all in their native costumes, except for one small inauthentic point: you couldn’t help noticing that the men wore underpants (omitted in this shot for decency).

Scots Whae hae!

Another end of privacy

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

An astonishing piece of research, found through Bruce Schneier which shows that a sound recording of a typist at work for fifteen minutes can be analysed to reveal almost every word they typed. The trick is that the keys on any keyboar make slightly different noises. You then analyse those noises by frequency (of occurrence not pitch) and that tells you roughly which pitch represents which letter. Then you have a transcript of everything typed. This has been done at Berkeley — but the really scary thing comes in the comments, where someone points out that an open skype connection — or any other voip — means that the bad guys don’t have to sneak in and plant a microphone. I suppose this is good news for spooks. Otherwise, I file it in the same drawer as “RNAi works on humans, too”

Redesign thoughts

Monday, September 12th, 2005

The new Guardian gets better as you go into it. Perhaps that’s another way of saying that it works better with fewer stories on the page. I hate the front. Making allowances for the fact that all readers hate all redesigns, I dislike the front. I think it’s just too cluttered, especially on the skyline and the new logo. Similarly, the news pages look short and tabloidy, though, of course, much better than the Times or even a properly done tabloid. But it’s a Monday, so the news pages would look odd anyway.

The first real winner is the double-page photo spread in the middle. That does everything we dreamt of on the Independent but at higher resolution and larger. From there on, the layout is a triumphant success: good looking, easy to manage, invitingly laid out, and with enough words on each page for thought. Media guardian hugely improved. Not sure about G2; haven’t really looked at it carefully except to notice that there seems to be no Doonesbury. This can’t be real.

UPDATE: Let freedom reign

I still think there’s too much noise and colour on the front page. But there almost always is when newspapers redesign, and it always takes about six weeks to shake down and for the subs to get the trick of laying ot a page that looks just right. So by Christmas we’ll have a much clearer idea of whether it succeeds aesthetically. Financially, I think it’s a sure bet. all colour advertising all through has got to be a mosntrous draw.