Archive for April, 2008

Saturday geek scraps

Saturday, April 19th, 2008
  • One function for a newspaper in the Internet age might be to edit the comments rather than the commenters. Having opinions is quite quick and easy, as is, for some people, writing them down. But ensuring that your comments section is an improvement to the original posts, as it is on Making Light and a few other places—now that is skilled drudgery, of the sort that both readers and writers have an interest in paying for.
  • kill -9 bride No one in this country seems to be following the trial of Hans Reiser, a noted geek1 who is accused of murdering his Russian mail-order wife after a dispute over child custody. The defence is that that his apparent lack of concern and strange behaviour are just natural in a nerd, and not indices of guilt at all. The local paper has been more or less liveblogging the story, though; and the verdict is due tomorrow.
  • I am now stranded between three incompatible note-clipping systems. Zotero is much the best for scholarly research but is clunky and requires Firefox2 running and doesn’t easily share with the laptop. I could waste a day building a database form which would display and search zotero data inside openoffice but there must be a better way, one possibly involving a second monitor.

    Evernote2 has the best tagging system. Evernote3 has a slightly glossier interface and a web clipper that works with Firefox 3 Beta. On the other hand, it won’t import large databases from v2 and wants to store everything in the cloud. I don’t want everything stored there, thank you. There is still nothing to beat Ecco for project management.

1 His file system used to come with Suse linux.

2 Which is written in Clunky++

Which is ruder?

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Some people send me emails that start “Dear Andrew” and have elegant signoffs, but no subjects. These madden me. I reply with emails that have subject lines, but no salutation or signoff — after all, their email program shows who it is from, and the fact that they’ve got it shows they are meant to read it. I wonder, sometimes, if they upset their recipients.

Deliver us from Godwin, oh Lord, but not yet

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I just found this unexpectedly lucid quote from Adolf Hitler when someone asked him why he was so anti-Semitic, when the Jews had benefitted Germany so much: “It is manifestly clear and has been proven in practice and by the facts of all revolutions that a struggle for ideals, for improvements of any kind whatsoever, absolutely must be supplemented with a struggle against some social class or caste.”

What makes it so creepy is that he said it in 1922, which must have been about the last moment in his career when he could afford to be truthful to a journalist. Of course, anyone following that line of reasoning in Europe today would use the Muslims for their enemies. The parallel is by no means exact, but it’s close enough to be worrying.

Brief techie note

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I have been playing with a 3G data modem, and I am completely converted. It’s often at least as fast as most communal wifi, and a great deal cheaper and more secure. I hate juggling with the the firewall every time I connect to a new access point. The coverage is patchy; inside Liverpool Street station, I could only get dialup speeds and sometimes on the train the connection would drop entirely. But the station always used to be a black spot for ordinary cellphone reception, too, and for much of the journey I was getting perfectly acceptable speeds. One of the Guardian’s leader writers taught me a useful trick for getting net access in strange offices — just pull the network cable out of the nearest machine and plug it into your laptop — but this does seem a very much tidier solution. What’s even nicer is that it is pay as you go. If I am not going into London, I need pay nothing that month. The only small sadness is that it may be network locked. The salesperson would not give me a straight answer about that, and I don’t know who 3’s network partners are abroad, from whom I would buy a payg data card.

An omen on the lawn

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

It would be difficult to imagine a scene less adapted to brutal drama than the garden outside our kitchen window yet death does play there in front of our eyes. On Monday I was startled by a thump and a squeak, like the air going out of a tennis ball, and looked out to see a small hawk hunched on the lawn, with something black and indistinct beneath its talons. Its tail feathers were spread out, brown and barred with black and grey; the shoulders were raised, and the wings half shrouded what it was doing. The hawk was facing away but I had the impression it had landed after the momentum of its stoop had carried it down from the fence. I made a sound of some sort and it flew about five yards further away; its first landing had been no more than twenty feet from where I sat. I could see something, tattered, hanging in its talons. There was another brief interlude, something between a shuffle and a struggle, and it took flight over the garden shed and away.

Dumb as all the rocks you’d need to stone a harlot

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I have just watched a documentary about Swedish jihadis, Det Svider i Hjärtat, which has not, so far as I know, been discussed in England, though it has been shown at the Barbican, something I only found out while posting. I mean to write more about it, and perhaps more seriously, in the Guardian, and bits of it are truly horrifying. But by the end, my horror was interrupted by gusts of laughter because the main character completely beats out Doug Feith for the title of stupidest man on the planet.

He is a native Swede called, apparently, Ralf Lennart, though he prefers to call himself “Abu Usama el Swede” (pronounced swayday). On the back of his neck is tattooed GBG hooligan, and on the side of it, in wedding-invitation script, ACAB, which stands, of course, for “All coppers are bastards”. As a youth he was a neo-nazi skinhead, part of a gang who beat an Iranian half to death in a park in Gothenburg; and he is still troubled by the memory of another crime he never got caught for. But in one of his jails, he converted to Islam, because — he gestured at his teeming head as he explained this — “It fits with what’s up here in my head: that’s how I see the world. There’s nothing vague about it. Islam has answers for everything from A to Z”

The thug mixture of self-satisfaction with injured self-righteousness seemed quite unaffected by his conversion: when he talked about himself he always seemed to be in an invisible interview room, hoping that the cops didn’t have the evidence to pin anything on him.

He has three children by three different women, and keeps his present wife shut in the bedroom when the film maker comes around. Obviously, he is unemployed; for the rest of his life the Swedish state will subsidise him while he spends his days talking about Islam with his friend and splicing together Jihadi videos to put up on the internet. But some of his friends are slightly less gormless, and one of them had set off, from Kungälv of all dumps, to blow himself up in Bosnia. Naturally, he had arrived some time after the war was over, and been rapidly caught, and jailed for fifteen years in Sarajevo. All this was partly horrible, but also, when Abu Usama el Swede went there, gut-burstingly funny. For once he left the suburbs of Gothenburg this global warrior against Western decadence was could have been any self-satisfied and invicibly ignorant Swedish tourist there has ever been. Forty years ago, he would have wondered around China marvelling at the Cultural Revolution. Now, he was bewildered that the Bosnians, after eight years of bitter war, had not embraced fundamentalist Islam: “None of them are wearing a hijab. I don’t know what’s wrong with them” he said.

I know that in some lights, this represents a blinkered and fanatical determination to overthrow freedom and enlightenment. I know that being really stupid does not make anyone harmless. I know he is, to the best of his abilities, wicked. But still, I laughed and laughed.

Fishing notes

Monday, April 14th, 2008
  1. No, not one, thanks for asking. A few pulls, one of which I really should have turned into a trout, but my fingers were numb and shaky after fishing through a hailstorm without gloves.
  2. Even on a day with a hailstorm in it, I can get burned cheeks in four hours by the water and drive home at lunatic speeds because I am a little sunstruck. Of course I drove there at lunatic speeds. I couldn’t help it. I was going fishing.
  3. Next time, I will be invincible, for I will be armed with Kaufmann’s fat ass dragon. Well worth sending to Seattle for a fly with a name like that.
  • Nothing whatever to do with fishing, but I was winding up some of the CiF commentators about their knowledge of science — something in inverse proposrtion to their certainty about the use and reach of scientific knowledge — last week and so noticed with delight, via Ponder Stibbins, a really interesting introduction to Quantum Physics, taken in the opposite direction to most normal ones.

Fishing for real men

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

The subspecies of angler bloviatus montanus might be described from this specimen, writing under the pen-name “Tamarack” in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book Favourite Flies and the their histories, first published in 1892:

During a residence of ten years in Montana, I had to learn the art of fly-casting, fly and rod making, and nearly all the other essentials to an angler’s success. … In October, 1877, while accompanying an expedition to the far West, we marched overland from Corinne, Utah, to Missoula, Montana, a distance of six hundred miles. We were forty-one days on the road, and suffered some hardships, including a snow blockade of five days on the main divide of the Rockies, where the thermometer fell from forty above to twenty below zero in twelve hours …

We arrived at our destination, Missoula, Montana, November 14, 1877. That country was then the sportsman’s paradise, but winter had already set in, and I was interested in deer-hunting. During my tramps in the Bitter Root Mountains I found just what I wanted for a pole, already made, in the young fir and tamarack which grow in the coulees high up in the mountains as thick as cane grows in the South, and in size from an inch to an inch and a half in diameter at the ground, growing straight as an arrow, and with a beautiful taper, from twelve to twenty feet high. Here was my ideal pole, just what I wanted. I selected one about eighteen feet in length, and after smoothing it nicely I laid it up for the winter. When spring came I put on the mountings, which consisted of the smallest screw-eyes I could get, for guides. These I placed about eighteen inches apart, screwed into the pole. A twisted wire loop, firmly lashed on, served me well for a tip ; and when the reel plate was attached with two screws on each side, and firmly wrapped with waxed thread, my pole was ready for work …

The ice went out of the river at last, and with fifty yards of braided silk bass line (formerly used when bass fishing in Kentucky) and my Frankfort reel I went a-fishing. Talk about long casts! With a pole of eighteen feet, and twenty-four feet of line reeled off, I would stand upon a sandbar, revolve my pole at arm’s length over my head until my fly made a noise like a quail rising from a brier thicket, and launch forth. The fly would strike the water from forty to fifty feet away, with a splash and splutter equal to that made by a wounded duck. I labored with a zeal worthy of better success for two or three hours without a rise, and then went home firmly convinced that either there were no trout in the river, or else the season was too early and they were chilled too badly to rise.

It did not take me long, however, to find out that the fault lay in my flies. A local dealer having received a supply of flies (the first that I had ever seen) from San Francisco, I bought nearly all he had, choosing the gaudiest and most attractive, and from that time I had no trouble, but met with good success.

Now, a word about my eighteen-foot tamarack. I continued to use it nearly all summer, until it became very dry and brittle. It did me good service (at the expense of muscle), until one day in making an extra long cast the line caught in a bush ; the pole was broken in three pieces, and fell a total wreck behind me.

This is no made-up tale, but a true story of my first fly-rod.

With it I caught more and larger trout than falls to the lot of a great many 4 1/2 and 5 ounce split-bamboo devotees ever to see. Yes, and I used it with a No. 3 Frankfort, Ky., reel. I used this reel for ten years in Montana and Dakota, and will never use any other. A jovial friend of mine calls it a “nail keg,” but that is because he never used it; to do so would soon convince him (?) that for all purposes there are none better. Kid glove and 4 1/2 oz. ryestraw anglers I am not writing for, neither do I want them to agree with me. When a man is so effeminate as to use such light rods, and then worry the rod-maker for something lighter, he had better stay at home. The trout stream is unhealthy for him.

I suppose I ought to style in fetching lavender the observation that none of my rods weigh more than four ounces or are more than ten feet long. “Tamarack”, when he tired of one-piece rods made from whole pine trees, made his own ferrules from the bottom of a copper boiler– astonishingly, he needed a blacksmith to help with this, rather than just ripping out strips of copper with his bear hands and rolling them like cigarettes into shape.

At the Indie

Friday, April 11th, 2008

The fucking editors come and go, talking about that c— Michaelangelo. Roger Alton, the new editor, has the distinction of being even more foul mouthed than Simon Kelner, th old one, was as a deputy sports editor, when he had the largest collection of homophobic epithets I have ever heard from anyone — not just “sausage jockey” — but “the Lester Piggott of the chipolata circuit”.

Some people are worrying about how such a ferocious, balls-out supporter of the war in Iraq as Alton could take over Britain’s most anti-war paper; I may be wrong, but I don’t think he will change the paper’s line, because what gets him up is aggression, not politics. Being aggressively anti-war will be just as much fuin as being pro, and allow for just as many displays of testosterone.

More to the point, Kelner’s move upstairs is to a position where his job is to make the editorial and commercial sides of the paper work more closely together so that Tony O’Reilly is under less pressure to shut it down. The Independent was founded on the belief that only profitable papers were safe to do their journalistic work; I think this has been amply proven over the last fifteen years of loss-making there. Obviously we can expect more advertorial under the Kelner/Alton regime. Whether it will save the paper in an advertising slump I don’t know. The circulation figures quoted by Roy Greenslade look horrible:

For the record, the Indy’s circulation in February stood at just 252,435. But 41,492 of those were bulk sales and an eyebrow-raising 52,292 were “sold” in foreign parts. In Britain, the Indy sold just 153,635 at full rate.
Kelner must also get to grips with the Independent on Sunday, where a new editor, John Mullin, has been trying to make sense of the single-section paper since his appointment in January. Its headline sale in February stood at 228,012, but once the bulks and foreigns are removed, the full-rate British sale was a mere 118,126.

The other question, I suppose, is whether he will hire Nick Cohen.

Swedish creativity

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I think that this is the strangest idea I have ever seen as reality TV: a Swedish production company is going around the Cannes TV festival with an idea for a show where pregnant single women look for stepfathers for their children.