Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Fly away home!

I'm off to see my folks later this afternoon for just over a week. It's always nice to get back to the Old Country every so often, but ten days with only the smallest pipe[1] to the outside world leaves me with the shakes already. Lots of books and a few CDs packed (dammit, this is why I need one of these), so I should return with some semblance of sanity.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Spider-man 2 rant

I went to see Spider-man 2 yesterday which was a moderately fun film. But (and it's a big But), they got the science so wrong that it's just incredible. There's an awful lot of things that I'm willing to forgive in a comic book film. I can suspend my disbelief enough to believe that a genetically engineered spider can give a man the ability to swing through New York and super strength. I can believe that a scientist can invent artificially intelligent super-strong arms that can take over his brain. Hell, I can even believe that Peter Parker made his suit! But what I absolutely cannot believe is that there are only twenty five pounds of tritium on the entire planet. Tritium is just an isotope of hydrogen (the most common element in the universe). It exists in large quantities on the planet, and it's possible (difficult, but not that difficult) to manufacture it synthetically. A moment's googling (or a basic knowledge of physics) would have revealed this.

This probably wouldn't have annoyed me so much if it had been a throwaway reference, but it's the core of the film – creating a sustainable fusion reaction with tritium. If they had gone for some random pseudo-science power source then that would have been fine, but the incredibly bad attempt at using real science (and reinforcing the already existing fear of all things nuclear) just left a bad taste in my mouth. Which was disappointing, because apart from that, I thought that it was quite a good film (notwithstanding the "with great power comes great responsibility" theme that got rammed down your throat at every opportunity).

Friday, July 23, 2004

Police to hold innocent people's DNA

The idea that police can keep DNA and fingerprint records of innocent people worries me, and I'm not entirely sure why. The arguments for this policy are convincingly spelled out by the Law Lords, and I can definitely appreciate why it is wanted, but I still can't help feeling uneasy about it. Maybe I've been reading too much dystopian fiction, but I keep thinking about what they say about the road to Hell.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Elton John speaking up?

Interestingly, Elton John has recently been speaking up about how he feels that free speech is being stifled in the US. I find it interesting that someone as high-profile as him is doing so. Gareth (who I nicked the link off) doesn't totally agree with him, but from the outside, the US is certainly not looking like the place to be at the moment.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Warner bloody Brothers at it again

Not content with threatening teenagers over Harry Potter websites, Warner Brothers are now claiming ownership of the word Shire. They sent a nasty letter to the guy who runs (and ordering him to cease and desist. However, he isn't just folding over and giving it to them. He's said that he'll see them in court, and good on him! I hope that he wins and that WB get laughed out of court. This greed and abuse of power sickens me to my bones. May they be poked with sharp, pointy things until they see sense.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Columns on the web!

I'm getting far too excited about bug 251162 in BMO which will implement the columns module of the CSS3 spec in Mozilla. No more need for hacks like that found at the International Herald Tribune. /me does a little dance (explicitly avoiding the use of pseudo-XML). Of course, it obviously won't work in IE, but thanks the to the power of CSS it should degrade gracefully.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Bad medicine (and other science)

This report at the Register makes for a bit of depressing reading. It's good to see that scientists are getting together to make a stand against bad science, but to me it points to more evidence of science and scientists being held in contempt by the people In Charge, which is worrying to say the least. I do like the end of the Register report though:

In total, UCS called for the Bush administration to have a much more open, investigative approach to scientific matters. Something along the the lines of actually considering the evidence presented.

Amen to that.

No Sir!

There are moves afoot to revamp the honours system and I'm not entirely sure that it's all entirely justified. Although I'm all for more openness and whatnot in the system, I see no reason to get rid of knighthoods or damehoods. Those titles have been around for centuries and don't smack "of past preoccupations with rank and class" any more than owning a big car or house. And although I'd be happy with swapping the word "empire" for "excellence" or whatever in the cases of the MBE, CBE or OBE, I don't really have too much of a problem with it. The Empire is gone now and (most of) the British people are comfortable with that; there's no harm in leaving little acronyms, ceremonies or statues etc lying around as part of its history. It seems to me that there's a lot of political correctness and busybody-ing going on here. Don't MPs have better things to do with their time?

Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring!!

I don't often blog about my work because, frankly, it's dull if you're not a software engineer (and probably even then), but I had a moment of panic today, and after analysing it after it was over, I really can't, for the life of me, figure out why. I had written something a while ago and my testing (on my development machine) indicated that it was working properly, so I moved it to the production server and thought no more about it. Until today, when I needed to take a peek at it for something else that I was doing. When I looked at it, I noticed that it was failing to run (it's supposed to run every night and poke tutors that are getting lax with their marking) – but it was only failing sometimes, which is the worst kind of bug to have. I noticed this not long before lunch, and it quite miffed me off, as if it was a personal affront. I don't think that I've ever felt that way about a bug before! And by the time that I got back from lunch, I was positively panicking about it. In the end, I figured out the problem in less than an hour after getting back from lunch (if you really care, it was because I hadn't uploaded updated versions of certain classes that my problem class depended on when I made it live – which is why it didn't show up in testing). That was just a rather odd experience since there was no immediate rush for it to be fixed. I could have just disabled the nightly job until I had fixed it. Things are quiet in the summer, and even if it had happened during term time, it wouldn't have been a disaster. After that, I'd hate to think how I'd react in a real emergency :).

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Another story of American paranoia (via Gareth). I could try to comment on it, but is there really anything new to say? McCarthyism is back with a vengence, it would seem.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Electronic elections... why?

The Register ran a story today about the protocols needed to get e-voting right, in a secure way. That's all fine and dandy, but I'm still not entirely sure why we need it. We've had an awful lot of experience with old-fashioned paper-based voting and it's much easier to keep secure than electronic voting. Sure, it's slow, but that's a price I'm willing to pay for democracy (*cough*Florida*cough*). E-voting seems like a solution to a non-existant problem to me. And I quite enjoy the act of going round to a primary school every few years, getting my little piece of paper and putting my cross in it (or numbering it, or whatever, depending on the voting system being used). This whole postal/text/electronic voting malarky is just pandering to the terminally lazy.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Warning: comp sci geeks only

Joel Spolsky has written a very interesting article on how Microsoft has lost the API war with itself. This is a moderately techy article and will probably only make sense if you are a programming/comp sci geek, but I found it very enlightening.

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