Category Archives: Cool things

Fight AIDS with your PC

You may have heard of SETI@home, a distributed computing project that allowed people over the world to let their computer use its spare processing cycles to help analyse radio signals from deep space in the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Now there’s a similar project that’s working on something a bit more practical: finding a treatment for HIV/AIDS.

It’s very easy to download and install and does research into genes and an illness that is killing millions around the world.

Download it from here
(Currently Windows and Linux only. No plans for the Mac have been mentioned.)

Once you’re set up you can click this link:

and join the Matazone team so we can see how we’re doing together!

More info here.

Unspeak: something a little bit academic?

Steven Poole, author of Trigger Happy (a very enjoyable book about computer games US link UK link), is working on a new book called ‘Unspeak’. The word is apparently a trademark, but with a bit of luck he won’t sue me…

Anyway, it’s all about ‘decoding the unspoken assumptions in public debate’. What this means is that he’s taking statements from public figures and interpreting them into plain English. This, a common satirical tool, has been done before but he does it very nicely on the fine line between humour and agression. Definitely worth a look if you like something a bit more thoughful on the web.

US link UK link

Here’s the official blurb about it:

Unspeak is language as a weapon. Every day, we are bombarded with those apparently simple words or phrases that actually conceal darker meanings. ‘Climate change’ is less threatening than ‘Global Warming’; we say ethnic cleansing when we mean mass murder. As we absorb and repeat Unspeak we are accepting the messages that politicians, businessmen and military agencies wish us to believe. Operation Iraqi Freedom did more than put a positive spin on the American war with Iraq; it gave the invasion such a likeable phrase that the American news networks quickly adopted it as their tagline for reporting on the war. By repackaging the language we use to describe international affairs or domestic politics, Unspeak tries to make controversial issues unspeakable and, therefore, unquestionable. In this astounding book, Steven Poole traces the globalizing wave of modern Unspeak from culture wars to the culture of war and reveals how everyday words are changing the way we think.

‘Sounds interesting. Although I don’t think ‘unspeak’ did turn up in Orwell’s 1984 it certainly wouldn’t have been out on place in there.

Who is stealing the lamp-posts?

This one definitely ranks in the ‘how are they getting away with that?’ category of crime.

In Baltimore a gang are stealing the lamp-posts, most probably to sell them for scrap. These people clearly know what they’re doing, and they’re not totally irresponsible either:

Left behind are half-foot stubs of metal, with wires that carry 120 volts neatly tied and wrapped in black electric tape.

So they drive up, sometimes disguised in workmen outfits, chop down the 30 foot pole, and then carefully secure off the dangerous wires so no-one gets hurt. Odd.

They would be getting 35 cents for a pound of scrap aluminium, so probably make a few hundred out of the poles, which is pretty annoying for the city because they cost around $156,000 to replace. Ouch. There are probably a few taxpayers who would rather the thought of electrocution from unsealed wires than the $20,280,000 bill that currently stands to replace the ones that have been stolen, so perhaps the gang’s social conscience isn’t that strong. Currently the police have no idea who is doing it either, and I have images of Chief Wiggum in my head: ‘That’s good stealin’ boys.’

The gang is clearly very organised, but you can’t help but wonder what they might achieve if the same level of ingenuity were applied to a legitimate business. Alternatively they could take the crime to the next level and start sending ransom notes to the city demaning $100k in return for every lamp that they don’t steal. Now that’s thinking outside of the box.


Christmas gift inspiration have put together a list of ‘most wished for’ items from their shop categories. I suspect that technically I’m not supposed to be linking to this because it was designed for people with associate accounts. Ah well, stuff that for a game of turkeys:

Christmas gift ideas from [EDIT – Oops! Looks like they’ve blocked me from doing that!]

They’ve also put together a more public list of things that are in a more reasonable price range:

Cheaper Christmas gift ideas from

I thought some people on here might find them handy for inspiration. I’ll let you know if deign to grace us Brits with something as useful.

Bobbies on patrol in the desert

This made me chuckle. In the UK we have a very distinctive Polive uniform. It’s quite an old design, with the funny shaped helmet harking back to the days when a robber might try to bash the local bobby over the head with a stick. It’s also designed for the (usually) cool UK climate.

The idea of two guys in full police uniform riding around the desert at Burning Man really tickled me…

”Ello ‘ello ‘ello, what’s going on ‘ere then?’
‘It’s a mutual massage tent officer.’
‘Do you have a license to do that in public madam?’ 😀

More pictures by the same photographer of Burning Man 2005 here. They’re some of the best I’ve seen, and the Temple of Dreams at the bottom really needs to be seen to be believed (like dreams, I guess). They build such a thing of beauty in a week then burn it down on the last day.

Make your own music station

Here’s a nice little idea:

You type in the name of a band that you like then they generate a streaming radio station with tracks that are similar to the band that you like. You get ten hours free, after that you have to pay, but I think it’s a really neat idea, and the application of it is brilliant. Give it a try next time you fancy some tunes.

Handy computer tips

I know this is very un-geek chic of me, but like many people the foibles of Microsoft Word frequently escape my understanding. Things that I set one day seem to vanish, other times it will constantly decide to print everything in blue with flowers instead of dots on the ‘i’s.* This chap has worked on The Daily Telegraph for many years, sorting out those simple but niggling problems with computers and now he’s started a blog:

It’s only been going for a little while, but it’s already got some nice tips on there, like how to create a desktop shortcut to shutdown Windoze XP. It’s not life changing stuff, but it’s the little things that make the difference sometimes.

*may not be entirely true

British horror is looking good*

*although I’m not sure if ‘blood soaked’ counts as ‘looking good’, but you get the drift.

Last year we had the fantastic Shaun of the Dead UK link US link which managed to be scary, gruesome, and absolutely hilarious at the same time. I rate it as the funniest thing that British cinema has managed for a very long time, and for comedy moments probably rates higher than Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

Earlier this year I eventually got around to watching the 2002 British horror film 28 Days Later UK link US link, a film about a viral outbreak that turns people into psychopathic cannibal killers, resembling zombies that can sprint. It features some very effective moments, a fun plot that rips along, and a great performance by Christopher Eccleston, better known now as the recent Doctor Who.

This weekend I saw Creep UK link US link. I’ve seen quite a few horror films these days, but this really had some moments that made me wince. Really, I don’t quite know how to describe it, but it definitely hits the fragile spots. It features Franke Potente, best known for the superb German film Run Lola Run UK link US link as well as for being the girlfriend in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. She misses the last underground train and wakes up to find that the station is now locked. This would be pretty annoying if it weren’t for a complete slime from a party having got down there with her, and things get worse when a barely-human killer comes out to play. Yep, it sounds daft, but the director/writer has gone to great lengths to try and avoid the obvious twists. If you compare this to something like the US movie Jeepers Creepers you can see how great the difference is between the way that the material is handled. Anyway, if you fancy something a bit nasty and a bit scary then you could do a lot worse than give Creep a look.

British horror really does seem to be doing very well at the moment. I’m looking forward to what happens next!

On a side-note: I can imagine approaching Franke Potente with a script-

Mata: Hi Franke, I’m making a film about a young woman who is struggling to regain her memories of the past.
Franke: Uh huh.
M: She meets people who all seem familiar, but they all pretend not to recognise her…
F: I’m not sure.
M: So she has to sprint between them against the clock to
F: I’M IN!

She certainly does like running in films, that lady.

It’s Ig-Nobel prize time again!

Hurrah! The Ig-Nobel prizes are given out to people for the most pointless contributions to science. This year’s peace prize, for example, goes to Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie “Star Wars.”

I’m doing a PhD about William Gibson, a man whose fiction changed the face not only of science-fiction but of pretty much all modern society by shaping the way that we construct our views of computers; however, I am also fully aware that it will probably be read by a grand total of about ten people if I’m lucky. Even with the moderate futility of my own study I still think it is potentially of more cultural importance than the work of Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. They have been spending their time conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water? (Winner of the Chemistry award.)

This said, I quite like the sound of the project by the Economics winners…

See for yourself here.

Gorillas seen using tools in the wild

This is quite interesting, if you like this sort of thing. Wild mountain gorillas have been seen using tools for the first time in the wild, and not just for finding food either.

Here‘s a great series of photos showing a female gorilla wading across a river, getting waist-deep, then going back to the edge to find a stick to check out the depth in front of her as she crosses.

I think this is great because it shows once again that it’s not only human who have the ability for abstract thought. In particular this is significant because the use of the stick wasn’t to getting food but simply to make her life easier and safer. This is precisely the kind of thing that early humans must have done. It’s very easy to imagine an ancestor or ours poking their way across a river, deciding that they have a good stick, holding on to it, and beginning to find other uses for it. What these photos show is a scene that has probably happened millions of times before, but we’ve never witnessed its like in other creatures. Fantastic.

Full article here.

An interesting Firefox extension for programmers

When it comes to learning Flash, I’m a big fan of the Friends of ED books. My favourite is an oldie but a goodie, Flash MX Most Wanted Effects & Movies UK link US link, in particular the tutotial on (which is a lovely little website, with some great design feaures, in particular the use of sound is lovely).

Anyway, the publisher of the Friends of ED books, Apress, also make many other books about (less exciting ;)) computer things like PHP, Java, .NET, etc blah blah rhubarb. They’ve come up with a funky little Firefox extension that allows you to highlight a phrase on the web, right click and do an automatic search of their library for books related to that subject. I think it could be pretty handy when you’re looking to find info about programming and/or Flash. If you think so to then you can download it here:

Wolfenstein 3D… In Flash!

The new version of Flash is out, and it is seriously cool. I’ve been playing with some of the features on it, but other people are way ahead of me. Check out this:

It’s a Flash based version of the original first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D. Flash has come a long way!

You’ll need the latest version of Flash player for it to work. I’ll be interested to hear whether you get automatically prompted to download it and what your experience is of the upgrade. Obviously I’d like to begin publishing for Flash player 8 pretty soon, so I need to know how smoothly the upgrade process goes.

Giant squid!

It’s been a week for huge things, firstly Pac-Man, then the bunny on a moutainside, and now the first pictures of a giant squid in its natural habitat.

small pics
bigger (but less) pics

When I was a child I wanted to be a deep-sea diver. Then I read about giant squid and changed my mind.

These pictures are massively important to the study of the creatures because no-one has ever seen one alive before. Okay, so this poor creature spent the entire time trying to rip itself off a hook and eventually lost an arm to escape (I’m pretty sure they grow back though), so it’s not a completely natural example of giant squid behaviour, but they do show that the squid actively hunt rather than drifting, as was previously thought. This also lends some credence to the old stories of giant squid attacking small vessels… Not much credence admittedly, because giant squid aren’t generally seen out of the deep ocean, but it does show that they can hunt when they want to.


They still creep me out though. There’s something very scary about squid and octopi. I think it’s a very instinctive fear on two levels: fear of something so utterly different, and fear of something intelligent and strong. Octopi are among the smartest creatures that we know of, with unusually large brains. No-one’s quite sure why they need such large brains. Some have suggested that it’s to control all the limbs, but I think they’re planning to build sea-water containing robots to come and destroy us all.

Oh, if anyone can find a better source for the pictures I’d be happy to see them, these were the best I could find. Some news sources told you about the great new pictures and didn’t even include a single one of them!

EDIT: I’ve found some decent pictures:

National Geographic

Giant Pac-man spotted in middle-America

Oh those wacky Japanese, now they’re making American crops look like their characters! What will they think of next?

Or something.

But seriously, there’s a huge Pac-man in the middle of the US, check it out on Google Earth:

36°58’25.88″n, 101°32’49.54″W

(Or get a satellite photo from Google Maps).

I will be disappointed if farmers don’t start cropping their fields into the shape of Space Invaders next year.

Maybe there could be a new advertising market for adverts designed to be visible in satellite photos? You could park a van with an advert on its roof next to a monument, wait until the satellite photo is updated then move on somewhere else… Of course you could be waiting a long time unless you worked out how to predict when the photos are being taken. Even so, as an idea I think it’s got potential!

Burning Man 2005 photos

For those who’ve known me for many years, you’ll know that I love the Burning Man festival. Basically it’s a big gathering of strange people in the desert. Some say it’s a huge interactive art installation, others an experiment in spontaneous social engineering, and others say it’s just a big party. It’s definitely all of those and many, many more things too.

I went over there in 1999 and 2002 but couldn’t afford to go this year, which is a real shame because some of the art looks fantastic. Here’s a few selections of photos (all pages may contain some nudity):
This one not only has masses of images that capture some of the bizarre daily events of the place but it also has some silky smooth presentation. Definitely worth a visit.
Rick Egan has been taking Burning Man photos for years. Here’s one from this year that I like:

There’s something very spiritual about the desert that forces you to adjust your perception of yourself. Take away your normal home, your normal belongings, your job, and normal survival conditions and you find that you live your days in a different way. Sometimes you find yourself not watching a sunset but standing in a sunset, and that’s a whole new experience. I can’t tell you in words how it is, but it just is.
Patrick Roddie is another regular photographer at the burn. He makes series’ of photographs based on actions or body parts. His portraits are especially good, capturing something beautiful in every face:
Although this one also caught my eye as something representative of the event’s spirit:

Enjoy the photos!

The finest Venezuelan spam, direct to you

Actually, it’s not spam, but now you can see where lots of spam is coming from. Hurrah for the spam map!

By utilising the power of clever doohickies, this company has combined the IP address data from spam-generating machines with Google maps to create a map of where the most spam in the world is coming from. How cool is that?

Okay… Maybe I’m just easily impressed, but still, I think it’s pretty clever.

It’s worth remembering that these are most likely zombie PCs infected with junk that makes them send out spam without the owner knowing anything about it. On which subject, I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating, make sure that your PC is scanned regularly for hidden junk:

Download Ad-Aware

Download ‘Spybot Search & Destroy’

Run them once a week (or more) to keep your computer happy and non-zombified.

So what’s big in Venezuelan spam right now? “looking for that special bedroom buddy” has been sent out 1,600 times from IP address , and remember, with the spam lottery, it could be you next!

Speaking of which, I’ve not heard from Digital Shakespeare for a while. Oh no, maybe it’s been deleted!

It’s Talk Like A Pirate Day!

It does exactly what it says on the thread title, yarr, so it does.

It be the day to talk like a pirate, so shiver yer timbers an’ those o’ yer ship-mates otherwise I’ll keel-haul yer sorry land lubbing arse.

Do pirates say ‘arse’? Probably not.


Have fun.


While I’m here, get your pirate name:

Mine is Pirate Harley the Cash-Strapped, which be fair accurate, so it be.

The Mystery Spot

A friend of mine in the US mentioned this place to me, and it sounds extremely peculiar.

The Mystery Spot.

Apparently gravity leans in a different direction there. No-one is sure quite why this happens, but it seems to be a reliable effect. Very odd. Has anyone been there? I’d love to hear some first-hand reports of the place.