Category Archives: Stuff

This porn isn’t sexy enough!

This made me laugh: a chap has been fined by his local council because the pornographic videos he was selling didn’t contain the scenes that his (female) customer expected. Apparently they featured on the front cover but had been editted from the final cut.

Maybe it’s the Britishness in me that makes that so amusing, but I’ve got visions of a PVC and latex version of the dead parrot sketch in my head, although I think I might need mind-bleach to remove the idea of John Cleese in a peek-a-boo bra and panties set!

You probably didn’t want that image, but you know me: I like to share. 🙂

Slightly more here.

Advertising treats us like we’re sixteen

I came across an interesting term today while writing part of my thesis: ‘Aspirational age’.

This is a marketing term that indicates advertising to one age group can have an impact on a wider range of ages. By targetting 16-17 year olds they get those that are younger and long for percieved maturity and older people who long for the time of youthful freedom and health (even if these are false ideals).

I find this especially interesting, because the whole idea of teenage years being any different from any other time is a relatively modern concept, only really coming about with rock’n’roll in the twentieth century. Is it a coincidence that advertising was really getting into the swing of things at around the same time? We invent a concept of freedom, tell people they have it until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, then tell everyone else that it was the best time of their life to market products to them.

It’s a Möbius strip of marketing logic, and I find the idea fascinating!

‘Aspirational age’ definition here.

Dead at the wheel in Croydon

The story is simple: a man in Australia was given a parking ticket despite being in his car at the time. The attendant didn’t notice him, having approached the car from the rear, and put the ticket on the passenger windscreen.

The twist is that the man in the car was dead, and it was nine days since he had been reported missing. Apparently the parking officer is ‘extremely distressed to have learned of the situation’, which is understandable because it must be quite a nasty thing to find that you missed.

More here.

So, an oddity but not beyond belief by any means, what really astonishes me is that this took place in an area of Melbourne called ‘Croydon Market’.

Many of you reading this will probably not know of Croydon, but it’s generally regarded as one of the most dreary, miserable, soulless places in the UK. I grew up there and I have a peculiar fondness for its monolithic 1960s architecture. For some reason I like the huge lumps of concrete looming into the sky. I find it particularly amusing that the council, in an effort to make the place appear nicer, decided to set up coloured lights to shine on the buildings at night. Now, instead of huge dark rectangles in the night they have eerie spectral-hued buildings lurching like forgotten geometric gods in the sky. Fantastic! That perks the place up! Of all the places in the world that you could name your location after, why choose Croydon? I realise it was probably some home-sick convict long ago who named it, but even then I find the idea quite amusing.

To give some perspective to people who don’t know Croydon or its reputation here’s an example. The BBC cult TV series Red Dwarf is set three million years in the future. The human race is reduced to one man who is stranded a massive distance from earth. This man has extremely low standards of hygiene and etiquette, and even he thinks that Croydon is a dump. Yep, that’s the place that I called home. It probably shaped a lot of my attitude to cities and the bizarre sense of humour, because I think you’ve got to have a bit of a laugh if you live there otherwise you’ll turn into a psycho and start attacking church goers with a sword while naked (which happened a little while ago just outside Croydon).

Now sing along with me (to the tune of ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’:

Maybe it’s because I’m a Croydoner,
That I think the human race is doomed!
Maybe it’s because I’m a Croydoner,
That I love buildings that loom.
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down. (Which could be a knife)
Maybe it’s because I’m a Croydoner
That I love Croydon Town.

Bill Gates possibly wrong shock!

Okay, so this is just my personal opinion, but I’m pretty sure that Bill Gates is getting way ahead of his market.

Speaking at Harvard University, Bill Gates has picked the hard drive and streaming over the Internet as the likely death knell for disc formats. Gates branded high-capacity discs like HD-DVD and Blu-Ray “the last physical format we’ll ever have.” With Live on Xbox 360 set to deliver full games as well as demos, videos and music, Gates’ comments appear to explain why Microsoft hasn’t embraced the HD-DVD for the Xbox 360.


I know how much of a pain it is to have to move data from one hard-drive to the next, but when I had to buy a new computer I didn’t need to do anything with my DVD collection. It was still there. When my hard-drive died from a mechanical fault and most data was utterly irretrievable the DVDs on my shelf didn’t mind. When I pay for a film I want to be able to know that I own it for as long as I look after it, rather than hoping that the data on the drive doesn’t corrupt because a kid in Brazil worked out a clever way to get past my firewall and anti-virus software. Some of the videos I own I’ve had for well over a decade, in the meantime I’ve seen countless computing platforms disappear beneath the wave of progress, but that video is still there, ready to be watched without me needing to work to upkeep it (other than perhaps giving it a bit of a dust occasionally!).

I don’t deny that in maybe ten or fifteen years that data will have become so fluid that these issues are finally outdated, that the memory of the average computer will be sufficient to carry every film I’ve ever owned without blinking an eye, and that this data will be as secure as a physical media but as easily transferable as lending a DVD to a friend or putting the box on a shelf in a new house, but we’re not there yet.

Perhaps the most important thing that I think Bill Gates is overlooking is the fondness people have for physical formats. We have lived for millennia with the idea of physical ownership and I don’t think it’s going to entirely vanish overnight, especially not without a major rethink in the way that entertainment media operates. To give an example, I’ve got an original copy of Fight Club, a great film that I thoroughly enjoy, but somehow the DVD has become scratched. This is the first time that this has happened to a disk that I own and it’s pretty frustrating (yes, physical media definitely has its risks too!) but I don’t want to pay for it again, so I might get a friend to run off a copy of the one he owns. I’ve paid for it, so why shouldn’t I own it? In the future of Bill Gates there will be no physical evidence of ownership to justify replacement and if one film becomes damaged the whole collection could go.

It’s the job of people like Bill Gates to be optimistic about the future, but I think on this one he’s underestimated people’s attachment to physical media. To use another paradigm, electronic ink may be the future of newspapers, but I can’t see books disappearing in our lifetimes.

ATM fraud that could have destroyed banks

During the 1990s the ATM system (hole-in-the-wall cash machines) had a massive critical flaw in the way that PIN numbers were generated, and the one barrister who could force the banks to take action was taken off the case.

This sounds like a pretty dull read, but it’s weirdly gripping. If you’ve got a few minutes on a break I highly suggest going through this article just to see how unsecure our financial institutions were for over a decade and how little they did about it:

Interesting stuff.

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

Dual Screen bricks! – Nintendo DS gets hacked too

Anything $ony can do, Ninten-cando too.

Do you remember little while ago I wrote about a trojan that could turn your PSP into a very nicely designed brick? Well, not to be outdone, Nintendo’s DS has got a couple of its own too.

The first one is getting in the same way as the PSP trojan, using home-brew creation/playing software to trick people into putting the software onto your machine. Dubbed the ‘DSBrick’ trojan, it works to turn your lovely fun toy into a lump of unusable plastic and components. More about that one here.

The second one apparently gets in through downloads of applications to show hentai (Japanese cartoon pornography of women) on your machine. This is a more common approach for hackers. Pornography has always been a good way of launching attacks on people’s machines because the user is less likely to report what they were trying to do to authorities. It’s sneaky, but nothing new, other than the fact that it’s attacking hand-held machines. Source here.

I really fail to see how anyone other than Nintendo stands to benefit from this, all that happens is that a load of strangers end up scared to use non-commercially produced products, putting users off from experimenting with new software on their machines. That certainly doesn’t do any favours for small software designers, who are the kind of people who have the jobs that many of these malicious programmers would one day like to get.

To look at this from another point of view, the PSP’s curved corners make it a difficult building block, but the DS has straight edges. Out of the two, the DS is ultimately going to prove the most useful building material, so if you own both and fancy turning one of your machines into a brick then I suggest that the DS with give the best results.


I used to work in an off-licence (a liquor store, in the US) and on Sundays it would be very quiet. I invented a method to rate the busy-ness of the day: the Bohemian Rhapsody Index (BRI). Essentially, this was the number of times I could sing the Bohemian Rhapsody in full before the next customer came in. An average Sunday would round out at around two or three on the index. I think one day had a rating of seven, which needless to say was pretty high even for that shop.

I would like to say that such things are useful for keeping you sane when working by yourself in a really boring job, but I suspect that even taking the idea seriously indicates a slight slippage in the levels of sanity.

Microwaved food for microwaved passengers

They’ve been in science fiction books for many years, but now they are finally practical models. Microwave scanners are coming to an airport near you!

Using a 3mm microwave, the equipment builds up a three dimensional map of the space in front of it. Different objects return the beam at different fequencies, so you can tell what things are made of. This is a pretty cool gadget, although it does seem slightly pervy because cloth has almost no microwave return signal so look like they’re naked. Actually, that alone is probably enough to ensure that it goes on the market eventually, because any technology that can be applied to pornographic use has ever failed to sell. Now all they need to do is work out how to make the technology tie in to Star Trek and they won’t be able to keep them on the shelves.

Of course, anyone who’s read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (UK link US link) knows how to sneak weapons past such things, which is a bit worrying really. ‘Great book though, if you like cyberpunk.

More about the scanner here.

New James Bond about to be confirmed

Tomorrow the new Bond will be announced as being Daniel Craig.

If, like me, your first reaction was ‘who?’ you might want to click here for the IMDB file and here for some pictures.

Perhaps it says a lot that the only thing I’ve seen him in is the first Tomb Raider movie, where he played Lara’s boyfriend-ish bloke Alex West (and you also get to see him naked in a shower). UK link US link

Trivia buffs might also like to know that the screenplay for the next Bond film, Casino Royale, has been written by Paul Haggis, who wrote the brilliant Canadian mountie comedy/drama Due South. UK link US link

Narnia marketing: Christians as a turn-off?

Here’s an interesting thing: Disney are having trouble pitching the new Narnia film’s soundtrack/s because of the religious content of the movie. They’ve released a Christian soundtrack, but they may release another one too, to try and not put off whole sections of the market.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are roughly based on Christian stories and morality, and Disney has been trying its hardest to capitalise on the religious market that did so well for Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. They’ve been marketing hard at Christians, showing trailers at Christian conventions and suchlike, and have released a soundtrack album for the film of songs ‘inspired by’ the story, all by Christian performers and treating the material from a Christian perspective. The problem that they’re facing is that they don’t want to turn off the secular (non-religous) parts of society from buying the music and watching the film. Equally they’re scared that Disney might become seen as a Christian-film maker (although after The Lion King I’m amazed they’re not already). Disney is hoping to release a non-Christian soundtrack album too, but currently isn’t sure if it’s going to manage this because music for the film hasn’t been fully settled on yet.

I find this a little weird. I don’t think I’ve heard of a soundtrack album being released targetted specifically at a group based on its religion before. Is this something we’re going to see more of in the future: I’d love to see the ‘Blade 4: The Christian Rock Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’, featuring songs about the Christian metaphor of a man with supernatural powers, born from death and to deliver humanity from evil. How about having whole different soundtrack options on films, so you’d have one version of the film with the secular soundtrack, and another one with Christian folk singers chirping uplifting ballads between actors’ lines?

But why stop there? ‘Lord of the Rings: The Bollywood Edition’ would be great. You could do a George Lucas style remake of the film’s special effects, having Gollum dance on, twirling his wrists, and sing in Hindi about the need for understanding of the balance between the physical incarnation of the body and spiritual fulfillment.

Should Christians be insulted that their religion is now just a marketing tool? Or are they expected to simply enjoy the idea of celebrating Christ through their consumer choices? It all smacks of buying redemption to me. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that people have tried to buy their way into heaven (the medieval church became massively rich selling pardons) but it’s certainly an interesting manifestation of late-stage capitalism’s interpretation of religion’s position in society.

More (in a slightly more serious tone) here.

Can you or someone you know read X-ray/CT scans?

The black helicopters are circling!

There’s a chap on my forums who believes that he has alien-technology implants in his neck. He believes that they were put there 35 years ago by the Australian Navy. He also claims to be part of a cover-up of the murder of the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who, mainstream reports say, drowned. His website can be seen here.

We’ve been as polite as possible to this chap and his one defender (a conveniently timed new forum member), but without medical training we’re just working on logic and observation, so I need your help:

Do you or a friend know how to read X-rays or CT scans?

On this page there are scans that the person claims to show alien-technology implants in his neck. To me they look remarkably like organic structures, possibly scar tissue, or maybe a hardening of ligaments from some damage to the neck. I think my favourite bit on that page is the third page of the letter which talks about the need to ‘expose the TRUTH’ about the operation on his neck. I’ve seen the Truth, the truth, but rarely do I see the TRUTH. I love this kind of stuff!

I would like to hear from anyone with experience in the field who can make a judgement on the pictures, either way. It would be especially useful if they are currently working in a verifiable position in a hospital – this is all about checkable evidence, so being able to confirm that the person saying it does have a medical background would be useful! Surely someone or a friend must be able to help with this?

I would really love for it all to be true. I think it would be great if some massive governmental/corporate/alien conspiracy were to be behind all this, but I just don’t think it is, which is a shame. Still, I’d like to find someone with medical experience of looking at scans who can say that the shadows on the scans are seen on thousands of other ones every day (or that they aren’t).

The thing that I find the strangest out of all of this is that this man claims to have been involved in an internationally mandated assassination of his country’s prime minister but then he waffles on about alien-technology neck implants and almost completely forgets the initial claim. Such an assassination is far more believable than the implant story, but he doesn’t give any details about it.

You can see the full forum thread here. It’s quite entertaining!

Shock news: good words make a good impression!

The top brains at the University of Hertfordshire have come up with shocking revelation that ‘the choice of language [on application forms] generates a positive or negative impression’. Where would we be without academics, eh?

10 Best: Achievement, active, developed, evidence, experience, impact, individual, involved, planning, transferable skills
10 Worst: Always, awful, bad, fault, hate, mistake, never, nothing, panic, problems

There goes my CV then! At least I’m still allowed to write it in crayon around tea mug stains on the back of a court summons envelope.

Read the story here.

Curse Of the Were-Underground-Mutton

For those of you who weren’t already convinced that the UK is full of patches of complete eccentricity (which is like madness, but more traditional or accompanied by wealth), the release of the new Wallace & Grommit film, Curse of the Were-Rabbit has been retitled on posters in the Portland region of Dorset in England. Apparently there is the theory that the mention of the word ‘rabbit’ causes mines to collapse.

I have a friend living on Portland Island who I’ll be seeing in a couple of weeks. I’ve been there once, and, like most islands, the place is a bit odd, so I can well believe this story is true. There isn’t any mention of the film being redubbed, which may yet cause miner-related mayhem in Portland cinemas… Although, now I think about it, I doubt they have any cinemas on the island. Maybe they could beep out the word rabbit, or get someone with a nice thick dorset accent to re-dub the whole film replacing Wallace’s dulcet intonation of the word rabbit with the popular Portland alternative ‘undergound mutton’ or ‘furry things’.

Thanks again to The Register for the orignal story.

PSP trojan that turns your machine into a brick

I’m a big fan of home-brew games. These are games that people have worked on themselves and are usually distributed either free or extremely cheaply. They’re usually quick fun ideas executed in ways that are perfect for mobile gaming. To me they’re one of the best reasons to get a handheld games machine, because there’s a lot of fun to be had very cheaply.

This creates a problem for manufacturers though: do you let people make these games run easily selling more base units, or do you try and block them and sell more full-price games?

Well, the answer that $ony has come up with is that they want to make their money out of games, so the PSP (PlayStation Portable) automatically upgrades its internal software occasionally whenever a new hole in its defences against home-brew software is discovered. That’s the problem for home-brew creators: they need to hack the console to let it play non-official releases. Its a real battle of the titans, on one side you have a whole planet of determined hackers who want to get the best out of their machine and use it to play the things that they want to (which is fair enough, if they own it they should be able to do what they like with it – although I suspect that’s not the legal perspective) and on the other side you have $ony trying to patch up holes as soon as they are found.

The firmware (the software inside the PSP that makes it tick) version 1.5 was found to have a flaw that home-brew programmers could use to get their code onto their machine. $ony have now upgraded the firmware to version 2.0, which automatically installs itself onto the machine through numerous official sources, so the holy grail for home-brew creators is to find a way to downgrade a machine from 2.0 to 1.5. Some people have worked out how to do this, but unfortunately for others, some hackers decided to put a trojan on a down-grade download saying it’s from ‘PSP Team’ which turns your swanky new PSP into a useless lump of silicon, AKA a brick. Current theories aren’t sure if the machine is recoverable from that state either. Very, very nasty.

The paranoid person in me suggests that maybe $ony did this themselves to scare people off from using home-brew software and to guarantee people don’t get to use anything that’s free on their PSP, but the voice of reason tells me that they’d have a lawsuit the size of Texas if they were ever found out and so the risk is too great. Still, it’s a nice conspiracy theory, and I always enjoy a good one of them.

More here.

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.

Pythons v.s Alligators

Now that’s my kind of match up.

Florida’s swamps just become more appealing by the moment. Their long-standing reputation for having toothed-logs (otherwsie known as alligators) ready to consume unwary travellers, mob-hit victims, and stunned vampires (see Interview With The Vampire UK link US link) is now being enhanced further by their suitability as a breeding ground for the Burmese python.

The pythons love the climate and have inevitably found themselves a bit of serious hunting when they have grown big enough to need a lot of meat and consequently taken on the indigenous alligator population. In the latest clash a 6 foot alligator was eaten whole by a 13 foot python. We only know about this happening because the python’s stomach exploded, leaving the alligator’s tail sticking out in a very odd multi-tailed twist on the Isle of Man flag. It’s possible that the alligator was still alive when eaten and clawed through the stomach but was too tired to escape after killing the python. Blimey. It’s also possible that pythons will become the top of the food chain in Florida when they get big enough to take on the rest of the scaley bunch.

So, who’s for a trip to the Everglades?

More here.


Hurrah! It’s time for NaNoWriMo again! National Novel Writing Month takes place in November. It works on the theory that everyone has a novel in them, even if it’s not a very good one, and wouldn’t it be great to say to people at parties ‘oh yes, I had something like that in my novel…’?

Some members of my forum took part in it last year, and they’re going to give it another shot this year:

Matazoner’s doing NaNoWriMo

Essentially you agree to have a shot at writing about 2,000 words a day for the whole month, ending up with a novelette of 50k words. It doesn’t have to be any good, or even make sense, it’s all about the word count!

I won’t be taking part this year (there is the slight pressing matter of my thesis to be done instead, where quality is regarded as slightly more important than quantity) but I might give it a crack in 2006 if I haven’t already started writing books by then.

More info here:

And NaNoWriMo in ten easy steps here.

Considering that it’s now international, shouldn’t it be InNoWriMo?