Wednesday, December 08, 2004

8 December 2004: Redknapp

Harry it is.

From the sounds of things, Harry was about to go on holiday when Woopert called him with an offer he couldn't refuse. Woops then chatted to Steve Wigley at the Under-18s game last night, presumably telling him he was going to be resigning (because Woops, of course, never sacks managers). Latest rumours are more about the time of the press conference (3.00pm sounds favourite) rather than whether or not Harry's coming. He's already here. Sans Jim, as predicted yesterday, as Kevin Bond will be his number two.

An insightful piece by John May on the BBC site clearly states the situation:
"Redknapp and chairman Rupert Lowe are not so much chalk and cheese as strawberries and strychnine."

It's up to you to decide which is which. Personally, I'd give Harry less than a year in the job.

Which begs the question, what now for Wigley? Also, what now for Denis Rofe? And what now for the Damiano guy whom we signed as assistant coach a couple of months ago, apparently, but nobody has seen him since, except for Marian Pahars who got the address of a French doctor from him. Are they all going to stay on? Even if Wigley departs (new Portsmouth manager, perhaps?) that still leaves four high-profile staff at Saints. Maybe we could call them the Teletubbies and be done with it.

Back in the real world, Paul Sturrock won Manager Of The Month for November with Sheffield Wednesday. What a shockingly bad manager he must be.

Footnote: By the way, if you're unsure, I do actually think this is a good thing. It's just hard not to be cynical about anything Woopert does.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

7 December 2004: Counter-Rumour

William Hill have stopped taking bets on whether Steve Wigley will still be Saints manager at Christmas. Apparently they've taken a rush of bets from a sufficient number of people to figure "hmm, something's up here" and they've closed the book.

The applicable SaintsForever thread states just as clearly that Harry Redknapp (possibly sans Jim Smith) will be appointed, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

Me, I still think Woopert wants the job himself.

7 December 2004: Rumour

So the rumour was false, Glenn Hoddle has taken over as manager of Wolves instead of Saints.

Which means a number of things.

  1. St Nick from The Ugly Inside has to eat some humble pie as he said he had inside info that Hoddle would be appointed at St Mary's today.
  2. The fans on SaintsForever are now extremely worried that there'll either be no management appointment or, worse, that it will be a man named Houllier. Frankly, I'd take Houllier right now.
  3. Harry Redknapp rumours continue to roll on, rather like Andrex toilet paper.
  4. Steve Wigley is still Saints 'Head Coach', meaning the team have in charge of them a man with no motivational or tactical abilities, and who himself admits he never wanted to do this for a living. Presumably he... wanted to be... a LUMBERJACK!
  5. Saints remain firmly entrenched in the relegation zone and could well be playing Hull City next season.

As much as Rupert never makes public statements these days (which is extremely out of character), you get the impression he is trying to say "there's no pressure on Wigley, we're not looking at any other managerial options."

If, Woops, it is true that you are not looking at other managerial options, can I ask just one question? Why on earth not?

Final point: looking back to August, I remember pointing out Paul Sturrock's record in his first thirteen matches, which got him the sack: Won 5, Drawn 2, Lost 6. Points 17.

Steve Wigley's first fourteen games: Won 1, Drawn 6, Lost 7. Points 9.

But of course that doesn't include our magnificent Coca-Cola Cup run, where we scrambled our way past Northampton and a come-from-behind struggle against Colchester, only to be humiliated - utterly humiliated - by the Mighty Hornets of Watford.

Time to sort it out Rupert - if, in fact, you actually care. Which I suspect you don't.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

4 December 2004: Chair

Well, it's supposed to be embargoed until Monday, but the ECS website is already reporting it and I even heard it on Wave 105 yesterday: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and the daddy of HTML, HTTP and no doubt other things beginning with HT, is to join Southampton University as Chair of Computer Science in January. This is in addition to his ongoing work with the W3C and MIT, so he won't be here all the time, but apparently he wants to do a bit of work with us on the whole Semantic Web thing. I do have one fear: I'm concerned as to whether he will get a real chair as part of this appointment, one he can actually sit on. At last Monday's meeting Wendy had to search around to find one, because our group has got rather large now. And she's the Head of School.

But back to the Semantic Web, and I'm pleased to note I actually got some decent work done this week, which partly explains the shortage of blogs. A working WUN AKTive Space demo was handed to Nigel on Wednesday evening, along with the prospect of being able to add data to it in the usual Triplestore way - make a relevant RDF file, chuck it in 3Store, and AKTive Space picks it up and strings it all together. A good demo of what the Semantic Web is about would probably show how easy it is to add information to AKTive Space: just chuck the data in there, and the application does the rest. It was a bit of a pain moving the whole thing across to a new server and getting the different pieces all working together, but I got there in the end, and on Wednesday evening I went to sleep, which made a nice change.

Finally, it's good to see BBC TV are making the most of the live football they're able to show these days: tomorrow's 'Match Of The Day Live' features the big clash of the weekend: Hinckley United verses Brentford. Who says the best sport is all on Sky?


Only seventeen weeks until the baseball season starts. Roll on the steroid boys and the wonderful MLB.TV, which is quite easily the best current use of Professor Chair Sir Tim's World Wide Web. Maybe I should start making 'Semantic MLB.TV'?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

25 November 2004: Double Negative

So it's not glandular fever either. The doctor has now decided there's nothing else he can suggest, thus I've got to go away and get better on my own.

Meantime, the Zimbabwe government have lifted the ban on visiting UK journalists (apparantly it was all a big misunderstanding, and the journalists banned had simply not provided enough information previously), thus the tour goes ahead. What can we conclude from this? The ICC are in favour of racist regimes, the ECB are spineless and the players are, as always, the pawns in somebody else's game.

Henry Olonga must be wondering why he bothered.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

24 November 2004: 'Arry an' Jim

Couldn't let it pass without comment.

'Arry an' Jim today left Pompey, presumably to breathe some non-fishy air for a bit.

What was it we sang at the Pompey game a couple of weeks ago?

[To the tune of 'Tom Hark']:
'Arry an' Jim are getting the sack,
'Arry an' Jim are getting the sack!
(Lather, rinse and REPEAT!)

Is it part of 'arry's plan to take over Bournemouth? Personally I don't think so. Will we see 'Arry an' Jim at St Mary's? Nope.

Fully expect to see them re-installed at West Ham United before the end of the year.

This piece of idle speculation brought to you courtesy of blogger.

24 November 2004: Zimbabwe

Interesting developments on a story I was discussing last week.

It seems that FIFA have clearly come down on the side of the anti-racists - Sepp Blatter, a man whose name just invites silly jokes, but who is in fact in charge of football's global governing body, said on Sportsweek last Sunday that he would back players who walked off in the face of such racial abuse as England suffered against Spain a week ago. All well and good, although you don't normally hear quite such clear-cut statements from a man whose main role until this point seems to have been arguing with UEFA over everything from arse to elbow, neither of them being able to tell which was which.

But still more amazing has been the Zimbabwe situation. After the ECB agreed to the tour going ahead following the threat of expulsion from the ICC, the Zimbabwe authorities have now refused to let a good chunk of the British cricket media into the country, including the BBC and several national newspapers. (Bizarrely, the Daily Mail are allowed to travel, despite their profoundly anti-Mugabe stance over the last few months). Acknowledging that 60% of cricket's revenue comes from media coverage, the players have been somewhat shocked by this state of affairs and, as I write this, seem to have delayed their travelling to Zimbabwe until the situation is resolved. Whether such a delay is indefinite remains to be seen, although I think the tour should have been called off long before this.

Whether the ECB are prepared to take the bold, yet necessary, step of calling off the tour remains to be seen; whether the ICC would still go ahead with their threat to throw England out of the international game is also in the balance. It could kill cricket in this country were that to happen, but on the other hand, depending on the actions of other cricketing nations around the world, perhaps it might precipitate something else: the end of the ICC and the long-overdue sporting isolation of Zimbabwe in protest at the ridiculous human rights violations that have gone on for far too long.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

23 November 2004: Negative

So the blood tests all came back negative.

All except the one they forgot to do, of course. I may still have glandular fever, they just forgot to test for that one despite the test being very clearly set out on the non-gender-specific form. Results available from Thursday on that one.

Which all begs the question: why is my stomach so fragile, my head so light and my body so extremely tired? If I'm in such rude health as the blood tests make out, why do I have to go home and sleep in the afternoons?

It wouldn't be such a problem except for the fact that I have a lot of work on right now. Creating a WUN version of CS Aktive (Mozilla only, I'm afraid) is not the easiest of tasks to take on single-handed, but having my afternoons taken away does not help at all. Urgh. This isn't a moaning blog - well, it is, but I'd normally moan about stuff I don't care about. So apologies for the whining and I hope I'll be able to get back to more serious stuff soon.

Only another eighteen weeks until the baseball season starts. Hurrah!

Friday, November 19, 2004

19 November 2004: Scholar

Quick note on something I should have registered yesterday, when Steve sent an email around to the Aktors group saying that Google were introducing Google Scholar, an academic papers portal. While relevant to our group, Google-style work tends to be significantly different from that of AKT in that we're interested in ontologies and they're not. But with Scholar, however, there's a particular twist that affects my side of this Akting lark.

Simply this: it's Citeseer. Albeit with less autonomous citation indexing (you get the feeling Google Scholar has a lot of hand-matched stuff), it almost certainly has (or soon will have) more content. Not to mention more access to the big journals and conferences. It seems that they'll have some content which is subscription-based: ie you can access the page headers and citations, but to read the actual article you'll need a subscription to the relevant body. So it's Citeseer-plus. As Isaac rightly said yesterday, it's certainly past time for a new Citeseer - just a shame we weren't the ones to get it done first.

Can't say this bodes well for Citeseer as a niche engine, which is a shame because it's a bleddy fine piece of work considering the small number of developers it's had over the years. From an AKT point of view it won't affect our work too heavily - it may even help it, depending on the nature of any web services or APIs Google choose to release. We're interested mainly in the citation graph and the metadata, so until Google release a version of Aktive Space, I think we'll be ok.

Still, not an encouraging day for the Citeseer community, small as we are.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

18 November 2004: Racism

About fifteen minutes from the end of last night's Spain-England 'friendly' (in which, by the way, the first-choice England team - Gerrard apart - were quite dreadful), BBC radio commentator Alan Green said he had had enough of the racist 'monkey' chants, and that he had a solution. The next time the ball went out of play, he said, the England players should just walk off the pitch and refuse to come back on unless the chanting stopped. Such an action, he said, would "force FIFA's hand."

And the hand should be forced. England have already made an official complaint to both UEFA and FIFA, and both bodies will launch an investigation into the goings-on. And no doubt the Spanish Football Association will be fined a few hundred pounds and given a non-specific warning about their future conduct, and the problem will continue as if nothing had happened. Meantime, Ashley Cole was forced off the pitch, having to be replaced during that second-half period as he seemed to completely lose his rag as the chants towards him intensified.

So for once I agree with Alan Green. FIFA's hand should be forced. Teams should have the right to refuse to play in front of such a crowd. Even if Green's past record on the racism issue leaves something to be desired, he is right on this one. As long as national football associations face only fines and dressing-downs, the problem will continue. If players refuse to play, the issue will be forced and FIFA would have to decide: do they back the striking players or do they condone racism?

It's the same issue that faced the ICC over Zimbabwe, of course, and the ICC in their wisdom came down on the side of the racists. (For the record, Zimbabwe sacked their fifteen top white players because they were white, and earlier rebel players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga now live as political refugees in the UK. So no racism there, then.) The ECB were unable to simply refuse to take their players on the forthcoming Zimbabwe tour as the ICC threatened to throw England out of international cricket, and thus bankrupt the game in England. (Blackmail's as legal as racism, right?)

The Zimbabwe problem, of course, goes far far deeper than cricket, and it shouldn't be up to the England cricket XI make the point that Mugabe's regime is as bad as South Africa's old apartheid policy. But it's all about who you are and what your agenda is. Zimbabwe is a real issue for England cricketers because, in touring, they effectively say they are happy to play with a racist organisation (the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, in this case). The British government, conversely, is too busy in Iraq and Afghanistan to take notice of certain other regimes in the world whose conduct and human rights violations at least match the worst of Saddam's atrocities (I'm thinking specifically of Darfur here). If we can justify an invasion of Iraq based on, at best, shaky intelligence, then why aren't we doing something about the worst of the racist, genocidal governments elsewhere in the world?

Answer: we're too busy preparing to sort out Iran next, no matter what Jack Straw says. Best leave issues of nationally-entrenched racism to sports people.

Footnote: William Gibson's blog of Weds 17 November makes a fascinating note of the primary reason as to why, in 'the previous iteration of the rural American south', evolution was so hated as a theory: it meant that blacks and whites had a common ancestor. The fact that it implied (pretty much required) the non-existence of an involved Creator was merely convenient. Sounds amazing, but Gibson is the horse's mouth on this one: this was where he grew up.

Monday, November 15, 2004

15 November 2004: Data

From the New York Times (via Slashdot):

"Fun fact: 'Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.' That much information results in some interesting data-mining. Did you know hurricanes increase strawberry Pop Tarts sales 7-fold?"

And I used to get excited about one terabyte. But apparently it's true. They know what they sell, because their electronic tills are linked to a central computer that records every barcode scanned through. Gone are the days of those happy mechanical tills with the numbers that jumped up into a little window when the keys were pressed, along with the mysterious 'no sale' sign (took me years to figure out what that was about).

And they know what you buy, too. How? Because you have a 'loyalty card'. They match your 'loyalty' rewards with the stuff you like to buy, which may seem nice, but the bottom line is they want your data. Not boring stuff like your name, bank account or inside leg measurement: no, they want to know what you buy. What kind of customers do Wal-Mart (which, by the way, is Asda here in the UK), Tesco, Sainsbury et al actually have? They store the data - terabytes of the stuff - and go 'mining' in it later, looking for patterns of behaviour, trends that may give their shop a competitive edge.

Of course, they may get the wrong end of the stick: for instance, Lois from church says she uses her Tescos card mainly for buying stuff for a social project she's involved with, which means that to Tesco she only appears to ever buy doughnuts and toilet paper. Perhaps that's why they keeping sending her adverts for medical products?

The point is, William Gibson was right again. In his 1993 novel 'Virtual Light', he described a possible future (sometime around 2010, perhaps) where 'Data Havens' exist. These are countries who, like the Swiss with their banking, will store anyone's data, no questions asked. (Bruce Sterling's 'Islands In The Net' also cover the same topic). They have many customers, not the least of which is the US government who, in the guise of DatAmerica, store a linked database of all such consumer information in a nice, safe place where only they can look at it.

It's happening now. The only differences are, it's legal to hold the data within the country of origin, and of course it's Wal-Mart, rather than the government, who are holding the data.

Full-blown DatAmerica? I give it ten years. Five if I can figure how to make it myself. Well, what did you think AKT was all about? ;-)

Footnote: I think the idea that the internet contains less than half of Wal-Mart's 460 terabytes of data is utter nonsense. Citeseer itself is well over a terabyte now, and most of that space is taken up with its 716797 documents. The amount of PDF information out there alone will be vastly more than 230 terabytes, and that's before you start talking about audio and, especially, video files. A typical three-hour broadband baseball game, at 350Kbits/sec, weighs in at about half a gigabyte, meaning the archive of the 2004 MLB regular season is about 1.2 terabytes in total. I think those 'experts' could do with being stripped of their title.

Friday, November 12, 2004

12 November 2004: Keller

Praise be! Southampton are saved!

Kasey Keller has signed from Tottenham as temporary goalkeeping cover!

All our problems are now in the past!

Just one question: why a Tottenham goalkeeper? I didn't think Saints had any staff with Tottenham Hotspur connections, do they?

Rupert? You in contact with anyone who has Tottenham connections?

Additional: if you're not sure what the 'anyone' link is about, here is the original page. Somehow the original is even funnier.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

11 November 2004: Woman

Today I went to the NHS Walk-In Centre over in Shirley to have my blood test, and I was informed that I was not a woman.

The significance of this was that I was unable to have the blood test. The nurse said that the form was all wrong: it was a women's form, and I wasn't a woman, so they couldn't perform the procedure. They phoned up the University Health Centre (home of the doctor who printed and signed the form), and I was informed I'd have to go back there and get another form.

So I went back across town (and, by the way, the traffic is really heavy during the day in Southampton - why is that? Where are all these people going?) to the university, where they took the form from me and came back ten minutes later to say there was nothing wrong with it. On the upside, they said they'd do the blood test for me there and then to stop me having to go across town yet again.

So, fifteen minutes later, I'm in a consulting room with a cheerful nurse who asks me what was wrong with the form.
"They said it was a form for women, so they couldn't do the test," I replied.
"What? It's to test your kidney, liver, white cell count and things like that. You've got all of those, haven't you?"
"Well, yes."
"We don't have different forms for men and women. What was the nurse talking about?"
"I don't know," I meekly replied. "I just did what I was told."

The results will be a couple of weeks in coming (by which time I hope the nasty virus has departed), but the moral of today's lesson is clear.

If you're going to have a blood test, dress up as a woman. It's much easier in the long run.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

10 November 2004: Watford

Steve Wigley is a good coach. The players love him. Dexter Blackstock scored yet another goal as his reputation continues to grow, and Brett Ormerod cemented his place Saints history with another cup strike against Watford.

Unfortunately, Saints got thrashed 5-2, and both goals were sufficiently late to merit the word 'consolation' on the extremely biased commentary from The Saint. Saints were hopeless, and that is a shame, because it detracts from an excellent showing by Watford. For long periods of the match, Watford played like the kind of team Saints wish they were. Strong, pacy, quick, skillful - and that was just the defence. Saints were shocking, they were dreadful, and while it was the players who put up the bad performance, the pressure is now going to be on the manager.

And rightly so, except of course that Wigley isn't the manager. Since August, Saints have been managerless.

I never appreciated how important a manager was in the game of football until Gordon Strachan came to Saints. He added two players to Stuart Gray's ailing squad (Paul Telfer and Paul Williams, neither of whom are actually very good footballers) and within a short period of time Saints were flying up the league, reaching the Cup Final and getting in to Europe. For goodness' sake, as recently as Christmas (ok, eleven months ago now, I admit), Saints were fourth in the Premiership. Fourth. That's Champions League football if you finish the season there.

Now they're eighteenth, just one Premiership win all season (and that was due to a very dodgy Andy D'Urso penalty awarded in injury time) and nobody at the club seems to care. The injuries have not been good (Dodd, Svennson (M), Le Saux, Oakley, Beattie, Pahars and now Niemi are all key players, all out to injury) but Wigley doesn't seem to know anything about either motivation or even basic patterns of play. When Jimmy Case and Dave Merrington are able to point out simple tactical failures such as failing to use the wings or, more obviously, letting Claus Lundekvam play, you know that something is wrong. It seems to me, though, that the problem is deeper than that.

Back in August, I stated that even though Sturrock had left, the problem hadn't. The problem remains. The problem is Rupert Lowe, and until he either leaves or, alternatively, simply leaves the manager alone to do his job (eg make his own signings and run the football side of the business), Saints are going nowhere except down. Will the problems be solved if Hoddle is brought back? What about if Wee Gordon himself was to return as manager? How about if Arsene Wenger decided to take the job? Would the problems be solved?

Maybe, and maybe not. It would all depend on this: whether Woopert is trusting enough to appoint an actual manager, instead of a glorified ball boy. Wigley is, by all accounts, a first-class coach, and I understand that this is a big break for him -- I wouldn't just walk away from a job like this. But his position is untenable currently: what Saints need is a manager. A football manager. One who is allowed a sufficient degree of autonomy to perform his job effectively, and one with tactical nouse who commands respect from the players.

Of course, given the number of times Woopert has appointed a manager and said "this is the right man", you'd think that Woopert's own position would be in jeopardy. In any other business, it would. But football, as that Greaves man used to say, is a funny old game.

So is boardroom politics.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

9 November 2004: Blood

Five and a half weeks, and the lurgi remains. Floating around various parts of my body, including head, nose, throat and (messily on two occasions) stomach, the mystery virus remains at large. So I went to the doctor.

"Sounds like a virus," he said. "Just got to wait until it goes away."


"But," he added, "We'll get some blood tests done just to make sure."

So tomorrow I head off to one of the new-fangled 'NHS Walk-In Centres' to get my white-cell count counted, and my liver and kidneys checked, presumably to make sure they're still there (I've never had to check on them before, so they have have gone on holiday without telling me or something.) I'll keep you updated.

On the upside of things, the new toy arrived yesterday. A Dell Inspiron 510m with a nice 15in screen and high-res graphics, it is remarkably different to my previous laptop:
1. The fan is so silent that when I first turned it on, I wondered why it wasn't working.
2. The wireless bit works everywhere in the house and even managed to hack somebody's private network here at university without me asking it to.
3. The screen does not flicker on and off when I move the monitor/lid.
4. And most imporantly, it does not explode when I plug it in. Not yet, anyway.

Of course, I spent most of yesterday uninstalling the cruddy nonsense that came with it. Back in the olden days you used to get adverts on the desktop - 'Online Services' that you could choose to install if you didn't have anything else already in place. But this beastie came with both AOL and Tiscali already installed! Both of them! I could use one of them at a time even if I wanted to, and frankly I don't want to use either of them. So I spent most of the afternoon removing stuff, before figuring out that I couldn't quite figure out how to get rid of the Dell Security thing that happens every time I start it up, no matter how fervently I uninstall it.

Today, however, I've solved this in the way most computer problems are solved.

I'm installing Linux instead.

Let's see the bleddy Dell Security thing survive that. It'd have more chance of getting out of Fallujah alive.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

3 November 2004: CNN

I'd love to have had the benefit of CNN's election coverage last night.

Apparantly, sometime around 1.30am Pacific Time (quite some time after it became clear what the result would be), Aaron Brown was shouting at anchor Wolf Blitzer for the hundredth time about how he enjoyed hearing the networks all say "we just don't know". Larry King, braces and heavy specs still intact, sighed deeply and said: "It's really late. I'm going home to bed." And with that, he got up from his desk, took his mic and ear-piece off, and walked off the set.

This is reported second-hand, however, due to the fact that we don't have CNN at my house - I'm instead relying on the KFOG morning show for my accuracy. Still, I somehow can't see any of the BBC doing that -- not outside of the Monty Python 'Election Night Special' sketch, where John Cleese gives a series of pointless results in a breathless rush of noise before pausing, breathing heavily, and then saying: "Oh, I don't want to do this any more. I'm bored." And walking off the set. David Dimbleby wouldn't do that, he's too nice. Peter Snow wouldn't, he's too excited at the best of times. Paxman might, I suppose. But in reality the nearest we have to Larry King here in the UK is David Frost, and he'd be tucked up in bed by that stage anyway.

Come next May (or February, if you believe the latest reports), we'll find out for sure. Unless he's forced out by the Labour Party, Blair will win a third term, with a reduced majority. It's not even going to be very close. And no matter how much Peter Snow jumps around with his swing-o-meter and how much Paxman tries to get Michael Howard to admit he's got to resign on the spot, it just won't seem edgy or genuine.

So respect to Larry King, one commentator who says - and does - exactly what he thinks.

Oh yes, what do I think of the result? *Shrugs* I'm not a Bush fan, and that's entirely because of his foreign policy. But the American people get to choose, and this time they've chosen a guy who won both the popular vote and the electoral college, both by some distance. At least he's got a decent mandate this time. Maybe he'll quieten down in the second term, or maybe he'll go for Iran next, followed by Syria. We'll see. One thing it does clear the way for is a straight John Edwards v Hillary Clinton run for the Democrats in 2008, perhaps running against Rudy Giuliani in the final race?

We'll see who PNAC can come up with over the next four years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

2 November 2004: Beattie

Two posts in one day, but this at least proves that I'm not totally off the mark with my comments.

Readers with long memories or the ability to click this link may remember that when Paul Sturrock was sacked by Southampton (who, by the way, haven't won a league game since), I gave the following assessment:

"James Beattie didn't like Sturrock, that is no secret. Nor is it a secret that his agent has been in talks with Aston Villa, which is against league rules given that Southampton had not given permission for talks. For some reason, Rupert doesn't seem worried about that, and I can't quite fathom THAT one."

Encouragingly, the Football Association seem rather more keen than Woopert to enforce the rules. This morning, they have charged Villa with making an illegal approach for Beattie. Their punishment, if found guilty, will be "a large fine", which isn't going to worry 'Deadly' Doug Ellis too much. But it may set a precedent: whatever the fine is, clubs maybe, perhaps, just may be willing to start paying that amount to be able to make unsolicited contact with under-contract players, the action that is currently outlawed. Instead of being a fine, it becomes a fee. And football changes as a result, and that rule is nullified, as long as you're a big club who can afford it.

The FA have to be careful with this one.

2 November 2004: All Souls Day

It's a Dell.

Despite the '0 Comments' at the back of my last blog, I received sufficient response from my various correspondents to figure out that Dell's current special offer should provide sufficient value and reliability to make the whole process worthwhile. I'd rather have got an IBM ("built like a tank" says Steve, the RDF Triple-guru of the AKT team) or a Sony ("Michael McDiego-McCastro has one of the newer tiny littlebaby sony laptops" says Doug, the Stellent CMS-guru late of QAS and Enfield Borough Council) but both were much higher prices for the same spec. So a Dell Inspiron 510m with a bigger screen and a bunch of additional extras it is. First thing I'll do with it? Stick Linux on there. I'm a total convert to the Church of Linus Torvalds. Except in the religious sense, of course, where I remain nicely protestant.

Linus Torvalds as Martin Luther? I expect someone else thought of it first.

Elsewhere in the world, the big elections in Uruguay were won by Tabare Vazquez, the centre-left candidate, who says he'll be restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, which won't be pleasing whoever sneaks into the White House up in DC this week. Meantime Argentina, a country I continue to have tremendous affection for, still can't get past the economic collapse of three years ago: despite a high court decision to simply drop large chunks of the national debt (much to the annoyance of the general public who have lots all their savings), the US-based creditors who are owed most of the money have said "no, we're not accepting a 75% reduction in your debt, who do you think you are, Leeds United?" Fair enough, except the debts are unpayable, so they're not going to get their money anyway. But if the debt remains, even unpayable, the creditors can exert power over the Argentinian government, just like they do over so many third world countries.

Which just goes to show: it's not all about the money - it's really about the power that money brings.

One final thought: how on earth can anyone describe John Kerry as 'leftist' when he supports the Patriot Act? If that's leftist politics, it makes the UK's National Health Service look like pure anarcho-communal Socialism.

Bleddy Karl Marx.

Postscript: did the Luther/Torvalds thing back in 2001. What do I know?

Friday, October 29, 2004

29 October 2004: Explosion

Advent Reject Criticism Of 'Firework Laptops'

In a move timed to coincide with Guy Fawkes' Night on November 5th, computer manufacturer Advent yesterday announced that their 2001 model, the Advent 6412DVD, was primed to explode on or around Guy Fawkes day 2004.

Although the explosion is an undocumented feature of the laptop (as are most of its features, including the unmarked buttons at the top and the mysterious ports at the back), Advent today defended the built-in explosion as a "fun way to commemorate some prat who failed to blow up the King back along sometime."

"We're hopeful our customers will find it a cute and enjoyable way to celebrate the failure of the Catholic plot," said Advent spokesperson Fats Liar. "Any electrical explosions always come with a fun flash of blue light and plenty of smoke to entertain your kids or your co-workers, depending on where you are when it happens."

Advent laptop user McDuncan McRae-McSpencer yesterday was quoted as saying "flippin' 'eck!!" as his laptop went up in smoke with the trademark flash of blue light from the power supply area.

"I knew it was a piece of unutterable crud from about three weeks after I bought it," said an angry McDuncan, 29, whose other complaints concerning his laptop included an ever-flickering backlight for the screen, the constant failing of the PCMCIA slot, the need to re-install both Windows and Linux every few weeks due to file corruption and the noise from the fan that was matched only by low-flying aircraft.

"I don't care if the explosion was intentional or not," said McDuncan. "I'm pleased to be rid of the bleddy thing. Fortunately the fire didn't last long enough to set the fire alarms off, and the shrapnel all blew the other way."

McDuncan is currently considering options ranging from Dell, IBM, HP, Sony and Other [Please Specify], for his next laptop, and any suggestions are welcome to the usual address, or as a comment on this blog entry.

Advent are thought to be planning to include a small-scale nuclear device with their next generation of crummy hardware.

Friday, October 22, 2004

22 October 2004: Gibson

The Blog Is Back.

And don't you forget it.

Also, a discussion concerning the contents of said blog has emerged on the WGB, even though it's turned into something of a kamgod reunion what with Trogdor re-appearing on the scene.

And as I'm saying there, and in previous blog entries here, I'm discovering that I'm actually quite an a-political person. At least as far as party politics go. I've a number of socially-justicey-leaning bones in my body, and I'm in favour of inequalities being tackled proactively by government (this means I'm quite left-of-centre). But then, I'm anti-abortion, I believe in absolute definitions of right and wrong, and I drive a car (sometimes), things which (I'm told) make me right-of-centre. Actually, I'm neither, but I do get hacked off at one thing in particular.

Politicians who lie, and media who simply go along with it.

As I said before, both Fox News and Michael Moore are as much to blame as each other in this, and if elected, Al Gore would have been at least as slimy and spin-centred as Cheney et al have proved to be recently. Surely not, I hear moderates say.

"I took the initiative in creating the Internet," said Gore.

No you didn't.

But don't get me started on that.

Monday, October 18, 2004

18 October 2004: Basic

For my sins, presumably, I have been requested to help teach a programming lab this semester. No problem there. Except the language we're going to be using is Visual Basic.

Now don't get me wrong. I think VB has its place in the computer world (ok, that place is 'buried underneath a large stone with all its evil GOTO statements', but still it's a place), it's just that for me VB brings back too many bad memories of QAS. How many times would I do some nice, neat piece of programming in Java or C++, only to be asked "why didn't you do that in VB?" (Because VB doesn't do strings well, it has the astoundingly neanderthal 'END IF' statement, and I didn't need a tacky front-end when all I'm doing is a file-processing script.) And for goodness' sake, don't talk to me about VBA - Outlook's built-in VB forms functionality had more bugs than working parts. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

But I'm a forgiving type, and I know enough about VB to be able to teach some second years about its various nooks and crannies without being too cynical. The only problem is, in order to do this, I need to get Visual Basic installed on my machine, so I can run through the lab exercises before the actual lessons. Well, I'm running Windows XP on one of my machines, so no problems there, you may think.

You think wrong.

Firstly, VB doesn't exist any more. It was subsumed into Visual Studio 6 a couple of years ago, and thence into Visual Studio .NET, a package so large and unwieldy it won't actually fit on my laptop. But there's no VB without it, so off I go to the university self-install website and begin the process.

After wrestling with the Component Update section (which kept trying to install FrontPage 2000 for me, despite my continual clickings of the 'no, don't install that piece of poo on my computer' button), I eventually (after two DAYS, yes two DAYS) managed to both install FrontPage 2000 and convince the installer that I had done so, and it let me continue. Now I came to the install proper, and here is where things got too crazy for me.

The install takes about half an hour, if you're installing from CD or 'it-thinks-its-a-CD' network installation. There is an install program that goes through the CD and copies programs from there to the correct place on the hard disk. No problems so far, right? Except this: frequently, the installer would pop up a window saying it couldn't find some file or other on the CD, why hadn't I put it there, and did I want to abort, retry or ignore? Well, I wanted to abort a long time ago, but I had to keep clicking ignore. Eventually it installed and does seem to work, but with errors and warning messages everywhere over these files it couldn't find.

And here's the thing that gets me: this was a CD, made by Microsoft, and the install program (on the CD) had, clearly, a different list of files than were actually on the CD. The CD was incompatible with itself. This is a huge, major release by Microsoft, it's their flagship developer product, merging VB, C++, C sharp and all manner of other languages into one happy bundle. And it wasn't even compatible with itself.

This afternoon, as I continue to battle this remarkably lemsip-resistant lurgi, I shall begin feeling my way around VB.NET, the slightly-doctored version of VB I have to use in class tomorrow. I'll program the exercises and try to avoid horribly unstructured goto statements. But in my mind will be the battle I had even to get VB installed on my Windows XP computer, and it makes me think more and more that Linux is the only way to go.

The other thing is this: a number of people (people I respect) have told me recently that Microsoft aren't so bad, they're producing decent stuff these days, we shouldn't be too hard on them. I say nonsense. If you want to do anything other than write a letter in Word or listen to a CD on the Windows Media Player, you're in trouble. More security updates than you can shake a stick at, and when it comes to programming... forget it. .NET may well be more complete than PHP and simpler to use than J2EE, but it's such a bear in practice that I can't see myself ever wanting to go down Uncle Bill's road again.

Abort, retry, ignore? You decide.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

14 October 2004: Furcal

Short blog today as I'm in bed with the lurgi, but I couldn't let Mark Bechtel's weekly CNN column pass without comment. He argues that, despite his officially neutral position as a journalist, he wanted the Braves to lose because Rafael Furcal had been given dispensation to play to the end of the season before going to jail for a month for his second drinking-under-influence-of-alcohol offence in four years, instead of going directly to jail, do not pass 'Go', do not collect any celery. It sends out a bad message, argues Bechtel, when sports celebrities get treated differently in criminal settings than you or I would. And with that, I fully agree.

The problem was that his piece, which gets quite vicious and rhetorical at times, fails to represent the facts of the case. Furcal does indeed "clearly need help", which is why he's going on a drink rehab programme when the prison term is over. Bechtel doesn't mention this - he instead talks about how pathetic the judge was. But worse is the clear statement that Furcal was "on the streets" during the Braves post-season play - no he wasn't. He was under curfew, except when playing, which means the same thing as house (or hotel, on the road) arrest. Have a look at the official statement if you don't believe me.

Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to be an apologist for Furcal's actions, or to make any comment on how the State of Georgia justice system works. I simply wish to point out that, like a great deal of the US media in general, commentators exaggerate and even lie to get their point across, at which point it becomes polemics rather than reporting. Whether it's Fox News or Michael Moore, I'm sick of seeing it, and to see it begin to appear on CNN is more worrying.

On the flip side, that was why the BBC hired Andrew Gilligan in the first place. And look where it got them.

Happy birthday, Mum!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

12 October 2004: Tumbleweed

There used to be three certainties in life, according to the great Todd Macklin. Death, taxes and the Braves in the NLCS. No longer is that the case.

Early October has instead become tumbleweed week. The Braves have developed a habit of, no matter how weak their team appears to be, winning their division with at least a week to spare. They then tell everyone that 'this is the year', they get home-field advantage and get drawn for the first round of the playoffs against a team with a worse record but who happen to be hot (Cubs, Giants, Cardinals). The Braves then proceed to roll over and die like a suicidal hedgehog on a motorway, usually getting blown away faster than tumbleweed on a warm desert evening in Joshua Tree. The Braves reached every NLCS from 1991 to 1999; since the years started beginning with '2', they've done it only once, beating the Astros in the 2001 NLDS before rolling over against Arizona in the NL Championship Series. With last night's defeat at the hands of those same Astros, the Braves have extended their losing record to three consecutive NLDS defeats, and indeed have won only one of their last seven post-season series, going back to that disastrous 1999 World Series 'Team Of The Nineties' decider against the Yankees, where the Braves rolled over in four straight games with barely a whimper.

What's caused all this? Is it that they are so relieved to win the NL East that they relax for a week and can't re-focus? Is it that they just come up against hot teams and are thus unlucky? Is it that they just don't care, having been in the playoffs for so many years?

That last explanation is one given by many people, but it doesn't hold true for the 2004 Braves. This was a team full of rookies and imports, many of whom had never seen post-season play before. Johnny Estrada, Adam LaRoche, Charles Thomas, Eli Marrero all came through their first full year with the club, and others like John Thompson, Paul Byrd and Chris Reitsma were new to the set-up. This was a team that had to fight for the NL East, and were a dynamic, exciting young side, one of the best defensive teams in baseball. The batting wasn't bad either, with Estrada, Marcus Giles, the ageless ancient Julio Franco and Rafael Furcal augmenting a sub-par but still not-too-shabby season from the Jones boys and an amazingly fit-all-year J.D. Drew. This was a team that had the excitement of the 1991 team, the maturity of the 1995 team and a defensive prowess unmatched by any of the preceding thirteen division champion teams.

But this was October, so they rolled over and died. There was a bit of fire, a bit of fight, but nothing to speak of. The pitchers kept giving up home runs, and that's not how you win games.

So, on to next season. No doubt the payroll will be slashed again and Bobby Cox will find a way to mould a bunch of high school seconds into NL East champions, before they blow it against the Padres or someone in the NLDS next year.

Death, taxes and the Braves in the NLCS. Oh that it were.

Postscript: Car has been in for five days now. Still no phone call from any car hire firms.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

7 October 2004: Garage

A word of advice to all drivers: don't get hit from behind by another driver. It's not worth the hassle.

Of course, it's rather hard to avoid, but if you can avoid it (for instance, by not driving) I recommend it. I myself was having a day off from the Citeseer process back in early September, and I thought it would be relaxing to drive to the beach and spend the day throwing nuts at the squirrels. I got halfway across town when matey bumped me from behind. That same day, I contacted the insurance company and even got the damage investigated, photographed and estimated.

A month later, my car is finally in for repairs, after insurance companies losing documents, estimates getting lost in the mail, garage managers being on holiday and forgetting to order parts, the usual stuff. And Tuesday I got call from the garage saying "um, sorry about this, but we won't be able to give you a replacement car as promised. Could you phone your insurance company and ask them to arrange one for you instead?" So I did. The insurance company told me I had to call their subcontracted legal company, which I did. They made 'mmm, short notice' noises at me (like it's my fault?) before saying they'd get a car hire company to call me. I'm still waiting for that call.

This morning, my car went in for repairs and I have no replacement.

Now, those of you who know my situation are well aware that I only use the car sporadically, mostly for lending to Canadians in fact, and a week without a car is neither problematic or even unusual for me. But it's saying something about bureaucracy when I have four companies on the case and somehow they still fail to fulfil the terms of my insurance contract, for which I have paid a lot of money. And I've also had to pay money in terms of phone calls, petrol costs to get to and from garages, and of course the excess on the repairs, which I may be able to claim back later from matey's insurance (given that it was entirely his fault). Given the way things have gone so far, I doubt it will be that easy.

So my tip: don't drive, or if you must drive, don't get hit. It's not worth the hassle.

Postscript: Atlanta Braves began the traditional tumbleweed roll-over-and-die approach to the post-season yesterday, losing 9-3 to the wildcard Houston Astros. Wildcard. That means they didn't win their division. The Braves did. I'm not bitter, I'd just simply rather lose in the NLCS instead of some divisional match-up. Or at least play the Dodgers, who aren't very good.

Goodness, I sound angry this morning, don't I? I'm off to get some more tea.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

6 October 2004: Fresher

At the AKT team meeting yesterday, Nigel said that while he and a few others were off at EKAW in Northamptonshire, those of us who remained should continue to push back the forest of ignorance. Another academic who shall remain nameless offered the observation: "Oh yes, they've all arrived now, haven't they?"

They have indeed.

It's easy to tell, particularly during the first two weeks of October. The Student Union shop suddenly begins stocking extra types of sandwiches, for one thing. But there are other, less pleasant, effects. Walking back across campus to the Computer Science building I was hounded - bombarded - with people wanting me to have a free bag of this, a free package of that, stuff encouraging me to bank with this one particular bank, go see this one particular insurance company, join this one particular section of the armed services. All around me eighteen-year-olds were looking bamboozled and wondering how to figure out that which is important (signing up for the Medical Centre and the Library) from that which is less important (joining the Medieval Nose-Picking Society). I just closed my eyes and blundered through the hordes, although in reflection there's usually someone or other offering a free year-planner wall poster, so perhaps I'll go back again this afternoon. To think, I'll be teaching labs and tutorials for this lot in a couple of weeks.

So ends the summer of peace and solitude. So ends weeks of being able to walk across campus and through the botanical gardens without seeing a single person. So ends the joy of going to the gym mid-afternoon and finding it almost deserted. I'll have to start going first thing in the morning again.

Elsewhere in the world, it seems Uncle Don Rumsfeld (bless 'im) has changed his mind yet again on the links between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Uncle Colin Powell, as you may recall from the Blair blog, assured the UN of clear links between the two, despite a number of people pointing out that while Saddam perhaps didn't mind Bin Laden, Osama for his part loathed all things Saddam, especially his secular (ie non-clerical-Islamic) fascist government. Anyway, Uncle Don said on Monday that he hadn't seen any evidence linking Saddam and Osama, which came as something of a surprise to Uncle Colin presumably. Uncle Don later retracted his statement, saying he'd been misunderstood. Meantime, the UN Weapons Inspectors have concluded that Saddam didn't have any WMDs, although he did have them in the past (well, we sold him a bunch of them, and he must have either used them all or destroyed them as the UN told him to), and he was planning to get some more. He was planning to have a programme to get some WMDs. All inside forty-five minutes, presumably? Saddam was one of the nastiest, brutal dictators on the planet, and yes we're better off without him, but the whole thing is starting to stink quite badly. No WMDs, no link to Al Qaeda... and yet 49% of Americans and 21% of Brits continue to think Saddam was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Were the public misled by their political leaders into supporting the Iraq war?

Tony doesn't think so. Tony says the intelligence convinced him of the need to invade, and that we should trust him (remember all that stuff about "if you'd seen the intelligence I've seen, you'd agree"?), despite the fact that Robin Cook, Clair Short, John Denham et al saw the same evidence and said they didn't think there were WMDs to be found. And there aren't any. So either Tony was incompetent, in which case he should resign, or he knowingly lied and misled Parliament and the country, in which case he should resign.

Tony Blair remains Prime Minister as of this afternoon, and nobody seems to mind, or even suspect there's anything wrong.

Talk about the forest of ignorance.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

30 September 2004: Blair

Just a quick note on Tony Blair's conference speech and the follow-up interviews he gave to all and sundry in its wake.

Of particular interest was the Radio 4 'Today' programme interview with John Humphrys. The interview can be heard in full on the Radio 4 website (RealPlayer required), and on two points Humphrys made the Prime Minister feel particularly uncomfortable. Blair stated in his conference speech that although the intelligence was wrong, the decision to go to war was still right. Which is to say, even if he had correct intelligence that Saddam had no WMDs and was no imminent threat, let alone had any links to Al-Qaeda (remember Colin Powell's speech to the UN?), it was still right, in Blair's opinion, to go to war. I thought we went to war because of the imminent threat from WMDs, and we couldn't wait another 6 months for the inspectors to finish their work and the French and Russians to get on board with the idea of another UN resolution? Apparantly not. Humphrys pressed on this point, and Blair wasn't too forthcoming, except to say that well, isn't it better to have got rid of Saddam than to still have him there?

Humphrys made a very good second point though. What if, he said, we had to go to war again, and Blair had to present a dossier of intelligence to the House of Commons as part of the debate? He'd get laughed out, wouldn't he? All hypothetical, said Blair, and anyway it would depend on the intelligence, not on the person presenting it.

But would it?

Even if a much more sound dossier of intelligence was produced, the very fact of Blair presenting it makes it much more likely to be doubted by the House of Commons and the general public than if it was presented, say, by Gordon Brown, Charles Kennedy or even Sonic the Hedgehog. (Not Michael Howard, of course: he and Rupert Lowe are the only two people less likely to be believed than Blair.) If we needed to go to war again in even vaguely similar circumstances (for instance, if North Korea began targetting missles at London) we simply couldn't if Blair was in charge. We simply couldn't, because nobody would believe a word he said. Blair has been, as far as I can see, a decent PM on domestic issues, and his foreign policies outside of US collaborations have been generally fair and upright (mainly thanks to the likes of Robin Cook and Clair Short). But Blair's reputation is now tarnished in the area of trust, and for him to remain at the top for much longer is not just ungentlemanly, it's downright dangerous.

In other matters, a fair replacement for Tony Blair perhaps would be Bobby Cox, long-standing manager of the Atlanta Braves who took a worst-place team in 1990 to a first-placed team in 1991, and goodness me, they've won their division 13 (thirteen) times in a row since then. The Braves victory over the Mets last night gave Cox his 2000th win, only the ninth manager to accomplish such a feat. The joy will last approximately nine days. By the end of next week the Braves will have lost in the first round of the playoffs as usual, and the winter ahead will be one of depressing budget-cuts and start player departures. This year was a miracle - Cox should get manager of the year for making this scraped-together bunch of players a big-win team - next year it could be nigh-on impossible. Still, it's only a game.

Isn't that right, Tony?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

23 September 2004: Spinners

A few days ago my sister phoned to say that despite the ongoing turmoil of selling a house in York in order to move to Salisbury (some kind of Cathedral transfer deal, I don't really get it), she is finding solace in the novels of one Jasper Fforde. "They're funny," she said. "It's like reading Douglas Adams but without the science."


Having previously only come across the 'Ff-' beginning of a name in two places (Ffion, wife of the ex-Tory leader William Hague, and Ffergal, a dog belonging to one of my cousins), I wasn't sure whether I could indeed read the books without thinking what a daft name the author had. But yesterday I ventured into Waterstones next door and found the last remaining copy of 'The Eyre Affair', and began perusing its pages last night.

Yes, it's good. I admit that quite readily. An alternative 1985 where the rules of nature are slightly different is very imaginative, and our heroine (one Thursday Next) is very likeable as a secret agent being bounced from secret department to secret department within SpecOps, the Special Operations organisation who seem to employ a lot of people despite offering no career progression. The use of classic literature as a popular medium in the place of, at various times, popular music, religion and even reality, is ingenious, and other nice touches include the fact that certain advances haven't been made: the Crimean War continues, for instance, and the jet engine has never been developed.

But my ears kept burning as I read on. And here's why.

Six years ago, in a fit of boredom, I sat down at my computer keyboard, pulled up a blank document and typed the first thing that came into my head.
"Unfortunately, it was the wig that gave him away."

That sentence became a paragraph and eventually a four-part story called 'Spinners', shared with numerous people down the years but unpublished (except on my website). A tale of public relations, political intrigue and semi-skimmed milk, Spinners was set in 2011. It dealt with the then-burgeoning Spin Doctor culture of the recently-elected New Labour government, detailing a possible future if things continued in the same direction. It followed the exploits of a young government employee, Peter Mackie, as he was bounced from secret department to secret department in an attempt to figure out and eventually foil a plot by the media to overthrow the government and install the Teletubbies as heads of the executive. Mackie eventually has to stand for Prime Minister himself but is beaten by a late challenge from Bill Gates, returning from years of exile, who rigs the pay-per-vote election on the Democracy Channel.

The story is different - Ffffffforde at least has decent characterisation and a more-than-two-dimensional story. But the settings and descriptions keep bothering me. For classic literature I kept reading 'Green Spin'; the Baconions sounded to me like the Parsley Sellers; Thursday's work colleagues Boswell and Paige Turner felt a lot like Lenny the Mouth and the constantly-gender-reversing Shelby. Some critics have panned The Eyre Affair for its lack of decent plotting and its clumsy use of literary devices (at one point Thursday picks up a mirror, essentially just to tell the reader what she looks like), but the point is this: is it readable? Is it a page-turner, just like the character? William Gibson's plots are sometimes a little on the light side, but he gets around that because of his stunning observational and descriptive writing. Fforde gets by, like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, through sheer inventiveness. Is it readable? The answer is yes, and I will continue to read The Eyre Affair with great enjoyment. But there are times when part of me thinks 'hmm, I could have written that a bit less clumsily', and times when part of me thinks 'but I already wrote that'. I'm not sure quite how it makes me feel, but it does make me feel something.

The Saga of Spin remains available for public viewing. The glossary I am particularly pleased with.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

21 September 2004: Shortt

While much of the sports press were (rightly) diverted by the story of the death of the best manager the England national team never had, one Brian Clough, there was another sad loss to the footballing world yesterday.

Bill Shortt was one of the great Plymouth Argyle team of the early 1950s. Under the captaincy of Jack 'Jumbo' Chisholm, the team won Division Three South in 1952 and even reached the dizzy heights of the F.A. Cup Fifth Round, a feat not matched until the Semi-Final team of 1984. With Maurice Tadman leading the line up front, Gordon Astall and Alec Govan roving down the wings, this was one of the great Argyle sides. Indeed, Shortt himself was for a while the Wales first-choice goalkeeper and along with Astall playing for Scotland, it was one of the most-capped Argyle teams in history - at least until this 2004 season, where Crawford and Capaldi are already established internationals and Gilbert, Coughlin and co may not be too far off.

Always in with a shout whenever Argyle fans choose their 'greatest ever' team, along with the likes of Bill Harper, Geoff Crudgington, John Willie Sutcliffe and Jim Furnell - who won the latest vote for the 'team of the century' last season (I voted for Shortt) - Shortt is one of Argyle's all-time greats. He lived in Plymouth after his retirement from the game, ran the Golden Hind for a bit, and was frequently seen at Home Park for special events. The old bald blokes in the grandstand (they of "Bleddy Barlow, take 'im orff Kemp") spoke very highly of Shortt and indeed the whole of Chilsholm's team, and even Barbara remembers him very well from her days in the Spion Kop.

RIP Bill, you'll always be a legend in green.

Meantime, reports that the Motion Picture Association of America, in their vehement crusade to rid the internet of illegal movie downloads, are using automated systems to find dodgy-looking links. The only problem is, they seem to be using "blind keyword matching" which means that poor old Linux Australia have started getting rather ferocious "take-down notices", demanding they remove the content and take action against the people who put the content there. The content they have a problem with? A Python-based framework called 'Twisted', and a memory management tool called 'Grind' - both of which simply happen to share their names with movies. Linux Australia, for their part, have refused to take down links to their own software, and are beginning legal moves against MPAA under - ready for it? - spam laws. Because, in the end, that's all MPAA are doing here -- unsolicited, unwanted and quite hassling email sent by an automated system on the basis of keyword-matching on a website.

Spam laws are here to protect us not only from the phantom breast enlarger, but also from big companies trying to flex their muscles. I hope Linux Australia get, at the very least, an apology. But somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

14 September 2004: Oxygen

There was me getting all worried about the car accident last week where the guy smashed into the back of me, and then all that business with Rob and the Council Tax. How petty! Some people in this world have far greater troubles. The US cricket team, for instance. Or Fabrice Fernandes.

And those outside this world have even more problems.

CNN reports that the oxygen generation machine on board the International Space Station has broken, leaving the two guys up there - a Russian and an American - without their main source of breathable air. CNN seems to delight in reporting that it is a Russian unit that has failed, but more worrying were the responses of the NASA spokespeople.

"It's nothing to worry about," said Rob Navias, Night-Shift Spin-Controller at NASA, "We're all fat on oxygen. Anyway, if we run out of oxygen, we're hopeful the two astronauts will be able to mutate into fish, and they'll be able to live in the enormous swimming pool we're putting into the International Space Station next week. Wibble wobble. Time for the orange pills, I think."

A better bet would be to send them into Furry Gelf Space and see if they can trade the Russian guy for a replacement unit, like they did on Red Dwarf.

Friday, September 10, 2004

10 September 2004: Breathe

Whales live under water, but breathe air. This means every two hours or so they need to come UP to the surface, BREATHE an enormous deep breath and DIVE again.

Installing Citeseer is a little like that. A dry run on my Fedora-powered laptop took about a week, as I figured out how to solve the little problems along the way. And then UP and BREATHE and DIVE again to install it on the big server where it will actually live. Many more problems there, most of which caused by the 64-bit architecture of the RAID machine ("recompile shared library with -fPIC and try again"), but it's more-or-less been wrestled into place now. Not so much fitting a square peg in a round hole, more like fitting a water-balloon through a sharp-edged metallic hole of any nominal shape. Hold in one part of the balloon and it expands somewhere else; touch the edges of the hole and the whole thing breaks. Still, it seems to have been wrestled into some sort of submission-hold, and the Citeseer Diaries (currently standing at five hand-scribbled pages of A4) should be ready for comsumption soon.

And UP and BREATHE...

But before I dive again, I was thinking about what I was doing a year ago. In the midst of the move from London to Southampton, a surprising amount of my spare time was being taken up with a most bizarre yet strangely relevant experiment. Sept 10th 2003 was the day Kamgod moved offices from his familiar abode across to the new building that we had all watched being built over the period of a few months.

For those of you initiated, those uninitiated and those still on the waiting list, a quick explanation: Trogdor (a person assuming the name of the dragon, not the actual dragon) discovered (burninated) a guy, nominally 'a professor' (actually he did have an honorary doctorate) who had set up a webcam in his office. No links to it, Trogdor found it by mis-typing an IP address (as we all do from time to time, often deliberately, just to see what's out there). The aim was this: purely through use of the camera (which we, the viewer, could control the movements of), we were to get his attention and get him to visit, and eventually to post a message on the William Gibson Board.

Took six months and we failed miserably, although I came very close at one point when a sequence of events known as The Fist Of Matey meant I got his attention but blew it by not zooming in on the keyboard quickly enough. Eventually we sent the guy a basket of goodies and told him what we were doing. He responded and left us a message on the WGB, and that was pretty much that. Apparantly, his niece got into the whole thing rather more than the professor himself ever did. But it would be wrong of me to divulge such information. As it would be to tell you that his real name was Bob.

The webcam was discontinued at the end of January. The thread discontinued on Feb 18 2004, and appropriately the final entry read "lol lmao". Summed up the whole thing, I think.

But it was good while it lasted.

Friday, August 27, 2004

27 August 2004: Advertising

Good to see Microsoft never change their ways. After their various battles in recent years with the likes of Netscape, Sun Microsystems and Apple, along with US and European governments, they're still out there, winning the war with marketing rather than products.

Good also to see that the authorities don't let them get away with it. The Register reports that Microsoft have had to withdraw an advertisement claiming a Linux Server costs ten times as much to run as one running Windows XP. In fact, the "comparison" had the Windows OS running on a far superior Intel Xeon system, with Linux struggling along on some IBM zSeries hardware. The Advertising Standards Agency concluded that the comparison had nothing to do with Windows or Linux, but it did serve as a decent comparison between Intel and IBM hardware. Microsoft has been forced to withdraw the advertisement.

But the damage is done - that advert is the kind of thing your average Pointy-Haired Boss reads while on his third coffee of the morning between executive meetings (no, I'm not thinking of anyone in particular at QAS, honestly) and thinks: well that proves it, we were right to tie ourselves into Microsoft for the rest of eternity. Or worse, well that decides it, we're not having Linux servers on which we'll run our systems, the company will grind to a halt and it will cost a fortune. The PHB probably won't even hear about this retraction.

And none of the above takes into account the undeniable fact that many versions of Linux are free, compared to the ridiculous Microsoft pricing structure. And then of course Linux is far more stable and just doesn't get hit by viruses in the same way.

And, from a personal point of view, would Citeseer work on a Windows machine? Not a cat's chance in hell. The Citeseer Diaries - soon to be published on these very pages - have been a hard enough slog to get through, without having to worry about dodgy second-hand implementations of GCC and Make.

On the other hand, Windows has that decent pinball game. I'm glad I kept my laptop dual-boot.

Monday, August 23, 2004

23 August 2004: Luggy

Paul Sturrock's record at Southampton: Won 5, Drawn 2, Lost 6. Total games: 13.

What's so wrong with that?

Apparantly the problem was nothing to do with his record as manager. Rupert "Very Very" Lowe has said it was due to the media and certain other people undermining the manager for financial reward, and such people should take a long, hard look at themselves.

Asked if Lowe himself should take a long, hard look in the mirror, former Saints boss Lawrie McMenemy stated that he probably already does that, quite a lot.

James Beattie didn't like Sturrock, that is no secret. Nor is it a secret that his agent has been in talks with Aston Villa, which is against league rules given that Southampton had not given permission for talks. For some reason, Rupert doesn't seem worried about that, and I can't quite fathom THAT one. It's also no secret that Sturrock was not Lowe's first choice for the job back in March - but the fans, and half the board, weren't having Glenn Hoddle back. Sturrock was drafted in as a pawn in Lowe's power game, and whether the Beattie situation was catalyst or just convenience, the fact is that Luggy has left.

Southampton are the poorer for this day's work. Not only have they lost a very very good manager who, last season, was the only league manager whose record compared with that of Wenger's and Ranieri's (oh, the comparisons!), but it has also shown that Southampton is a club where the bullies always win. I told Kev on Saturday that I felt Saints were a team with no soul any more, and that the days of Bridgey, Marsden, Strachan and the Cup Final seemed a long time ago. Now I'm struggling to muster any feeling for a team containing (a few) players who don't respect the club or the game, and a chairman who ripped Plymouth Argyle apart back in March just to play a tiny power-game, a game which he has now won, and has thrown away the tool he used to win.

Finally, no, I don't want to see Sturrock back at Home Park. That chapter is closed, and Bobby Williamson must be allowed to get on with his job. Sturrock (and Summerfield) will be back in football, and they will be back soon, whether it is with Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday or even the Scotland national team. The innocent parties in this will heal and move on.

But something is wrong at Southampton FC, very wrong, and I fear for the club as long as the dark forces of board-room politics and player agents continue to wield the power.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

19 August 2004: Citeseer

So I made it back in once piece, and with a copy of Citeseer cunningly hidden inside the toaster in my hand-luggage.

For the uninitiated (which, frankly, most people in the world are when it comes to Citeseer), this is an autonomous citation indexing system and digital library with web-portal search funtionality. Or, more simply, Google, but for academic papers. Invented and (after much discussion with NEC) now once again maintained by Penn State University, it's a system that has garnered a huge amount of interest from users across the world. The boys at Penn State have scraped around 700,000 relevant scientific documents off the web by the time of my visit and they see no reason why they can't reach 2 million before too long. And they're giving it all to us.

Which is very nice, especially since we don't quite know what we're going to do with it yet. We could do the standard Semantic Web thing with it (see blog on Edinburgh), which would be to transfer the data to RDF and call it 'Semantic Citeseer', but there may yet be more to it than that. Half the problem is getting the data out of the system (the code is, well, proprietary, let's put it like that); the more fun half is analysing the network graph that is created by all these documents referencing each other, and seeing what patterns we can see in there. Laney's nodal points, except we know what we're looking for. Pattern Recognition. It always comes back to William Gibson, doesn't it?

A pain getting home again though. State College airport isn't the largest in the world, so when someone decided to land a private plane without putting the wheels down, the ensuing mess took the rest of the day to clear up. The news article (linked to above) sums up the scale of the airport: "dozens of travellers" being stranded for hours. When we eventually took off, the plane we were in was so tiny that people sitting near the back were asked to move further forwards to help balance the thing. But we made it to DC in one piece, and back to Heathrow from there, so a successful trip overall.

Installing Citeseer comes next. And that could be the real challenge.

Monday, August 09, 2004

9 August 2004: Feel-Good Factor

The feel-good factor is here.

Despite the poor weather, thousands flock to Cornwall, remarkably optimistic of good weather despite the Britain's generally poor record in this area, and the fact that the extreme south-west gets, on average, three times as much rain as almost anywhere else in Britain. They block to roads (especially those around the Eden Project), they sit on rain-soaked beaches with miserable expressions on their faces and they'll do it again next year. It's the feel-good factor.

Despite the rather surprising facts emerging about Iraq (they don't actually have any weapons of mass destruction, despite the government telling us they did, and we knew where they were), nobody is complaining at white-wash reports or the fact that our elected leaders knowlingly misled the country. The feel-good factor is enough for everyone.

Despite a stalled housing market, prices and interest-rates continue to rise, people lie about their incomes to get higher mortgages, they continue to increase spending in the high street and nobody seems bothered much about spiralling debt. The feel-good factor takes care of any worries we might have.

Now, if you were to transpose the word 'Prozac' into the places where I wrote 'feel-good factor' above, you might be very worried indeed. But perhaps that's exactly what's happening.

BBC news today reports that measurable (and increasing) quantities of Prozac are being found in our drinking water. Apparantly the Environment Agency (bless 'em) have found that so many people are taking the happy pill, and so much of our water is recycled, that we're now all receiving small doses of the drug. "Potentially toxic" and "a possible cause for concern", they say. Really? No... just the latest way the government has found to make us feel good about everything.

And how did I get so cynical? I drank bottled water all weekend, and the Prozac must have worn off.

Friday, August 06, 2004

6 August 2004: Eastleigh

Went to the Saints-Eastleigh game last night at the gloriously-named 'Sparshatts of Botley Stadium'. Sparshatts of Botley is, despite its promising name, not a medical condition related to eating too many curries, but instead a rather boring (read 'large') car dealership out the other side of Hedge End. They sponsor the "stadium" where Eastleigh FC play their home matches in the Vesuvius Athritic League or whatever it is. There have been all manner of exciting developments at the Sparshatts - a new main stand holding at least fifty people, the old "main stand" (a large piece of iron that looks like an oversize bus shelter) being moved behind one of the goals, a paved car park. The announcer (who also did a spot of karaoke for us, sadly) said the stadium was the envy of many conference teams. Why? Do conference teams particularly want to charge six pounds for access to standing room behind a goal to watch a team featuring Wayne Shaw, the chubbiest 'keeper since Bill 'Fatty' Foulke last played for England?

Anyway, Saints reserves won 2-0, and featured (among others) Darren Kenton, Paul Smith and Neil McCann, who despite scoring both goals (yes, he tapped in the second, it was about six feet away from where we were standing) must think that his appearance in such a reserve team is pretty ominous considering the proximity of the coming season. He stank against Plymouth Argyle, he stank last night too. The prospect of him on the left wing and Telfer on the right wing just makes me shudder.

Most worrying, though, is the rumour that former Argyle boss Paul Sturrock, now in charge of Saints, has been given only seven matches to prove himself. Rolled in with this is the additional rumour that a lot - a lot - of the players just don't like him. Motivation could be a factor here. Given the transfer window closes at the end of the month, Luggy will be stuck with these players until January and frankly, if they're not interested, it may be too late by then. Which is a shame, because he is a very shrewd manager, a good judge of players, and excellent tactician and has enormous ears.

Finally, off to Penn State on Wednesday to sort out this Citeseer thing. It's dragged on so long (we were supposed to get the data at easter!) that I'll simply be glad when it's over. Then the real work can begin - trying to figure out how Kurt Bollacker's summer project became the huge internationally-renowned Science Paper portal that it now is! And maybe doing some Semantic Web stuff too.

Friday, July 30, 2004

30 July 2004: Sheep

One of the fun things about growing up in the country was the large number of cattle grids on the roads around the village. These are grills in the road designed to stop grazing animals wandering across from the common grazing land of Dartmoor into the village and, in particular, our pretty Devon gardens. Driving across a cattle grid was always a great deal of fun, a tame version of a fairground ride. Cycling across such a grid was yet more invigorating. But it seems, perhaps, that the days of the hoof-proof cattle grid are numbered.

The BBC today reports that sheep have the whole system figured out. They can't walk across the grid, so they've learned to roll across eight-foot-wide grids in Marsden, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire. Apparently they're also hurdling five-foot-high fences. No pictures of these events, I'm sorry to say (for goodness' sake, BBC - even UFO stories usually have some kind of photo, however fuzzy), so it may all be a load of droppings. Still, I can't help thinking there should be some kind of Olympics for sheep featuring such events. Maybe the sheep-centred theme park 'The Big Sheep' (tagline: ewetopia) in north Devon could take up the idea?

Meantime, Blogger's spell-checker continues to educate, inform and entertain. For the above paragraph, it suggested 'marketing' for 'Marsden', 'HUFF' (in capital letters) for 'UFO' and 'Ethiopia' for 'ewetopia'. A tagline I'm sure the people at 'The Big Sheep' considered carefully.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

29 July 2004: London

According to the BBC News website, London has overtaken Paris as the top tourist city in Europe.


It's true. Apparantly there was a 22% surge in visitor numbers between March and May this year, which is stunning enough considering the weather we've had so far in 2004. But it's even more amazing when you consider this statistic (one I had suspected for a long time but had never seen figures for): London is the second-most expensive city in the world. Only Tokyo beats it. Yet the people keep coming.

And what do they come to see? The London Eye is the highest-grossing attraction in the country (ok, it's impressive, but it's hardly Disney or SeaWorld, is it?), and of course the Tower of London. You have to pay over eleven pounds to do each of these. For less, you can see Buckingham Palace (from the outside!), Leicester Square and Parliament. You can ride a big red double-decker bus, take the tube, get a black cab home after a night in the West End. Big city bustle and fun?

I lived in London for six years (give or take travelling around the world for a few months), and never understood the attraction. It's a dirty, foul-aired metropolis, streets too small for the traffic attempting to get through (even with Uncle Ken's Congestion Charge scheme), a city of contrasts between ultra-wealth and extreme poverty, and an increasing gap between the two. It's a place of immense sadness in many ways, very very different from the rest of Britain and confused as to why it is so different. But it is different, which is why many overseas tourists fly in to London and never actually leave the city. What else is there? Stonehenge? (Less impressive than Niagara Falls and I wasn't impressed by Niagara Falls) Edinburgh? (Edinburgh gets only 10% the number of visitors that London gets).

My tip: yes, visit London, but don't do the tourist thing too much. A good day would be, yes, to do the London Eye, followed by a river cruise down the Thames (complete with sarcastic commentary from the driver) past the Tower and down to Greenwich, where the observatory and small markets provide a fully diverting afternoon. Back under the river through the foot tunnel and catch the DLR back to Bank. A short walk to Brick Lane for the definitive curry experience, followed by a stop at the 24-hour bagel bakery and lastly a drink and a game of bar billiards at the Owl And Pussycat on Redchurch Street. If you have more time, the Angel provides more food experiences than you can shake a stick at; Hampstead Heath brings the countryside to the city (it's huge: it spans zones two, three and four); the Comedy Cafe on Rivington Street in Shoreditch is always decent (ie cheap) on a Thursday night; an international cricket match at Lord's or The Oval is worth catching, as is, in winter, ice-skating at Broadgate, right in the courtyard of all those big international banks. But then leave. Go and see Devon, or the New Forest, or the Isle of Skye. The weather will be just as bad, but it's cleaner, quieter and, yes, cheaper.

Better still, go to New Zealand. They may have more sheep than people, but there's always the off-chance of seeing a Hobbit.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

28 July 2004: Sven

Bobby Williamson to be Next England Manager  

In a shock move designed to scare visting tourists, Plymouth Argyle and the Football Association today gave a joint statement in which they said that Plymouth Argyle manager, Bobby "Huggy" Williamson, would take over responsibilities for the England national team from the start of the new season.

Williamson, who only recently took over at Home Park following the departure of Paul 'Luggy' Sturrock to some other team, has shown the class and foreign-ness required for the top England post during his short stay in English football.

At a press conference, Williamson said he was keen to leave his mark on the english game. "Leave me alone, Duncan," he told reporters, "I'm eating ma mince and tatties."

Current incumbant of the England post, Sven 'Muggy' Goran-Eriksson, was unavailable for comment, although former England breast-carrier Paul 'Chubby' Gas-Coin said on Radio Five Live this morning that he "had heard Sven was good between the sheets".

The case continues.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

27 July 2004: Toaster

What is the mysterious object shown above?

My initial reaction, upon seeing Nick open the box in front of me here in Bay 10 yesterday, was that it was a toaster. And it could well be, except for the fact that it has USB and firewire connections, and nowhere to put the bread. Perhaps even, given its cost of £600 and the fact it was paid for by AKT (well-known for Artificial Intelligence innovations), it could be the legendary Talkie Toaster from Red Dwarf. As Nick plugged it in, I expected it to say... "Howdy doodly doo!"

But it didn't.

Instead it fired up, one by one, a series of internal disks, until after a short period of time there was, plugged into Nick's laptop, a removable hard disk of size one terabyte. What's a terabyte? The fact that you don't know how much a terabyte is just shows how big it is. It's big.  It's a thousand gigabytes, or a million megabytes, or over 1428 uncompressed music CDs. Uncompressed. And it's the size of a toaster.

Why am I telling you all this? Partly because you're bored (you wouldn't be reading this blog otherwise) and partly because of the implications for certain technologies. If I can fit one and a half thousand CDs on to this beastie - and lets face it, it's new, so from here on they're only going to get smaller, cheaper and increase in capacity - then this is the death of MP3, or MPEG movies, or any kind of compressed media format. You just won't NEED compression soon.

Of course, we're just going to be using it when I'm sent to Penn State University to get the Citeseer data and source code in a few weeks. Nothing like a mundane use of an exciting new technology to kill the imagination. But mark my words, this is the beginning of the end of compressed media.

Toaster kills MP3.

You heard it here first.

Monday, July 26, 2004

26 July 2004: Le Tour

Good to see Mr Lance winning his sixth Tour De France yesterday. Well, ok, let's be honest, I didn't actually see it: ITV, despite having the rights, decided not to show anything much of this year's Tour on UK network TV. I don't understand this: last year they had regular highlights and even live Sunday afternoon stages - the race up Alpe D'Huez was truly outstanding last year, and brought in plenty of viewers. This year they put it all onto ITV2. So I was left with the wonders of the internet - listening to the classic team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in audio only from the (it has to be said, excellent) official Le Tour/OLN website. Maybe if they introduced Bob Roll and his 'Tour day France' to the UK audience, they'd get back on mainstream TV in no time.

So with that over, only a couple of test matches left and the baseball season into its second half, it's starting to seem like summer is almost over. Next thing you know the football season will be starting. And no doubt I'll be sent to Penn State Uni to coincide with one of Saints' home games. Talking of which, the Citeseer people are making quite a big show (on their own website, admittedly) of the fact that they've released, in OAI format, all the Dublin Core info plus the 'references' and 'is-referenced-by' data for all their records. I was greatly excited by this, but frankly a lot of it is just flat out wrong. In fact, the 'is-referenced-by' field data is so wrong as to be utterly useless (does paper number 99087 really reference every other paper in the database?! (No it doesn't). Must have been a bear to write it.) Makes me feel a little like Tony Bickford must have felt when he first got the Post Office Address File in his first attempt at making QuickAddress.

The difference is, I don't have a multi-million pound business waiting for me on the other side.

Finally, got the new Hillsong album ('For All You've Done') over the weekend: it's about the usual stuff for Hillsong (which is to say, pretty good and very sing-along-able), although not quite up to the standards of last year's 'Hope' album (which I still don't own, *sniff*). Most exciting was to see that Jonas from the London Hillsong congregation has co-authored one of the songs with Marty Sampson. I've only been a few times to the London Hillsong (I've been to the Sydney one more often, even taking the chicken pie into account), but have always been impressed by young Jonas and his songs! There's hope for us Brits yet, even if we didn't have even one entry in this year's Tour De France.

Maybe David Millar should try dodgy chicken pies instead of EPO.