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.