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?