Monday, December 25, 2006


The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain.
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that villagers can say
'The Church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad,
And Christmas morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true?
The most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Town attempts to ban Santa

The Register reports: [edited]

The Pennsylvania town of Hazleton has declared its intention to enforce controversial illegal immigration legislation by banning Santa from its boundaries this Xmas.

The "No Santa for Hazleton" campaign is the latest manifestation of the town's "Illegal Immigrant Relief Act", passed earlier this year, which "attracted national attention by imposing penalties on businesses and landlords to deter them from hiring or renting rooms to illegal immigrants".

The 'No Santa for Hazleton' website declares:

The people of Hazleton, PA are proud to announce a citizen-organized public awareness campaign called "No Santa for Hazleton." The campaign will use Santa Claus' status as America's most-loved illegal worker to demonstrate Hazleton's new "zero tolerance" policy toward illegal aliens.

The site further quotes Hazleton's mayor Lou Barletta as saying: "Santa is a dangerous idea whose reign must be put to an end."

Mercifully for Hazleton's children, the authorities will not be able to pop a cap in Father Christmas's illegal ass this Xmas, since the Illegal Immigrant Relief Act has been "temporarily blocked by a federal judge pending a lawsuit against the town brought by immigrant supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union".

A hearing in 2007 will decide Santa's fate.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Military technology 'trickle down' reports: [edited]

A surprising amount of the cool stuff we use every day has its origins in research done by the likes of NASA and the military. Big governments are often willing to shell out the big bucks to give their fighting forces and space programs a technological edge, and while few of us will ever encounter the resulting products in their original form, almost all of us use some of the ├╝bercool gear that's a direct spin off from this research.

All that's well and good, but it begs the question, "What's to come?" The government and the military are constantly developing new technologies, but which ones in the works right now have the potential to change the lives of us civilians? We looked at the gadgets the boys in E Ring (and others) have been hatching up and picked out nine favourites that we want to see go domestic.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How motion-sensing controllers work

Scienceline reports: [edited]

Seasoned video game players used to laugh when beginners waved the controller up in the air, urging Mario to jump a little further, but now these frantic motions have become part of the game.

The new Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 gaming systems both include motion-sensing controllers. Nintendo, in particular, has used its motion-sensing controller as the primary selling point of the Wii. But how are the controllers able to precisely and accurately measure physical movement?

At the heart of the controller technology are tiny accelerometers. Inside these chips, silicon springs anchor a silicon wafer to the rigid controller. As you wave the controller through the air at an attacking enemy, the wafer presses onto the springs, just as you are pressed against the seat of a car when you stomp on the gas pedal. The faster the controller accelerates, the more the wafer moves relative to the rest of the chip.

The accelerometer monitors the position of the wafer by measuring capacitance, or the ability to store electric charge, in different directions. When you move the controller forward in a punch, the capacitance increases at the back of the wafer and decreases at the front. Using capacitance to measure how far and in what direction the wafer moves, the system translates your real-life movements into the perfect jab to your opponent’s face.

The accelerometers used in the Nintendo controller are thinner than a penny, small enough to fit twelve on a postage stamp, and sell for under £3 a piece. They can accurately measure forces more than three times stronger than the pull of gravity in three directions – up and down, side to side, and forward and back. The chips also use gravity to determine the orientation of the controller, whether you’re holding it vertically like a golf club or horizontally like a gun.

But accelerometers alone cannot provide complete control, because small positional errors add up over time, think of how you regularly need to re-center your mouse on its mat.

Nintendo addressed this problem by including a sensor bar placed above or below the television. Each end of the bar emits a beam of infrared light like a television remote, which is monitored by a sensor on the controller that works like a digital camera: by seeing where the two spots of light fall on its grid of more than 750,000 pixels, the sensor can determine where the controller is pointing and translate it to a position on the television screen.

If you want to see inside a Wii controller, has dismembered one for you. For those of you wondering why you can't see any of the little men that we all KNOW do most of the work, that's because they are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY little.

Thanks Conrad for sending me the URL.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dick Tracy's Swatch

Available this month in the UK, the Aigo F029 is capable of playing video, photos, text, and music. It claims to have 4.5 hours of battery life for music playback, and 2.5 hours for watching MP4 video on its 160 x 128 OLED screen. The watches are priced at £79 for the 512MB, and £99 for the 1GB version.

Despite its Fisher-Price aesthetics and bulky profile, it occurs to me that this could be the future for PDAs. Most people already wear a watch, so why not add a SIM card and Bluetooth to create a mobile phone/PDA to an item that most people wear already?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Making money by giving things away

Cory Doctorow, author and co-editor of Boing Boing reports: [edited]

I've been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.

When my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor Books in January 2003, I also put the entire electronic text of the novel on the Internet under a Creative Commons License that encouraged my readers to copy it far and wide. Within a day, there were 30,000 downloads from my site (and those downloaders were in turn free to make more copies).

Three years and six printings later, more than 700,000 copies of the book have been downloaded from my site. The book's been translated into more languages than I can keep track of, key concepts from it have been adopted for software projects and there are two competing fan audio adaptations online.

Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book - those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game. After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing.

The thing about an e-book is that it's a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life.

Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation - when I worked in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up..." The friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.

There's no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books - but I've done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I'll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher's expectations.

What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more.

Monday, December 18, 2006

SketchFighter 4000 Alpha

Ambrosia has recently announced a very cool looking (Mac only) game: [edited]

Remember those super-cool space ships you doodled on graph paper in Middle School? Pen strokes furiously waging massive intergalactic battles in History class with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance? Well they have sprung to life in SketchFighter 4000 Alpha!

SketchFighter 4000 Alpha redefines "retro" by bringing together the imaginative pen and paper sketches from your youth with a killer resolution independent OpenGL graphics engine. SketchFighter also boasts a unique synthesis of exploration and action game play, which has you alternately blasting cute little lady bugs into oblivion and then puzzling your way through the hand-drawn challenges presented to you.

With a notebook stuffed full of killer challenges awaiting you, and a unique two-player gaming mode that's unlike anything you've ever seen, SketchFighter 4000 Alpha brings the fantasies of your youth to life in an absurd yet utterly wonderful gaming experience.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Multiplication tables

DB Fletcher's website is worth a visit to view video clips of their very cool tables, which magically expand when rotated..

Warning: In case you are thinking of buying one, the website has this cautionary note:

"Please understand that this is an extremely special piece of furniture, of exceptional quality and design – it is not for everyone by a very very long way and can only be afforded by the lucky few of us with exceptional wealth."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tiny drives continue to grow

The Register reports: [edited]

Fujitsu has unveiled what it claims is the world's first 2.5" SATA hard drive with a "second-generation perpendicular recording"-boosted capacity of 300GB.

Fujitsu claim the drive is exceptionally quiet and consumes just 1.6W of power during read and write operations.

It is due to be released in early 2007, just in time to be a part of that super-light, cool-running, screamingly fast, 1920 x 1200 pixel screen MacBook Pro Steve Jobs is preparing, just for me!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Online gambling growing fast

The Register reports: [edited]

Internet gaming is now the fastest growing segment of internet commerce, according to a report from Revenue in the sector is growing at a rate of 22 per cent per year. cited a Merrill Lynch study that concluded the global internet gaming market could reach - wait for it - $528bn annually by 2015.

Online gambling currently accounts for only about 3 per cent of the global gambling market.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006, managing your mobile's data offers mobile phone users the chance to:

"Get a backup of your mobile data and get instant online access to your mobile's contacts and calendar... By signing up, you'll be able to store, manage and even share your mobile's content online with friends within minutes. No cables or downloads needed."

It's a free service, and it works well enough to have attracted over 3,000,000 synchronisations.

Warning: It does require a mobile phone that are just a little more sophisticated than my 'stylishly retro' Nokia 6210!

Monday, December 11, 2006

No link between mobiles and cancer?

The Register reports: [edited]

A long term study carried out by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has found no increased incidence of cancer among mobile phone users.

With a sample size of over 400,000, the study found that long-term mobile phone users had a slightly lower incidence of cancer than the general population, though this can be attributed to being from the upper-income demographic, still one of the most important factors in illness and life expectancy.

The study included all Danes who had started a subscription to a mobile phone service between 1982 to 1995, and did not distinguish between analogue or digital subscribers. Analogue systems used higher power transmissions, so any risk should have been greater, but no evidence of any such risk was found.

The authors of the study concluded:

"We found no evidence for an association between tumor risk and cellular telephone use among either short-term or long-term users. Moreover, the narrow confidence intervals provide evidence that any large association of risk of cancer and cellular telephone use can be excluded."

Of course, this is unlikely to placate the Campaigners Against Stuff who will point out that the study only shows no evidence of risk; it does not prove there is no risk.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

300 miles of music: 4-10am, 09-12-06

London to Lincoln:
Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring - Leo Kottke
Jesse James Bolero - Prefab Sprout
Like Toy Soldiers - Eminem
Wives And Lovers - Jack Jones
Some Things You Don't Want To Know - Peter Wolf
Back to Me - Kathleen Edwards
People Get Ready - Pops Staples
Sweetheart Like You - Bob Dylan
Passing Strangers - Ultravox
Body language - Kylie Minogue
WOLD - Harry Chapin
Midnight at the Oasis - Brand New Heavies
Trouble Over Me - Tift Merritt
Broken Heart - Skip Spence
The Book I'm Not Reading - Patty Larkin
Blockheads - Ian Dury & The Blockheads
Steam - Peter Gabriel
New Horizons - The Other Two
Street Choir - Van Morrison
Dying Of The Pines - The Gourds
Smile - The Jayhawks
American Life - Madonna
What Led Me To This Town - The Jayhawks
Runaway Train - Soul Asylum
Big Love - Fleetwood Mac
Summer Fun - Barracudas
Come Undone - The Delgados
Voyage Voyage - Robert Miles & Patricia Kaas
The Good Kind - The Wreckers
One Man Band - Leo Sayer
Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies - Johnny Cash
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Bikini - Brian Hyland
A Little Gasoline - Terri Clark
Tragedy - Bee Gees
Movie star - Harpo
Nearly Moonlit Night Motel - Deaf School
Manhatten Skyline - a-Ha
911 - Wyclef Jean feat. Mary J Blige
Pretty Thing - The Jayhawks
Go Amanda - Steve Earle

Lincoln to London

Saturday Night - Whigfield
Hold Me In the River - Brakes
What Makes The Weather? - Tom Glazer
Bones - The Killers
Rhythm Is a Dancer - Snap!
Take a Chance - The Magic Numbers
Nag Nag Nag - Art Brut
Alala - CSS
Ain't No Other Man Til You Get Enough - Christina Aguilera v. Michael Jackson
Beware of the Dog - Jamelia
The Hurricane Song - Tom Glazer
What is Confusion? - Haddaway v. Genesis
Dancing In The Street - Martha And The Vandellas
Another Night - (MC Sar &) The Real McCoy
Once & Never Again - The Long Blondes
Let's Go See Gran'ma - Joy & Dave
B-A-B-Y - Carla Thomas
Rhythm of the Night - Corona
What Makes The Lightning? - Tom Glazer
Zombie - The Cranberries
Superstar Tradesman (Radio Edit) - The View
All I Need's A Smile - Air v. Lily Allen
Hey Now (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) - Cyndi Lauper
I Found Out - The Pigeon Detectives
Don't You Want Me - The Farm
Take Me Back to Your House - Basement Jaxx
Main Offender - The Hives
Fell In Love With A Girl - The White Stripes
Rehab - Amy Winehouse
Everywhere (Michelle Branch Cover) - Yellowcard
Best Friend - Toy-Box
I Shoulda Loved Ya - Narada Michael Walden
Pink Squares - I Was a Cub Scout
Nu Flow - Big Brovaz
Whenever, Wherever - Shakira
I Wanna Be Loved By You - Betty Boop (Helen Kane)
War of the Worlds (New Version) - Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly
Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use) - Sub Sub (feat. Melanie Williams)
Standing In The Way Of Control - The Gossip
Somebody to Love - Queen & George Michael
Set The Fire To The Third Bar - Snow Patrol & Martha Wainwright
That Great Love Sound - The Raveonettes
Owner Of A Lonely Heart - Yes
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk

Friday, December 08, 2006

'Nullity', computers' new favourite word

BBC reports [edited]

Schoolchildren in Caversham have become the first in the country to learn about a new number - 'nullity' - which solves maths problems neither Newton nor Pythagoras could conquer.

Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, says his new theorem solves an extremely important problem - the problem of nothing.

"Imagine you're landing an aeroplane on 'automatic pilot" he suggests. "If it divides by zero, the computer simply stops working. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're in big trouble."

Computers cannot divide by zero. Try it on your calculator and you'll get an error message. But Dr Anderson has come up with a theory that proposes a new number - 'nullity' - which sits outside the conventional number line (stretching from negative infinity, through zero, to positive infinity).

The theory of nullity is set to make all kinds of sums possible that, previously, scientists and computers couldn't work around.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

When boundaries blur

The Register
reports: [edited]

Nearly half of all Americans who belong to online communities claim that the virtual world they inhabit is as important as the real world.

According to a new study conducted by the USC-Annenberg School Centre for the Digital Future, 43 per cent of those who are part of a virtual community said that they felt as strongly about this society as they do about the physical world that they are a part of.

Overall, more than three quarters of Americans aged 12 and older are now online, with 68 per cent of these using the internet at home, up from 46.9 per cent in 2000. Moreover, 50 per cent of Americans now access the internet through a broadband connection.

However, increased broadband adoption at home is causing concern with a small but growing percentage of adults saying that the children in their households spend too much time using the internet. Nonetheless, almost 70 per cent of parents said that their children spent the right amount of time online.

The study also found that the number of American internet users who keep a blog has more than doubled over the past three years. According to the report, 7.4 per cent of users now use blogs, compared to 3.2 per cent in 2003. In addition, 12.5 per cent of online Americans now maintain their own website.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Plastic bricks that conquered the world

Business Week reports [edited]

Dig through any child's toy chest across the world and you're sure to find a few rectangular LEGO bricks in the mix. The colourful bricks have retained their popularity since being introduced 48 years ago.

The LEGO Group's story begins in 1932, when Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys for children. However, the LEGO brick - as we know it today - wasn't launched until 1958.

The plastic bricks are part of an interlocking system that has just the right amount of grip: The bricks hold together well but can be taken apart easily by a child. And consistency has been key. The bricks produced today can interlock with those produced back in 1958.

The rise in popularity of LEGO bricks can be attributed to the amount of imagination a child can use to build something with the bricks. The bricks are so versatile that the LEGO Group has calculated that just six eight-stud bricks can be arranged in 915,103,765 different ways.

Today LEGO bricks are primarily produced in a factory at the company's headquarters in Denmark. The bricks are so meticulously made that the company claims that out of every 1 million elements made, just 18 will be declared defective and removed from the set.

The LEGO Group produces 15 billion components a year - that's 28,500 a minute. The factory also produces 306 million tiny rubber tyres a year, making it the world's No. 1 tyre manufacturer.

Fascinating fact to throw into a lagging conversation (FFTTIALC): The word 'LEGO' is derived from the Danish expression 'leg godt', meaning 'play well'. It also means 'I study' in Latin.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

iPhone 'an almost definite certainty', allegedly

The iPhone rumour mill has been cranked past eleven by founder Kevin Rose's claims that the new iPhone will be 'small as shit'. Which, as any qualified scatologist knows, is very, very, very, very small. Possibly.

Rose also claimed that users should be able to use it on any GSM network, and that it almost certainly has a slide-out keyboard.

He also claimed that it will have two batteries: one for the music-playback, the other for the phone. This pretty much confirms that his story isn't bogus because, as we all know, two small batteries are (nearly always) a LOT better than one big battery. Maybe.

He also thinks two iPhones will ship: a 4GB and an 8GB model, costing $249 and $449 respectively. This has the ring of truth. The iPhone will need memory, and (in the United States at least) be priced in dollars.

What Kevin Rose didn't say (probably because he didn't have time, or maybe just forgot) is that the new iPhone will nearly definitely feature WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, a full suite of contact management utilities that synchronise effortlessly with Macs and PCs, a 5 megapixel digital camera (with optical zoom), voice recognition, a full range of flash-memory slots, a built-in high-resolution projector, and a virtual keyboard.

He also omitted to confirm that the iPhone would weigh less than 10 grammes, be a mere 3mm thick, and that the built-in screen will allow the viewing of Quicktime movies at full 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution (progressive scan, natch).

He was probably wanting to leave Steve Jobs with a few 'just one more thing' surprises. Possibly.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Looney Tunes hotel room

The Arte Luise Kunsthotel offers its guests the chance to stay in a hotel where each room has been decorated by an artist.

The cartoon room is my particular favourite.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wii released. Video gaming gets physical.

With a mere 168 hours separating many Brits (including me and my kidz!) from a brand new Nintendo Wii, The Wall Street Journal reports: [edited]

A videogame maker has finally succeeded in getting kids off the couch and moving around. But the new approach is turning out to be more exercise than some players bargained for.

These surprisingly vigorous workouts are being triggered by Nintendo's new Wii, which went on sale in the US last weekend. One of the Wii's distinguishing features is a motion-sensitive technology that requires players to act out their character's movements, wielding the game's controller like a sword or swinging it like a tennis racket.

The new console has been wildly successful, selling out at stores and winning high marks from critics and game buffs. But as players spend more time with the Wii, some are noticing that hours waving the game's controller around can add up to fairly intense exertion - resulting in aches and pains common in more familiar forms of exercise. They're reporting aching backs, sore shoulders - even something some have dubbed "Wii elbow."

"It's harder than playing basketball," says Kaitlin Franke, a 12-year-old from Louisville, Ky. She has been camped out in front of her family's TV, fine-tuning her bowling motion and practicing boxing footwork in two of the Wii's games.

Jeremy Scherer and his wife spent three hours playing tennis and bowling, two of the games included with the Wii. Mr. Scherer says he managed to improve his scores - at the cost of shoulders and back that were still aching the next day. "I was using muscles I hadn't used in a while," says Mr. Scherer.

Nintendo itself warns players about this risk just before some of the games begin. A message flashes up on the screen saying: "Make sure there are no people or objects around you that you might bump into while playing." Some Wii games also have pop-up reminders every 15 minutes advising gamers to take a break.