Days: it’s a blog thing

Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…

Saturday, October 19, 2002 ↓


As soon as I’ve finished switching servers around. In the meantime, things may be a little screwy around here.

Posted at 6:53 PM


Astronomers at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, have found the best evidence yet that there is a massive black hole at the centre of the Galaxy, as reported in the journal Nature.

Posted at 6:50 PM

Friday, October 18, 2002 ↓


John Gruber has a detailed write-up at Daring Fireball on the phony Microsoft testimonial I mentioned earlier. His post also points to another MS page in similar vein, which similarly, they had to take down. Caught again.

Posted at 1:00 PM


Every now and again, my buddies Kenny, Ronnie and I organise “boys away-days”. One such event is coming up shortly; a weekend that will take in A Day at the Races (not as funny as the Marx Brothers film, because it will undoubtedly involve losing wads of cash), and a visit to the British International Motor Show (not as exciting as the Paris Motor Show, because it’s in Birmingham).

Anyway, the owner of whichever car is used for these excursions typically provides the selection of music to be played during the trip. More often than not, this is Kenny — and he usually ends up taking some stick from Ronnie and me about his musical taste.

Clearly fed up of this treatment, he sought to avoid it this time by sending us a spreadsheet listing of his entire CD collection, telling us that we should choose what we like (though choose what we can suffer might be a better way to put it.) The simple thing to do would be to delete all the dreck and send the sheet back to him…

An extract from Kenny's CD list. Marcella who?

While I was deleting nine (count ’em) albums by the nauseating Celine Dion, I thought: if only it were possible to eliminate her from life as easily as it is from a spreadsheet.

Posted at 8:52 AM

Tuesday, October 15, 2002 ↓


I know it’s been reported in countless other places, but I couldn’t resist pointing the finger too. It’s bad enough that Microsoft couldn’t come up with anything more original than an inversion of Apple’s “Switch” campaign to attempt to draw Mac users towards Windows — but to get caught in a blatant cheat is plain stupid.

Microsoft put up a page on their web site, supposedly written by a “freelance writer”, extolling the virtues of XP over MacOS and PCs over Macs. Except that the photograph of the “author” was a piece of stock photography from the Getty collection, no less. Presumably the text was no more credible than the photograph, because once they were rumbled, Microsoft pulled the page (it used to be here). As of today, it’s still in the Google cache; but just in case it vanishes, here’s a screen grab.

Note Microsoft’s devious trick of reversing the original image… wooooo, nearly had us fooled, there!

Posted at 7:46 PM


Copyright seems to be flavour of the month, what with the Eldred vs Ashcroft hearing in the US Supreme Court last week. Now it seems that the public will get a chance to point out some of the stupidities in the US DMCA:

Federal copyright regulators are opening the door for new exceptions to a controversial copyright law that has landed one publisher in court and a Russian programmer in jail.

Full story by John Borland in ZDNet News.

Posted at 7:45 PM


As expected, yesterday the UK government suspended the Northern Ireland Assembly and restored direct rule from Westminster. After indulging in my ramble, I found a pertinent essay written in 1954. It’s interesting to see how much has changed (notably the economy of the Irish Republic) and how much hasn’t (the attitudes of people in general and politicians in particular) in the almost half-century since. While the author was clearly coming from a pro-nationalist, re-unification standpoint, he clearly understood and accepted why the loyalists felt the way they did — and still do.

Talking with my pal Ronnie on Sunday evening, I said I thought that it would take a new generation of politicians from both sides working together in an institution like the Assembly before there would be enough trust and understanding for some kind of permanent settlement to be reached. Similarly, back in 1954, Professor Kelleher thought a new generation would be needed to see real change:

The age of these leaders is what promises a little hope. Another ten years must bring in new men and, though there are few signs of it, perhaps a fresh outlook as well. The generation now in power is the one with whom Partition came into being. Rarely in any country does the generation which discovers a great political problem solve it, perhaps because they always tend to see it as it first existed and not as time and society continually refashion it.

The generation he spoke of has come and gone, and in between, things got worse. I hope I’m more right than Kelleher was.

Posted at 7:42 PM

Monday, October 14, 2002 ↓


When talking recently about Mil Millington’s exploits, I forgot to mention his latest creation: Angry Bed Positions.

Posted at 11:13 AM


On Saturday, while flying home from Gothenburg, I was reading an essay in The Guardian by Hilary Mantel, in which she discusses why she does not consider herself “an English writer” — perhaps because she was born in the north of England, and into a family descended from Irish immigrants. She muses on the frequent identification (amongst the English) of “Britain” with “England”, as if the other parts didn’t exist:

For generations, our historians had proceeded as if “Britain” and “England” meant the same. Scottish children learnt Scottish history, and English history. But English schoolchildren did not learn Scottish history. They learned English history alone — and they called it British history. Historically, the English have not bothered to define themselves. They just are. It is other people who, in their view, have the problem of definition.

English nationalism is not recognised to exist. The clashes between England and Ireland were not, in the past, seen as a battle between English nationalism and Irish nationalism. They were seen as a result of the Irish nation’s stubborn refusal to recognise that it was, for all practical purposes, English. It would be amusing, if the results had not been so bloody.

While getting ready to leave my hotel room earlier in the morning, I was listening to Jon Snow on CNN’s International Correspondents talking to the London bureau chief for the New York Times, who was spending his weekend in Belfast. The background to the discussion was the fact that the UK government is preparing once again to suspend the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland, and the public cries of “Here we go again” are being echoed in the British and international media. Snow put it to the NYT man that it must be hard for NYT readers to fathom how one country (Ireland) can be embroiled in such difficulties. But that’s just the point. Ireland may be one country, but it is not one nation — and has not been so for a long time.

Even before the partition agreement of some eighty years ago, the seeds of separation were sown long before there was a United Kingdom, when England still sought to dominate the lands around her. Henry VIII was the first English monarch to declare himself King of Ireland in 1514, and it was not long after that the “plantation” of Ireland by English settlers began, providing a loyal (to the English crown), Protestant foothold in a Roman Catholic land. The north of the country became the focus for these plantations, leading ultimately to the present situation where a loyalist, Protestant community — descendants of English, and later, Scots migrants — coexists with a Catholic community whose sympathies lie generally with the nationalist cause.

Although her essay had a different subject, Hilary Mantel’s remarks on English versus Irish nationalism provide an efficient, if not particularly analytical, summary of how these things came to pass. What’s more, I believe her observations about English and Scottish teaching of history bear a comparison in Northern Ireland that at least partially explains the continuing divide between the communities since partition. Northern Ireland, being British, has a British — which is to say, English — education system. (Scotland’s education system is entirely separate and has significant differences from the English model.) From what I gather from people I know who come from Northern Ireland, it seems to me that (in the Protestant schools, at least) children are taught “British” history, but learn little of the history and folklore of the rest of the island on which they live. I remember having to tell a friend from Belfast who Brian Boru was, and coming to realise that even I knew more about Irish history than he did. Not only did his place of birth in The Province bestow British nationality on him, he was educated to see himself as British rather than Irish. In the twenty-odd years he lived in Northern Ireland before moving to Scotland, he only set foot in the Republic of Ireland a handful of times, and has done so no more often in the twenty-odd years since. He never saw any need.

There are two nations on the island of Ireland, and it doesn’t surprise me that many of those born British want to remain British — because that’s the culture they know. They learned about it in school, after all. Cries of “Give Ireland back to the Irish” from factions abroad are facile and uninformed. Regardless of how the situation in Northern Ireland arose, the fact is that today, there are British people living there, who cannot simply be abandoned. Whatever the ultimate solution for Northern Ireland, the end result must be a country where all of its people can live and prosper equally in security and religious freedom.

The loyalists have taken great steps in accepting the Good Friday Agreement and sitting down with the nationalists to share the administration of Northern Ireland, even though they know deep down that this may be, and probably is, just one more step towards unification of Ireland and handing the North over to a Dublin government. The nationalists have similarly made significant strides, effectively renouncing armed struggle and sitting down with the loyalists, whom for centuries they have seen as their oppressors. When two groups with such differences have to deal with each other daily, of course there are going to be hiccups and disputes and finger-pointing along the way. I doubt this will be the last time the Assembly has to be suspended to sort out some problem or other.

The divisions between the loyalist and nationalist communities are more than religious; they are grounded in all of the history before and since partition. It is, as Jon Snow suggested, difficult for people abroad with little knowledge of that history, to see what is so hard about settling divisions in Northern Ireland. In another CNN broadcast earlier in the week, an interviewer put that question to people on the streets of the Northern Ireland capital. A pithy Belfast chap replied, “Because the two sides just don’t like each other!”

Posted at 10:58 AM

Previous entries

Older material is stashed away under Replays.