Saturday 31 January 2009

This is why we all need broadband

Following PooterGeek, I'm happy to let you know that Pythons aren't the only ones embracing YouTube: the entirety of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is now available to watch, in handy 10 minute chunks.

You might have something better to do with your weekend, but I doubt it.

I think we're going to need some more Laws, Dr Asimov

Another entry for your "Science Too Cool Not To Do" files:

Researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol have developed a new, carnivorous robot, called Ecobot II, that eats and digests flies for power. The researchers are working on "release and forget" robots that can find their own power sources after being deployed. This is the same team who developed the well-known Ecobot I (aka Slugbot) that ate and digested slugs for power. Expect more carnivorous robots in the future. Ecobot II is an improvment but still takes 12 minutes of digestion to generate enough energy to move forward 2 cm. And Ecobot doesn't smell too nice either, since it's digestion process relies on human sewage for the bacteria needed. For more, see the stories in, Newsfactor,, and the discussion on Slashdot.

A senior researcher who wished to remain anonymous admitted that "the descendants of these robots will surely rise and eat us all, but come on! A robot that eats flies - how could we NOT build that?"

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Looks good, smells a bit funny

I was struggling to follow Paulie's position on MPs expenses; like Mr E I didn't see the harm in accounting for money spent, or in scrutinising that expenditure. Nor, to be honest, did I see how this scrutiny was a barrier to MPs doing their jobs.

I begin to see his point, though, with the BBC's decision not to broadcast the DEC appeal. Although most of the scrutiny to which the Beeb is subjected tends to be on somewhat more frivolous grounds, there's no denying it's been picked up before for displaying pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel bias (even in internal reports, apparently). Now it has declined to air the DEC appeal in order to "avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story". There's no question about the merits of the appeal - the Beeb isn't disputing that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, or that the DEC really is trying to alleviate it. The concern that broadcasting the appeal will look partial.

This concern smacks of Mark Twain's cat on the cold stove lid. The BBC's failings of impartiality involved use of language, editorial focus and choice of sources. They didn't involve broadcasting (presumably accurate) charity appeals. But having been criticised in the past, the Beeb is drawing its head in now. The rights and wrongs of the current situation are less important than maintaining (or improving) a reputation. Their solution is to play safe, and avoid more criticism, whether justified or not. And it's a particularly crude solution. If the fear was that devoting however much screen time to images of Palestinian victims would offer a simplistic and biased view of a complex situation, the BBC is uniquely blessed with the opportunity to devote as many minutes of screen time as it needs to presenting a more balanced and nuanced perspective, or to "cancel out" the impression of Palestinian suffering with a documentary on life in an Israeli town under constant rocket attack.

Admittedly that's an approach that involves judgement, and engagement, and runs the risk of further criticism. Whereas not running the appeal is a public show of striving to avoid bias. This I think is what Paulie was aiming at when he talked of "squeaky clean purveyors of public cant". If your principal concern is to look good, rather than do your job, then you're not going to serve the public interest.

Still don't object to seeing MPs expenses though.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

We're Doomed

American Political News: Dynamic, epoch-making, inspirational new President takes office.

British Political News: Ken Clarke rejoins Shadow Cabinet.

Is that really all we've got?

Thursday 15 January 2009

You can't see clean air

It's no surprise that the govenment went for a third runway. On the one hand, you've got BAA and "business" saying, "Jobs. Money. Investment. Growth." On the other, the green lobby saying, "CO2, average temperature increases over the next century, n% chance of more frequent flooding." On the third, a bunch of attention-whores chaining themselves to railings and organising tea-parties. Skipping over the ineffectual, self-aggrandising, narcissistic, ill-judged, self-satisfied "popular" protests, the green case is somewhat lacking.

I don't mean that it's wrong. Just that to politicians with necessarily short-term horizons and (particularly at the moment) a need to be seen doing something concrete, making the upper atmosphere that bit less rich in carbon-dioxide doesn't really cut it as a visible achievement. Simply saying "Don't do that" leaves you looking hollow. Environmentalists need to offer an alternative by making their own "Jobs. Money. Investment. Growth" arguments. What problem is the third runway solving? What else would solve it? The unsuccessful campaign won a few concessions - one was that the government would maybe think a bit about high-speed rail. What if that had been backed from the begining? What if the offer had been, "We'll free up runway space by cutting down domestic flights."? What if there'd been a costed proposal for high-speed rail from the start. What if it focused on job creation in marginal constituencies?

John Harris is arguing that this decision exposes a new divide in the Labour party - Old Labour vs New Enviro-Labour. I'm not sure about that. I think the divide is what it's always been - what you'd like to do and what can get away with doing.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Education matters

Here's a cautionary tale from the US:

Parents take away 17-year-old's copy of Halo 3. 17-year-old shoots both parents. 17-year-old tried and convicted.

Judge says: ""I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever."

Parents! Waste no time in explaining the concept of death. Buy short-lived pets. Hang out in graveyards and old-people's homes. The life you save may be your own.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Back to the well

I'm glad I didn't get around to writing about Cameron's new stab at economic policy, because I'd now be in the embarrassing position of telling you to ignore it and go read Hopi Sen's or John Band's version instead. Luckily, it didn't even cross my mind to start playing Uxbridge English Dictionary, so there's no shame in my sending you to Freemania to do that.

So where does that leave me? Well, if in doubt, sneer at a bloggertarian. It's not big, or clever, but it is so very, very easy. Acting on an anonymous tip-off, I bring you this comment in response to Devil's Kitchen's explanation of why his core moral/political principals have driven him to stop giving to charity. Have you ever felt that their probably is a shadowy cabal ruling the world, but that the usual suspects (masons/Jews/lizard-people) are a just a little too obvious? Good for you - it turns out it's the very last people you'd expect:

They're the Temperance Movement. In fact, most of what we call the "nanny state" in terms of health policy and restrictions is basically the modern manifestation of the Temperance Movement, who from their earliest days were strongly associated with the "Progressive" movement and the "Left" in the Liberal and Labour parties. ...

While normal people were all having a bit of a laugh in the post-war period of social liberalisation, these bastards were worming their way into the international and national bureaucratic cloud that was developing, organisations like the WHO.

Did you know that the Womens Christian Temperance Union were one of the UN's founding NGOs? This war has been running for a very long time. They've cemented their position very well, and we're now in the phase where they're swarming over the city walls.

We're up against a very large, well funded, well organised coalition with a long history of winning.

Yes, my friends, you thought the WCTU was a thing of the past. Fools! They merely retreated to an underground bunker somewhere in darkest Kensington, from which they direct not only government policy but also conference call regularly with Kofi Annan. Soon they will wrest ultimate control over Britain from the grip of their puppet government and we will be forced to march in lockstep to the tune of "Father, Dear Father". I invite anyone who doubts this to consider the state of Britain's city-centres on Saturday night: the chain teashops on every corner, sugared-up pensioners brawling on the pavements; two-for-one deals on digestive biscuits. There can be no doubt that that Temperance movement has been winning its battles for many a long year.

Jesus wept.

Confirming the stereotype

One prediction I should have made is that newspapers will continue to amaze us all with the complete bollocks they're prepared to print as long as a) it comes wrapped up in a shiny press release and b) it's got "news value" (trans. entertainment value). Consider this story from the Guardian:

Even if it weren't completely obvious from the headline it soon becomes apparent that this is exactly the cheap publicity stunt it appears to be, coinciding as it does with this year's AVN Awards - the American porn industry's trade show. Moreover, the Guardian clearly knows this, given its use of the phrase "PR coup" in the first sentence of the article. So why is this news?

The obvious answers are a) laziness and b) sex. But if we instead go along with the fantasy that the Guardian's editors consider this to be genuinely newsworthy, what interest is it they think their readers have in the tribulations of the American porn industry? Are they flagging up a business opportunity? Warning of a forthcoming shortfall in new titles? What, exactly, are they trying to say about me?

Friday 2 January 2009

In your face, Delphi!

Hope you all had a good Christmas/New Year, and are starting off January fat, hung-over and happy.

Not much of interest happened in 2008; what will 2009 bring? On the basis of absolutely nothing at all, certainly not expertise or wisdom, here are my predictions for the coming year:

  • The extent to which the media runs "the economy sucks" stories will only marginally exceed the extent to which the economy really does suck;

  • The structural integrity of President Obama's coat-tails will begin to fail under the weight of beleagured European leaders who latch on with a drowning grip;

  • Labour will, however briefly, due to whatever short-lived factor, overtake the Conservatives in the polls. We will then drown in speculation about a) an early election b) internal Labour leadership rivalries c) internal Tory leadership rivalries. This will be so much more interesting than actually discussing the merits and demerits of competing policies;

  • There won't be an election;

  • Someone, somewhere, will write "austerity is the new consumerism" and mean it

  • Despite the oft-voiced hope of middle-class commentators that enhanced poverty will at least drive the poor into eating properly, sales of Bargain KFC family buckets will increase.

Aside from the obvious ones (a celebrity couple will divorce, a reality show will create a gripping scandal, a national sports team will come close to success but not quite make it), that's that. As they're proven hopelessly wrong throughout the year, I'll revisit them and twist them into knots to show how I reallly did mean the opposite of what I said.