Wilkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome... Sziasztok!

Welcome to The Lotus Position, an intermittent collection of extempore navel gazings, ponderings, whinges, whines, pontifications and diatribes.

Everything is based on a Sample of One: these are my views, my experiences... caveat lector... read the Disclaimer

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter
Ponder, Scribble, Ponder (Photo Erdotahi Aron)

Guest Nutter/Kindred Soul: Bill Bailey


Tuesday, 4 December 2007


True, False, Neither and Both...

If I knew then what I know now, I've been wasting my time.

It seems incomprehensible to me that the universe should be incomprehensible; we only understand the universe because it is understandable.
[The most incomprehensible fact about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
- Albert Einstein, quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom London, 2002]
There is only one universal, eternal truth, which is that there isn't one.

I am always right - clearly you don't understand your own question.

Democracy is not an excuse for the collective abnegation of responsibility.

My bet is on entropy.

I have only one thing to say to god... Just read me the instructions!

If you have no curiosity you will not question. If you do not question you must follow blindly. If you follow blindly you cannot learn, and if you do not learn you cannot choose. To forego choice is to scorn the greatest gift, and scorn for generosity is an insult to the giver.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Shall I Give Thee An Order-of-Magnitude Estimation?

IT - the book.

What's it like to write IT?

It's like trying to write 4 or more sonnets a day - day in, day out, week in, week out, etcetera etcetera etcetera. [the additional complications of inter and intra-sonnet connectivity - I wonder whether anyone else has ever spoken of "intra-sonnet connectivity"? - wholistic integrity, etc. etc. etc. we shall temporarily ignore...]

Compared to which, writing a sonnet would be easy.

As would writing just a book.

But as someone once said "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly."

We can but try.

Not Pat Garret but Chilly (a bit)

Just so you know, when I looked at the temperature gadget this morning (at what was not by any means an ungodly hour - 8:30 ish I suppose) it was -6C here in Budapest. That's quite cold - though possibly not quite as cold as the bus stop at Luton Airport in November.

Now it's only -1C, but though I may not be huddled over a candle in a creaky attic, struggling to hold the quill in my benumbed fingers in order to scratch out whatever words of wisdom the Muses may confide, it's not all wine and roses...

OK, there is mulled wine available now that winter's here but, allow me to list for you some of the trials and tribulations I must overcome each day.

Firstly, it gets a tad nippy here in the corner (see pic for precise location within Castro Bisztro). Apparently the wall behind me is a plasterboarded window and it can get a bit draughty through the hole they cut to the electrical socket, though whether its a mere sough or howling arctic gale does depend a bit on the wind direction it seems.

The whole temperature situation is exacerbated by the fact that the place is - as is common here - centrally heated, but not in the English sense of "central" to one's own place, central to the whole building... so it turns off when everyone goes to work, i.e. when I get to work.

And yesterday, someone must have mistaken Oil of Cloves for some couture perfume or aftershave and then over-egged the pudding. Ye gods! It made my eyes water. [Actually, now I think about it, it could have been the foralt bor (mulled wine) coming to the boil... whatever it was it was mighty powerful.]

And I have to periodically reset the cable modem and linux system that runs Castro's wifi . Yes Linux may be very attractive and easy to understand if you have the personality of Linoleum with Asperger's but trying to work out what it's up to actually makes me appreciate Windows. Sometimes I just sit in front of the screen, rocking and banging my head on the keyboard - but to be fair Windows has that effect too sometimes.

And my coffee gets too cold too quickly.

But, I keep at IT... it wouldn't be art without a bit of suffering, would it?

Always Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, eh?

Maybe I could ask for another lump of coal?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Pieces of String

Just how long is a piece of string?

a) Twice as long as a piece of string half its length?
b) Just long enough to join its ends?
c) 10e-35 metres
d) As long as my current Mathematica calculation?
e) Shorter than when you last measured it

In the case of d), this calculation has now been running for 17h15m (that's 62,100 seconds), consuming on average about 50% of the power of my Core Duo T7200 processor (and only 400MB of memory), which clocks up about 11 billion instructions per second.

So... thus far the laptop has executed about 310 trillion (that's 310,000,000,000,000) instructions.

Now, for idle comparison - assume the engine of your car runs on average at say, 2,500 RPM while doing 70mph and that it lasts say 200,000 miles

By the time the engine wears out in 2857 driving hours it will have done 428 million revs. If the CPU lasted 428 million cycles it would have worn out in only 42 milliseconds, I would be getting through CPU's at the rate of about 24 per second and would already have got through 1.5 million of them.

Or, looking at it the other way, if your car was only as reliable as the CPU has been for the past 17h15m it would go about ten trillion miles, which is about half way to Alpha Centauri (though at 70mph it would take you about 39 million years)

That's LONG string.

BTW - all the above calculations are highly dubious: I've corrected them twice already. Can't rhyme, can't add. What to do?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Portrait of the Artist in Centillion Years

  ...Poof! My word it's dark!
Not a lot of stuff round here.
     I wonder why? Foop!...

A Short Course in Philosophy

Two well known philosophical limericks
A toper, who spies in the distance
Striped tigers, will get some assistance
From reading Descartes,
Who holds that it's part
Of his duty to doubt their existence.
But if he's a student of Berkeley,
One thing will emerge rather starkly:
That he ought to believe,
What his senses perceive,
No matter how dimly or darkly.
Some additions to complete the course courtesy of yours truly...
A Kantian might run away,
Or he might take a chance, and then stay
To see if it's real,
Or just an ideal,
And a noumenal blot on his day.
But if he heard Heidegger calling
And warning the toper was falling,
He'd know that his fear
Depends on how near,
He is to an authentic mauling.
A Taoist however, might say,
That if he partakes of the te,
What matters is knowing,
Just where he is going,
...the tiger is just in the Way.
And since his awareness is heightened
A Master of Zen isn't frightened -
Though he might give a kick,
If he hasn't a stick,
In the hope that the tiger's enlightened.
Though a Lockean might be more worried,
And beat a retreat rather hurried,
Having heard the effect,
To be had on his neck,
By something thus fanged and thus furried.
A Humean caught in this way,
Exploits naturalistic delay
While the Tiger's still caught
'Twixt the Is and the Ought,
His lunch can be getting away.
The poor toper besotted with meaning,
Unaware of the beast's natural leanings
Might be left by his friend
'Cos he can't comprehend
What he meant when he said he was leaving.
For the limerick writer, it's worse
If he's struggling with unfinished verse.
Should he stand wasting time,
While attempting to rhyme
The word "tiger", he'll leave in a hearse.
In general, the question is Being,
(The toper's, and that which he's seeing),
But I'm for eschewing,
The Being for Doing,
And eager to Be, so I'm fleeing.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Hoist with Zeno's Petard

[Metaphor Warning: this posting exists in a superposition of metaphorically analogous similes, or analogous metaphorical similes, or... and?]

So - Zeno's Petard? Well, he could have described a shock wave instead of an arrow... if he'd known about explosives... allow me to allow myself a little creative licence.

Anyway, a new problem has arisen, and the problem is that instead of preventing you from being hoist into the air (because the shock wave can never arrive) the Quantum Zeno Effect turns out to have a sting in its tail (though the venom may turn out to be its own antidote - as we shall see later).

Lawrence Krauss has just put up a rather large "Oops?" sign in his latest paper - where he raises the concern that whereas the universe was ticking along nicely, even if it was potentially in a metastable false vacuum, we may have just buggered it up by noticing the fact. All bets are off - our nice little temporarily stable universe may now be a teensy-weensy bit wobblier.

It's like this... The Quantum Zeno Effect tells us that for small t, the probability of decay is proportional to t squared and if we can't quite bring decay (radioactive, quality of TV programming, moral, etc.) to a complete halt, we can at least slow it down by Obsessive Observation (TM) [Tools: Geiger counter, The Ghost of Mary Whitehouse, and, er, The Ghost of Mary Whitehouse]

Normally decay processes are exponential. Example: a while back a Northern Rock share was worth £12, then it became £6, then £3 - anything that halves at regular intervals is undergoing exponential decay. (I can't bear to provide a link.)

But - and here's the fly in the quantum cosmic ointment - for large t, the decay becomes slow again (a Power Law) - meaning apparently that if the decay hasn't happened by then it's really not likely to decay at all.

But, I hear you cry, that's a good thing! It is indeed - if we are living in a wobbly universe. Or it was, until some idiot went and observed the universe before it has reached the transition point (actually I'm not sure that the timing was that important) from Exponential to Power Law because at that point his observation reset everything (trust a bloke to start fiddling with (qu)bits of fundamental existence) - and we are back on the slippery slope of Exponential decay again.

Oh dear, as I seem to find myself exclaiming more and more these days (as in, "Oh dear. Where are my slippers," or "Oh dear, I've snagged my nice new cardigan,", or even "Oh Dear!The Windows Vista Update - KB938797 if you want to know - that Microsoft recommended for my PC is not, in fact, valid for my PC", etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.)

It may not all end in tears, but (oops - didn't plan this one, honestly) it could all end in tears, rips, splits and general cosmic hyperactivity disorder as the false vacuum (have I explained that one yet? No? Ah.) collapses to a new all time low of vacuity (c.f. UK government data protection assurances (random but relevant link), Northern Rock share valuation, usw.) and Life the Universe and Everything goes "Poof!".

Now I'm in a bit of a quandary as to what to recommend. Live long and prosper but get overrun in the end, or accept that everyone dies young (good or bad - remember to tell the kids "Only the good die young" at the same time you tell them Santa keeps a list of Naughty and Nice) cosmologically speaking.

However, getting back in the saddle of my tame French ovine, if we have indeed put an observational spanner in the cosmic works, we have the answer in hand: the Quantum Zeno Effect, the cause of the problem in the first place.

Whoever made that ill-advised observation of some remote supernova and noticed that the universe is accelerating "outwards" - thereby effecting the observation of a false vacuum - should be glued to his telescope and forced to keep watching... and his children... and his children's children... and his children's children's children (etcetera, etcetera, etcetera ad infinitum - if we want there to be one) to make sure that it doesn't decay. Seems fair to me.

However, two other considerations to take into account.

a) Death of Universe = No Invasion of the Boltzmann Brains (not a bad thing, IYAM)

and (more fundamentally)

b) How in the name of Dick Emery can one part of a quantum system "observe" another part of a quantum system in such a way as to affect the decay probability of the system as a whole?

Answer that if you can! Personally - Oh dear, I really should stop thinking about such things - I'm now more concerned about The Boltzmann Brains From Another Universe observing ours (universe that is) - that really could upset the cosmo-quantum apple-cart and dump several unattractively large flies in our collective soup (ah... you are wondering now, "Did he say ointment or soup earlier?"). The BBFAU may already have observed us - or done so long ago - and it's all over bar the shouting.

Or just perhaps, the plethora of BB's in the multiverse ensures that we are always observed, and thus safe for the foreseeable future.

What was that old Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times.

Here's hoping we live through these interesting times... personally I'm planning to stick around.

Watch me.

[PS A False Vacuum - one which talks about you behind your back]
[PPS If the Quantum Zeno Effect is both doom and salvation doesn't it just cancel itself out, or does it mean it's all kindofuncertain in a satisfyingly-quantum-sort-of-way? Over to you Nicey]

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

White Rabbit

It's all coming together now.

Remember the sage advice (if no else is going to blow my trumpet, I'll do it myself) on how to ensure that things are not in the last place you look?

Good. Now, have you read about the Quantum Zeno Effect? No? Consider it part of the required reading list.

What about the Stuff on Boltzmann Brains (I and II)? Really! Do you think I am doing all this for my benefit? Come back when you have...

OK... I can now reveal that I have

a) An explanation for things (previously) being in the last place you looked
b) A viable defence against the Invasion of the Boltzmann Brains (and one that doesn't involve destroying the whole universe, which is handy)
c) An explanation for the complete failure of my previous quantum teleportation experiment.

Choosing, at random, to begin with (c) ... once upon a time, I was sitting in the bath pondering the inconvenience of the "teleportation booths" in the film The Fly, i.e. how annoying it was that one had to pre-position a receiving booth in order to be able to travel somewhere. What if one wants to go to e.g. Alpha Centauri? With current technology it would take thousands of years to get the receiver in place, and I for one don't want to wait ("current technology" obviously now including quantum teleportation but excluding other Faster Than Light travel...)

Anyway, there I was, in the bath and I thought I'd try an experiment to see if there was a way around this problem - you can try it too, maybe you'll have better luck?
Sit in bath (water temperature irrelevant, but science doesn't have to be a pain in the arse, make yourself comfy)

Place a bar of soap/bottle of shampoo/rubber duck (I rather like the idea that the first macroscopic object to be teleported should be a rubber duck)/other convenient object in your outstretched left hand

Now, hold out out your right hand and observe very, very carefully... can you see the soap/shampoo/duck? No? Keep trying...
The idea was that since everything has a finite, but tiny probability of being everywhere else, if you looked often enough in a particular place you could raise that probability to as close to unity as you wanted.

No, I never succeeded either - I thought the problem was that I didn't know how to quantum mechanically observe a macroscopic object, but now I am beginning to suspect that the Quantum Zeno Paradox is a better explanation. Because I was looking in my right hand continuously, that was the one place the soap was never going to appear.

Which also possibly explains why things are always in the last place you look(ed)

But! Aha! Here comes the clever bit. So, we can't observe and teleport in this way. However, we can proceed by elimination. Wherever an object is, it is also actually spread out, so all we need to to is to exclude the destination from our observations i.e. observe absolutely everything else and so prevent the object from going there.

Believe it or not, this would actually work - but probably only for tiny things like photons at the moment - and we can teleport those anyway.

[Side note - however... I can see how one could apply the principles to create dynamic "photonic crystals", i.e with switched apertures... hope I got the right license type.. that could be worth something!]

On the other hand, it could turn out Quantum Mechanically to be the equivalent of not thinking about a White Rabbit.

No - not the one in The Matrix.

Or Harvey.

Or the Jefferson Airplane song.

Or The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

Any White Rabbit at all. (this link gives a helpful list of some major associations of White Rabbit to avoid)

Let me know when you haven't thought about one for a couple of minutes...

Oh - I nearly forgot. Boltzmann Brains: they appear from fluctuations in the vacuum - if you keep watching you can suppress them. So, if we all dedicate ourselves to observing the (increasingly) empty universe from now until eternity we can stave off the invasion... what would Camus have made of that?

Aaah! I think I've done my bit for the blogosphere today.

I think Algernon's a bit thick...

Not exactly a useful or interesting phrase, but why?
Algernon has thrust his head far out between the rungs of his chair-back (1873 R. Broughton Nancy I. 20)
Nope. No Idea.

Niblike and Spooky!

Georgina Mitcham's "Microsoft Technet Newsletter" of 7 Nov begins with the words:
I hope you are adjusting to the early dark evenings now.
Unfortuntately, those weren't the first words I read: thanks to the artful use of language and the formatting of a hyperlink, what I saw and read first - in complete isolation - was:
carve my spooky pumpkins
which, suffering as I do from a slightly dislocated brain, caused - and still causes - bewilderment and a strange anti-gravity eyebrow effect. Of course, if you followed the hyperlink (here) you would see that it means exactly what it says it means. Nicely done Georgina!

However, hot on the heels of that random cogntitive dissonance comes this lovely quotation from the OED (my daily wordsmithing tool), spotted entirely in passing (I wasn't actively hunting, though I shall certainly keep my eyes peeled now).
All my togs were so niblike and splash
which was of course by that famous author H. Ainsworth (in Rookwood iii. v, 1834).

Now there's a phrase I'd love to see back (?) in circulation...
[Gentleman A] Yo! How's it hangin' bro'?
[Gentleman B] Chillin! All niblike and splash!
[Gentleman A] Cool/Wicked/Rad/...

(or whatever argot is now current within modern beat combos and their afficionados...)
Henceforward, under the label Carve My Spooky Pumpkins (to celebrate Georgina's creative genius) will be other bizarre yet potentially wizard words and phrases for your delectation...

Linguistic Stuff - just rolls off the tongue...

Monday, 12 November 2007

Doh! The Quantum Zeno Effect

"Doh!" as in, beaten to it again!

A long time ago (though I doubt as far back as 1977) I humorously proposed what is apparently called the Quantum Zeno Effect - a way of inhibiting state changes by obsessive observation.

I say humorously because I was proposing it as a way of handling nuclear waste - and one that is not as far as I can see at all practical (Worried about radioactive decay? Just keep an eye on it - and it won't! How one could appropriately "observe" a large mass of diverse composition I wasn't - and still amn't - sure).

And, as this is the way of things, I find out today (thanks of course to the New Scientist article here - subscription required to read the whole article online) that George Sudarshan and Baidyanaith Misra of the University of Texas apparently described this phenomenon way back when I was 16. It's since been established experimentally too.

The reason it works is that for small t, the probability of a transition is proportional to t squared...

I found a nice demonstration of the idea here (a pdf of a presentation by Wayne Itano of NIST) but, for those of you impatient for the Technical Stuff the maths bit looks like this...

So, there you have it: a watched superposition never decays.

(Of course in practice you can't make the absolutely necessary infinite number of observations to completely stop decay, but you ought to be able to slow things right down)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Free Rice... Not for you, idiot! For those who need it!

Edible Stuff! Excellent.

Go here and as it says, advertising generates 10 grains of rice for each correct answer you give.

It does get tougher around level 46+, and just so you know "lakvar" is used in Hungarian - so I got that one for free from Noemi.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Hackney Centraal

In my recent remarks on Mornington Crescent, I referred in the posting to "Hackney Central".

That should of course have been Hackney Centraal - a little known stop on the Amsterdam metro system - and an entirely legitimate move if van Hoegstraat's Deviation is in effect, which in hindsight it must have been.

Apologies for the confusion

A Poke in the Eye/The Pain of Prawns?

[Irony On] Another triumph of experimental science: living things respond to stimuli.

This is the truly staggering insight I glean from this report in New Scientist. The fact that living things respond to stimuli I find to be a substantial development on the basic ideas of cause and effect. [Irony Off]

(Just to be fair, the original paper - enticingly entitled "Nociception or pain in a decapod crustacean?" - might well be more intelligent... but I have my doubts.)

I quote...
Robert Elwood at Queen's University Belfast in the UK and his colleagues claim they have found convincing evidence that prawns do feel pain. When they dabbed an irritant - acetic acid - onto one of 144 prawns' two antennae, the creatures reacted by grooming and rubbing the affected antenna for up to 5 minutes. This focused reaction is similar to that seen in mammals exposed to a noxious stimulant...
(NB "one of 144 prawns' two antennae"? Poor prawns! How do they share them? Perhaps they meant "one of the two antennae of each of 144 prawns"?)

Anyway, according to New Scientist he (Elwood) then goes on to say:
The prolonged, specifically directed rubbing and grooming is consistent with an interpretation of pain experience.

Which is not, by any stretch of the imagination - and mine stretches quite a lot - "convincing evidence that prawns do feel pain".

By this reasoning I would have to conclude that some modern cars with "smart" wipers also feel pain as evidenced by the "prolonged, specifically directed" wiping the windscreen receives when it gets wet.

And now I think about it, I have personally observed mud washing down hills when it rains - clearly even hills must suffer mightily from the elements so "specifically" do they endeavour to rid themselves of all that water by sloughing their skin.

At least Lynne Sneddon (University of Liverpool) has some common-sense, "You could argue the shrimp is simply trying to clean the antenna rather than showing a pain response, " she is reported as saying.

However, in response to this - and other alternative explanations - "Elwood insists such comparisons are flawed":
Using the same analogy, one could argue crabs do not have vision because they lack the visual centres of humans.
which is such an aggravatingly stupid remark that I just had to write this damn posting to express the pain of my cognitive dissonance!

No, no, no, no no! Pain is an instance of the sort of thing that drives Philosophers and Artificial Intelligence workers round the bend - the problem of qualia. In a philosophical nutshell, what we sense and what we feel about our sensory experiences (what we perceive perhaps) are two different things. If we were to (correctly!) use the same meta-analogy one could argue perhaps that crabs don't recognise their friends - not that they don't see or respond to light.

If I poke you in the eye with a sharp stick you will probably say "Ow!", and I grant that you experience pain, though I could - philosophically - perfectly reasonably doubt it: I feel pain, you make strange noises when poked - how and why should I connect behaviour with feelings?

Rub a cat's fur the wrong way and it will groom it back into place; is the cat in pain, is it perhaps mildly irritated, is it vain? Even once we solve the problem with respect to other "people" it remains to be seen how we extend the concept of pain to other organisms.

And of course there is pain and there is suffering. If I experience brief - but possibly intense pain - it is, by definition all over quickly; if I know it is going to happen again I will anticipate - and suffer. If I endure prolonged pain I have long enough to wish it would end, and so suffer when it does not - particularly if I don't know when it might end (I might suppose it is going to go on forever).

Obviously if you avoid inflicting pain you avoid inflicting pain-related suffering; but what if pain can be inflicted without suffering?


Nuff said.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Some years ago (back in 1999 apparently - whatever happened to Moonbase Alpha?) I sent an email to Xircom's technical support service and received the surprising response that my message was received "tomorrow" (I sent it to New Scientist's Feedback column- the original item is here)

Eight years on and I am (partially) delighted to announce that whatever the underlying technology was/is/will be it has been/is being/will be developed to undreamed of heights of sophistication by none other than Microsoft and has been implemented as some sort of precognition extension to Windows Explorer.

Last night, I thought I was editing some photos - but I suspect now that this was merely paramnesia: when I looked at my photo folder I found this...

Not only did Vista know that I would be editing these images, it knew precisely how I would edit them - and most helpfully actually provided the resulting files, which could have saved me considerable effort if I had only known about this feature beforehand.

Unless of course, now that I have seen these files I do in fact modify them myself and Vista didn't do the work for me and is merely telling me that I am going to do some more editing...

Suddenly I realise that I can now test one of the good-old-fashioned paradoxes of time-travel (without the aid of a black-hole): now that I know I am going to edit these files today, what will happen if I don't?

Apologies if, as some fear, this results in the complete collapse of space and time as we know it and the banishment of the entire universe into neverness.

Actually, this is now a "very real" (as opposed to merely slightly real) fear: using the Windows "Start"button search I typed "modified: today" and, as expected, received a list of all the files I have worked on today... but searching instead for "modified: tomorrow" there is... nothing.


Woah! The two files that were, yesterday, to be modified "tomorrow" are listed as modified "today" even though I haven't touched them - so there's no fiddling with time after all! I am truly impressed! Vista was right all along!

And on the further-up-side, if Vista seems not to keep your files where you think they are, let it search more widely - it may tell you where they will be, and then of course you can look them up there.

PS You can read more about Thiotimoline here. It makes a very good screen cleaner in solution - effectively removing tomorrow's grubby finger marks today! (Reapply every 24 hours for optimum results)

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Hyperdimensional Resonator

Ah, yes - we've all had trouble with our Hyperdimensional Resonators at some time, haven't we?

But now our collective worries are over (or will be, or were, or shwas - my knowledge of time travel grammar is a bit hazy... yet another educational gap to be filled...) thanks to this site which
"Shows you how to construct a Cosmic Diode for use with the Hyperdimensional Resonator."

But if you are lazy, or - heaven forfend! - don't know how to actually use your Cosmic Diode even if you have successfully constructed it, it you can always buy a "ready to use" Hyperdimensional Resonator at the bottom of the page. Neat.

Actually I was trying to find the old "Kits & plans" website (now defunct, but maybe with the help of the Wayback machine...?) that included a weapon design with the caution "Warning! Activating this device may destroy the earth!" (or words to that effect...).

Now that's what I call a real warning. Never mind "Not guaranteed Nut Free".

Ah yes! Thw wayback machine does remember that old site... (see here) where I find that information of use to terrorists is still available...
SadM...Small Atomic Demolition Munition

See what I mean? It needs only a couple of grams of Plutonium... or Uranium 238 (?)... hmmm... maybe somebody should check for typos - or re-read their nuclear physics lecture notes!

Feel free to join in with any other minor difficulties you might see with the SadM instructions!

David Icke Needs Your Help

Yes he does! Just wandering the web for weirdness I thought I'd go to the horse's mouth, where I find to my horror...




This is real serious and David's work is in imminent danger of ceasing without your help. Donate system now working.

What next? Is he in danger of going the same was as wossisname - Mr Veritarse? Oh deary me.

By the way... that link should work, and when you have read or heard what Mr Icke has to say I am sure you will agree that he does indeed need all the help he can get.

[Obviously this is not a great writing day... I have a problem with the word 'chimneys' at the moment - call it a touch of the flue if you will...]

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Mornington Crescent

I was trying to explain Mornington Crescent to Noemi this evening, and not having a copy of N. F. Stovold’s "Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins" to hand it's proven rather tricky.

I thought that a simple example "Baker St - Oxford Circus - Grange Hill (I didn't want to get into Central line quartering too soon, so I thought that G.H would be the least confusing stop there) - Hackney Central - Neasden - Dollis Hill - Marble Arch - Dollis Hill - Victoria - Chalk Farm - Morning Crescent" would do nicely, but - and I'm sure you appreciate the dilemma! - how can one explain to a beginner the need to avoid lateralisation in a Northern elliptical approach?

Yes, I could have chosen an even simpler example, but surely the understanding comes from seeing how it all works in practice rather than just theory?

If anyone could give a neat illustration of a bisected conical inversion around Paddington I'd love to hear.


Thursday, 1 November 2007

Vista Missing Icons in Systray aka the Notification Area


1st November 2007... no recent updates

Wifi connection disappeared, and for some reason I couldn't re-enable it (the lights are on, but no one's home, i.e. the Rock laptop's indicator lights said the devices were on but Vista wasn't buying it), so reluctantly I rebooted and...

Certain important icons in the Notification Area (the area previously known as the "systray") gone... to whit, battery status and network (and possibly sound volume).

Under Taskbar properties (Notification Area) I eventually find controls to display certain "System Icons" all the time... but apart from the clock they are all disabled (greyed out)... hmmm...

Tried letting Vista "hide" inactive icons to see what it thought was there, and the missing icons aren't in the current or past list... stranger and stranger...

Google... newsgroups... fixes!

a) Log off and back on again - Nope.
b) Regedit and clear the keys "Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\TrayNotify...
"PastIconsStream"" and "IconsStream" - then log off and on again.

No good... but! Aha! The "System Icon" display controls are re-enabled! Click them on and they are all back - battery, network and sound volume!

But for how long?

That's the fun of it, isn't it? Everyone surely needs more such Stuff from Microsoft to keep them occupied. How else would I have wasted the last hour if not for this teeny-weeny little bug...

[Rock Xtreme CTXPro, Dual Core, Vista "Home Premium" (sic)]

Friday, 26 October 2007

Black Holes, Galaxies & Stars

Now that much of the inferred population of the universe's black holes has been found the overall picture seems to be like this.

In their youth, galaxies form stars and black holes together as the primordial gas and subsequently added dust (you don't get dust until the first generation of supernovae have gone pop and spilled their heavier elements - "metals" in astronomical terminology). The black holes at the centres of galaxies grow until they become quasars and the intensity of their own radiation holds back the very material they need to grow further, which leads to the general observation that central black holes are typically about 0.2% of galaxy mass (I think that's the right figure).

[Side note - now we have found the hidden population of black holes, we can infer something about quasar structure by comparing the numbers we can see directly with those we see indirectly through the infra-red etc. from surrounding dust.]

If this picture is broadly correct, then there should be a typical upper mass-limit for organically grown black holes.

My conclusion from all this: central black holes of greater mass should be indicative of galactic mergers and the mass of such holes might even be a proxy for the number of mergers that have occurred in the course of a particular galaxy;s history (complicated of course by the original size of the galaxy cluster etc.). It is interesting to consider that, whilst the specifics would always remain vague (barring identification of specific sub-populations of stars by e.g. velocity, age, etc. - we can do this for the Milky Way, and have found the remnants of several mergers this way, but it becomes increasingly difficult the further away a target galaxy is), one might be able to infer something about the original sizes of clusters, super-clusters etc. in the early universe from present day observations; or, running the logic in reverse, the more we learn about early cosmological structure, the more we may be able to infer about the dynamics of galactic mergers.

Just a thought. Just more Stuff.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Update on IT

About 1/3rd of the way through the mark-up, and out of idle curiosity decided to to a word-count: 150,082 words.

I started making the corrections etc around 4th September (about 7 weeks ago, but ~2 weeks lost to travel, dentistry, visits from friends etc., so let's say 5 weeks work) when the word count must have been around 146,000...

Whoa! That means by the time I've finished the mark-up it will probably have grown to ~160,000 words - and that's before I put in the two missing episodes, put back in the right place a (small) chunk I took out recently and rewrite the one remaining absolutely awful chunk... oops! We could be heading for a novel of ~180,000+

Good news for insomniacs.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan is, as far as I am concerned, famous for two things:
  1. Occurring in a Genesis song called Broadway Melody (on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and
  2. Coining the phrase "the medium is the message"
However, I think the message needs updating. It was one of those nice-bar (Szimpla probably), nice-conversation questions: has modern technology (mobile phones, the internet) destroyed communication? My wife claimed that communication was now so casual that we no longer said very much to each other. Once upon a time, a telephone call was an event - one had to go to the phone, and the callee had to go to their phone in order to converse; it was not inexpensive and a quiet environment was preferred so that one could concentrate on the substance of the call. Ditto letters (I say "ditto", you say "diddoh") - pen, paper, envelopes, stamps and a trip to the postbox. Wow! A letter was even more of an event that a phone call.

Then we got the fax; faxing was for (almost) everyone (unlike telex - anyone remember that? Is it still used?). Then we got mobile phones - or, rather, phones that could in principle be lugged around. Then we got the net. And finally everything got smaller, faster, cheaper (and some of it blew up on the launchpad or dived straight into Mars at umpteen miles per hour - or was it km/s... I think that (a metric-imperial unit mixup) was the problem) and it became trivial to communicate.

So now we chat, txt, email, blog, upload videos, mashups etc. etc. etc. at the drop of a proverbial hat (whatever happened to hats?).

Conclusion: how we do these things is no longer important. That we communicate almost at will over arbitrary distances with friends, family, colleagues - anyone - about anything, at any time of our choosing is far more significant.

The result is that the medium is no longer the message - the message is the message.

Twinkle, Twinkle...

If a picture paints a thousand words... then why can't I paint you? No, that's not right at all - this is not a Telly Savalas shrine! What I meant to say was, whilst images may be incredibly powerful - conveying as they do messages in content, style, form and medium - a word, like scents, may be a key to unlock a treasury of memories.

For reasons which, though recent, I have already forgotten, I was looking up the word "vivific" (which means, incidentally, "Life-giving, enlivening, vivifying" according to the OED) and suddenly remembered a little rhyme my grandfather taught me, a variation on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", which goes like this...
Scintillate, scintillate
Globule vivific,
Fain would I fathom
Thy nature specific.
Loftily poised
In the ether capacious
Strongly resembling
A gem carbonaceous.
And again, thanks to the internet I now know where he got it from: one John Raymond Carson. (though when he wrote it I don't know)

Aw! Isn't that nice?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Bored, Fed Up, Tired

Today I be mostly wasting time - hence "On Salamanders". Having marked up the printout of the book ("IT") - all 400+ pages with copious amounts of purple ink (couldn't find a red pen) I am now ploughing through the mark-up and correcting things.

Unfortunately, a single wrong word can completely bugger a metaphor or, worse, series of linked metaphors; and the rhythm and the flow and... and it can take hours to change that single word because it's like pulling on a loose thread in a sweater: paragraphs to either side start to come unravelled and then they have to be re-written.

So I've given up for today having just had to sweep a nice one-man-cavalry-charge metaphor under a 3 hour long metaphorical carpet.

Alas, IT is much improved by all this editing... but when will it be finished? It feels like a Sisyphean task of epic proportions... and my liver's giving me gyp too... I need a drink...

Ah! The Agony and The Ecstasy. When will it be finished? When IT is done.

On Salamanders (again)

What is natural? Where should we looked for the telos of a thing - and how should we value it?

Why should we care? Why do I care? Because I've just I've just been gobsmacked by a preposterous assertion about "genetic purity".

Are you sitting comfortably? Yes? Then I'll begin.

According to this story, it seems that the native California tiger salamander (an endangered and protected species in the US) has been interbreeding with introduced Texan tiger salamanders (tsk! tsk!). Unexpectedly though, the offspring seem to show "hybrid vigour", a characteristic more typical of plant hybrids. Technically, a hybrid is the offspring of parents of different species, and to have vigour means in this context that the organism survives not just well, but better than either of its progenitors (and by survives better I mean surviving and having more offspring - it's no good just lasting forever if you don't breed, evolutionarily speaking).

Where hybrid vigour arises, one may therefore expect the hybrid to displace both progenitors, unless (remember the important "on average" - which can be defined in terms of population extent, environmental range, niche qualities etc.) the progenitors nonetheless survive better than their hybrid offspring in particular environments.

Picture: Three types of salamander larvae: native California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense), barred tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium), and the hybrid offspring born when the two species mated. (Credit: Bruce Delgado, U.S. Bureau of Land Management) [Used without permission]


Apparently this "raises difficult questions" because whilst some might say that hybrids should be tolerated since "they are favored [sic] by natural selection, and 'improve' the original species", some others - this is the good bit - "might consider hybrids to be genetically impure and regard them as threats to the native salamanders, their competitors and their prey."

How on earth could the hybrids be genetically impure? They are not Californian tiger salamanders, nor are they Texan tiger salamanders - they are what they are. They are pure salamander. Yes, they are different to both progenitors but what is the justification for choosing either to be the standard for "tiger salamanderness" against which the newcomer should be assessed?

The issue implies some sort of telos for which we should have due regard, in much the same way as opponents of genetic "engineering" might object to the modification of pigs (for example as sources of tissue for xenotransplants) for destroying the "pigness" of the pigs concerned.

Whilst I don't intend to debate the philosophical status or significance of telos at any great length ("great" clearly being a relative term), the question nonetheless has to be asked: where or how could telos have its origin? Before sperm and egg combine, they might be considered to have their own telos, but once the egg has been fertilised both lose their separate identity. Where does the telos go, or how is it transformed - and if it can be transformed or vanish naturally, what limitation should we impose upon ourselves with respect to any alteration we might wish to make?

Many might claim (thank god this isn't academic and I don't have to supply citations to support such assertions!) that God - particularly, and hence the initial capital, the deity of one of the monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judais, and Islam) - takes care of telos, its origination and continuation. But take any such idea too literally and we would be unable to breed animals or plants using even the old-fashioned methods; we would instead have to content ourselves with whatever offspring occurred by chance (and I'll skate over the difficulty of what to do with a particularly nice - but entirely natural - strain of wheat, for example, that just catches your eye... should you favour its seeds over those of its less appealing neighbours when you plant your next crop?).

Whatever claims might actually be made, sooner or later one must stand upon the edge of Ginnunga Gap between the icy purity of deontological ethics and the industrial heat of pragmatism, utilitarianism, etc. - and just stare across: there is no pleasant balmy island in between. If one adheres to the idea that God decides the way things are, then no mortal idea of harm or benefit can affect the status quo.

Or can it? God has traditionally given human beings Free Will (by which I mean that various traditions claim this for their deity, rather than the interesting (but not very useful idea) that God has traditions, and that one of them is to give human beings Free Will whenever he creates them) and free will implies choice.

The real question is how we exercise that choice - and in particular the criteria to be used in weighing our choices.

I cannot see that we can value one species higher than another a priori. We can - and should, I suggest - value diversity above homogeneity, and for that reason (trying to bring this post to a end without boring the pants of everyone - including myself) we should be delighted at the emergence of these hybrid salamanders and we should endeavour to preserve the native Californian tiger salamanders as a distinct species.

If the two objectives are in conflict in California, then as long as both Californian and Texan salamanders exist elsewhere (and continue to be able to interbreed!) we could perhaps consider the extermination of the xeno-salamanders. We would lose the prospect of further delights arising from the development of the hybrids (unless we put them somewhere else, or breed them in captivity, or...) but whereas, given the criteria specified, we can have them back at any time, unless we can reverse engineer the Californian salamander and resurrect it should it die out, as things stand once they're gone they're gone and it would seem better to try to protect them now.

Salamanders are also interesting for some very non philosophical reasons, mostly to do with their folklore: they were supposed to be immune to fire... but do you really want to hear about that too?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Jeux Sans Frontieres

No, not the horrendously stupid 70s TV game once so bizarrely popular in Britain (or the Peter Gabriel single, come to that) just a nifty headline to introduce the wonders of ShoutCast TV.

I use VideoLan as a media view sometimes, and idly looked to see this evening what was on on the big bad internet and found this stream which is of course DPRK Television (North Korea Central Television) where you can watch North Koreans bewailing the death of the (late) Great Leader (see left) or extolling the virtues of music to the accompaniment of "subtitles" saying just how good life is - and getting better all the time - in North Korea.

Check it out... Korea_Is_One.nsv.nsv was a bit dull, but who knows what may be on next!

Most of the video is a bit blobby, but I guess every North Korean is doing their bit by contributing 1bit of bandwidth, so let's not be judgemental, eh?

Monday, 24 September 2007

The DivX License Agreement.. Addenda

How many people read software licenses any more? Well, that's why there are geeks - to read them for you and to draw your attention to the little things that really important - such as the need to believe in Santa Claus - when legally obliged to do so.

So here's a little nugget courtesy of DivX, legalists after my own heart - you did read the Disclaimer at the bottom of the page, didn't you?

Of course they own the copyright and I haven't bothered to ask them if they mind me quoting them, but what the hell - they lied about the Madonna t-shirt so here goes... enjoy. (including my own PS at the bottom...)

And of course I could have edited it down, but then where would be the joy of discovery?

Terms of Use
Last Updated: July 19, 2007

Hello! Welcome to the web sites, web properties, and other things web-ish owned and operated by DivX, Inc. ("DivX"). We make available a variety of services through these sites and properties (a group we'll collectively, including our software and all video and other content available through DivX.com and Stage6 , refer to as the "site") that we're proud of, and we hope you'll find them useful. Please read this agreement carefully. it explains how you can use the site, what you can't do on the site, and what will happen to you if you misbehave (hint: you won't like it... or then again maybe you will, but if you're one of those kinky types, please do us both a favor and keep it to yourself).

Before we get started, our lawyers would like us to explain several things to you. They're really quite nice people, so we're happy to oblige. For starters, our lawyers would like you to know that everything you do at our site is governed by this document, our Privacy Policy , and any other agreements applicable to the services you use on the site. They'd also like you to know that you have to be at least 18 or have the express permission of your parents to enter this agreement, and therefore to use this site. You also have to be at least 13 to use the site, regardless of whether your parents would give you permission; if you're under 13, go hang out somewhere else until you're old enough. (We promise to wait right here until you get back.) If you continue on to use the site, you represent to us that you meet these age requirements. Finally, our lawyers say that if you do not agree with anything we explain, require, or allow, your only recourse is to not use the site. By using the site, you are agreeing to everything we say here, including if we were to say that Santa Claus is real and lives with the Easter Bunny. We also reserve the right to change the terms of this agreement at any time, but agree to put the last date we updated it at the top of the page. So check back regularly to monitor when it changes if you're one of those people that likes to monitor legal documents for changes.

There, that's done. Now, to help you better understand the agreement, we've constructed this document based on how we think you might use the site. Be sure to read and understand each section of the agreement that applies to your personal use of the site.

If you are a visitor. First, understand that none of our software, nor anything on the site is yours. You also don't own our building, our computers, or the clothes on our backs, save for our "Madonna's `Who's That Girl' World Tour" t-shirt from 1987 which you can have if you want it (well, not actually, could you imagine what would happen if you all wrote us asking for that shirt?). Anyway, you may watch and download videos for your personal use, make backup copies for your personal use, and you can even show them privately to your friends (so long as your friends agree to abide by this agreement as well). Do not attempt to hack, circumvent, reverse engineer, or otherwise interfere with the site, our services, the software (including encryption or security technologies), or anything else you don't own. It's just not nice. If you download anything from the site (including software and content), please keep all copyright and other notices intact, and please remember that the content is subject to copyright, so you do not have the right to go post it on other websites unless the copyright owner gives you permission. Finally, please understand that you use the site at your own risk. We're not your mother, so we're not responsible for your use or misuse of anything you find here, nor are we responsible if you are offended or insulted or otherwise harmed. As the doctor once said, if it hurts when you touch there, stop touching there. If at any point you stop enjoying your use of our site, we suggest you try one of the other 18 quadrillion web sites available to you on the Internet. Honestly, life's too short to keep doing something that you don't like. Keep that in mind.

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Of course, there is much you can do on the site, and we actively encourage you to engage with and monitor the site. Please use the "Report Inappropriate Content" link next to the content, or notify us at TOUViolations@divx.com or by mail at Community Team, DivX, Inc., 4780 Eastgate Mall, San Diego, CA 92121 if you come across conduct that you believe violates this agreement and/or is contrary to the spirit of our community. We also welcome your suggestions on ways we could improve our site. But while we welcome these suggestions, please understand that by making them, you have given (by which we mean, you legally "assign") these suggestions to us to use as we see fit, and you won't be compensated for them. (That's just the way it's gotta be.)

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DivX® Publisher Agreement

July 19, 2007

First things first

Let's make one thing clear up front: you own your content. We do not own your content. Nothing in this agreement changes that in any way.

We are, however, creating a content service (the "site", as defined by the Terms of Use ) that will, we hope, help support you as you publish YOUR content. But before you publish, we need to reach agreement on a few things. Read this agreement carefully. By accepting this agreement and publishing your content into the site, you're agreeing to be bound by these terms and conditions and entering a binding contract with us (by "us," "we," and similar terms we mean DivX, Inc. and other entities owned or controlled by it). We, in turn, are entering a binding contract with you (and by "you," we mean you individually or your company or other entity on whose behalf you are entering this agreement). Got all that? Great, moving on.

What you guarantee to us

To publish, you guarantee (by which we legally mean "represent and warrant") to us that you have (and will continue to have, as long as your content is on the site) all the rights to the content you publish necessary to publish that content, that you have the legal right and authority to grant to us the rights and licenses described in this agreement, and that our use of the content (as authorized by you in this agreement) won't violate or infringe upon anyone's intellectual property or other rights or constitute unfair competition against, or defame, anyone (this is a site for content creators, not for people looking to infringe other people’s rights by posting a rip for a DVD they bought or to share episodes of their favorite TV shows). You also guarantee to us that the content you publish doesn't violate any law, is not pornographic or obscene, and is not otherwise something that will get you or us into trouble. Lastly, you also guarantee that you agree to and will behave in accordance with the Terms of Use . If you can't guarantee these things, do not accept this agreement. Do not publish your content to the site. In fact, just stop reading now and go away.

Still reading? Excellent.

What we may do with your content

If you publish your content[1] to the site (content includes, for example, all video, images, metadata, music, trademarks and logos you choose to share, but we'll just refer to all of this as "your content" going forward), you agree to give us a (here comes the legalese, but bear with us) non-exclusive, fully-paid, royalty-free, worldwide, assignable right and license to your content and username so that we may do the following:

· Make it available to other visitors to the site, including by hosting it on our servers; indexing it for searches; and displaying it via streaming and/or downloading technologies via any platform or provider through which the site is available. If necessary, we will proportionally resize your content and convert it to another video format (while doing our best to not degrade visual quality) to make it available on such additional platforms.
· Use it to promote your content and your brand by displaying limited (no more than 30 seconds) excerpts of your content in promotional settings. If necessary, we will proportionally resize your content and convert it to another video format (while doing our best to not degrade visual quality). As part of the indirect promotion of DivX and the site, we may modify this type of content to insert a small DivX or Stage6 watermark that will be displayed as it plays.
· Use it to promote our products and services by displaying limited excerpts or screenshots of your content, including, possibly your username. We may do this in places including but not limited to third party sites, and presentations and marketing materials (both printed and contained on things like promotional CDs or DVDs) where we try to tell the world how great the site and the people like you who participate in it really are.
· Display advertisements, including third party advertisements, adjacent to your content (or anywhere on the site for that matter). If your content is viewed using one of our player applications or plug-ins, we may display advertisements before or after your content plays (but these advertisements will not be inserted into your content itself). You will receive no share of any revenue we may receive from these types of advertisements. (Opportunities for you to receive a share of revenue will be incorporated into the site in the future, but will be governed by a separate agreement.)

We may do all of the above, but we may also do none of it, at our sole discretion. If we choose not to make your content available to other visitors to the site, we will delete your content from our servers and do our best to notify you that we have done so.

What other visitors may do with your content

Hopefully watch it. They may also download it for personal use, make backup copies for personal use, and even show them privately to their friends, all as set forth in the Terms of Use above.

What we are not responsible for

We are not responsible for any loss, theft, intellectual property infringement or damage of any kind to your content. Nor are we responsible for how good or bad your content is (that's entirely up to you, but we're pulling for you), world peace, world war, existential angst, or ugly babies (though many of us have very cute babies, and we take full responsibility for that).

We own the things we own

You acknowledge that we own all right, title and interest in and to Stage6, DivX products and services, including the Stage6 Uploader software and portions thereof and the DivX WebPlayer software, including without limitation, all intellectual property rights. (We know that's obvious, but some people need it spelled out.)

You own the things you own

We stated it earlier, but it bears repeating: nothing in this agreement gives us any ownership right in your content, or other materials provided by you. You are the lifeblood of this site and we love you, but if you publish content you don’t have the rights to and we find out about it, we will remove it and will likely terminate your account; publishing content you don’t have the rights to makes us angry - you wouldn’t like us when we’re angry… Please understand that when we don’t like what we see, we may send you a warning (or not), block, remove, or refuse to publish any or all of your content for any reason at all, including that we had a bad dream about it, or that our girlfriends all thought you were too cute, or lower your karma (yes, we mean that). If we really don't like you, we can terminate your account at any time. Don't take it too personally (and please see our Repeat Infringer Policy ). Additionally, you may remove any of your content from the site at any time-using the online tools provided-without any prior notice to us. That said, please see the “Continued use of Content” section below to understand what rights we will retain in the event you remove your content from the site.

How to end this agreement

As you probably guessed by now, we are each allowed to terminate this agreement at any time, providing that the one who terminates the agreement notifies the other in writing, including via email. Terminating the agreement will end all rights and licenses we grant to one another, save those listed in the "Continued use of Content" and “Miscellaneous” (with respect to survival) sections below. If you elect to terminate your account, we will use "commercially reasonable efforts" (yes, that phrase is from our lawyers, how'd you guess?) to remove your content from Stage6 within thirty (30) days of our receipt of your notice that you're terminating this agreement.

Regardless, you understand that your participation in the site is entirely at our sole discretion and subject to your continued compliance with this agreement. We can and will refuse participation to any person or content that we believe does not comply in this way. If we terminate you or your content's participation in the site, we may do so without prior notice. For that matter, we can terminate the site entirely, or any feature that is a part of the site, without prior notice. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Changing this agreement

This agreement may be revised by us at any time by providing new terms and conditions to you when you next log in to your Stage6 account, or by sending notice to you at the email address registered with your account. To accept these new terms, follow the instructions in those terms and continue using the site. To reject the new terms, delete all of your content and stop using the site, or send us an email at TOU@divxcorp.com , in which case we’ll terminate your account and you won’t be able to publish (unless you sign up again).

Continued use of Content

If this agreement is terminated by either one of us or if you remove any piece of content from the site, we may continue to use your content and username in printed materials or fixed media storage devices (such as DVDs and CDs) that are in existence as of the date of termination until such materials are depleted or are reissued, whichever comes first. Other visitors may continue to use your content as described above, even after this agreement is terminated (in whole or with respect to a specific piece of content), provided they remain in compliance with the Terms of Use and other relevant agreements, if any.

Confidential and private information

The DivX Privacy Policy lays out how we will treat your personal information. Particularly with respect to your role as a publisher, you must understand and agree that we may transfer or disclose your personal information to third parties, including to those that may reside in places with less restrictive data laws than your own, for the purpose of facilitating your and your content's participation in the site as described earlier in this agreement, as well as other types of participation you choose to engage in through other agreements with us.

How we should notify one another

When we must notify you of something relating to this agreement, we agree to do so by using the electronic mail address you provide when registering for your Stage6 account and/or through the messaging features of the site. When you must notify us of something, you agree to do so by using the email address (and including "Attn: Stage6 Notification" in the subject line), or as otherwise provided in writing for such notice purposes (such as for notification that someone is infringing your copyright, which should be done as we explain on our copyright infringement page at: .

Other legal stuff

Please read the remaining sections carefully. It's very important stuff, but we've found it impossible to re-write it in plain English. If it helps you get through it, imagine a lawyer standing next to you and reading it to you. When the text is in ALL CAPS, imagine the lawyer yelling.

Your obligation to indemnify You agree to indemnify, defend and hold DivX and its respective directors, officers, employees, and applicable third parties (e.g. relevant advertisers, syndication partners, licensors, licensees, consultants and contractors) (collectively "Indemnified Person(s)") harmless from and against any and all third party claims, liability, loss and expense (including reasonable legal fees, damage awards, and settlement amounts) brought against any Indemnified Person(s) arising out of, or related to, or which may arise from your content, your username, DivX's authorized use of the foregoing, your use of the site and/or the uploader software, and/or your breach of this agreement. The Indemnified Persons may in their sole discretion control the defense, at your expense, of any claim indemnified herein. In the event that the Indemnified Persons determine not to control the defense of any claim hereunder, any Indemnified Person may join in defense with counsel of its choice at its own expense. You will not settle or resolve any such claim in a manner that imposes any liability or obligation on DivX or affects our rights in connection therewith without the advance written approval of DivX, which will not be unreasonably withheld or delayed. You agree to notify DivX immediately if you become aware of any actual or potential claims, suits, actions, allegations or charges relating to your content or that could affect your or our ability to fully perform or exercise your or our rights under this agreement.

Assigning rights. You may not resell, assign or transfer any of the rights granted to you hereunder, unless expressly authorized in writing by DivX. Any such attempt shall be null and void. This agreement, and any rights reserved by and/or granted to DivX under it, may be assigned by DivX without restriction to any subsidiary, parent or spin-off of DivX.

Miscellaneous. The relationship between us and you is not a legal partnership, but is one of independent contractors. The words "you" or "your" shall also mean heirs, executors, administrators, successors, legal representatives and permitted assigns. This agreement does not affect any right that either party would have had, or shall have, independent of the agreement including rights relating to your content under applicable law, including but not limited to copyright law. Neither party shall be liable for failing or delaying performance of its obligations resulting from any condition beyond its reasonable control, including but not limited to, governmental action, acts of terrorism, earthquake, fire, flood or other acts of God, labor conditions, power failures, and Internet or other network disturbances. If any provision of this agreement shall be adjudged by any court of competent jurisdiction to be unenforceable or invalid, that provision shall be limited or eliminated to the minimum extent necessary so that this agreement shall otherwise remain in full force and effect and remain enforceable between the parties. The failure of either party to act in the event of a breach of this agreement by the other shall not be deemed a waiver of such breach or a waiver of future breaches. The section titles used in this agreement are purely for convenience and carry with them no legal or contractual effect. Except as to any prior version of this agreement between you and DivX that sets forth the license to and use by DivX of your content, (i) nothing in this agreement is intended to be, or will be construed as, altering, revising, modifying or otherwise amending any other content hosting services agreement; and (ii) in the event of a conflict between this agreement and any other content hosting service agreement that you enter into with DivX with respect to your content, the terms of that other content hosting services agreement shall govern. Except as otherwise set forth herein, this agreement sets forth the entire understanding and agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof. This agreement shall be construed as if jointly drafted by the parties. This agreement shall be governed by and construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of California (United States of America) without regard to its rules on conflict of laws or any other rules that would result in the application of a different body of law. Any legal proceedings arising out of or relating to this agreement or its alleged breach shall be brought in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California or, in the event that such court lacks jurisdiction, in the California state courts in San Diego County, California, to the exclusion of any other forum. The parties hereby submit to the exclusive personal jurisdiction of these courts and hereby waive any forum non conveniens, venue or other challenge to the appropriateness of such courts. The parties hereby unconditionally waive their respective rights to a jury trial for any claim or cause of action arising out of or relating to, directly or indirectly, this agreement or the subject matter thereof. The parties specifically exclude from application to the agreement the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods and the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. The following provisions shall survive any expiration or termination of this Agreement: What you guarantee to us, What we are not responsible for, We own the things we own, You own the things you own, How to end this agreement, Continued use of content, Confidential and private information, Your obligation to indemnify, Assigning rights, Miscellaneous and Disclaimer and limitation of liability.


[1] "Content." That's an ugly word for what can be a beautiful thing, don't you agree? But after much discussion, fueled by much pizza and beer, we can't come up with a generic term that works better and is as easily understood, so we've resigned to use it in this document. But we invite you to cringe, as we do, every time you read it.

PS If "DivX®" is a TradeMark (remember, that unless Registered, TM stands mostly for Totally Meaningless) then it can be used almost with impunity, whereas DivX ® means something very different! If they meant that DivX is a Registered Trademark then they should have said so.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Suggestions for Microsoft Word 2007

I'm only doing this because Microsoft are limiting me to 650 characters on the Office.com suggestions page - and I bet it can't count accurately anyway (web pages never seem to count characters properly, never allow enough space so you can see what you've written - Office.com has a miserly 3 line display and seem generally set up to discourage detailed and specific suggestions; I wonder if that's because they typically get "Your app sucks!" and just don't want more of the same? Chickens and Eggs here I suspect).

So, away from the chickens and on to the sheep!

This is almost entirely about the way comments are handled as "mark-up" in Word 2007; whilst I quite like the new Ribbon UI, I shan't be using Word 2007 - and hence any Office 2007 products because of (persistent) shortcomings in the way it handles comments. Pity. What has been done since Word 2002/XP in the comments area is... negligible it seems. Minimal comment handling probably goes even further back, but I can't check, so I shall make an unsupported assertion and claim that it's never really been thought through.

Firstly, W07 now highlights commented text automatically - and does so in a colour corresponding to the reviewer who created the comment, unfortunately either you accept colouration by reviewer name or you choose from a woeful palette whose colour content hasn't changed in living memory.

Would it not be a marvellous thing to have Categorised commenting via some sort of tagging system, and for the user to be able to create their own categories/tags? For example, one tag for "factual error", another for "dubious fact", another for "unclear phrasing"; or one for "minor issue", one for "medium issue", one for "major issue" - and so on.... with the specific ability to be able to apply multiple tags to a single comment. It would, wouldn't it? I've already done the same thing for Word 2002 using VBA. If only I had the choice of comment colours...

Then one can add (as I have done) features to selectively show and hide comments according to the assigned tags, which makes reviewing a lot easier; and to sort the reviewers list (more of a work-around really...); and to selectively review comments by category and and and...

One should also be able to control whether highlighting of the commented text is on or off, where applicable (done that - it's dynamic... click in the comment and the "scope"is highlighted, click elsewhere and it unhighlights). I mean, really! This is Microsoft at it's most nannyish - you must have comments highlighted, all the time... it will only end in tears if you don't!

And one should of course be able to delete the content of a comment without deleting the comment itself; as it is, try Ctrl+A in W07 with the selection point in a balloon comment and hit Delete or Backspace. It doesn't work because Ctrl+A has picked up the trailing paragraph mark, which is undeletable. It would be easy to fix - and it should be.

Of course the comment pane is now in the right (or maybe you can choose where it goes, I'm just going by the Test Drive default presentation) - all I can say is I hope it deals with large numbers of comments... I have about 5,000 now in "IT" (the book) - all automatically numbered starting at 1 for each category. I don't see any reason why there should be any limit on the number of comments and I haven't hit one yet, but repagination is a pain on a large document when it keeps doing it because of changes to comments - I can understand it for footnotes, but comments? [Hope I'm right about that - I think so, but...]

Alas my VBA ain't perfect - because I haven't had time to productionise it - otherwise I'd sell it as an add in... along with outlining for tables similar to the way Excel does it (no, you still can't use the document map to navigate within tables. But that's another topic.)

OK - I can send them the URL now!