An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week's net and technology news
by Alan Lenton
It's just a short Winding Down this week, I'm afraid. There were two reasons for this. The first was that there was not a lot of interesting new material, most of it was old hat or legal crud grinding its way through the courts.
The other reason was, of course, that I've been busy guiding my application for a patent for my method of making cheese on toast in a regular toaster through the process. In the course of this I've discovered two things. First, nothing is obvious to patent examiners (which explains a lot about patents like Amazon's One Click), and second that patent examiners have absolutely no technical expertise in the cheese on toast field. Interestingly enough, the fact that they know nothing about a field doesn't seem to stop them from granting patents in that field!
I hate to say this, but I think we can expect a resurgence in the JFK assassination conspiracy industry. It's not exactly that new evidence has come to light, more like doubt being raised about some old evidence...
Let me explain. The basis for both the Warren Commission and the US House Select Committee on Assassinations agreement that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and fired three bullets, was the assertion by a ballistics expert that the bullets were unique. This meant that it was possible to distinguish one bullet from another, and therefore it was clear that the bullet fragments recovered could be identified as coming from two bullets fired by Oswald.
OK. So far so good. But now a research teams has tested 30 of the same bullets and found that fragments of different bullets can match. What legit scientific conclusion can we draw from this? We can conclude only that the methodology used in the original test was wrong. That doesn't automatically mean the original conclusion was wrong, but it means it may have been wrong. I don't think the conspiracy industry is going to see it like that, though, so when a slew of new conspiracy books and films comes out, just try to remember what's real science, and what's overheated imagination!
And where was I when John FKennedy was assassinated? I was a young teenager at school in East Anglia, an area that was then full of US airbases. I remember standing on the grass in the gathering dusk listening to the US bombers circling overhead waiting for their instructions whether to set off to bomb Russia, or just to return to base...
This week Sony published a video of what must be considered to be a major breakthrough - a TV screen so flexible it can be bent in your hand. The display is currently only two and a half inches square, but it's only 0.01 of an inch thick. Obviously it needs to be produced in much larger sizes (but not, of course, thicknesses!) before it can be commercially exploited. Wrap round TVs are not destined to reach the shops any time soon, but they will eventually arrive, mark my words!
Meanwhile back in the US of A, things are ramping up on the Internet tax front. States and local governments are attacking on two fronts - killing the moratorium on levying taxes on Internet access and forcing out-of-state retailers to levy local sales taxes on net shopping. The net tax protagonists believe that with the control of Congress switching to the Democrats, the line up is more favourable than it was when the Republicans were in charge. Are they right? Difficult to say, I suspect it really depends on how much pressure the voters can put on their Congress critters to zap this impending legislation. It really is down to you, the people!
There's much ado about Google's new plans to start covertly monitoring the activities of online gamers. The idea is to use the results to draw up psychological profiles of the gamers so that they can be targeted with in-game ads!
Of course, being of a somewhat paranoid disposition, I have visions of the data being subpoenaed by the law enforcement authorities and used to bang up people with killer avatars on the grounds that they are potential mass murderers.
"Alan John Lenton, you being the owner of the avatar 'BerserkKiller48246', have admitted to slaughtering 428 orcs, 113 dwarves, 11 trolls, 7 celtic elf princesses, 2 bronze dragons, and a half-elf ranger in a 24 hour killing spree. I have no option therefore but to make an order detaining you indefinitely as a potential menace to society. And may Google have mercy on your soul."
Actually, you know what I think is going to happen? I think all concerned are about to get a nasty surprise for two reasons. First, though online games have large user bases, actually only a very small fraction of the that user base plays regularly. So the number of people seeing adverts is very small. Second, the heavy players who will see the ads, don't have time for shopping - and frequently don't have the money, either, because they spend it all online!
If you are visiting London (that's London, England), pop into the British Film Institute (BFI) and have a look at its Mediatheque, to get some idea of what is possible with old films. Or rather what would be possible if the owners of old films weren't hung up on ownership and control.
The Mediatheque is a room in the building where the public can sit at one of 14 workstations and call up some 300 old films, BBC dramas and government 'instructional' films on demand. Fabulous from all accounts that I've read. Sadly, any attempt to generalise it and charges to cover the cost of wider use would raise a plethora of rights and money issues, so rather than being able to watch the stuff - and the rest of the 230,000 films and 675,000 TV programs that make up the BFI's archive - we will just have to put up with watching yet another repeat of Star Trek...
And, finally, no issue would be complete without a snipe at Windows Vista. :)
This time it's about Vista's file manipulation facilities. It seems that copying, moving and deleting files is incredibly slow under Vista. So slow that some machines completely stall when asked to perform. You can get some idea of the problems from one report that a 3.8GB copy didn't complete in four hours under Vista, but the same files copied in a couple of minutes using a similar set up with XP. The bug was reported a couple of months ago and everyone assumed that it would be fixed within days, but it is still there, 8 weeks later.
What's going on? No one really knows, but there are plenty of conspiracy theories around. My money is on the idea that it is a by-product of the Digital Restrictions Management built into Vista. Any takers?
Scanner: Other stories
The Impending Internet Address Shortage (Again)
Thanks to readers Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material used in this issue. Please send suggestions for material to firstname.lastname@example.org.
27 May 2007
Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist. His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan.
Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html