Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: January 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Mission Globalist: Objective Achieved

Apologies for the delay in updating, and a belated gong xi fa cai to you all. It all started a few days ago when my MP3 player started misbehaving. I wiped it, reinstalled the firmware and it’s been shiny and responsive ever since. Unfortunately soon after, it clearly being a technologically inauspicious time, my laptop pulled the same trick. Fortunately a set of backups and 2 full formats later (after a comment from Ravi reminded me that quick erasing leaves various residual system files behind), everything’s looking fine once more with a pretty new Vista-inspired appearance.

It seems to have been a particularly inopportune week from a health perspective too. Theresia’s eye affliction worsened to the point that she’s been forced to return to Germany, degrading this year to return once she’s recovered. Meanwhile Ackers has broken his ankle in an overzealous football game and I’ve heard that Sarah L managed to split open her head in an over-exuberant pub crawl. A collective get-well-soon to you all.

Globalist: old and newThe last few days have been pretty active Globalist-wise. The swanky new issue was released yesterday, so you should be able to find a copy in a nearby faculty. The AGM was held on Sunday with the election of the new editorial board. Although it’s hard to give away such a personal project, they’re a keen bunch and having worked with Dexter already, he has my utmost faith. I have agreed to continue helping on the production side in an auxiliary capacity. To round off the handover was the Annual Dinner yesterday evening. Vanessa truly outdid herself in arranging the event which tasted fantastic and pleased the remaining four senses admirably.

Kirsten got me to see Sophie Scholl along with her friend Fran on Friday, although its alliterative propriety evaded me at the time. For those who don’t recognise the name, Sophie Scholl was a member of The White Rose, an Anti-Nazi German student resistence group who operated during the war, and was executed for actions.

P.S. A cookie for anyone who spots the small, recent change to the site design. Speaking of cookies, I just opened my last pack of Oreos from the States. If I’m looking a little shaky in a week, chances are I’ve finished them and am suffering from the resultant withdrawal symptoms. Please be sensitive.

Ads by Goooooogle

You will probably have noticed the appearance of some Google ads over the last few days. No, it’s not a sign of the apocalypse, I did in fact put them there myself. The truth is that it’s not really about generating revenue (the site isn’t yet that expensive to run) but more an intriguing social experiment. I have always supported the Google ads scheme on the basis they’re pure text so not intrusive, and they are targetted to the content of the page in an attempt to be relevant to its readers. My interest was piqued after I found Google thought the readers of one site I regularly visit must be gay on the basis of one pro-civil parnership entry. So I’m intrigued to see what they think about you given that you’re here reading P-2006. Currently they seem to think you’re all chocoholics — which is probably rather accurate. The ads tend to correlate to the latest entry, so you’ll see them change in style on a daily basis. It should be interesting to watch and hey, if you feel like clicking on a couple of interesting ones to help me out, so much the better!*

Although customisable in terms of colour, Google ads only allow you to choose from a selection of pre-defined sizes, which causes some problems with integrating them into a website without compromising on design. I don’t think they interfere with the menu at their current location, but if people find them too intrusive I may move them to the bottom of the page. In this case you’ll rarely even see them unless you’re commenting on a specific entry.

I was also amused to find myself in the shortlist for the “Most Likely To Go To Prison” award at our college Midway Dinner. However, Chima is also on the list so competition is pretty stiff. I have a pretty good idea who nominated me, but I’m curious as to exactly what my expected future crime is to be. I deplore mere fraud because — well — it’s just dull. I think it’s about time we had another Great Train Robbery(TM). Perhaps stealing an entire maglev train along with several miles of track. Would that be Great enough? Of course if a routine Vegas heist does arise in the near future, I’m always available. Just speak to my agent and it will all be arranged.

* If you’re using Adblock and not seeing them, I’d humbly ask that you whitelist the site unless you seriously object: just add to your list of sites.

Windows Live Messenger

Windows Live MessengerI’ve been trialling a beta version of Microsoft’s latest messaging client to replace MSN Messenger. Bearing the slightly unwieldly new moniker of Windows Live Messenger, it will feel familiar but is a significant jump up from the current version. For those who like to mod their MSN, the constant stream of updates has actually been something of an annoyance. Nevertheless this looks like one that might actually be worth it.

The interface is much cleaner and, although the change (particularly to your contacts list) is jarring at first, you will find yourself adapting to it shortly. Amongst new features include integrated free PC-to-PC VoIP calls, a new “shared folders” system for photos and other files which allows you to share files from a single folder with drag-and-drop ease, and at last offline messaging which allows you to leave a message to be viewed by your contact when they next log on. Perhaps chief amongst the changes is the death of the butterfly. As it is no longer an MSN product, instead part of the new Live series, the familiar butterfly logo is no more.

I am actually running it concurrently with 7.5, which remains my primary chat client, since this beta is not quite powerful enough to replace it. Admittedly this is rather more to do with the fact that I use the Messenger Plus! add-on, and a new version for Live (which includes XHTML chat logging) is not due out until the program’s official release.

SpleakIn related releases, the populat Spleak chatbot has now been officially recognised by Microsoft and rather than downloading it, you can chat to her directly by simply adding spleak[at] to your contacts list. She’s hooked up to various websites so while chatting to her she’ll act as a digital assistant of sorts, providing spell checks and encyclopedia entries, as well as telling you the time or weather anywhere in the world, converting between units, and even keeping a personalised event calendar for you. See the future of antisocial socialising now.

Global Expansion

TCG Issue #2The second issue of The Globalist arrived in Cambridge a few days ago and at this moment scores of nondescript brown packages are being shifted around the town like a giant game of Risk in preparation for the invasion of a faculty near you. As you’ll see from the calendar, in addition to the magazine’s release at the end of the month, there is also an AGM for those who are interested in getting involved. The editorial board will be handing stewardship of the magazine over to a new committee, and being the co-founders I think it’ll quite hard to actually let go. Although I’m passing on the production reins I will remain involved either in a direct or advisory capacity. There are some financial issues for the new team though, so if you know anyone who may be interested in sponsoring or advertising in the magazine I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

I’ve been saying it should be done for months and finally it has happened. Most of you scoffed at the arrogant tenacity required in attempting to correct the infallible GMail team but it appears they eventually realised the folly of their ways and took some steps in improving the user interface with the addition of a real live delete button. Eric Schmidt, you may email that job offer to me at your convenience.

Hotel ChocolatIrina has been pushing me to visit the new Hotel Chocolat near the Lion Yard for some time. Having now sampled some of their unearthly delights, all I have to say is that if the celestial beings deign to dine on chocolate, this would be it. It’s certainly not cheap (the best method being to select 3 packs of 6 truffles for £6), but it’s chocolate the way I prefer: tasting easily as rich as its price tag, each mouthwatering truffle should be savoured alone. If you’re the sort of person who tears through a couple of dairy milk slabs a day, perhaps this isn’t for you. The founders’ dedication to chocolate is evidenced by the fact they avoid things like hydrogenated vegetable fats: this the real deal. I have yet to acquaint myself with their full range, of course, but I’ve been trying to hide the existenece of the vanilla truffles from Kirsten lest she discover that men have now become obsolete. Unfortunately she spotted them. I guess we just have to hope the chocolates don’t learn how to lift sofas and open jars.

N.B. This is not to say I have rescinded my relationship with Thorntons, whose new winter range of truffles is itself particularly good.

A Night With The Opera

With Firefox‘s 1.5 release, many people were disgruntled to see that its coding was still somewhat bloated in comparison to its rival rebel browser, the long-established but now free Opera. Famed for its sprightly speed and light footprint (in non tech-speak that just means it chews up less of your computer’s memory) I finally decided to give it a go for comparison’s sake.

OperaYou will instantly notice that it certainly is damn fast. It takes very little time to adapt to its intelligently designed user interface which places things much where you’d expect (and want) them. I particularly liked the fact that unlike Firefox, it’s fullscreen browsing actually uses the entire screen, although with some sites (including this one) it seems to cause some major CSS issues. However, whilst it features power browsing features like mouse gestures, it falls far short of Firefox in terms of customisation. This is by design, of course, but it’s a significant drawback if that’s the sort of thing you’re in to. With the amount of time I spend online, I need to be able to browse exactly the way I want. The simplicity of Opera, combined with the same general advantages over Internet Explorer mean that I’d almost be tempted to recommend it to less advanced users ahead of Firefox. However, this does ignore a corollary drawback which is that Firefox’s customisability makes it a favourite amongst professionals and web designers, so chances are most websites are still not being tested in Opera. As such, I’d foresee continued compatibility issues for some time. That said, I think I’ll keep Opera installed so that at least P-2006 can aim to fully support it.

And it wouldn’t be a fully rounded browser article without a sneak peak at IE7 now, would it?

Pandora’s Music Box

I recently came across Pandora from the Music Genome Project. Rejecting the idea that you could classify music by questionable genre titles or even by artist, they’ve attempted to break it down to the individual song level. Exploring things like melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics and more, they’ve created a massive database that creates a “genome” for each song and uses that calculate similarities. Fire up the website and enter a song title for it to produce a dedicated station, often songs by artists you’ll recognise and also some you won’t, but all bearing a strong musical resemblance to your chosen track. There are some limitations due to their license from the record companies, like the inability to go backwards and the restricted number of tracks you can skip in an hour. It’s certainly a very ambitious project, well worth checking out.


Someone pointed me towards The Piracy Calculator which produces a rough estimate of the value of your dubiously acquired P2P stash. Although amusing to see, it’s not purely facetious. Scroll down to read the moral and you’ll discover he’s making a very valid point. Piracy is piracy, not theft. The rest of the site, which I’d not come across before, actually has quite a few interesting reads. It’s a bit like a subdued Maddox on tranquilisers and anger-management therapy.

In a similar vein is a shift in gaming journalism that may be described as the Dan Hsu phenomenon. At first his Peter Moore interview seems just like ever other propaganda interview you’ve read on the 360. I mean seriously, the industry can’t pay for better publicity than the usual brand of arse-kissing interviews they’re treated to by most magazines. By the second page, however, it becomes evident that Hsu has some sort of personal vendetta, and he’s asking all those real questions that have been floating around message boards for the past month. It’s not that the answers have changed, but at least the questions are, if not probing, at least blunt.

All Change

I have not been loitering on the threadcorners of the Downing forums of late, but was drawn back by plaintive cries that varied between “that’s odd” and “it’s all gone horribly wrong“. The latter may be a little sensationalist. Evidently a lot of work has gone in to the inevitable integration with the rest of the JCR site. Undoubtedly the move away from the popular phpBB system will reduce spam, but the heritage of the open source package was that its interface had been honed over several years with use by tens of thousands of people; even slight changes are likely to be a step backwards. Of most irritation will certainly be the new fixed width style which involves ridiculous amounts of scrolling on long threads as it uses less than half my screen. Teething problems are understandable, but one wonders whether its continued popularity is dependant largely on whether they are willing to invest the time required to accept various criticisms and re-implement several of the features removed in the migration.

Which is, incidentally, exactly the sort of pragmatic approach to change that we take at P-2006. The first calendar system, as I suspected, hasn’t met the stringent standards you have come expect — it’s gone. However, pre-empting this, I already had an alternative Gregorian idea in the works. Since it emerged that few would use it for navigation, this calendar is an entirely new feature for displaying events such as release dates for recommended films. Hovering over a date will reveal what’s going on, while clicking will give you more information and often a link to the appropriate site for further details. Let me know how you find it, what sort of things you’d like to see there and especially if you have events I can help publicise. Meanwhile the Archives are being rearranged since the month-by-month list, despite allowing fast access, was becoming too messy. The new Archives page will allow you to select an individual post by its title or view a whole month’s entries. You’ll also find the Links page is finally being fleshed out into a full set. Work is ongoing with all this so bear with us but the end result looks to be extra functionality with a cleaner menu.

Star Wars: Empire at WarI’ve been impressed with the Empire at War demo. The Petroglyph team is composed largely of veteran developers from the C&C series and it shows. Although neither the ground nor the space battles feel particularly special in themselves, it is the integration of the two that makes the experience feel fresh and new. The creation of a persistent galaxy allows you to move surviving troops from one battle to invade another planet, or consolidate your defences elsewhere. There have been several attempts at RTS in the Star Wars universe before, but this is the first that fully encompasses that feeling of, well, actual star wars. And the chance to command some of the big screen heroes doesn’t hurt either. I’d just recommend that you grab a torrent instead of Gamespot’s painfully slow download servers.

Beauty and the Geek

As not everyone was aware of Lej’s holiday antics in a Scottish castle for a reality TV show, his sudden change (displaying such symptoms as fashion sense) may have been even more jarring. I had meant to provide info on the programme earlier, but it slipped my mind. Beauty and the Geek is an American import show in which nerds are mismatched with attractive women to compete in various challenges with a large cash prize at the end.

Lej suggests he was chosen due to his participation in the uni’s table football society. Having survived several rounds of interviews he made the final shortlist for the show which was filmed over the Christmas holidays. Contractually obliged to secrecy, he remains tight lipped about the entire affair (aside from some details spilled to CUR1350), although the new-look Lej Mk. II has sparked much speculation that we may even have the winner in our midst.

The show airs on E4 at 10pm from February 7th, and later on Channel 4 at 10:30pm from March 31st. Meanwhile his teammates at Downing College AFC have thoughtfully put together an EBUK gallery for you to reminisce about the “good ol’ Lej”.

I’m currenly after an invitation code for Google Analytics since they’re limiting new accounts for their site tracking service. If you happen to have a spare one lying around, please let me know.

Fit For A Millionaire

Millionaire ShortbreadIt came to my attention after yesterday’s post that not everyone is familiar with the concept of millionaire shortbread. It is, in short, the finest sugar delivery system ever invented and quite possibly humanity’s only saving grace (given that they’re the same species that invented the law lecture). Consisting of shortbread coated with a layer of caramel and topped with a generous portion of chocolate, it’s the perfect kick to get you through that third lecture of the day. And it just so happens that the Nadia’s café in the Law Faculty has a very healthy supply, since not everyone is in on the secret. Which probably accounts for Emily H’s cunningly conceived joint tenancy law exploit today, which worked very well until I pointed out that one had to be dead in order to benefit…

The fragments section has been fully upgraded without much of a hitch (unless you picked a bad in-between moment yesterday). You’ll notice a new calendar navigation system on the right which will let you access any day’s post directly. I’m just trialling it for the moment, as a quicker alternative to going through the archives. I’m keen to keep the interface uncluttered so if it’s not popular it’ll go. You’re the people who’ll be using it though, so let me know what you think!

A crate of 20 bottles of Becks for under a tenner (Manager’s Special at Sainsbury’s) is a deal not to be sniffed at, but there comes a point somewhere around three quarters of the way back to college when you begin to question whether lugging it all that way is actually worth it. The answer, now that it’s sitting in my room, is of course damn straight.

Warning: Construction Work in Progress

One of the advantages of the last site overhaul was that by using the WordPress backend for posting updates, I can do so when away from my computer too. This post, for example, comes to you directly from the Law Faculty between lectures. I’ve been holding off for a little while, but will be making the transition to the new WordPress 2 shortly. Allegedly it will make posting and administration far easier, though you probably won’t see much difference at all (but I am getting bored of those dull smilies so keep your eyes peeled over the next few days). This may all result in some downtime and a few things breaking, particularly since the site’s visual appearance is fully customised. Please bear with me and hopefully it’ll all go smoothly.

My fireplace photo was a featured new addition over at morgueFile which was a nice surprised and attracted it more attention than usual. In fact I’ve just reached 1000 downloads in total. I really should upload photos there more regularly, especially since it uses someone else’s bandwidth.

Rumours have been flying about a March release date for the new Tool album, but the official site has dispelled such rumours. They’re still on schedule for a “Spring 2006” release, whatever that means, as stickers on the recent video singles proclaimed (UK release on 23rd January). I’d hazard a guess that we’ll be hearing a new masterpiece from Maynard & Co. some time in May. Shrouded in the band’s usual cloaks of secrecy, any actual information on the record cannot be obtained without reference to dark occult forces, the very mention of which may result in a Cthulian demonic entity rending the very soul from your core, leaving nought but an eviscerated corpse as evidence of your foolish curiosity. So security’s rather tight then.

Right, I’m off to Nadia’s for some millionaire shortbread before Contract…

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

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