Tuesday, 30 December 2008


It seems that while I survived Christmas, my laptop wasn't quite so lucky. Following the trip to my parents' it wouldn't turn on properly. Briefly there was hope, as I got into Windows and got online. Then, just as all seemed to be going normally, it crashed completely and wouldn't even load up in Safe Mode. A few turn-ons later and I can't even get as far as selecting Safe Mode, since it refuses to turn on for more than about 2 seconds.


Another victim of Christmas rail travel.

Still, on the positive side, I have a new laptop. Also, most of my stuff was backed up, and many of my more recent documents and files will either be attached to e-mails (on webmail accounts), on my MP3 player, or in some rough form in my notebook (the old-fashioned paper kind). Some things might be more difficult to recover, however; I guess I'll find out more about that later today [sigh].

Anyway, there was a point to this post: namely, that I now have the ideal opportunity - and the motivation - to start investigating backing up more of my stuff online, and perhaps getting into the whole cloud computing thing - anything to make any subsequent hardware failures easier to deal with. In other words, for better or worse, expect a few posts along those lines in the coming weeks. And probably at least one more entitled 'Argh!': when I fire the new laptop up for the first time I shall finally be entering Vista territory...

Oh joy.

Sunday, 28 December 2008


The Best of the Festive Season Lists list will have to wait a few days, I think. And not just because of the usual post-Christmas listlessness (or 2009, as some people are already calling it); mostly, I just haven't spent all that much time online this Christmas. However, a few things did catch my eye over the last few days, so here are a few links to be going on with:

The Dark Roasted Blend blog has an excellent collection of Christmas oddness; including this family who sawed holes in floors, celing and roof to accommodate a giant Christmas tree (actually, they didn't but that was the effect they seemed to be looking to achieve).

The world's largest floating Christmas tree (BBC footage here). And who knew there'd even been others?

This one, perhaps, isn't especially Christmassy, but then again, who of us hasn't received Lego for Christmas at one time or another? So here's the Gizmodo photographic timeline of nearly every Lego minifig ever made. Amazing fact: there are now more of them than us...

The Guardian's resident pipe-smoker, Jack Schofield, has this snippet about Amazon's sales figures this Christmas. And no wonder they did so well: the handiness of the usual Amazon bargains at this time of year is one thing, of course, but if you're going home for Christmas on public transport, shopping online has another advantage over the high street: believe me, getting everything delivered directly to your destination lightens your luggage no end :)

(A slightly belated) Merry Christmas from Radix, and a Happy 2009!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Well, everyone else is at it

Ah, yes, it's that time of the year again - list time. The shopping list, the Christmas card list, the Amazon Wish List, the walking unsteadily home from yet another Christmas party list, and of course the sundry and various lists that, year after year, never fail to pad out almost every publication you care to think of (online or otherwise) until the end of January.

The first list that caught my eye this year was the Guardian's Top 100 Websites. Instantly, I thought, "Aha! There's an easy blogpost - a Top 10 of the websites/web-apps I use/visit most often. Brilliant." Unluckily for me, they were all included. Sigh.

Still, a few didn't feature, so all is not lost :)

In no particular order (well, after the first one anyway)...

- Number 1 on my list of favourite sites this year has to be Spotify. I wrote about it on here not long ago, and I've had my gripes with it (albums becoming unavailable for no given reason), but one or two missing albums have returned, it still works smoothly, and despite the aforementioned disappearances the catalogue of available music has definitely and noticeably grown even over the last couple of months. What might make it of particular interest to music geeks, as well, and which I didn't mention in my review, will be the number of singles - and therefore B-sides and obscure tracks - available on there. Of other interest might be that I have two spare invites, again - anyone?

- Miro made the world of YouTube a whole lot more navigable for me, and made saving anything worth (offline) repeat viewing a doddle (if a sometimes slightly glitchy doddle). More of a browser than something online itself, of course, but still, it's pretty handy.

- Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's movie reviews podcast is unmissable. Never mind whether you're a movie buff (I'm not), or even whether you share Kermode's unlikely fondness for both The Exorcist and High School Musical 3 (I don't), the bickering and ranting is always a joy to listen to. For the more book inclined, the Book Panel podcast from Simon Mayo's Thursday show is excellent too.

- I can't say that Kayak will get you the cheapest plane fares available, because I have no idea whether that's remotely true; but whenever I've had to fly it's certainly got me cheaper ones than I've been able to find for myself.

- Garfield Minus Garfield. An unexpected formula for bleak hilarity.

- Another blog: Bent Objects. In which wire limbs and other things are inventively added to everyday objects. Sometimes funny, sometimes artistic, and sometimes just a bit baffling (occasionally there's an American reference that I just don't get, I think); but definitely worth a look.

- Should you have an interest in all things publishing Book Trade News is an excellent source of, erm, what it says really. There's a daily e-mail to subscribe to, too.

- These are some of the most alarmingly beautiful photos you'll see this year. There was an exhibition in this blog's home town for a few days this summer - it really should go national.

Anyway, those are some of my suggestions. For more online exploring check out the comments here - you'll find any number of funny/interesting/useful/publicity-seeking sites that the Guardian missed from its 100.

NEXT TIME: A list of online lists, probably.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The last unicorn

This post isn't going to be a review of Chinese Democracy - or to give it its full title, Chinese Democracy (sponsored by Pro Tools). I have my opinions on the thing - something along the lines of "even though it is the sound of one man's ego galloping out of all control, there's still something oddly exhilirating about all that galloping... Possibly the most expensive comedy album ever made" - but this isn't a music blog.

Nor is it a meta-music blog, so this isn't exactly going to be a review of Chuck Klosterman's review of Chinese Democracy either; though, for the record, his opening line, "Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn", may very well be the best thing anyone's ever said in a music review. But his review does make a claim that's of direct interest to a web 2.0/internet/technology/whatever-blog like this one, namely:
Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album we'll ever contemplate in this context—it's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file.
And that's what I want to focus on.

Personally, I hope this claim doesn't quite prove true, since some artists (though perhaps not Axl Rose, it turns out) have a depth and breadth and originality to their vision that's better explored over the course of a collection of songs; in some cases, even the physical packaging the music comes in can add to the experience. Not to mention that a number of labels - Fonal, 4AD, Leaf, and many other independents - as part of their own vision, routinely produce CDs and vinyl that are beautiful and distinctive purely as objects. And perhaps for those reasons physical formats will hang on in there for some while longer - certainly as I try to reduce my annoyingly space-hogging CD collection the CDs fitting the aforementioned criteria are the ones that will remain.

But, as that last sentence also demonstrates, I can't deny that Chuck Klosterman has a point. He might be slightly premature in making it, and I can see music continuing to be delivered in some kind of physical format for as long as that physicality continues to add something; but still, when so many CDs now offer little more than an MP3 does why would you bother with that extra bit of clutter?

Chinese Democracy, though, as Klosterman says, is almost certainly immune to that concern: to Guns 'n' Roses fans it will matter as an object, out of nostalgia as much as anything; fans will want to place it alongside the CDs and vinyl they've treasured since the 80s and 90s - how aesthetically satisfying the album actually is as an object I have no idea, but for those reasons it really doesn't need to be. But if the albums of other bands, ones who aren't going to be given $14million and 14 enigmatic years to build anticipation, are going to matter as a sonic totality, it's increasingly going to take more than simply releasing them as a physical totality.

While some musicians don't create too much more than a bunch of singles and filler anyway, so downloads are probably their more natural outlet, for the rest with perhaps more to say, or a whole range of interesting ways in which to say it, and particularly for those who have yet to emerge and will thus have no existing reputation to trade and persuade on, the future looks to be a challenging place - at least, if they want to be able to have some say in how their work is experienced. Perhaps some kind of physical format will be involved - the CD as a luxury item, the package being an artwork in itself? the Buddha Machine? - but certainly it will be interesting to find out how they'll achieve it.

And perhaps they won't even want to...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Lives will be ruined, I tell you...

When I wrote a post about The Pirate's Dilemma back in March it seems I didn't quite think through the full awful implications of the book's central thesis.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still broadly in agreement that faced with present levels of piracy the content industry's most expedient and potentially profitable response certainly does seem to be competition, rather than trying to sue every pirate out of existence. In fact, as far as I can see, this attitude is increasingly becoming the mainstream - and it's precisely this which has me concerned, the ominously increasing availability of entirely legal free content [shudders].

Already there's free content all over the internet, of course, and there has been for ages. Some of it (broadly) legal - YouTube, Project Gutenberg, MySpace, for instance - and some of it not so much - TV Links, The Pirate Bay, the original Napster. But these all came with drawbacks - risk, clunkiness, restrictions, age of content, complete illegality, long download times, ratio of fame-hungry teenagers lip-synching to pop music in their bedrooms to actual entertainment. If there was something you wanted to see/read/listen to you had to make an effort to do so, you had to weigh up whether the risks/inconvenience were worth the bother, filter the quality from the dreck.

My point?

With so many services now either already available, or on the not-so-distant horizon, all designed to make catching and finding the content you want to see or hear not only legal but also free and easy - the iPlayer, 4oD, ITV on demand, actual proper movies hitting YouTube in the near future, Project Kangaroo, Hulu, the list goes on - what, I ask, and this is the crux of my objections, are we of weak wills supposed to do, eh? Has anyone thought about that? No.

The dark, inescapable void of procrastination this is all about to open up in so many lives (or, OK, possibly just mine) doesn't even bear thinking about... 

There used to be so many disincentives, sigh. So many... [shakes head nostalgically]

(Yes, I know, I'll just have to be more self-disciplined, probably. But still, it's bloody annoying - when I got rid of my telly I really didn't expect it to spend the next few years slowly and relentlessly stalking me, like the zombie it so often used to turn me into, all the way to the bloody internet. Harrumph).

Europeana, the European digital library, museum, and archive was launched yesterday... and is now offline until mid-December, having received far too much interest to cope with (10 million hits per hour).

How great is that?

Not only that I get a reprieve from losing myself in yet another free site for at least another few weeks, but that quite so many people were interested in a project like that. Brilliant :)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Write or Die

Don't worry, that wasn't an ultimatum, just the name of a new internet widgety thing that someone called Doctor Wicked* has helpfully created for those of us among the writing professions who seem to be eternally governed by Newton's lesser known Third-and-a-bit Law: "For every action there is an equal and opposite procrastination."

Click on the link above and you'll be taken to somewhere that will force you to write - through negative reinforcement. Essentially, if you stop writing for a pre-set (or random) amount of time, regrettable things happen (though not death; unless you happen to be terminally allergic to babies crying, fairly-slowly-flashing colours, your words disappearing one-by-one, etc.). Want to stop the regrettable things? Write. Couldn't be simpler.

Of course, I can't guarantee that with your heart racing and your mind going, "Eek! Think of something! Quick!", that you'll write anything that won't need endless editing - my trial 10-minute session yielded only some old nonsense about hippos and hoppos meeting on the African savannah and giving birth to rap - but the experience was oddly compelling. And, hey, a page of something to edit is better than nothing (though I'll probably leave the hippos and hoppos to their own devices - samplers, and record decks, probably).

I'll certainly be giving it another go.

But, erm, perhaps I won't start on the 'Evil' setting next time...

WARNING: the option to copy to clipboard when you navigate away from the page didn't seem to work for me (using Firefox 3), so if you do use this for something you don't want to lose, probably best to copy it manually before clicking 'Done'.

*may not be an actual doctor, or wicked. Treat all advice accordingly.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Times past?

Before posting this YouTube video I should probably have written something about the internet as a publicity tool for new filmmakers, or something like that - you know, just to tie it in with this blog's general theme of Web 2.0/marketing/technology/etc...

But to be honest it's been done before and really I just wanted to post a funny video. So here's a superbly observed little 'mockumentary' I happened to see at the Cornwall Film Festival yesterday (watch in full-screen, or you'll miss something at around 8:44):


More details of the director, Ashley Wing, plus another longer movie, can be found here.


While searching for the above I found something else by the same director. It's short and touching, and, despite the contrast, as I happened to find it today, Remembrance Day, it seemed fitting to post this too:


Friday, 31 October 2008

Spotify - not sure about the name, but liking the service

When you've been too busy to mess around much on the internet, or go through the thousands of items that have built up in your Google Reader feeds, it can be a bit difficult to come up with something to blog about... Happily, though, it seems I must have read about something called Spotify some while ago, applied to beta test it, and completely forgotten all about it, because a few weeks ago an invitation popped up in my inbox - just in time to provide me with a whole load of new music to accompany all of that aforementioned being busy.

Because that's what Spotify is, a new music service. And, I'm happy to say, a pretty damned good one.

Essentially it's legal, ad-supported streaming - download the Spotify player, search for music, create playlists, the usual thing - but remarkably smooth and easy to use. It's quick to load, intuitive, and very rarely, and only ever briefly, glitchy. As for the range of music; you'll be pleasantly surprised what's on there (some quite obscure stuff, plus, unusually for these things, quite a lot of classical), and occasionally surprised at what's not (Four Tet's albums, say), but that always seems to be the way with these things and, hey, it's still in beta - I'm assuming, in other words, that they'll be constantly adding music.

Drawbacks? Well, just a few. A few albums I had on my playlist suddenly became unavailable and haven't yet returned (some licensing problem, maybe?), and perhaps a little more work could be put into a mechanism for discovering new music (next to some artists you'll find suggestions, but not others; however, checking out other artists appearing on the same compilation album can pay dividends), but really there's not much to complain about. In particular, the staggered launch seems to be ensuring that the service stays quick and stable, so hopefully that sensible approach to building the customer base will continue.

But what about the advertising? Well, besides the odd unobtrusive image on the player, the ads primarily arrive in the form of occasional between-track radio style ads, but far shorter and far less frequent than on commercial radio. They'll break the mood, sometimes, if you're listening to a whole album, but you can always pay £0.99 to listen ad-free for the day, or £9.99 for the month - not bad, really, if you're someone who would otherwise buy at least one CD a month. On the other hand, sometimes there isn't an ad for ages...

Whether it's a Last.fm-killer, of course, I'm not sure, since I still haven't got around to that... but either way, I'd thoroughly recommend it - if nothing else, it's great for trying before you buy.

However, at present, anyone wanting to give it a go will still need to apply to beta test it.

Actually, not quite anyone:

I have one spare invitation. Yours, to the quickest commenter off the mark.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that there is a radio function, which also helps a bit in discovering new music. You can select genres, time periods and combinations thereof and just listen to whatever Spotify throws up; or when you see the 'Artist Radio' option, click it and Spotify will play similar music, mixed with that artist's own. The latter option's nothing like as sophisticated as Pandora, yet, though, or MeeMix; so something more still wouldn't go astray.

Also, the invitation has now been taken, but if I get any more, they might be posted here again...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The sun's gone dim and the sky's turned black

This week The Times gave away Joy Division's final album Closer*, doubtless lifting the national mood no end - in the present financial climate shouldn't it be looking to keep readers, not give them yet more encouragement to leap from the top of the nearest tall building?

Happily, though, the Guardian Online had a much better idea: posting 12 tracks from Icelandic bands playing at the upcoming Iceland Airwaves Festival. If Iceland can help us mess up our economy, surely they can help us feel a bit better with some soothing (and angry) music, too - right?

And they can. Especially in the form of Ólafur Arnalds' deeply lovely 3055.

But what's any of this got to do with technology, you might ask?

Well, the clue's in the title of the blog post: while pretty reflective of the gloomy state of the world economy just now, it's actually the name of the gorgeous closing track of IBM 1401: A User's Manual. Composed by another Icelander, Jóhann Jóhannsson, IBM 1401 was inspired by his father's recordings of one of Iceland's very first mainframe computers - it's chief maintenance engineer, Jóhann Gunnarsson learned of a way to make music with it, and when the machine was decommissioned in 1971 recorded its melodies as they were played for the last time. You can read the full story behind the album here.

As for the track from which I borrowed the post title, it can't fail to lift your mood (the video perhaps not so much) - shimmeringly beautiful from beginning to end, and from about 04:43 it's even more so:

So, yep, Iceland - it's not so bad really, is it?

UPDATE: If you're interested in seeing all this financial scariness from the perspective of an everyday Icelander just trying to make sense of it all and get on with her life, Alda Kalda's The Iceland Weather Report blog is excellent reading.

*once described to me as "probably the most miserable album ever." At the time, I have to admit, I considered this a recommendation, and it didn't disappoint.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

New news about old news

"Experience the new look ITN Source website," my inbox told me this afternoon. I politely declined and decided to just look at it instead.

Upon entry to the site, an implausibly young Cliff Richard doing his best - i.e. still pretty bloodless - Elvis impression greeted me, but for some reason I still stuck around. I'm not quite sure why. Mainly, I think, because it took me a few seconds to work out "What on earth's wrong with Elvis?", by which time the video window had somewhat incongruously switched to footage of bats. That was followed by a clip of a portly black-and-white person on stilts. There being no sound, I had no idea what any of these were about, but at least I was spared Cliff's singing.

Possibly out of gratitude, then, as well as mild bemusement, I decided to actually find out what the site was all about: selling archive footage, mostly. And the reason for the 'beta' label: this version of the site makes it easier to search for, buy and license footage (in other words, to give ITN money). I expect it also looks nicer now, but having not seen it before I have no idea.

Why, though, am I writing about it?

Well, for those of us not looking to insert classic footage of grassy knolls, broken German walls, or one of a doubtless much in demand compilation of clips of Michael Winner into some creative endeavour, it could at least be quite a handy place to view such things - over one million hours of them (though, sensibly, just a few minutes of Michael Winner), with 20 more hours being added every day. As well as being a kind of NewsTube, then, it could also prove quite a useful research tool.

Just one proviso: a little less browser crashing would be nice - at present the site seems to play videos in a few different formats (QuickTime, Flash, and whichever one it was that kept crashing my browser).

Thursday, 11 September 2008

I always knew it would be the Swiss who'd end the world. Or at least announce the exact timing of it with a loud 'Cuckoo!'

Despite the concerted efforts of hundreds of absurdly intelligent men and women in white coats - not to mention the bloke who soundtracked New Labour's 1997 rise to power (surely a sign of nascent evil genius) - ensconced for years in what sounds every bit like the ultimate underground lair of the ultimate Bond villain, it seems the world rather conspicuously failed to end yesterday.

Unless it did, of course, and I'm writing this from a rather disappointing ghostly afterimage of everything that no longer exists...*

Still, while the world may not have ended (or a new mini-universe been Big-Banged into existence somewhere beneath Switzerland), Esquire magazine brings news that my old foe 'reality' may not have escaped the goings on at CERN entirely unscathed: "The 21st Century Begins Now!", proclaims the front of its latest US edition.

The magazine's clinching evidence for this alarming glitch in the fabric of time?

Er, well, none. Except that stuck on the front of 100,000 of its 725,000 print run are some e-ink panels each stating quite definitely that "The 21st Century Begins Now!"; it's also Esquire's 75th birthday, which would indeed be a more impressive event if it could somehow coincide with the beginning of a new century - so why not wipe out eight years of history? They weren't exactly some of the better ones anyway.

But facetiousness aside, well, yes, I can certainly appreciate that the inclusion of e-ink panels in a magazine might indeed be a (small and badly trumpeted) herald of something new and exciting in publishing - see the afore-linked Guardian article for suggestions of what - or of magazine publishing, at least. The beginning of a new century, though? Or the re-beginning of an existing one?

If e-ink continues to be used solely as an advertising gimmick, it won't even be the beginning of a new century for magazine publishing, never mind a re-beginning of the actual century - readers will no doubt soon tire of the new novelty ads, and surely more readers (and more advertising revenue) would be attracted if e-ink was used to genuinely enhance their reading experience?

Incidentally, the only person who can possibly know what it must feel like to be the inventor of e-ink right now must be the guy who invented a tiny device for producing sound only to later have his birthday ruined when he heard the words "Lovely jubbly!" tinnily emanating from an unthinkingly sent Only Fools and Horses card. Unless that was his diabolical intention all the long.

So, if Esquire's declaration of the beginning (again) of this century can't possibly be a reference to its thus far mostly pointless use of e-ink, what was it prompted by?

As this post's title suggests, there can be only one explanation: reality as we know it is, after all, being subtly eroded by impossibly tiny things failing to get out of each other's way in a giant tin tunnel. In short, we are doomed. And it is now merely a matter of time.

Say 'Goodbye', then, to your loved ones, 'Good riddance' to your unloved ones, shrug 'Meh' at everyone else, and in the time you have left convert to as many religions as possible, just in case. Then just sit back, wait, and - if you can - take comfort: for if there has to be an apocalypse, and it appears there does, a nice tidy one accompanied by cow bells, Toblerone, and the scent of Alpine edelweiss probably won't be so bad.

At least, so long as there aren't any yodellers... [shudders].

*Don't worry, I'm not. As I write, things are neither shimmery nor spectral, nor fading mysteriously in and out of focus like you see in sci-fi films. Therefore, a) the world can't have ended, so this must be the exact same hand-me down, frequently soggy existence to which we've become grudgingly accustomed; and b) I'm clearly not drunk - at least one of which is a definite anticlimax.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Links to break your mouse to

At the end of a busy week (and it has been) what better way to relax than with some noisy, frustrating, nerve-jangling, brain-stretching, adrenaline-pumping online gaming? Well, a nice cup of tea and a book would probably do the trick. But you can't link to them, so browser games it is, then.

And a little YouTubery:

YouTube [Links via VSL].

A balloon floats, from famous movie scene to famous movie scene, right through the history of cinema.

Sweary, satirical, clip-art web-comic Get Your War On is now available in animated form [possibly NSFW].

No food was harmed in the making of this video - Western Spaghetti by PES. More by PES here.


Fantastic Contraption: build contraptions, to get a pink thing to another pink thing. Way more difficult than it sounds...

Paint a small red ball into a corner: Paintball - The Game.

More drawing with the mouse; this time to obliterate blue blocks while avoiding pink ones: Valo.

Batman might be in the cinemas at the moment, but here's a Spiderman-esque side-scrolling puzzler.

The aptly named Irritating Game - if you can keep the balls in the air for more than 15.5 seconds you're doing much better than me (click the Union Jack in the bottom corner, unless you prefer to have your scores insulted in French).

Curveball: not unlike playing Pong in a well, but with spin shots.

How about a game you can play using just the space bar? Onekey - possibly the ultimate game for multi-taskers.

mySQLgame: if you know SQL commands you can play it and look like you're working; for everyone else it probably will be work.

Indulge in Machiavellian plotting and villainy in the interactive fiction of Varicella.

Lastly, another game in which you take sort of an anti-hero role: Arachnophilia, a game of frantic web building and bug trapping.

And finally...

Ever thought Calvin & Hobbes would be funnier with Steve Jobs as Calvin's semi-imaginary friend? No, me neither, but it's still well worth a look: Calvin & Jobs.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Friday links

Yep, after last week's unexplained* absence they're back again - the Friday Links:


The latest educational resource to hit YouTube: The Open University.

TED has some new ways of searching through its extensive catalogue of online talks and lectures. Here are the ones rated most jaw-dropping.

With this site you might want to search streamed web-TV (including 4oD, iPlayer, etc.) for educational content... or probably just the latest episode of America's Got Talent.

Random news stories

Possibly the most spuriously based semi-news story I've ever read. Does that trouser leg even look deliberately rolled-up to you?

In other prison news: possibly the oddest plea bargain ever; and a sheriff sending himself to jail.

It seems even the "aristocracy" are selling their lives on eBay now.

Or for the less well-off, how about part of someone's unwanted life: annastella007 is selling evidence of her husband's infidelity.


Last time we linked to alternatives to Pandora.com; this week, Wired shows you how to access the site from anywhere in the world - while it still exists...

Also in Wired, David Byrne playing an entire building - no, not as a concert venue, as an instrument.

A few sources of free and legal MP3s:

Spiral Frog
We7 (UK-based)

And finally...

Weight Watchers = a Role Playing Game for the overweight? But where are the d20s?

*I could explain... but it would be boring.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

X-bykes and eGovernment

In an effort to stay only about a week or two behind Boing Boing, a few days behind Wired, and probably about 6 months behind at least one disdainful and bizarrely embittered sounding commenter beneath virtually every Wired story I've ever read online, I often read The Guardian's Technology supplement. One regular feature is Newsbytes, a collection of links to disparate techie stuff that didn't really merit a proper story but about which optimistic companies and PR people must have nonetheless sent press releases that week (what industry am I in again?). This is the usual kind of thing:

'Power-assisted X-byke

Powabyke's latest battery-powered X-byke has a compact Lithium Lite 36v battery disguised as a water bottle.

In other words, of limited interest and often baffling - I mean, for one thing, if the battery's disguised as a water bottle where are you supposed to put your actual water bottle? Or are you expected to ride around looking twice as thirsty as other cyclists, despite only doing half the pedalling? Worse, what if you get the two bottles confused? Imagine licking a 9v battery, only four times tinglier - it's a badly-named traffic accident waiting to happen.

And then you click on the link:

'Today more than ever, people are thinking of ways to reduce their carbon footprint'

With an electric bike? Can you imagine that ideas session?

"Yeah, well, OK, we want to, like, create a greener mode of transport, right? So, I know, yeah, why don't we, like, take, one of the most carbon-friendly modes of transport, yeah, and, like, make it electric? Cuz that'll be, like, waaaay less polluting than petrol... Oh, and lets lob an X in there somewhere."

"Yeah, an X! Perfect!!!"

And somehow this made it into production...

Also: X-byke? What was it before?

Anyway, that wasn't the best Newsbyte. This next one, I can only think to describe as the technology news equivalent of a haiku (if you think of haiku writing as being the art of expressing an awful lot in a minimum of words):

'Government guide

MyGuide is now providing online tuition in how to use government (including local council) websites.

UK government websites are so badly designed and written that a website now exists to teach you how to use them... That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? If anything has received more damning criticism than that, I'd really love to see it.

Or actually possibly not, come to think of it.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Return of the links

In which our previously regular Friday links post is retrieved from the haphazard grasps of irregularity.

Unless it isn't.

Tune in next week to find out... (ooh, the suspense!).


Learn to play the Ukulele with The Guardian.

Paris Hilton starring in a satirical video. Intentionally.

A little Monkey magic courtesy of the BBC's Olympics coverage promotional department (and Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn).

A mid-air restaurant in Belgium - maybe the subtle scent of danger makes the food taste better?


Crash Test Dummy Olympics. Nothing to do with the band, by the way. Not that I can quite imagine those lugubrious Mmm Mmm people summoning the energy for athletics...

Dolphin Olympics 2 (are you sensing a theme yet?).

And, yes, yet another tenuously Olympics-linked game: Micro Olympics.


In case your alarm clock wasn't annoying enough already, here's one that shoots rockets.

A (concept) mobile phone for Francophiles.

Proof that fruit can aid memory?

And that Lego can aid vision?

At least one Back to the Future fan clearly has way too much money. Or maybe they'd bought the Sports Almanac from the second film too?

What's the betting the same person owns some of these?

Music stuff

Orbit Downloader: download pretty much anything you want from YouTube, MySpace, Imeem, etc. More details (and slight privacy concerns) at Wikipedia.

For anyone missing Pandora, the personalised internet radio station now no longer available to UK users, you could do worse than Meemix. Still in beta, and a little glitchy, but definitely promising.

And a few more approaches to providing personalised internet radio:


And finally...

If you've ever wondered which famous people look like other famous people, or perhaps even are other famous people - ever seen John McCain's wife Cindy and the Borg Queen in the same room? - here's the site for you: TotallyLooksLike.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Blogging on the radio

Not very exciting, is it, watching people typing, or watching other people read what's been typed by someone else? Which is why blogging is pretty unlikely to feature heavily in a TV sitcom anytime soon.* But on the radio, well, words are everything.

Sadly, the only words that sprang to mind when I first heard Radio 2's On The Blog wouldn't be the kind allowed on radio; much less the ones I spat out recently when stumbling upon Series 2 (Series 2! Seriously?). Based around a central character (or caricature) with whom it's impossible to feel sympathy, and written with an all-pervasive sense of disdain for the two things at the heart of it (not that it really has one) - bloggers and blogging - I can't imagine anyone listening to it without dying just a little inside. Certainly, whichever tiny part of me must have suggested I listen had expired under the weight of its own shame before even the first minute had elapsed. Serves it right.

It was just awful.

Still, after On The Blog, at least the trajectory of blog-based sitcoms could only curve upwards - an assumption which probably explains how The Lost Weblog of Scrooby Trevithick got commissioned. Here's the general idea of the show:

Scrooby is a self-confessed drifter interested in alternative lifestyles, recording his dabblings therein in the form of an audio weblog. He has now gone missing leaving just his web diaries. In an effort to find him, his friends have cobbled together a website and a MySpace page, and edited the diaries into half-hour segments for broadcast on Radio 4. The show also makes a potentially interesting attempt at interactivity: "New information/postings/sightings/suggestions posted on this page will be incorporated into the broadcast radio shows," it says on the MySpace page.

Well, comments are definitely read out at the end of the show - to little comic effect. As for the rest of that claim at interactivity; after the first episode I just wasn't really interested enough to follow the comments on the findscrooby.com website, so I can't really tell you - it wasn't terrible; it just wasn't very good.

Which was a shame, because I really wanted to like it: after all, it seemed to be trying something a little different. I even tried to believe that it might overcome having Andy Parsons in the central role: Parsons is a nice affable chap, he just has the kind of telegraphed comic delivery that sucks the life out of even the best material - by the time he's got anywhere near the punchline it's often already old and sprouting hair from strange places. Furthermore, the 'mystery' element sounded like a promising way to drive along both the plot and the comedy. Except, well, aside from mentioning the premise at the beginning and end, not once did the mystery of Scrooby's disappearance enter into the episode's actual plot at all.

Incidentally, look at the show's title again. Scrooby's weblog isn't lost, he is.

Anyway, I didn't give the show another try until I caught the final episode today. Whether the plot (such as it was) incorporated listener suggestions I have no idea, because the comments board isn't working properly - 'See all comments' is apparently an empty promise. As for the disappearance, that wasn't worked in even in the form of clues, as far as I could tell; it was just Scrooby experimenting with lucid dreaming, and, well, you know how dull listening to other people's dreams can be...

Yes, it was almost that dull.

But that wasn't really the problem: ironically, it was the blogging.

And the interactivity.

First, the blogging. It wasn't integral to the show. Not in any way. The only difference from any other sitcom was that we were told that these scenes had been recorded by Scrooby for his weblog. They didn't feel at all as if they had been, and if you'd missed the preamble you wouldn't have had a clue. Blogging seemed to have had no impact on the show or its events at all.

Regarding the audience interactivity. As a device, well, yes, Scrooby's disappearance does facilitate this. But that's all it does. Like the blogging, it's not (or not made to be) essential to the show. What we actually hear as listeners is basically just a series of mildly amusing, blokeish musings on alternative lifestyles. Not only is the mystery utterly disconnected from, and external to this (like I said, the shows don't even seem to feature clues), but it also overshadows what you hear. The fact that he's disappeared is the story, yet we're not being told it.

If a sitcom based around blogging is going to work, or if audience
interaction in sitcoms is going to work (whether it even should is another matter), then it's all going to have to be much, much better integrated than this.

Ultimately, The Lost Weblog of Scrooby Trevithick just doesn't work; it's confused; and a bit broken - much like it's central character; though that probably wasn't quite the effect they were aiming at. But at least it tried something.

And it's not On The Blog... For that much, believe me, we should all be thankful.

*Video blogging, on the other hand, would seem to have many more dramatic possibilities, as already evidenced on the internet by shows such as 2/8 Life, or Kate Modern.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Gaelic knowledge and a mini Opera

As anyone who reads this (he says optimistically) will have noticed, I wasn't here to link to the usual selection of procrastination fodder last Friday. Rather than just bring it forward to Monday, though, I thought it might be time, instead, for things of a more practical lifehacking-ish bent to make an occasional return to the blog. I suppose it had to happen eventually...

Well, here goes:

An essential mobile phone download

Opera Mini 4.1

Essential at least for those who have a mobile with internet access but a useless default browser (anyone - like me - with a Sony Ericsson K850i, for instance).

You see, this marvellous little browser actually bothers to take full account of all the little things that make the internet on a mobile phone not nearly as good an idea as it sounds, finding ways not only to overcome them but also to take advantage of being run on a mobile phone, making this, for many phone owners, as close as you'll get to a smooth and enjoyable mobile internet experience without just giving up and buying something else.

Obviously, the small screen will always be to some extent a hindrance for anyone browsing the net on a phone, but Opera Mini has a good go at minimising the problem. Literally so, in that Opera's servers compress and pre-process pages before sending them to you, so that a) you use less of your data allowance, b) browsing is much faster, and c) they're in a format that's easier to read on your mobile, even when they're from a site that doesn't automatically support mobile browsers. And if you want to navigate the full-size page you'd get on your PC instead, you can do - almost as easily as if you had a mouse. Simply select and zoom into page sections containing what you want and the browser will snap the window to the text or photo selected, letting you read it without having to keep scrolling side-to-side as well as up and down.

For that matter, if it's a page you'd find easier to view in landscape, simply press * twice. Full-screen is an equally quick button press away, too.

In fact, there are a whole load of keypad shortcuts to give you all the features of a regular browser, even the ability to download webpages. But the best is Speed Dial: nine of your favourite bookmarks available simply by pressing * followed by the corresponding number. Or you can access the rest of your bookmarks by pressing #2.

A fews other things of note:

- If you're using Opera as your PC or Mac browser you can sync those bookmarks with your Opera Mini bookmarks.

- When you click 'Back' it doesn't reload the page, as even some PC/Mac browsers do, it simply goes straight back to it, instantly - both gratifyingly quick and an efficient usage of your data allowance.

- Search fields on any website can be made into shortcuts. In other words, rather than waste data allowance loading the homepages of sites like Amazon or eBay, you can just type something in the browser's search box, select which site to search, and skip straight to the results.

- If your phone allows, you can upload and download files from within Opera, rather than having to use your phone's native browser.

The latest competitor to Google

Cuil, "the world's biggest search engine", launched earlier today.

First things first, the name's awful.

No-one's going to know how to pronounce it - 'coil'? 'quill'? 'kwee'? - which surely won't be too helpful on the memorability or word-of-mouth fronts, or in its becoming a ubiquitously used verb, like a certain other search engine I could mention - Google is at least satisfying to say, too, sort of pleasingly chunky and slightly comical. And even now that I know (thanks to Google) that the correct pronunciation is 'cool', and that it's Gaelic for 'knowledge', I'm still not convinced that anyone's going to want to say that they 'cuiled' a particular subject, or that people are really going to take all that kindly to the implicit and presumptuous attempt at associating the site, homonymically at least, with the word cool itself.

Still, I am mentioning the site for a reason: if Cuil really is the world's biggest search engine, as its creators claim, then, perhaps, even the name they've chosen to tether it to might not hold it back?

Well, as you'd expect, Google dispute the "world's biggest" claim (Google purposely ignores a lot of duplicate content, they say) and further cite greater relevance and quality to their results. Based on a few random searches, well, I'd have to say they might be right about the relevance and quality. However, it's still very early days. And I guess what will utlimately determine the success - or otherwise - of Cuil will be the things it does differently to Google, and whether people find them compelling enough to keep returning. The major differences?

Firstly, Cuil have noted people's conerns about what Google (and - especially following the YouTube/Viacom case - any other site) does with your search history and have promised that it will remain private.

Next, you'll find the results presented in three columns (or two, if you so choose) with - not always especially relevant - pictures. Whether this is a good thing I'm not sure: it might help people see beyond what's been SEO-ed to the top of the search rankings; but on the other hand, it will take more than a glance to spot which is the most relevant result.

The most interesting difference, for me, though, is the widget (sometimes) to be found in the third column offering searches in different related categories. With good quality results, I could see this being potentially quite useful, throwing up associations that you might not have previously known about or expected: other bands that you might like, for instance; obscure films a favourite actor has been in; or online magazine pieces by a favourite author. The search box too seems to take account of your last search: the next time you enter anything it offers related auto-complete suggestions. There's perhaps, therefore, more scope with Cuil for random discovery.

A final point: the people behind Cuil have worked for Google (and other search engines); one has also previously produced a search product bought by Google to incorporate into and improve its own search engine. So while Cuil might not be quite the finished product yet, if you're not happy with Google's search results, it might well be worth keeping an eye on.

One problem (for Cuil, at least): with Gmail, GoogleAds, Blogger, etc. all tied in with its search engine, is it even the search results quality that keeps people coming back to Google?

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Friday links

No, don't worry, this is nothing to do with that tiresome golf tournament that seems to have taken over BBC Radio 5 Live for half the week. Just the usual parade of procrastination:


In a previous set of links, I mentioned the spoof documentary Jesus People. As it turns out, the Independent Comedy Network has plenty of other online funny stuff for you to view. Pick of the bunch, though, is probably Warthog: set in a corporation post-some kind of apocalypse, a few people continue to come to work...

Someone tries to defend spamming.

I'm voting Republican. (No, not me. It's a satire. And I'm not American).


Mousebreaker lets bored people play Flash games against other bored people, rather than just the computer.

Should your post-Wimbledon recollection that, 'Oh yes, actually I do kind of like tennis...' not have faded yet, Tennis Ace is worth a bash.

More addictive, and less frustrating (well, up to a point), Rong is very right.


The New York Times recently highlighted a fascinating array of new music-making thingies - I should probably call them musical instruments, but in this case that would kind of miss the point.

A TV remote that you really will want to call a zapper.

This one looks more like a water pistol, which sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, if you have kids...

Oh, and those last two links reminded me of this cigarette holder. For the nihilist in your life, perhaps?

And finally...

Every car driver's dream: cut out the salesman. Shame it's just a Japanese marketing stunt.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Late linkage

Sorry, it's been a busy week... Better late than never?


Today's video links come from design blog 1+1=3.

A bicycle made for two - but possibly, two who can't stand the sight of each other...

I suppose you'd call this video animated graffiti. Whatever it is, it must have taken forever.

Quite honestly, I know next to nothing about Chaos Theory, but put into action I imagine it looking something like this.

More cool stuff from 1+1=3

There was lots of it, and I haven't had much time for link hunting this week.

Charlton Heston's (frankly terrifying) basement.

The world's largest freehand drawing, and other large transitory works of art.

The holeless sink.

A brick building that cleverly appears to be made of wood.

Images of London, post-rising sea levels.

Some dramas in a snowglobe. Oddly, I happen to have a card in my room featuring one of these.

Other little people

Because tiny model people aren't only to be found in snowglobes:

A greetings card company called Holy Mackerel offers some similar scenes: these involving food, for instance.

Even better, is the Little People blog, chronicling a witty, inventive and at times quite poignant street art project.

And finally...

This village in Romania's choice of mayor makes the election of Boris Johnson seem almost explicable. You can only wonder at what the other candidates must have been like...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Linking in the rain

Ahh, the Cornish summer... I'm just hoping it might start eventually.

Still, there are worse things to be doing on a rainy day than messing around on the internet looking for diverting links to bring you:


Hammer Horror is back. And this time it's on the net...

From the undead to a house that staves off death.

Adam Buxton removes the original subtitles and tries to work out what on earth (or in Heaven) is being sung about on Songs Of Praise (should anyone be unfamiliar with the programme, it's basically karaoke for Christians).


The one I seem to have been playing most often recently is 'guess whether you'll need a jacket.' Too rainy even for that one, though, today. Sigh.

Oh well, I'll Google for some browser games that involve rain:

First result: Rain (predictably enough, I suppose). Actually, more of an interactive sound art thingy, really - pleasant way to pass a few idle minutes, though.

Alphabet Rain isn't really a game either... but I suppose there are worse ways in which to spend a rainy afternoon than learning to type faster.

Erm, actually, Googling for games involving rain really isn't proving all that successful, is it? Still, I did discover somewhere that lets you make your own, should you get the urge: Fyrebug.

Lego Art

Famous photos
recreated in Lego.

The Little Artists take on artists, as well as their art: in this photo they're upsetting a Lego Tracey Emin - wonderful :)

Some Rubik's Cubes seem to have got in on the act at this site.

You can even find entire movies shot in Lego: originals, parodies, remakes, they're all at Brickfilms.

Book stuff

The publisher Hamish Hamilton has a new downloadable (and free) literary zine type thing: Five Dials.

In collaboration with HarperCollins, Amazon has launched Authors in the spotlight. Essentially, new author interviews and extracts (actually, essentially, it's just promotion, but you know what I mean).

Some interactive stories by the person responsible for that musical Rain game above [click 'Stories' in the menu at the top, and also use that to select the stories - the sidebar menu doesn't seem to work].

And finally...

Perhaps, one day, we'll find ourselves having to ask, "Is it really raining, or just an advertising stunt designed to make us look up at the clouds?"

Friday, 27 June 2008

Dali and dominos

Time for your weekly dose of procrastination methinks (those of you who haven't already skived off to trudge around in the Glastonbury mud):


The BBC is encouraging you to try out the beta of its new iPlayer; even if the inexplicable prominence of Chris Evans's face on the 'Try it now!' button at the bottom of the page does rather suggest the contrary.

Europe's "last remaining Communist state", Slabovia, has its own answer to the iPlayer. Enjoy such delights as 'News 2.4' and 'Watch. Enjoy. Or Be Punished!'

Salvador Dali on 'What's My Line?' - and what could be more surreal than that?


Help a small humanoid character called Gnome avert the destruction of his homeworld in Samorost. Then, erm, do it again in Samorost 2. They're both somewhat surreal point and click adventure/puzzle games, apparently.

Domino-P seems to be all about solving puzzles by knocking down hand-drawn dominos. Gets a bit repetitive after a while, but nice soundtrack.

Random bits and pieces

Perfect for Friday afternoon procrastination, this web application makes it look like you're working when really you're reading an e-book.

Why not submit your deepest neuroses to public scrutiny? Because, yeah, that's going to help...

EBay for people who can't quite let go, Zilok.com lets you rent out your unwanted or unused stuff.

And finally...

Someone who definitely can let go, Ian Usher, an ex-pat living in Australia, is auctioning off his entire life. If you want his job, his house, his possessions and his friends (his evident disillusionment with it all doesn't seem to be included; presumably he'll take that with him), it can be yours for AU $399,400. Or at least that was the minimum bid at the time of writing.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Grand Theft Thwart-o*

Thieves caught by the gadgets they've stolen. Ingenious uses of social media to get out of tight situations. Over the last few months, a number of items have popped up in my feedreader that could be summed up by one or other of those descriptions.

Two (related) questions, strike me:

As the technology we carry with us every day becomes more attractive to criminals might it also be becoming more resistant to theft?

Could the proliferation of wi-fi, GPS, and Web 2.0 features on our gadgets, perhaps, be used to make us safer?

Let's have a look at a few of these stories.

- Most amusingly, there's the story of a Japanese man who, upon noticing food going missing from his fridge, set up a security camera to send photos to his mobile. He soon discovered that a homeless woman had been living in one of his storage closets - probably for a year.

- A few mobile phone thieves have been caught out (though not always caught) by phone-cams set to instantly upload photos to Flickr, or similar. Here's a laptop thief, too.

- A woman whose flat was broken into, and her Mac stolen, was able to photograph the culprit by triggering her Mac's webcam remotely.

- Journalist James Karl Buck managed to shorten his stay in an Egyptian jail by Twittering the word 'ARRESTED' from his mobile phone.

- Most recently, I happened upon this story about a woman whose lost video camera uploaded footage of the person who'd found it - its Eye-Fi memory card automatically activated itself when fortuitously within range of a compatible unsecured wireless network.

Some of the stories above involve luck, others ingenuity, some of them contain both, but for me what they all point to is the possibility of the technology we use every day being capable of protecting both itself and us.

Those stories alone will, no doubt, have given the tech-minded reader an idea or two towards that aim; setting your phone to automatically upload pictures to Flickr (if you have an agreeable data tariff), for instance, or finding out how to control your Mac remotely via the web. The existence of Qik.com even suggests the possibility of using your camera-phone as a kind of personal CCTV camera.

But with so many things now designed to connect wirelessly to the internet, increasing numbers of free wi-fi hotspots, GPS enabled phones and cameras, 3G+ networks, my question is: how long before enterprising gadget manufacturers start creating their own built-in anti-theft or personal security features? Surely there's a great marketing opportunity for someone there; a killer feature to differentiate your phone/camera/etc from the rest.

All the more so, since these items feature prominently amongst the most stolen gadgets.

Until something along the lines of GadgetTrak comes as standard, though, I guess there's always... well, just GadgetTrak, really. Apart from a few, less general services, I really couldn't find anything else.


Friday, 20 June 2008

Something for the weekend

Turned out I was too busy not procrastinating (mostly) to procrastinate this afternoon. Still, here are some links anyway - who knows, it might be a wet weekend.


Happily, despite cancellation, Futurama lives on. Here's a clip from the latest DVD release.

A robot band - the inevitable destination of electronic music?

Old ladies aren't as defenceless as they look... Fabulous stuff!


First, I should apologise for linking to Dino Run last week - truly, hideously addictive. So much so that when it inexplicably lost the dinosaur I'd finally got up to maximum ability levels, I found myself feeling not so much angry as oddly and suddenly free.

Then again, if that all sounds more like a recommendation to you, here are the rest of Pixeljam's neo-retro time-stealers:

RatMaze - find cheese in a maze, as quickly as you can.

RatMaze 2 - find much, much more cheese, much, much more quickly. With puzzles this time, too.

Gamma Bros - not the Mario clone I expected, but a nostalgia inducing shoot-em-up. I sense addiction looming again...

Random links

Peter Gabriel wants to help you filter entertainment according to your own personal tastes. If the involvement of a known Phil Collins associate doesn't put you off, click here.

Wimbledon is imminent. And this year it's going all hi-tech, apparently. [I know, not much use for this weekend, but great for weekday procrastination. If you like tennis, obviously].

Some online community type thing revolving around designing T-shirts.

And finally...

If it's a really bad summer this year maybe you could spend all that time indoors building a V-12 two-stroke engine out of paper?

No, I don't know why you would either, but someone evidently thought it was a good idea.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Link, link, link, link, link

Actually, there'll probably be more than five links, but you get the idea.


Movies have gone Open Source, apparently. The latest seems to be Big Buck Bunny - think Dreamworks style animation.

Someone really isn't impressed by the Wii.

Cats + Look Who's Talking = this.

Radiohead's Nude played by a ZX Spectrum and some old computer parts. For some reason.


Possibly one of the easiest games ever. You just have to burn a rope. And jump a bit.

This game looks like a dinosaur. Which is entirely appropriate, since you have to save one from fiery asteroid wrought extinction.

Are you sitting in an office doing repetitive tasks and trying to avoid a supervisor? This might be the game for you. Or not.

Read the sweary clipart comic. Or play the game. The choice is yours.


Two health risks in one convenient easy to carry package.

Or if you're trying to quit, just replace the fags with these.

You can even get an electronic rolly, these days.

Odds and ends

Still can't get Channel Five? Starting to miss Neighbours? Thank goodness for live telly on your computer.

Much the same thing, but for news junkies.

Or how about a little consensual stalking?

And finally...

Do you have a cat? Ever wondered what it gets up to when you're not looking?

Here's how to find out.

If you don't mind robbing it of all its enigmatic feline mystique and invading its furry privacy, obviously.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Friday's links

Well, I might not have got around to any lifehacking links yet this week, but never mind - it's Friday afternoon, so that's the last thing you'll want to be thinking about. The following should prove much more enjoyable:


A fishing rod, a surfboard, some steak, a shark and an amateur stuntman - oddly, this doesn't end how you'd expect. But is it genuine?

Three-way iPhone Pong - worth voiding your warranty? Also, how long before anyone actually scored a point, do you think?

The Wii guitar controller from Guitar Hero being used as an actual musical instrument.


Stop a cat from wandering off - even more difficult than it sounds (and if that doesn't sound difficult, you've evidently never owned a cat).

Enough sports games to keep you going for days, courtesy of The Guardian.

Five-a-side American football with dinosaurs - surprisingly excellent procrastination fodder. Even just in the free download version (the full version is $15).

DIY arty stuff

Apparently, the dual screens of the Nintendo DS make a great sketchbook.

Animasher: create your own animations online. It's in beta at present, though, so you have to sign-up for it; Gear Live has more info.

If you prefer your cartoons un-animated, here are a couple of sites for creating your own web-comics: toonlet and Bitstrips.


I mentioned Muxtape the other week; it doesn't have a search facility, annoyingly, but someone's already solved that problem.

Share a song with someone without having to email it; assuming it's in the TinySong database.

Synaesthetes might get most out of this one: the musical equivalent of a mood ring.

Should you ever need royalty free stock music (Aitken and Waterman not involved), or fancy uploading your own for others to use, iStockphoto is diversifying.

And finally...

Many people, at present, seem to think that the end of the world is nigh. But I'm not talking about over-reactions to the beginning of the latest series of Big Brother; I'm talking about a certain kind of Christian. Just in case they're right, and if you're presumptuous enough to believe that you might be claimed by the Rapture, here's a website where (for $40) you can leave - for the more ungodly of your friends and family members, who might have been left behind - your final messages of consolation.

"Ha ha!" possibly might not be the most Christian option, though.

Friday, 30 May 2008

An army of links

With all the predictable inevitability of Boris Johnson's first mayoral gaffe, though with rather more cause for joy, it seems Friday is upon us once more. May as well celebrate with a few links then:


American indie types Weezer hand an extra minute of micro-fame to some well known YouTubers with their latest video. If you recognise more than a few, consider your procrastinatory skills well honed.

From old YouTube stars, to ads of the past, among other things.

Is it just me who finds this girl's apparently award winning ukulele bothering antics highly annoying?

Anyway, here's some proper ukulele - even George Formby had nothing on this guy.

General oddness

I'd explain more about this animated head... but I can't. And anyway, its secrets are best discovered for yourself.

Further similarly inexplicable animated oddities here.

In a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood trend, a popular film goes Shakespearean (on your ass): Pulpbard, a wiki project in progress.

The Economist eulogised in rap by teenagers. Follow the link for more info, or download the song here (right-click to download).

Wired recently had an article on websites tracking urban eccentrics - achingly cutting edge place that it is, Radix's hometown has a site too.

Possibly the strangest piece of direct marketing ever. Gives a whole new definition to 'going viral'.

Major wind up

American humo(u)rist Harman Leon doesn't own a dog. So why's he phoning pet psychics?

Private details

Juicy family intrigue in an online archive of wills made in Surrey between 1470 - 1856, with any luck.

Corporal punishment?

Probably not. But still, I can't imagine that even the most hardened coffee drinker would enjoy this brew...

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Apparently, something-distracting.com doesn't exist

Apologies, I seem to have been constantly too busy on one end or the other of the whole work/life see-saw this week to pay much attention to matters of lifehackery. Fortunately, let's face it, I knick most of this stuff from lifehacker anyway and I still have a bunch of stuff saved up in my highly organised (for me, at least) .txt folder of annotated links, so here we go anyway. It might be a day late, but... ooh, look - something distracting!

Random usefulness

Pageonce promises "Your internet, your way." Apparently, what this means is that they're offering what amounts to an online personal assistant - manage your life from just one page on the interweb. Which does rather lead me to wonder exactly how big a monitor you'd need to have... Still, since it looks (from a quick once-over) like it might, at present, be of most use to American users, that question probably remains academic for now.

An excellent idea if you often use computers other than your own might be to carry PortableApps on a USB memory stick. Not only does plugging in the stick and firing up applications like Firefox or OpenOffice from there - rather than the computer itself - give you a little more security when using an internet cafe, for instance, but it also means no faffing around with someone else's unfamiliar programs - anything to avoid Internet Explorer, quite frankly. [More life on a memory stick stuff at lifehacker].

Or, if it's just not having access to your bookmarks when away from your regular machine that you're worried about, while PortableApps kind of has that problem covered too, perhaps an easier solution might be to install the Foxmarks plug-in for Firefox. Foxmarks not only synchronises and organises your bookmarks across however many machines you install it on, but also creates a webpage that you can access from anywhere. Erm, assuming you can remember the address without already having it bookmarked somewhere, obviously...

TechCrunch had news, the other week, that Facebook might actually become almost useful one day soon, or at least slightly less annoying: tabbed profiles, and searchable Facebook mail are almost ready. Long overdue catching up, both of them, if you ask me; but still, they're certainly a step in the right direction.

Firefox Extension of the Day

CacheIt! - if you've ever clicked on an interesting search result only to find that the page is for some reason unavailable, you'll know instantly how useful this little widget could prove. CacheIt! simply takes you to the archived version of the page, letting you see what Google saw. Problem solved.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Web users getting more selfish

Yep, that's right, we're all slowly but surely turning into ginormous electronic bastards. Every single one of us. We'd sooner have our online avatars kick those belonging to everyone else roughly and forcefully about the head than share any of our virtual Second Life candy. In fact, within mere years the internet will have begun - if it hasn't started already - to die a slow agonising festering death, as we all wallow around, ignorantly, in our own hatred fuelled isolation. Just like in the real world*.

Well, you know, maybe.

At least, that was what I assumed when I first saw this headline (the post title above) over at BBC News. Perhaps, just a little alarmistly**, I grant you...

But anyway, at the very least, I expected that participation in Wikipedia might have declined, or something more or less of that order. You know, file-hoarding taking over from file-sharing; more people on help forums posting, "Nyah-nyah! We're not telling you!"; YouTube announcing that it's to become MyTube. You know, something like that. Something, in other words, that might actually warrant the adjective "selfish."

But no. What has actually happened is, that we've all become just a little bit better at 'finding stuff'; a heinous act for which, according to Jakob Nielsen (the website usability bod quoted in the story), we should all be considered not just selfish but - for good measure - "ruthless" too.

Our crime?

Fewer of us now shilly-shally around on pages that we don't need to read; Google simply takes us to the page that contains the information we asked it for, and then we leave. Wow. I, for one, am thoroughly ashamed of myself - bad me, and bad Google.

Obviously, all Nielsen's really trying to say, as indeed he's been saying for ages, is that web users aren't impressed by pointless bells and whistles (we only like the pointy kind); and the word "selfish" was probably just taken out of context by the BBC reporter, for the sake of a more sensational, if - even in the actual story itself - utterly unsupported headline.

But whatever context Nielsen uttered the word in, I still fail to see how exactly searching for something, reading it, then failing to hang around to do something other than what you actually went there to do in the first place constitutes being selfish?

I mean, by that logic, and assuming that I don't want to be considered selfish, the next time I pick up the dictionary I should read every word in the whole thunking great tome, just because someone's gone to the bother of putting them there. And furthermore, the next time you feel like doing something altruistic, maybe, don't do something sensible, like taking stuff to a charity shop, why not read some online adverts, or something?

I exaggerate, of course, but a) that's more fun, and b) you get the point: the World Wide Web holds countless quick and easy ways to sully your morals, but simply using it competently isn't one of them. And if you disagree: perhaps you're right, but the next time you type something into Google be sure to have fun following that endless chain of hyperlinks. Chances are, you'll not be doing very much else, for quite some time...

*if the Daily Mail's to be believed.
**possibly not a real word.

Friday, 23 May 2008

That linking feeling...

The hour of procrastination is upon us, so without further ado:

A bumper YouTube section

Dollary Clinton, Barack Odollar, and John McCoin take their wearisome YouTube battle over to eBay. Incidentally, can't someone just toss a coin and get this interminable nonsense over with?

Isabella Rossellini's oddest film role since Blue Velvet.

The deeply strange Northern-accented world of David Firth.

Everybody needs somebody. Obviously. Otherwise our heads would just float around.

You'll have seen it already, but what the Hell: Microsoft Chief Eggsecutive (sorry) Steve Ballmer dodging eggs in Hungary.

Sex & The City

Pretend you're one of the Sex & The City girls (if you must) with some New York City bar and restaurant interior design porn.

The bright lights of NYC, again, but this time from afar. More cities here.

Or perhaps you'd prefer something a little more 'street' level?

Some other arty things (this time, happily, unthemed)

Kind of post-apocalyptic scenes that look more realistic than they are, photographed by Lori Nix.

Usually pencils aren't responsible for fully 3-dimensional art...

The world (well, just Australia, so far) in glorious Google Maps tagged panoramas.


Exclusive live bits and pieces from people you will and won't have heard of. The site's mostly in French.

Listen for free to the Radio Soulwax mixes of 2ManyDJs.

More mixing, but of the old C90 cassette kind.

And finally...

No games today, but this is way more fun :) Seriously. I mean, how often do you get to make a pipecleaner Cossack dance to Staying Alive?



Tuesday, 20 May 2008

This week's lifehacking links

Random lifehackery

Lately, I've been listing unwanted books and CDs on Amazon. So far, it's been quite successful, but, God, I'm getting sick of typing "CD pristine, slight wear to jewel case. Orders dispatched next business day." Thank goodness, then, for this handy little free download from Lifehacker: Texter.

It doesn't automate the listing process, sadly, but leave it running and, whatever program you're using, Texter will correct your typing (if you set it up that way), fill in forms, type common phrases etc., all at the touch of whatever keys you happen to assign things to. You'll never type 'the' when you meant 'the' ever again. I said 'the'. Look, why won't you... Oh.

Well, perhaps it has at least one drawback.

There's an altogether more complicated looking option too, which seems to have its uses.

More of it

An extremely easy hack to make Google display a small drop-down box to filter results by recency, i.e. past 24 hours, past week, and so on: simply search for something normally, then add [&as_qdr=d] (without the square brackets) to the end of the resulting URL and hit enter. If that didn't make sense, try going here.

For creative types, LifeDev.net has a list of 17 obscure websites to spark the imagination. Or more likely, to spark hours of procrastination. Then again, doesn't procrastination often turn out to be the incubator of creativity?

Or maybe you're not devoid of inspiration, just a bit distracted? Perhaps, by background noise and chatter? God knows whether ChatterBlocker might help, but at least you can try out a free demo. Apparently it plays "pink noise" (no, not YMCA) to neutralise office sounds - and probably annoy everyone else within earshot.

Firefox Extension of the Day

DownThemAll! - Not only a much faster substitute for Firefox's own download option, but also allows you to quickly and easily hoover up whatever you want from individual web pages (assuming it's downloadable). Browsing MP3 blogs, for one, has never been quicker.

Instructions for advanced (and not so advanced) use over at Lifehacker.

In related news: the full release of the much faster and less crashy version 3.0 of Firefox is still set for late June, but by many accounts it may already be good to go...

Might be worth waiting until all your most used extensions have been updated too, though.