All posts made in Aug. 2000:

Tomorrow, I'm off to Santiago de Compostela for a week of, oh, something or other. A week, anyway. In case I don't see you:

  • Upsideclown is fresh on Thursday and Monday. And it's my article on Monday (September 4th) so you better go and bloody read it. Or there'll be trouble.
  • Santiago being a pilgrimage town, I fully expect there to be the whole gamut of Catholic tat merchandise: illuminated Pope busts, candles shaped like burning pyres, replicas of fragments of the true cross, and so on and so forth. In celebration of my first holiday abroad for literally aeons, I hereby promise to send the most tacky religious postcard I can find to anyone who tells me their address over the next week, for free, gratis, out of the goodness of my very good heart. And what's more, I also promise not to sell your address to too many people.
  • Please don't shit on the carpet. I've only just got it clean.

I think that's everything. Now play nicely boys and girls, and I'll pop my head in if I can.

Stewart Butterfield taxes me. If I can't define a live organism as a volume how can I say where it is in space? Problems, problems: An undergraduate introduction to Peter Unger's Problem of the Many helps me out a little.

On a different note completely, on Sylloge Stewart talks about how visuals enhance music. I recommend thoroughly the paper linked there [Time and the Observer]. God, I wish I knew more about that kind of stuff. What should I read?

Much has been made of weblish, and I'm not sure I agree with any of it. I know weblish isn't even a dialect. A register? Just that.

John Humphrys argues against weblish, saying that grammar is liberating because it allows greater accuracy -- but that misses the point. There are two pressures on language: Accuracy and speed (obviously; think about either of the two extremes if only one pressure applied). The speed issue in written text will naturally be very different from rapid spoken language. And accuracy -- well, any new language that is less accurate than the root language will not be selected for.

But the accuracy pressure changes. I'll leave it like this: Is use of the apostrophe going the same way as the usage of who vs. whom?

Monday means new Upsideclown, and I'll tell you this for free people: It's good.

Post-modernism is old hat. We now feel free to scoff at the self-righteous omni-activist, determined to obliterate all unfairness, hunger, repression, and all other bad things. They somehow seem SO last season.

James talks good, bad, and television in Bad, man. Wicked. Excellent.

MindTerm lets me SSH to my web server from most browsers via a Java applet. Extremely handy, especially with me on holiday next week.

This is so derivative, but I want these links here when I grep my archives. The following is copied wholesale from peterme, who always finds the sites that won't let go of my brain:

Self-organizing knowledge. Among many links on the intriguing Symbiotic Intelligence Project [cache] page are ones to the Principia Cybernetica Web, which features tons on self-organization, evolutionary theory, etc, including this piece on adaptive hypertext, which shifts connections based on use. One of the researchers, Johan Bollen, has worked on other similar projects, and I found his essay "A system to restructure hypertext networks into valid user models"[.PDF] insightful. He has more recent publications, but they're all in postscript and stuff.

I've added the link to the Symbiotic Intelligence Project myself. I hope that was the referenced site.

Intriguing web art: Isometric screenshots of major cultural events [via].

Also: Internet porn with the people erased. I would love to go to an exhibition of this material. Now, I'm reminded of Obscene Interiors: Amateur porn with the people blocked out taking the piss out of the wallpaper -- one is art, the other not. It's all about presentation dontyaknow.

The main navigation at is a good use of DHTML (scroll up and down). Eats real estate though.

Mention! Mention! interconnected mentioned on barbe-- plasticbag.

Here's the thing about sites you read on a regular basis: You never link to them. I mention places I've been for the first time and from that you get an idea about the sort of person I am, but you never see the sites on my daily rotation. I don't mind mentioning them, but the opportunity never comes up -- and I also don't like having conversations on homepages when it should really be in email, or reciprocal linking for reciprocal linking's sake. What's worse is that this 'weblog' style of homepage is hard enough for first-time visitors to read without making the content feel quite exclusive too. So: I only link when there's a hook, or I've got something to talk about... which makes me feel mean, especially when people link to me. There's no obligation to link back, I know, but the practice is so widespread to not take part looks like a slight, and there's no other way to say 'cheers'.

Hm. Rambling now.

Spot the difference: vs the Independent [screen captures 1, 2].

My Greek story
Reading about the kitschbitch Greek sabatical has caused long forgotten memories from my deep past to resurface, presumed lost due to my immense age. Come with me, and walk in the garden of the mid 1990s...

Dave Banks, a good friend of mine, and I went to Zakynthos for two weeks about five years ago. There are so many stories, oh so many stories, but none quite as odd as the dreams, nightmares and hallucinations that plagued our stay.

Each day: We went out in the evening, got pissed, spent our taxi money, got back to our apartment late, woke screaming in the middle of the night, slept more, got up at 4pm, put on insect repellent, had a frappe and a sunbathe, put on more insect repellent (have you seen those mosquitos?), went out again.

One night I woke to see Dave dancing on the bed (he was having a nightmare that if he stopped dancing he would die). Another night I saw a little old woman curled up on a chair in the corner of the room. One night someone lay on the floor next to me (I could see their arm as they stuck it up to look at their watch), but they weren't there when I looked down. Every night, either Dave or I would wake up shouting and screaming. During the day our hands would shake.

Naturally, alchohol poisoning was suspected. So we carried on.

Anyway, so one night, about ten days in, I'm rubbing the insect repellent on and I look at the can and say "Dave. Where exactly does it say on here that we wear this?" and Dave says "Well, you picked it out" and I say "But you've been to Greece loads. I thought you knew what you were talking about when you pointed at it" and Dave says "No". And the can has a huge picture of a dead mosquito on the front and not a single word of English on the back.

So we stop rubbing bug spray into our skin twice a day, and a couple of days later the nightmares stop and our hands stop shaking. Which was good, because by that point I'd had to use both hands to hold my frappe, and lighting cigarettes was near impossible.

I'm such a useless slacker. Instead of working, I've spent all day writing this Mac program from 1994 in Perl because I couldn't find it on the web. (Okay, not all day. That bit of the day that remains after drinking tea and sitting on benches waiting for someone to arrive to make my car start. Bah.)

The phenomena are by their very nature contradictory. The reader should be careful to observe that, in so far as this expounds the necessary rules of our experience, the Ideal of human reason, so far as regards the discipline of pure reason and the things in themselves, should only be used as a canon for the Transcendental Deduction.

Today's complete waste of time: Random Kant. Enjoy (if you can).

...isn't what I expected it to be. To begin with I thought we'd converge on a 'house style' -- but the effect of having a stable team seems to be that we're feeling more confident about going in our own directions. That's probably also an effect of the very hands-off editorial style that exists: Although I mark up every essay, I make no corrections or alterations. It's a system that could only work on the web. When I used to do print, editing was a big part of what I did -- word counts, magazine style. I would have to make changes because it would be too slow to consult and rewrite. Not so with email. So: Upsideclown is more individual than I thought. Already, different people prefer different authors. No consensus there either. And this is all good, very good.

Today we present Neil's more diary-like piece: Parent Power.

The Wrap this morning pointed out a superb rant on the letters page of The Times. It's a good 'un: Imperial measure.

Handy: are offering no-registration free SMS in the UK and some other European countries.

These Upsideclown days come round quicker and quicker don't they? And the titles just get worse. Jamie, today, leads the charge with I can't stand up (for falling clowns).

BBC News considers robots replacing humanity: These super-intelligent machines will be our children, says Mr Moravec.

Uh-huh. Well, I believe the robots are our future, too.

Today, more than ever, programming feels like sculpture but simultaneously carving the block to see the figure within, and building layer on layer to reach the extreme boundary -- and constantly shifting my goals with what's emerging. That it works, in itself, is incredible, but more fantastic still is the way I sit in autopilot while my brain does all the hard work. It's a feeling unlike any other.

I know many people for whom the Goth Powerpuff Girls will have great appeal. For them. [via Memepool]

Loads of random cool stuff at Some favourites: 24; 73; 74.

popbitch is the funniest thing since sliced bread (and sliced bread was pretty fucking funny before it went pass&eacute, let me tell you). Tip o' the hat to my new flat mate James for letting me know about that.

Thursday! Our first ever Thursday Upsideclown:

But wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning. Weave a circle round me twice, for I have returned from the mountain with the secret of Ananova.

Dan's excellent latest piece is now up, and he's given it what must be the best title of all time: Onanova. Enjoy.

Man, Robot Frank [via Haddock] is uberkewl (but I prefer his friend Robot Ron because Ron likes ninjas).

Hey, remember those stories where you fill in words yourself and it's supposed to be really funny? automates the whole process. This isn't necessarily a good thing.

A guitarist and a committee of two-headed priests join a political cause. Nominated for Writer's Digest Top 101 Most Useful Websites for Writers 1999!

I've stumbled across a whole terrifying self-validation fad. I mean, Rate My Picture (similar, but not so good: Rate Me) -- why is this popular? What sort of people are they going to turn in to? I lack the words, I really do.

I might upload my photo later.

Anti-Porn: I am scared. I am so, so scared.

Shout from the top of mountains and tell all your friends (and your enemies too) -- it's the second coming of Dirk, come to sap your time away.

It's Monday, so it's new Upsideclown day: Victor's I like sweets that taste of medicine is now available for your delight.

And the news I promised a few days back? We're switching to twice weekly. Upsideclown is now fresh every Monday and every Thursday. It's because we love you so.

Excellent Slashdot world history [via Robotwisdom].

And I've been thinking about life, and death (and how not-life != death), and all the things that are said about them -- and I feel that previously I've been thinking in the wrong direction. There's nothing in the universe that labels this volume here, typing at you, 'alive'. It's just a human taxonomy. So it doesn't really make any sense to talk about life in anything other than human terms. We can't reduce it any further than that, because it just doesn't make sense. And since human terms keep changing, well, that means we just have to decide for ourselves what it all means and what it's all about.

Anyway. So the ashes are being scattered and I was just expecting a symbolic handful or two and they keep on coming, more and more from this urn, and you forget how big we are really and the wind picks a few up and I have to stop myself from coughing, so even now, hours later, my throat's still dry. And they say every breath you take has an atom of Julius Caesar in it, but you never think that cycle really exists, I mean really happens, and definitely not as quickly as this, but here we are and it's only taken a week to go round and my throat's dry and the universe is one person emptier and doesn't even care, but that's okay because it's my terms that matter, when it comes down to it: So it's not the universe that's one person emptier, it's me, and I can feel that gap right here.

Right then, it's just getting a little bit weird. Shopping for dinner last night, looking at the neck pillows (as you do), and what do I see but only my mate Andrew McCargow on the front of the executive travel bag box. And the rucksack box. I haven't seen Andrew for months (he's in .au), so not only is it good to see him, but I'm proud, like he's somehow subverted the hierarchy, and by proxy (because I know him) so have I. The other shoppers in Tesco were this close to knowing too, but Es wouldn't let me tell them.

And then, on my way back this morning, I drove for 15 minutes behind a van for DPR Windows, with the url displayed prominently on the back. The site being, of course, my first commercial one ever, and unbelievably ugly. So I just kept my head right down, so no one would recognise me, and tried not to crash into the back of it.

This objects/methods things is a bloody pain. Web application design is a bloody pain. UI -- that's a bloody pain too. Steps, or, a web application howto:

  1. User interface
    Think about what the user wants to be able to do. Make it really simple. Don't even consider what programming the bastard thing will then entail.
  2. Front end scripts
    The code on the front end should be barely more than augmented html. At this point you consider where your loops are and decide on your method calls for your back end. Do not at any point think about the programming. No referencing of data-structures; no subroutines. Simple simple simple.
  3. Database
    Now shift your attention to the database. Think about what data you have, where the relations are, and design tables which will minimise accesses, remove any replication of data, and inevitably bear no resemblence at all to the user interface. Still: Don't think about the programming.
  4. SQL
    You have to pull and update database data with elegant SQL that, again, minimises database accesses. Good database accesses are very important: There are risks here in data integrity so look out. The importance of it means you can't distract yourself by thinking about the back end yet.
  5. Back end
    Finally! On one side you have a user-interface designed for the user, and therefore the object methods you're going to use are already defined, with no thought to how you're going to program the damn thing. On the other side, your database structure is already decided. Your job is to tie the two together, making best use of abstraction and inheritance to allow easy extensibility. You may now begin thinking about the programming.

Apparently the payoff is magnificent, but to be honest I can think of things I'd prefer to be doing.

perltoot is the Perl object-oriented tutorial, part of the Perl documentation. I'm currently hunting for object and method calls design philosophy. Nothing too deep, but something useful. Looking...

Q: I think a third party has been activating my ribcage.
A: Try bothering it with a Toyota. You might find it'll draw a diagram of it.

Random Word 97 bug:

This problem occurs when the grammar checker attempts to evaluate a long, complex sentence that includes several conjunctions such as "or" and "and" along with at least one preposition such as "of," "to," "by," or "from."

And a Word 6.x grammar bug that hangs on a certain sentence. Why? I'd love to know how these sort of things come about.

Wow: The largest living organism on Earth. How do such large organisms evolve? Where's the mechanism? Surely there's not enough intra-species competition for natural selection. Hm.

What's the biggest thing you can think of? At the limits of my imagination, really pushing my understanding, I can get as far as a large village or a small town.

I mean, really feel the size. I figure my local village is about 100,000 times larger than me in each direction. Visualising myself in that kind of space; really feeling that kind of size, it certainly seems like the maximum size I can sensibly conceive of is about a million times the size of myself.

1mm in 1km kind of makes sense (I can see them on the same scale). 1mm in 1000 km, not a chance. There's a limit of understanding there. 1:1000,000 roughly. So what I want to know is:

  1. Is this true?
    Do you have a scale limit of 1 in a million?
  2. Is it physical?
    Imagine something that is a million times longer than it is wide. Is that the limit you can actually see? Any longer, would it be invisible at the ends? Any narrower, would it be too thin to see? Is the limit of our understanding the same as the diffraction limit at our eye? If our eye were different, could we then perceive larger scales? If our eye were different, would it in fact see larger scales (perhaps it couldn't)?
  3. Is it lack of experience?
    Perhaps it's because if things differ in size that much, we've never needed to interact with them concurrently. You don't regard a grain of sand when building a pyramid; you interact with a mass of sand.
  4. Nature or nurture?
    If it is|was just experience, has that now become part of us? Is our brain incapable of regarding larger scales now? Has our eye not needed to become capable because we've never needed it to? Or is it just us, and we can train ourselves to understand?

So many questions. Enlighten me, or just tell me what the biggest thing you can think of is.

Fresh into my inbox, the most audacious spam ever sent. I feel honoured.

Monday means new Upsideclown.

Years ago (and I mean years), when this was still all fields and I was doing Nucleus, the person I'd always want to write for me was my friend Neil. He only wrote twice, but as far as I'm concerned it was some of the best material that ever appeared in the magazine. He has a style that just resonates with me. Which all just makes it so much better that Neil is writing Upsideclown this week, and his writing gets me right there as much as ever. Love Letter: Excellent.

For the class: Using the Perl pseudohash (and other Perl goodness).

How to marry a millionaire.

I am the human idea factory, hear me roa -- um, have ideas.

  • Call waiting & the www
    BT should let you toggle call waiting on the web for those times you forgot to switch it off and remembered in the middle of a fat download. Idea one!
  • Postal address for life
    The Post Office parses the address on every letter that goes through the sorting office and stamps it with a code derived from your name and your (post|zip)code (in the UK, that's the line of faint blue dots) so it can be automatically sorted further down the chain. Why not add to their database a set of pseudo (post|zip)codes and give them out to people. All you'd need to have was your name and pseudocode, and the Post Office would match that to an actual address you keep up to date on a web site. Why not actually make use of all these computers and databases instead of just bolting them on to the old style of business? Ta da, idea two!

Hey, and I've got another idea too: Great customer service. Oh, sorry, but that's way in the realm of science fiction.

I was chased down the road by a hairy man the other day. Mm. He was in quick hirsute.

The two [1, 2] most recent fonts at ShyFonts are excellent general purpose faces. You can download the whole ShyFonts collection.

Good grief. I've been so busy I forgot to say there was a new Upsideclown out.

Winter, several years ago now. My work experience placement in a private hospital; attired in a sputum-brown polyester tunic to protect myself from the body fluids being joyfully exuded by the whiskered patients and bored to the point of schizophrenia. Having perused every Take a Break and The Lady in the waiting area, I was now awaiting the arrival of my mother in her nippy and, compared to the wards, so damn-bright purple joymobile. She didn't come, and I can't remember why now. But I do recall the ninety minute walk home in the cold and slushy rain, and how unsurprised I was at my freezing misery. This was how things were meant to be; this was February.

You'll have to hurry to catch George's Runt of the Litter at Upsideclown. Oh, and we've got some changes coming up in a couple of weeks. Good changes.

And we sit around and earnestly discuss the nature of what Is, and the composition of Reality, and Perception and Truth.

And then we're reminded that it's all just so much description and what really Is is exactly what Is. Just here. Just now. It's real and there's nothing like it or close to it.

And. It's. All. Real. That's the most important thing there is to know, and the learning of that goes only a tiny way to pay the cost of the teaching.