January 3, 2005

What I did on my Christmas Holiday in Spain

I can't claim I wasn't warned. I did know that Benidorm - and the rest of the Costa Blanca - is something of a joke in the Dutch speaking part of Europe. After a week there, I still haven't been in Spain. As far as I can tell, thanks to daily discount charter service between Sheffield and Alicante, the Costa Blanca is simply a warm, low-tax part of Yorkshire.

Over on A Fistful of Euros.


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January 4, 2005

"Hacking the Gibson"

Today is the first time I've ever come across the phrase "hacking the Gibson" in the general meaning of to perform a feat involving intelligence and technical knowledge, but which is likely to get the crap beaten out of you. I saw it on Wikipedia.

As I suspected, it is from the movie Hackers. Now a decade old, the script kiddies probably don't realise how very hated it was among the true l33t when it came out. Only 2600's irreplaceable Emmanuel Goldstein - who was a consultant on the film - didn't totally hate it. The film website was even hacked - the source of the above image - although there was a persistent rumour that MGM/UA hacked its own website for publicity.

It's a bit of a surprise, remembering how it was received back in the day, to see it becoming enough of a cult classic to actually affect vocabulary.


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January 5, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Apparently, some online gambling service is taking bets on who gets whacked in the next Harry Potter novel. Best odds: 6 to 4 Hagrid bites it. Robbie Coltrane's a decent actor, I wonder how he feels about this gambling on his career prospects.

The big payoff - 16 to 1 - is if Harry croaks in book 6. I'd have put the odds closer to 1000 to 1 myself.


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We do what we're told

One doubt
One voice
One war
One truth
One dream

- Peter Gabriel, We do what we're told

Right now, I'm running a piece of code that's scanning the Dutch Wikipedia looking for sequences of words that are all capitalised. I'll let you in on a little non-secret of my trade: this is an excellent way to find important multiword terms useful in categorisation and search. My code is a little clunky, and the Dutch wikipedia contains over a million sentences, so it's taking a while. I'm trying to debug it and optimise it as it runs - one of the wonders of LISP is that you can do that - while I listen to my iPod. Then, Peter Gabriel's We do what we're told comes on.

Simple lyrics for such a depressing song. Anyway, I typed the title into Google to see what would come of it, and I found this book review over at LRB. It seems this last 20th of December was the 20th anniversary of the death of Stanley Milgram, someone I haven't thought about since I was an undergrad. According to LRB, a biography of Milgram has recently been published.


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January 10, 2005

Abstract Impressionism and the CIA

I'm trying really hard not to laugh at this:

Enduring Art

Do you find modern art baffling and depressing? Have you ever wondered if it's all a ridiculous hoax? Don't worry. It's meant to be baffling and depressing, and it is a ridiculous hoax. According to American leftist James Petras's review of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders,

[the]CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist (AE) painting and painters as an antidote to art with a social content. In promoting AE, the CIA fought off the right-wing in Congress. What the CIA saw in AE was an "anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise[...]

So the whole hegemony of boring decadent rubbish art that has been inflicted on us for fifty years, from Jackson bloody Pollock to Damien fucking Hirst, has all along been a CIA plot.[...]

Considering the way abstract art has been the target of right-wing attacks since before I was born - and the way abstract sculpture in particular has been a corporate favourite for decorating lobbies and head offices - I'm trying really hard not to laugh out loud at my computer. All of a sudden the whole thing makes sense. It neatly encapsulates the divide between social and business conservatives. Inoffensive and arguably meaningless, abstract art has been the perfect expression of the commercially commissioned art. It really is the art of free enterprise. The social right, on the other hand, loves realism in the model of Norman Rockwell: the socialist realism of anti-socialism. This guy is probably making a killing.


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The Rectification of Names

The Poor Man (via Eschaton), citing Confucius on the unity of theory and practice, uncovers a lexicographic shortcoming in American English. I can only agree, having adopted the term in question for a number of years now.

There is, in fact, some historical justification for the quasi-Whorfian complaint that without being able to name things, we are ill-suited to fighting them. Massively labeling the Republicans as wankers certainly won't help them, especially since the kinds of folks it most applies to are unlikely to watch enough PBS to understand what it means.


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January 12, 2005

Crooked Timber on China Miéville

Crooked Timber is having a Festschrift on China Miéville, including author response. It's worth reading and it's a reminder that I ought to reread Iron Council a bit more closely.

Alas, I have a Dutch test tomorrow and thus can say very little, except that he is one of a very small number of authors for whom I am willing to truck my fat ass down to Waterstone's and cough up hard currency for new novels in hardback (as opposed to my standard practice: paying in soft currency for paperback on Amazon.com.) I am not a big fan of fantasy in general (the wife is into Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, and Anne McCaffery - I've taken to calling her books chick fantasy) but I'm begining to take the genre seriously again after starting to read Miéville.

I'm one of those who think that there is a well-founded - although often fuzzy - distinction between fantasy and SF. I just don't think it has much to do with science. SF deals in the possibilities of the world, drawing on our ignorance of it to speculate on what might be. Fantasy deals in the impossiblities of this world, drawing on our knowledge of the world by denying elements of it. Miéville clearly falls on the fantasy side of that line.

This analysis leads to some contradictions that I'd try to write about, if I could do so in Dutch. Maybe later.


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