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Archive for March 2005

turkey swizzlers

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There’s a recent documentary series being re-run on (UK) Channel 4 at the moment, one that I should have watched first time around: Jamie’s School Dinners. It follows Jamie Oliver, a “celebrity chef”, as he tries to do something about the quality of the food served in schools in England. Oh hell, where do I start?

It starts at home, with the parents too busy to prepare balanced meals for their kids or themselves. By the time they start school, they’re used to processed junk, and that’s what they get on a budget of 37p ($0.80 / €0.60) per kid per day. Imagine the worst junk food you’ve ever had, then remove the few real ingredients and nutritional value. Then imagine kids who have never known anything better, and you can imagine what made motormouth Oliver lose the power of speech every time he met one of those kids.

After a very rocky start, with some kids in the north of England not knowing what carrots or real chicken looks like, one of the tricks seems to be getting the kids involved in choosing and preparing the food. Peer pressure plays a huge role, with some kids looking at others before deciding whether they like the taste of something. Dressing up as a giant corn cob certainly helped Jamie break the ice, but while he’s been up north, the kids at the other testbed school in London are protesting against his recipes, demanding the return of “pizza”, “turkey twizzlers”, and chips. (Pizza and chips on the same plate? Are you nuts?)

I didn’t know what a “turkey twizzler” was before I saw this show; must be in a part of the supermarket I don’t get to, alongside the frozen burgers and pizza. BBC News is reporting that, since Oliver started trashing them on the show, sales have actually increased! What’s that they say about publicity?

I guess I was lucky: my mother was a “homemaker”, and we didn’t have the modern array of processed foods in South Africa, where we were living. No-one told me that corn was a “vegetable”, and since we lived across the road from a huge cornfield, you can bet we had plenty of that on the plate, and I was eating spinach long before I ever saw a Popeye cartoon. There were no prepared school dinners at any school I went to there; sandwiches and fruit were the only options. The price was more labour; how many hours of play did I lose peeling potatoes? Looking back, however, I think it was worth it.

OK, there are some vegetables I have problems with. It takes a lot to make celery palatable, it’s practically a weed like rhubarb, which needs to be boiled to mush, with a hundredweight of sugar, to make it palatable. Turnip (a.k.a. swede or rutabaga) is beyond hope, even if I drown it in butter, and raw tomato skin still makes me queasy. Now I think about it: since I like a challenge, and turnip is very cheap, I think I should buy a few and get to Wok with them. Cooking.

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Written by brian t

March 30, 2005 at 5:49 pm

Posted in culture, england, food

entering and breaking

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I’ve only once had someone contact me about a broken link on this site, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. Today I took a little time to go through the referer logs, not just to pick out the weird referers, but mainly to analyze who or what is using this site. I also fixed a few links that had been left broken in the recent changes.

The majority of hits on stereoroid.com are from search engines. Not all of them are marked as such, and some supply false or missing browser details (e.g. from the UNIX wget command), but you can easily tell them from the access patterns and timings. The number of direct cracking attempts are small; two in the month of March, attempting to access standard mailing scripts by name. Not gonna work here, folks.

Comments are another story: disabled for the moment, until I can investigate further, perhaps defeat the scripts by renaming the files and links. I can see only one attempt at automated comment spam this month, but I can’t say the same for Referer spam: I can see many hits with the same referer, but since I don’t have the referer logs viewable publicly, it’s pointless – no links up for search engines to jump on.

I’m not the only one being hit by this same spammer, who I’m not going to link to, but search for andrewsaluk spam for many similar reports from others. Sounds like a amateur script kiddie using some crude “search engine optimization” (SEO) methods. If the culprit really is someone named “Andrew Saluk”, he’s doubly a moron for using his real name. I’ve just modified my htaccess file to block any referers with that name, as suggested at candygenius:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} andrewsaluk
RewriteRule .* - [L,F]

Let’s see what effect that has. From Whois I can tell that the Domain is registered to a Florida address, but the server is in St. Petersburg, Russia. It appears to be an online Texas Hold-Em site: abandon hope, all ye who enter credit card details, unless you actually intend to bankroll the Russian Mafia. Other reports suggest it’s hosted in China; perhaps it’s multiple servers, or moving around.

About six months ago I found myself getting interested in playing poker, perhaps even Texas Hold-Em. The game has been the subject of major publicity recently, with high-stakes tournaments in Las Vegas and on board ships, and what appears to be a gentle learning curve through low-stakes games. The idea was that I could round up a few interested people here and play for chips or pennies. Sadly, two things have served to almost kill what interest I had:

  1. the way the game is presented as predatory and antisocial, with a strict hierarchy of predators and prey. There are many people trying to get in, but gaining skill carries a price, and there are enough people skilled at reading your tells, waiting to take your money off you. Hardly the social fun I had in mind;
  2. the rabid commercialism surrounding it, especially online. It seems like everyone has a scheme to make money off the game online, but what’s the point? If you can’t try to read your opponents twitches – the social side of the game I was interested in – it becomes just another card game, as random as Blackjack.

Do you trust a strange server to be programmed to play fair? Who’s to guarantee that one of your fellow players is not also running the server, and can see your cards, or control what you’re dealt? To me, the game only makes sense when you, and you alone, can watch the cards, and the people, in person. Why would you play it online – in the hope you’re going to win money? The money pulled in by the likes of “partypoker” should be enough to discourage anyone from getting involved.

Lastly; for some interesting reading on the relationships between SEOs and online gaming, including (allegedly) some established names, have a read of this.

Written by brian t

March 28, 2005 at 5:15 pm

it’s too loud, and I’m too old

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Since it is usually too loud, I must be getting old. My tolerance for self-abuse is waning, actually. Last night I got fairly sloshed on an absurdly small quantity of beer, by the standards I think I remember. It seems to me that the length of the session is as much a factor as the rate of consumption; after the first pint, I rarely beat a pint per hour these days.

Not that I’m complaining, mind – it saves money – but I still had a mild hangover at work today. On top of which my desk neighbour was on the phone to various Austrian cellphones all morning, which made it difficult to concentrate on my own work. I can’t complain there, either, especially since he gave me an Easter Egg this morning, as a thank you for something I helped him with this week. I’m at work both today and Monday: Easter means nothing to me at all, except in the way the roads and trains are clogged, or closed down for maintenance, and as a member of Chocoholics Anonymous.

Religion left me behind a long time ago, or did I leave it behind? Probably the latter, because I can move quicker since I dropped the burdens of Sin, Guilt and Obligation that the Catholic Church uses to control its subjects. Am I supposed to be upset that the Pope Idol is still ill, yet still alive? Maybe he’ll be winched into his bulletproof Popemobile (now that’s “faith in action”) for a sortie around the Vatican. They could replace him with a robot for all the interaction he has with the people. (“Now with new improved blessing action! Kiss the ring today!”)

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned Orbiter before… the 2005 edition is even better, and its all free. Just be prepared to read the documents and use your head. It’s not a game, but you aren’t left calculating orbital vectors on your own – you do have computer assistance, but you still have to know the terminology and what questions to ask. Aligning to the orbit normal doesn’t mean your orbit is normal, for example; it means pointing your craft at a right angle to the plane of your orbit, an attitude used in aligning your orbit with that of another ship.

Written by brian t

March 25, 2005 at 8:07 pm

Posted in life, space

buzzwords-a-go-go

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Or: how my experience of information, including this site, has been influenced by recent trends in web interaction. I’ve been using buzzwords without a proper explanation what they do, so here goes:

RSS
If you follow the “rss” link in the right-hand sidebar of this page, you will be presented with a page full of hairy XML code. This is not designed to be read directly by humans like you (assuming), but if you insert the link to that XML into a program called an RSS Aggregator, it is converted into a readable “feed”. There are various RSS Aggregators out there, including some web-based ones, so you don’t have to install software on your computer if that’s a problem: see the following blogspace page for some background and lists of readers.

The advantages of this approach are many, but the main one to me is attention conservation: if I change something on this page (like this new blog entry), or another feed changes, it is flagged as new, so you can read it in your Aggregator. Until that happens you don’t need to visit the site hosting the feed to check for updates. So, when I do this with multiple feeds – and I have dozens set up in FeedReader myself – I have access to updated information from many website sources, as it arrives, neatly categorized.

Depending on how you use RSS, you may find you prefer a “full text” feed, like this site provides: I let WordPress include the full text of each Blog entry. This works well if you read content offline, as I sometimes do on the iPaq (a process I’m currently re-examining). Other sites assume you have an internet connection available as you read, so they include only a headline, perhaps a short summary, and a link to a live site where you can read the rest. This is a choice made by the website owner, you have no control over it, but I find it affects what I read, or not. I always want a full-text feed – why not, for the little extra bandwidth involved?

Podcasting
For the last couple of months I’ve been enjoying Podcasts from various sources: but what is a Podcast? It is simply an audio file created by someone, and made available for download, usually in MP3 format.

What’s new about that? Hasn’t that been done for years? Yes, but what is new is the delivery mechanism: it piggybacks on to a RSS feed, as described above, with all the same advantages. It means that, if you want it, the MP3 file will be automatically downloaded and saved to your local disk, using an “enclosure” extension to the RSS standard.

Note that none of this actually requires an Apple iPod: Podcasting’s current popularity can be attributed to the success of the iPod, but it’s not required. I listen to Podcasts on my iPaq when commuting, and on my laptop at home, as I would with any MP3 file. iPods apparently have a mechanism by which MP3s dropped in a specified directory are automatically copied to the iPod: I just include the Podcast MP3s in the data I back up to take to and from work, and the iPaq reads them straight from the card. My PC Podcast client of choice is iPodder v2, which also comes in a Mac version, and the main Podcast directory is iPodder.org. That site also has a an explanation of the process: “what is podcasting?”.

The latest Podcasts are logged at audio.weblogs.com, but a nice place to start is with Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code, a semi-professional Podcast by a former radio DJ and MTV VJ, who produces an almost-daily show that comes close to radio, but with a more human side – bloopers, hardware problems, swearwords, his daughter wandering in and out – great fun. Because of the time-sensitive nature of RSS and Podcasting – new Podcasts are brought to your attention like RSS feed entries – there is a motivation for Podcasters to produce fresh new content regularly – which is part of the fun.

Since Podcasting uses RSS, why do we have separate RSS Aggregators and Podcast clients? Simplicity, probably: I tried out Egress for the iPaq, which did both at the same time, so we know it’s possible. I can see more such convergence coming in the future.

Next time I will talk a little about Tagging: a subject I am barely getting my head around. I know how it works, but the why is still a little unclear at this point. Later.

Written by brian t

March 21, 2005 at 4:44 pm

that friday feeling

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Written by brian t

March 18, 2005 at 7:04 pm

Posted in culture

gee whiz bang

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Quick update with not much information, since not much has been happening. I’m still coughing up chunks, two weeks after getting ill, and still not back up to speed mentally, or so it feels. I am still doing my job, some of which can be mentally demanding SAN investigation, but I still feel woozy, as if my brain is deprived of oxygen. My appetite is also taking its time in returning, but that’s not something I’m inclined to encourage.

Last night I started watching Sex: The Annabel Chong Story on Channel 4, and I really wish I hadn’t. A mix of obviously staged “reality” scenes with the star of the show, in between segments of Chong’s defining moment: a 251-man gang bang. On hearing about the latter I couldn’t help wondering about the practicalities of such an event, but was still surprised that the thing that stopped it going further was some guy with long fingernails who injured a, well, sensitive area.

It’s the concept that is giving me the willies – pun intended. Why the hell would anyone want to be gang banged more than 250 times? Anyone – feminist, porn star, historian of the relation between sex and religion – anyone? Chong (not her real name) was a university student at the time, and had some cod-feminist theory about how mass coitus was once linked to religious or pagan celebrations, but she also claimed to enjoy it, claimed to be alienated by it, claimed to be affected and unaffected at the same time. The “behind the scenes” parts of the film appear as staged as the gang bang itself.

I didn’t even get halfway through the film: I recorded it, but will probably tape over it. My life is really too short for this. The most amusing part was seeing legendary porn star Ron Jeremy in a frankly paternal role, concerned about her wellbeing and hating the idea of being roped into an event he was merely covering for the (porn) media.

Written by brian t

March 14, 2005 at 5:57 pm

Posted in culture, television