Monthly Archives: August, 2006

Appendectomy for computers

The modern computer has an appendage, a relic of its early evolution, which causes more trouble than it’s worth. It’s time to get rid of it. Join, the campaign to deal once and for all with the Caps Lock key. Or another similar site,

Here are some of the things Caps Lock brings to our lives:

  • It takes up valuable space in an important part of the keyboard.
  • It causes us to type passwords which then aren’t recognised.
  • It encourages idiots to write VERY ANNOYING MESSAGES ENTIRELY IN UPPER CASE.
  • It requires us to retype bits of our last sentence when we’ve hit it by accident.

It’s time to put a stop to this now!

Until we can get Caps Lock replaced with something more useful, you can fix it yourself, by disabling it or turning it into something more useful, like Control. Many people insist that this is where the Ctrl key should be, anyway. Even if youu don’t anticipate using an extra Ctrl, you may be grateful that you’ll no longer turn on Caps Lock accidentally!

There’s a variety of utilities to do this for you. Mac users have the option built in. There’s a ‘Modifier Keys…’ button in the Keyboard section of System Preferences:

Modifier keys option pane


John has some great links to good online video satire.

And it’s not often I take my hat off to George W Bush, but I think this clip, from the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, is splendid. It happened a few months ago, but I hadn’t seen it before.

The war on toiletries

John quotes Michael O’Leary, the colourful CEO of RyanAir, complaining that by instituting and continuing extra security measures the government is keeping people from flying and handing the terrorists a victory.

Now, I’ve always assumed, perhaps foolishly, that the agencies concerned were smarter than that. They must know that it would be possible to make explosives look like chewing gum or talcum powder. That I could rig my laptop to wake up half way through the flight and blow up its lithium-ion batteries in the hold. That you could make some nasty cocktails out of the liquor or perfumes on board and set light to a fuse with a magnifying glass. Or trigger it electrically using the power sockets in the bathroom… and so on. If you’re really keen to bring down a big plane, and all else fails, it’s not that difficult to fly a small one into it.

No, I assume that they know this. It’s pretty hard to defeat determined terrorists, intelligent ones at any rate. (There are the dumb ones, I suppose, who might think, “They’ve just uncovered a plot to use liquid explosives. Now might be a good time to try using liquid explosives.” ) But most of the general public don’t know it, and think that these measures will make a substantial difference, and so keep flying.

I assumed that the real aim of the stringent measures was to keep people like Mr O’Leary in customers. If plots were uncovered and nothing were done, it might be more damaging to the industry. But it’s a fine balance…

Follow-up: Actually, the more I think about it, it would be quite easy to cause a fire on board a plane, or to take out a member or two of the crew, but that’s rather different from bringing the plane down. I’d guess that your average Jumbo comes equipped with pretty good fire extinguishers in both the cabin and the hold. So you probably do need a reasonable explosion on board to do any serious damage and, while you can make explosives look like other things, the swab tests that they’re doing at the moment are probably rather good at detecting most of the suspect chemicals. So perhaps they do some good after all, beyond the purely psychological.

Of course, the best way to prevent terrorism is not to do things which make people want to terrorise you. Some people are crazy and will want to blow people up anyway, but it’s good not to give them an excuse…

Quilt to live

It’s sometimes said that Americans have no sense of irony. Rose, who is one, and who does, points out that this is hardly a fair accusation to level against the country that created Woody Allen, or Frasier. I think she’s right.

But, as part of life’s rich tapestry, there are some people over here who will hang signs like this in fabric stores:

Live to quilt

What bothers me is not just that someone should actually display such a thing. It’s the number of people who must have been involved in its design, creation, printing, delivery, hanging… Did no one, in this whole process, ever think, “You can’t be serious! Come on, this is ridiculous! Live to quilt?” At which point everybody should have burst out laughing, admitted it was a joke, and sent it away.

I shouldn’t be too cynical, though. Sometimes these in-store displays can really reach out and help those in distress. I’m sure that many of us have lain awake at night, tossing and turning, with the following question spinnning endlessly through our minds:

How can I exfoliate at home?

The love duet

Larry Lessig, as always, gave a great keynote speech this morning at LinuxWorld, which touched on many topics, but a key focus was the following idea: that kids will always be creative in whatever medium is available to them. Nowadays, the medium is digital media, and playing with it and remixing it is what they will do, making use of previous creations in much the same way that jazz musicians have always played variations on older themes. It’s foolish, and counter-productive, to try and stop them.

As Hollywood, the RIAA, governments, and others try to stamp out unlicensed use of copyrighted materials, and copyright everything under the sun, in the vain hope of preventing piracy, they are also doing something more serious; they are turning the natural creativity of youth into a criminal act. What does this do, in the long term, to young peoples’ perception of the rule of law?

Anyway, as one of his examples of remixing, he played the rather nice ‘love duet’ between Bush & Blair created by ATMO as part of their ‘Read my lips’ series. It’s only a short clip – I recommend the 4M Quicktime Movie. Very clever.

Still life 2

Another shot from Fort York, Toronto.
Fort York
Neither this, nor the previous one, is a particularly great photo, but I love the way the natural light from the window goes with the period colours.

Street Music

I’m in San Francisco, staying just off Union Square. It’s a much nicer temperature here than it was in Detroit last week. A cool breeze drifts in through the window, along with the sound of a saxophone in the street outside. Very mellow…

Cambridge Daily Photo

Somebody going by the pseudonym of ‘Neorelix’ has started a nice blog of Cambridge-related photos.
Thanks to Heidi Tempest for the link.

Still Life

Inside the officers’ mess at Fort York, Toronto.
Fort York

Desktop evolution

Windows 3.0
Seb Wills pointed me at a rather different type of museum – this nice chronology of desktop images from different operating systems.

Blogging from the ground up

Regular readers will know that I helped start a Seattle-based company called Exbiblio, which is based on some quite interesting technology and business concepts.

What’s also interesting is that Exbiblio have decided to blog about as much of their life as possible. Some of the blogs are for internal use only, and those are proving to be quite an effective communications mechanism. But there’s also a public blog which is written both by people on the inside and an outside observer, Hugh Fraser (no relation!), who has been brought in specifically to document the building of this somewhat unusual company.

Exbiblio, the company, is about changing the way we interact with paper documents. But it may also be about changing the way startups do business.

Travelling (not quite so) light

Pelican case
Like John, I’ve been wondering how I’m going to get all my fragile and valuable stuff home – most notably my laptop – when I’m not allowed any hand luggage.

So, yesterday, I treated myself to a Pelican case.

Pelican case
I’ve used Pelican cases before for transporting demo kit, including 17″ LCDs, around the world, and they’re fabulous – it’s almost the only container I’d really trust to survive airport baggage handlers. I’ve always wanted an excuse to buy one, and now I can also use it to bring back some pottery that Rose bought while over here.

Whether it’ll save laptops and vases from the careless unpacking and repacking of airport security personnel, however, is another question entirely…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser