Monthly Archives: March, 2007


The core of Microsoft Vista is, by most accounts, a pretty solid operating system, though I can’t speak from any personal experience. In fact, I’ve scarcely had any experience of XP, having abandoned Windows for the Mac about 6 years ago; something I’ve never had cause to regret.

I thought Peter Gutman’s excellent report on how the operating system has been crippled to accommodate the whims of Hollywood was a good reason to maintain my distance. Now it appears that it may not be that good even at copying, renaming or deleting files

Paper post

Scan of filofax page Scan of filofax page

It’s nearly a year since I started wondering about this as a way of combining my paper and electronic worlds. Then I came across the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners, but certain recent events made me consider one more seriously, and after reading enthusiastic reviews by several owners I decided it was worth trying.

The default modus operandi is that you put one or more sheets of whatever size in the hopper, press the Scan button, and you get a timestamped PDF file in the directory of your choice. Very handy. See Fujitsu’s little demo video to get the idea.

Now, I realise it’s a bit unsportsmanlike to push my advantage when you’re probably already reeling from the staggering coolness of it all, but, yes, there’s more. This scanner isn’t the only gadget I’ve acquired recently that deals in PDFs. So I can take what comes from the scanner and copy it straight onto my Sony PRS.



I should have chosen a more subtle paper colour for my example, to make it more readable on a monochrome screen, or done some image processing on it. This was just a simple copy of the PDF.

Anyway, I could now carry the contents of many notebooks with me, if I wanted, in something rather smaller than a single one! Of course, I’d have to introduce my old Moleskines to Madame La Guillotine before I could feed them through the scanner, but it’s worth considering…

Star Trek medicine?

An interesting article in last week’s Economist talks about ‘flu vaccinations. The majority of individuals who have a jab are elderly, for the obvious reason that they are more likely to die from catching ‘flu than the young.

However, as the parents of any small child know, it is the young who bring pestilence into the home. Thereafter, adults spread coughs and sneezes in their workplaces. Vaccinating the young would reduce the spread of flu, thus saving lives.

Indeed, if 77% of young people were given jabs, seasonal flu could be all but eliminated. A utilitarian strategy, however, is a top-down affair because it relies on a community-wide programme, rather than on individuals’ choices about whether to get vaccinated.

In other words, as Spock might put it, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Whether Dr Spock would agree, I could not say!

The only case where it seems likely that people will get themselves vaccinated for the greater good of society is when a pandemic threatens. There, the needs of the one are closely aligned with the needs of the many.

The Grimm Truth

John’s Observer column has a very nice illustration of the problem with current copyright law. As Larry Lessig put it, it’s increasingly formulated to ensure that “…no one can do to the Disney Corporation what Walt Disney did to the Brothers Grimm”.


AppleTVWell, that didn’t take long. People are already opening up the AppleTV and installing extra stuff on it, like browsers, and Perian, which gives you the ability to play rather more video formats. There’s a wiki with more info here.

Now, I have a Mac Mini under my TV so I don’t need one of these. But I can think of a few nice uses for a box that size if somebody made it run Linux… which I’m guessing might not be too hard…

Mafia at work?

Yesterday I jokingly asked Michelle, who does the company accounts, whether I had been paid this month, because my bank account seemed rather lower than I thought it should be. She laughed and said that I had. I went away mildly concerned about my profligacy.

This morning I opened my bank statement and discovered that it was substantially lower than it should be, because there were 16 fraudulent cash withdrawals in the last two and a half weeks, starting in Milan and Rome, but then moving to the US. Over £2500 gone altogether. Ouch.

The banks will fix this with relatively little incovenience on my part, I think. But since I carefully avoid having, or using, too many cards it means I now need to dig out another card which I haven’t used for some time and hope I can remember its PIN number. And perhaps such an unexpected burst of activity will look fraud on that card too!

Anyway, the moral of the story is that it pays to check your statements carefully!

Today’s talk

Highly recommended: Malcolm Gladwell’s TED2004 talk. In just 15 mins, you’ll find out what every business needs to know about spaghetti sauce. Watch it over breakfast and you’ll have a whole new topic of dinnertime conversation…

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of these TED talks; I’ve posted before about Michael Shermer’s talk, and those from Peter Donnelly and Dan Gilbert. If you’ve got a shiny new AppleTV and you’re looking for some content for it, or you have a video-capable iPod and want something to watch on the train, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to these in your iTunes. Just click here.

How to improve your sex life

Scott Adams has a suggestion based on some psychological research.

Seeing the light

The sports fields behind the Ndiyo office were floodlit as I walked home tonight.


(Click for bigger versions – another view here)

Right to reply?

Here’s one of those hints that will be blindingly obvious to those who know about it already, but may be very useful for people like me who have just discovered it…

In Apple Mail, after you’ve replied to a message, you get a little indicator in the message list (assuming you have that column displayed):

Reply indicator in mail app

What I’ve only just found out is that the little arrow is a button. Click on it, and it will pop up the reply you sent. Exceedingly useful. But you probably knew about that already…

Lost in Translation

Rose found this nice report in the IMDB news:

Efforts by overseas film distributors to cut costs by outsourcing subtitle translations to such countries as India and Malaysia have resulted in creating dialog that makes little sense to local audiences, according to today’s (Monday) London Times. The newspaper observed that translators with little understanding of the nuances of English are taking the place of British subtitlers, many with long careers in the business. Kenn Nakata Steffenson, who translates English films into Danish and Japanese films into English, cited one film in which the line “Jim is a Vietnam vet” became “Jim is veterinarian from Vietnam” in the farmed-out Danish subtitles. In another film, the words “flying into an asteroid field” became “flying into a steroid field.” In yet another, “She died in a freak rugby accident” became “She died in a rugby match for people with deformities.” In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Uma Thurman’s line, “We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment” was translated into Taiwanese as “We hold the highest standards for sexual harassment.” The Times said that Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro was so upset with the English subtitles for his 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone that he himself worked on the subtitles for last year’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth.

I remember watching one of the Die Hard movies in Malaysia, where the censor had been hard at work, especially on Bruce Willis’s stronger language, simply by cutting and splicing the film. I particularly recall one of the less subtle bits of editing where Willis turns to another character and says, “Yeah? Well I’ve got two words for you. Off!”

The new debating medium

Once upon a time, those who wished to conduct vigorous debate would send letters to the Editor. Now, everything is much more sophisticated. Let me explain…

First, many thanks to CD Happel for pointing me at this great video of a juggling demonstration by Chris Bliss. It’s impressive – watch and enjoy.

Update 2012 – Google Video has now gone: You can watch it here instead.

However, another juggling enthusiast, Jason Garfield, pointed out that technically, Chris’s act is not so complicated. Simply posting this to a blog wouldn’t have had much impact, though, so he made a video of himself juggling to the same music but with five balls instead of three. You can see it here. It became known (or was christened by him) as the ‘Bliss Diss’ video. Also very impressive, but in different ways.

This apparently caused some debate in the juggling community about which was really the most difficult routine and whether Chris’s choreography was better than Jason’s. Jason got so much email – often vitriolic – that he decided to post another video explaining his position. In it he shows Chris’s video with multiple different background tracks, to show that it appears to be nicely choreographed with any of them.

Now, as someone who could barely juggle two balls to ‘Baa baa black sheep’, I am not qualified to make any assessment of the juggling technicalities. I suspect Jason is probably right, but his message has come over as rather negative so I, like many others, instinctively react against it after getting such a postitive vibe from Chris’s video above.

What interested me, however, was his his use of the media. He stated that he wouldn’t read any more of the aggressive email he was getting. If you want to send him a message, sit in front of a video camera and send him a clip explaining, or demonstrating, your position. We’ve all seen the ‘flame wars’ where people engage in heated arguments on forums or in email that would presumably never have become so vicious in a face-to-face encounter. I think Jason may have hit upon an excellent way of keeping things more civil. Have a look at his explanation.

It’s also interesting that we’ve reached a point where it’s reasonable to request anybody feeling strongly about a subject to make a video of themselves talking about it and broadcast it globally – something that would be unthinkable just a few years ago. Much of the population of the developed world now carry in their pockets the technology needed to do just that.

That’s even more amazing than the juggling.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser