Saturday, 31 March 2007

New Zealand under attack!

So much for the friendly skies! Coming into Auckland airport, an airbus had a near miss with an object. Clearly someone didn't want it to reach land. Initial reports were that it was a piece of space junk from a Russian satellite. Really? What are the Russians trying to hide?

But wait, this is before the spin was set in. Looking at the "Updated Report", we see that the object is now being called a meteor. And this is from the United States. Hmm... what are the US doing trying to cover up a Russian attack? Clearly this is going far and wide with international repercussions!

Moreover, they can get to our own paper sources, burying the original article so that people only see the cover up meteor story. Well, we're onto you! Remember what they say: keep watching the skies!

Read more!

Friday, 30 March 2007

New Zealand Skepchicks!

As we all know, Skepchicks are cool, but what is even cooler: Skepchicks in our country that are changing the world!

It started as a simple idea. Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan of Pakuranga College decided to look at vitamin C content in juice for the Manukau Institute of Technology science fair. They tested a number of products, but included Ribena, king of those annoying blackcurrent ads. To their surprise, no vitamin C!

GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Ribena, is a large coporate giant, but clearly decided to save on their drink content, and are now paying for their mistakes, to the tune of over $200,000. (That said, it's not like they would notice any damage to their pocket book immediately. Damage to reputation, yes, and maybe some long term loss of customers, but I doubt they are crying into their profit margins...)

The most amusing part of the article was the end: Consumers' Institute head David Russell felt yesterday's court decision showed the system was working. "The consumer isn't able to lab test these sorts of things themselves, but the authorities can," he said.

Eh? I thought it was the consumer testing these things? And it wasn't until then that the system started to do anything! If anything, this shows the opposite!

So we salute those two school girls and bask in the reflected pride of our own NZ Skepchicks.

And, hey, it's already up for comedy!

EDIT: Oh, and even more comedy!

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Thursday, 29 March 2007

If you would like to know more

As today is the last Carl Sagan Thursday post for March, allow me to point to more Carl Sagan resources.

There is the Carl Sagan Portal. This site is the main site and has articles, books, DVDs and his ever necessary Baloney Detection Kit.

There is also the Carl Sagan wikipedia entry for details on his life and work.

Carl Sagan was the founder and first president of the Planetary Society, and you can read about his awards and tributes there.

On December 20th, 2006, was the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan's death, and a blog-a-thon was held. The link is to the meta-post that links to all the other blogs, all with heartfelt tributes to the man.

Carl Sagan, always the man...

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Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The cutest bug of all

We all know of those wee toys that move when there's music playing, but the next step allows for infiltration and surveillance that we all know the government is after. Introducing Keepon, the overly cute tellow bopping machine that finds the beat and grooves to it. And not just music, it can also move to visual cues!

How? Ah, there's the secret. "It has four degrees of freedom, a soft rubber skin, two cameras in its eyes, and a microphone in its nose."

They're not even trying to hide it anymore! You just know that behind those cameras and microphone there's a little transmitter that sends all your movements (in whatever form) to the Men and Women in Black. And because it's so cute, all the kids have to have one, and then the invasion of invasion can begin.

Just check out this video of one in action and see the downfall of society that awaits...

(Bop of the Bot to Rebecca for alerting us to this menace.)

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Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Book Review: Made of Steel

Made of Steel is the second Doctor Who Quick Read (after I am a Dalek) but unlike that (and another Quick Read Hell Island), this one is even quicker, marking in at 99 pages!

It's obvious Uncle Terry is writing quickly and with severe amounts of padding, even with only 99 pages to fill. But anything more I'll say will be below, and readable only by highlighting the text.

There are two obvious influences on this book, namely Doomsday and the first episode of series three. The cover reveals there are Cybermen in this book, and this story is very much a sequel to that story, with lots of references to the Void and the Cybermen originally coming from an alternative dimension (so, there aren't any more Cybermen in this dimension then?). This story does follow up on a natural point of: what of the Cybermen made on Earth after they arrived? Presumedly, RTD intends the books and the television series to be compatible, but contradicting the events here would be one of the first things one would expect if RTD intends to bring the Cybermen back.

The other main influence is the first episode, and indeed I don't need to watch it now as Terry has given away all the main plot points anyway. Clearly, he has either seen it or read a copy of the script, so can get the main points across for his own story, but the lack of references to anything else makes me think he hasn't read anything else. Yeah, I knew this was a possibility when I got this book, but wanted to encounter Martha before her onscreen appearance.

Which brings us to new companion Martha, and her first public adventure outing. However, to be honest, we get more information about her from the promo picture on the photoshopped cover than Terry reveals inside. Oh, she has some mates at the hospital where the Doctor met her, and a family, but that's about it. No dropped hints about any medals she might have gotten at school, or revelations that her father was killed outside a church (although she did have a cousin that worked in Torchwood Tower when the Cybermen first arrived). We have a very basic picture of a companion, one that could have easily been searched&replaced with almost any other companion really.

Much like the Doctor. There are a few Tenth Doctor "isms", but for some reason the Second Doctor came to mind more readily. Just how quickly was this written? Did Terry just quickly adapt another story? Was there an outline to a story that RTD maybe supplied that Terry filled out? (But not all that much, this is a quick read.) And just how much padding with irrelevant conversation do we need to fill the page count out with?

I am a Dalek was a great example of packing a full-on story into a minimal page count. Terry shows us that in the hands of a talented author, I am a Dalek is indeed a great book.

Very much a Quick Read, but not really worth the effort.

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Monday, 26 March 2007

Book reviewals

Because I'm slowly getting back into reading DW books, I plan on reviewing them here, although they may appear in some other form elsewhere. I'll also be putting up reviews for other things, including Sapphire and Steel Big Finish audios.

But since people don't always want to be reading reviews until they've read the books themselves, I will be taking some precaution. Highlight the text below.

While I plan on putting the reviews into white text, this doesn't mean too much to text browsers such as Lynx. And I have no idea how it reads on RSS feeds as I never got around to playing with them. You have been warned.

First up, tomorrow, Made of Steel.

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Sunday, 25 March 2007

XP Or Die Trying

There was an old third person game called O.D.T. (from "Escape... Or Die Trying"). Basically a sci-fi dungeon crawl as you try to get enough gas canisters to get the ship you work on off the tower and back on course. There was an actual plot concerning pearls of power, and a level you could only access on Hard but as long as one cheats you can get there... wait, I didn't say cheat, did I?

(Actually, at the end of the last level you could get a cheat code from the game itself to access various bonuses!)

Unfortunately, thanks to Micro$oft's drive for viral infestation, I can no longer play this game on my computer. There's not even a patch or anything. In fact, there's a definitive page saying that there's no way to get ODT to run on XP. :( [For me, it wouldn't recognise the CD drive and it needs to run off the CD.]

There does look to be a demo available, not sure yet how playable it is...

Although I enjoyed it, it doesn't seem to be a big name elsewhere. Given the prevalence of people putting game runs on YouTube, I thought I would be able to find something there, but could only find this grab, from someone who didn't really know what they were doing:

If the demo works well, and I can work out how to do it, I might record proper level runs and upload them myself.

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Saturday, 24 March 2007

Whencefore gossip?

A while ago I was wondering why we love gossip so? Now, reading How We Believe, by Micheal Shermer, I find out.

Gossip helps us to hear stories (and we are story-telling and story-loving animals) about people around us, to inform us about who we can and cannot trust, basically informing about real and potential social contracts that we make in our lives.

Now, to quote:

But why, in our culture, do we gossip about total strangers, namely celebrities? The probable reason is that the mass media make these figures so familiar to us that they seem like relatives, friends, and members of our community. Why would anyone care with whom Princess Diana slept of what her status was in the roal family? Because our Pleistocene brains are being tricked into thinking that Princess Diana is someone we personally know and care about.


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Friday, 23 March 2007

Yay, mail!

Like I need more stuff, but I can now Get Together and Jump on the Confessions Tour! Huzzah!

(This also shows that whatever *ahem* dubious copies of certain events I might pick up, I will happily also get the proper DVD if one should be made available. In this way, "piracy" does not mean money loss for the artist.)

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Thursday, 22 March 2007

So that's what he means

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Carl: A man of the common people; more particularly a countryman, a husbandman.

Sagan: The deputy of the Jewish high-priest; the second highest functionary of the Temple.

Carl Sagan: the common man and the (second) highest man. I'm sure he would approve.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Samorost 2 - fun Flash game

Thanks to Shamus I found a neat wee flash game, Samorost 2. (And you can also play Samorost 1 there too.)

The main reason I like this game is it's a puzzle. I can't be bothered with fight games, and so many games basically boil down to "attack this", but here there are things to figure out. Some of them are tricky, and a lot of times it's about accidentally finding out that the mouse can be used somewhere, but it's all good fun.

(Note that the first chapter of Samorost 2 is free, the second you need to pay for.)

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Tuesday, 20 March 2007

On Beyond Sequels

We all know of 'sequelitis' but what's the next stage called? 'Tertitis'?

We are about face a slew of 'big' movies coming out, most of which are the third in their series, namely:
The Mummy 3
Shrek 3
Pirates of the Caribean 3
Spiderman 3
Rush Hour 3
Ocean's (1)3
Bourne 3

Also upcoming is:
Fantastic Four 2
The Hulk 2
Harry Potter 5
Almighty 2 (Evan this time, not Bruce)
The Simpsons
The Transformers
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (technically could be considered a sequel, but probably more a reboot)

Come on guys, you in the second list need to keep pumping out movies to catch up! (Except for Harry Potter, of course.)

Any big ones I missed?

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Monday, 19 March 2007


Notes when planning on picking up a 42" widescreen Plamsa TV.

First, find out that you cannot tilt the screen. This means that the TV cannot be laid down flat in the car and needs to be transported upright.

Second, find out that the extra packaging is such that the TV plus Box will not fit in the car upright.

Three, get the TV couriered, which means that one needs to take another day off to be there when it arrives, and also that one might not have any help when it comes to unpacking and placing the TV in its place.


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Sunday, 18 March 2007

May the Post be with you!

You might remember me blogging about an R2-D2 Projector, and now he's back in the news. (Is R2-D2 a him?)

Over in the US, to celebrate 30 years since Star Wars came out, the US postal service is using R2-D2 postboxes! (You can get a detailed look at one here.)

There's even a neat teaser ad about it.

Now go mail, young padawan.

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Saturday, 17 March 2007

Two sucky movies

Didn't Lord of the Rings and The Matrix just really, really suck?

Don't believe me? Then click on those links and find 50 reasons per movie about why I'm right and you're wrong.

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Friday, 16 March 2007

For my health and safety

I get in this morning to find a wee piece of paper on my desk advertising our new Health and Safety homepage on our portal (kind of like an office homepage). There are images and text blurbs and stuff, in a crazy design, so someone clearly thought about this, and, more than likely, had this reviewed and signed off as a good idea.

With the piece of paper is, for our health, a (mini) Mars bar. Yum. Especially good for me given that I had a Diabetes magazine in full view on my desk.

Still, at least it is creative. Like the box with "Whow!" Um... what?

Or the bubble that points out "It's not heard to see why one wouldn't be excited!" No, not hard to see at all.

But as long as we can see the homepage on the portal... which we can't... unless we go down about four menus...

Corporate thinking or inspired irony? You decide.

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Thursday, 15 March 2007

See? Not just me

The latest issue of Skeptic magazine is looking at the Legacy of Carl Sagan.

How do I know? Because I got the latest eSkeptic issue which points this out, and also talks about Michael Shermer's lecture at Beyond Belief, an interview with Mr. Deity, and the 5th Annual Science Writing Symposium. And by "talks about" I mean links to full descriptions and actual audio feeds.

And also check out the other Carl Sagan link from there!

Read more!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

I can Rubik's, can you?

A while ago I decided to learn how to solve the Rubik's Cube (because these are the sorts of skills one should learn in life), and managed to find a set of instructions that helped me do so. I can now apparently amaze people by being able to twist bits of plastic around.

I have also amassed a fair collection of different type of Rubik's like puzzles, including the square, the cylinder cube(*), the pyramid, the square-1 (as the website calls it) which I wasn't able to solve but fell apart due to inadaquate construction, a Sudoku cube which is annoying to solve as there's no one specific place a piece can be and a Bedlam cube which I had to get a cheat solution for (that's a lot harder than my mind could grasp).

(*)Which is exactly as hard to solve as a cube, albeit as long as you can remember which colours the angled side pieces go between...

This along with several other toys, including the always right Magic 8-Ball.

Any of you Rubik fans?

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Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Not in America

Recently we have had cases of doctors failing and being caught and actioned on by the system, a while ago when a doctor failed to sterilise women properly - resulting in pregnancies, and another when two doctors recognised lymphoma as a sore throat - resulting in death.

In a country more prone to superstitious and magical thinking, I can't help thinking that these situations would have gone another way:

Medical Incompetance Points to Problems with Patients
Recent cases show that as a country, we've got a long way to go in patient education. Six women became pregnant after taking homeopathic remedies that would have made them sterile. "Obviously," said the quack doctor, "it's their fault for not drinking that water in the right way."

In other news, a man died after not believing that he has a sore throat. "Hey, we've tried to tell people The Secret," a money-making leech on Oprah said today, "if you think bad thoughts, then bad things will happen to you. It's all your own fault."

Remember kids: doctors aren't to blame, you are.


God vs. Medicine: God Wins!
Once again we prove that God is mighty and all scientists should die. One doctor attempted to thwart the Almighty's plan by sterilising 32 patients. "HA!" said God, and caused six of them to become pregnant. "It's a miracle come true!" one woman said, as she threw away all her carefully made life plans and prepared to enter a nunnery.

In other news, God tricks some stupid doctors into thinking lymphoma was a sore throat. "I want this guy to die," God was heard cackling, "and no namby-pamby doctors are going to stop me."

Remember kids: doctors aren't to blame, God is.

Read more!

Monday, 12 March 2007

The Passion of the Christie's

Recently I saw the History Channel documentary, Star Trek Beyond the Final Frontier. While it had a whole lot of hoopla from the stars about how wunderbar the series was, it mainly focussed on the Christie's "40 Years of Star Trek" auction.

And having seen it, let's just simply say: those are some passionate fans with very deep pockets!

Now, I'm not complaining, because I've seen some high prices at Doctor Who auctions, but the point I'm making is that, as fans, some of us will go a long way to get a piece of memorabilia of our favourite show. (I have a very treasured piece of foam from the set of Mystery Science Theater 3000... but... it's piece of foam!)

And it's not just sci-fi fans. Almost anything can be sold nowadays. Remember the handbag and cellphone? Or the bikini outfit? Blimey, but passion about any subject makes us go a long way.

That all said, and not that I want to end this on a downer, but when you look at the world around us, and the many problems entire countries have supporting their populations to live past age 10, you do have to wonder about our priorities that we spend millions on entertainment and millions more on the products of those entertainments. Does that seem right to you?

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Sunday, 11 March 2007

"Important" SF

The latest spreading blog-meme is to identify which of the "most significant" SF and Fantasy books of the last 50 years we have read. I rate this like I rate the "100 movies you must see before you die" or "classic" novels one should have read. Basically, why should I trust someone else's opinion that something is a classic/must read/must see/important thing? Popular does not equal correct.

Anyway, there's the list. Bold I have read, or at least have deluded myself into thinking that it's so familiar that I must have read it.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

(Tip of the hat to Pharyngula.)

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Saturday, 10 March 2007

Buzzed about the Fuzz

So, last night, thanks to certain enablers of addiction, I was able to attend the New Zealand premiere of the new film Hot Fuzz. (Remember Simon Pegg? Nick Frost? Ed Wright? Shaun of the Dead?) Basic premise: superhot cop is sent to sleepy town, and discovers "accidents"...

One word: Fan-freaking-tastic! This movie easily lives up to the style of their previous work, lots of comedy, lots of action, lots of moments everyone applauded! (And, yes, we applauded the Santa Claus moment. :) )

And tons of guests stars. One problem with informed movie watching is that one tends not to see the characters but the stars. And what stars! Jim Broadbent. Edward Woodward. Timothy Dalton (how could they do that to him?). And, obviously making up for his lack in Shaun of the Dead, lots of Bill Bailey!

The rest of you won't have the chance to see this movie until Thursday, but get your tickets now! (And I will admit that seeing at the Embassy was a great experience, although the volume could have been a touch lower...)

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Friday, 9 March 2007

Comic-aze attack!

Okay, so I just created a new area on my blog, and now I'm saying way. Underneath the websites list, you'll see a list of online comics. Dilbert (which I think my management learns from) and Pearls (we are all Rat and Pig, but, let's face it, we're more Pig than Rat) are obvious, and I've talked about DM of the Rings before, so let me talk about:

Order of the Stick: Like DM, this is a D&D based comic (version 3.5 with jokes based on that system). Really funny if you enjoy that sort of thing (and I do!), and the author has quite a story line developed. There are also some very interesting articles on that site about world- and character-building that are worth reading as well, applying to far more than just D&D games.

xckd: "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." Stick figure comics with some really weird surreal humour that, on occasion, you need major math geek skills to get (which I have). Also, this comic is, to me, absolutely hilarious and explains so much.

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Thursday, 8 March 2007

Spiritual Gold

Carl Sagan said:

The universe is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations stir us. There is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.

The cosmos is within us. We are made of starstuff. We begin at last to wonder about our origins, starstuff contemplating the stars, organised collections of ten billion, billion, billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter. Tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness, here on the planet Earth, and perhaps thoughout the cosmos. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed, not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung.

Ladies and gentlemen, Carl Sagan...

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Wednesday, 7 March 2007

The Chinese Year of "No Internet"

We all remember the wonderful fun on China and Google, but China has decided that rather with all that palaver of having to block sites, it's much easier to stop people accessing the internet entirely. And to that end, China has declared that there shall be no new internet cafes for a year. This is done to stop the teens from gaming all night long instead of worrying about school.

(How exactly stopping new cafes from being built still stop the teens from accessing current cafes, or simply finding other ways to access the internet, is not clear. Obviously the Chinese Government is just like any other in coming up with strange policies that may or may not having anything to do with the problem being addressed.)

But the Great Firewall is still going, and you can find out if your site can be accessed by going here. (Twenty-Sided has a post bringing this site to light, and a follow-up explaining how things work. Very interesting.)

Blogspot has been banned outright, which might explain my low readership. ;)

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Tuesday, 6 March 2007

She sings... and now sews!

Looks like Madonna has decided to enter the world of fashion. I have zero dress sense (with my size my first clothing consideration is "does it fit?"), but, hey, I think they do look pretty stylish.

Of course, with anything Madonna does, there is almost near-instant controversy. (I tell ya, people may be complaining that "camp does not equal gay", but it's more "diva does not equal woman".)

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Monday, 5 March 2007

Not my issue

So, TSV 44 is out, but there's nothing by me in there. So I guess I'll have to highlight the good work of others.

There's an interesting look at The Last Days of UNIT by Guy Blythman, and Jon Preddle goes into far more depth than anyone wants to know by being Inside the Dark Dimension.

There's a follow-up about the Seeds of Doom by Phillip J. Gray, feeding off an article Guy Blythman did last issue, which makes for interesting reading.

And I would point out what Alden does, but he does this himself.

Read more!

Saturday, 3 March 2007

They dare, they dare!

You might recall the pizza condom fiasco, but we're not the only ones to completely freak out over the chance that our kids might slightly interact with a basic aspect of humanity that they might, just possibly, find out about in some far distant part of the future!

Over in America (so you know we're talking about a country of non-extremists here...), check out these two posts by Skepchick bug_girl, Hoo-Haa Monologues and Attack of the Scrotum.

Are these people deliberately trying to raise ing'nant kids? There's a difference between trying to shelter your kids from undue influence, and another to make them unable to function in the adult world.


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Friday, 2 March 2007

Validate! Validate!

I am one of the many people that works on L-Space, a large fan site dedicated to the works of Terry Pratchett. One of our coding goals is to have as much of the site as possible be XHTML compliant.

Trying to do this, and trying to meet all the validators requirements, can be an extremely annoying and time-consuming task. I do get as close as I can, but in some of the information I get about the pages I treat more as suggestions than hardcore rules. (We also use a checking tool called HTML Tidy, and that thing can be amazingly picky.)

Shamus at Twenty-Sided has an amusing post about the errors we have to deal with, and is pretty spot on with some comments.

(Now if I only I cared enough to make my main site compliant...)

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Thursday, 1 March 2007

Celebrate good times!

Hey, this is post #100! And with that, let's me take this as an opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest men this planet has seen. (No, not me, but thanks for the thought! :) )

There is a call to make March be Carl Sagan Month. That man knew how to tell a story, a story of a wee planet in the backwaters of the universe, and make you care. He promoted science all his life, always open to the possibilities, but not so open as to let any old crud get in. He was a wonderful scientist, and a wonderfuller man.

At the moment, I'm waiting for my copy of The Varieties of Scientific Experience to turn up, but until then, enjoy this visual recitation of one of Carl Sagan's works:

(Come back, Carl. We miss you...)

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