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Links for July 26th

AI: Thanks, Assholes.

This afternoon I would like to send a special thank you out to Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, Meryl Dorey, Age of Autism and anyone else who encourages parents not to vaccinate their children. It’s just so great what you guys are doing. You’re so warm and fuzzy with your adorable plea to “green our vaccine” and your desire to hold our hand while you, “help the children.” All of your worthless advice is based on your oh-so-cute and imagined mommy instinct, bad science, fear mongering, conspiracy theories or apparently just a plain old desire to f*%$ shit up for the rest of us and now all your tireless work is paying off. You have helped to create a whooping cough epidemic the likes of which we have not seen in 50 years! Way to go. Give yourselves a round of applause.

Sunday Sacrilege: Unorthodoxy

I saw something wonderful at a science fiction convention a few weeks ago. At these events, people often put on odd and extravagant costumes, and I saw one rather obese young man who’d made a minimalist choice: he’d come as one of the Spartans from the movie 300, which meant he was standing in the crowd wearing a red speedo and a bright red cape…and nothing else.

Now imagine this same young fellow at an event at your high school. It would have been brutal. I know; when I was in high school, I was a little poindexter, ostracized, laughed at, and treated like a space alien, and I was treated mildly: being even more different, being the fat kid or the gay kid or the homely kid or whatever excluded you from the Jock Clique or the Heathers or whatever ideal the majority of the student body worshipped meant merciless torment and unremitting cruelty.

Sunday Sacrilege: So alone : Pharyngula

Scientists and atheists do something that many believers find repellent: we shatter their perception of their relationship to the universe. And understandably, they don’t like that.

Whooping cough now an epidemic in California

According to a statement just released by the California Department of Public Health, pertussis — whooping cough — is now officially an epidemic in California.

That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California. There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in that state this year, over four times as many as this time last year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated). If this keeps up, California may see more cases in 2010 than it has in 50 years.

If that doesn’t anger and sicken you enough, then this most assuredly will: there have been five deaths this year from pertussis as well, all babies under three months of age.

Joe Power, non-Psychic non-Detective: A Clarification « The Merseyside Skeptics Society

From time to time in the world of skepticism, something happens which you really don’t see coming – something totally unexpected. Often, these are positive things – like the media interest in our 10:23 Campaign, or the random discovery that comedy-legend Ed Byrne knows who you are. From time to time, they’re somewhat negative things – like discovering childhood-hero Johnny Ball thinks farting spiders are responsible for the high CO2 levels in the world. And then there are the things that are just utterly unpredictable, out of the left-field, and hard to wrap your head around.

On Friday of last week, I got a phone call. From Ormskirk police. The polite and friendly officer assured me there was nothing to worry about, but that he was looking into alleged threats of violence coming from people on Facebook. Specifically, within the group page of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. And aimed at non-psychic non-detective Joe ‘I’ll just pop to your toilet‘ Power.

The Magnetic Therapy Water Wand: A Debunking from History

the Daily Mail offered its readers, “30 ways to relieve hayfever: From pills to nasal prongs, our guide to beating pollen”.

The article is a pretty good example of everything that is wrong with health journalism. Whilst, no doubt, amongst these thirty tips there is some good and reliable advice, it is also so full of unchecked quackery, nonsense and falsehood that it renders the whole article as unreliable and useless. It serves only as an advertisement for the suppliers of the products, pills and potions mentioned.

One product caught my attention, and it faced some stiff competition from the qu chi bands and ear candles. Magnetic Therapy Ltd, a Manchester based company, is selling something called the ‘Magnetic Water Wand’.

Why the Digital Economy Act simply won’t work

With the passage into law of the dread Digital Economy Act comes Ofcom’s guidelines that are the first step toward rules for when and how rightsholders will be able to disconnect entire families from the internet because someone on or near their premises is accused of copyright infringement.

Consumer rights groups and privacy groups – such as the Open Rights Group, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Which, and Consumer Focus – participated in the process, making the Ofcom rules as good as possible (an exercise that, unfortunately, is a little like making the guillotine as comfortable as possible).

But this isn’t the last word in the copyfight – not even close. Because disconnection for downloaders will only serve to alienate entertainment industry customers

Medical advice for head-bangers

The British Medical Journal investigates the health risks from head-banging and recommends protective gear and “adult-oriented rock”

These cuts won’t hurt a bit. Unless you’re young or poor

This is only the appetiser, not even the first course, just the amuse-bouche to whet the appetite. With a hint of lip-smacking relish for the coming cuts, George Osborne and David Laws today sharpened their knives. There were no expressions of regret, not even a crocodile tear or two for the real suffering they were inflicting. That attitude may be their downfall in the year ahead.

What’s £6.2bn? A mere bagatelle, David Cameron kept saying throughout the election. It’s only a hundredth of government spending, so why the fuss?

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Links for March 31st

Measles Outbreak Triggered by Unvaccinated Child

What began as a family trip to Switzerland in 2008 ended up as a public health nightmare in California.

The family's 7-year-old boy, who was intentionally unvaccinated against measles, was exposed to the virus while traveling in Europe. When he returned home to San Diego, he unknowingly exposed a total of 839 people, and an additional 11 unvaccinated children contracted the disease.

Three of those infected were babies, too young to have yet received the measles vaccines, and one of the babies was hospitalized for three days with a 106-degree fever, according to a report to be published in the April issue of Pediatrics.

The pope is not above the law

One of those accused in the Verona deaf-school case is the late archbishop of the city, Giuseppe Carraro. Next up, if our courts can find time, will be the Rev. Donald McGuire, a serial offender against boys who was also the confessor and "spiritual director" for Mother Teresa. (He, too, found the confessional to be a fine and private place and made extensive use of it.)

This is what makes the scandal an institutional one and not a matter of delinquency here and there. The church needs and wants control of the very young and asks their parents to entrust their children to certain "confessors," who until recently enjoyed enormous prestige and immunity. It cannot afford to admit that many of these confessors, and their superiors, are calcified sadists who cannot believe their luck. Nor can it afford to admit that the church regularly abandoned the children and did its best to protect and sometimes even promote their tormentors.

An open letter to conservatives

Dear Conservative Americans,

The years have not been kind to you.  I grew up in a profoundly Republican home so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now.  You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America.  Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation.

First, the invitation:  Come back to us.

Now the advice.  You’re going to have to come up with a platform that isn’t built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from yours; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more.  But you have work to do even before you take on that task.

Sunday Sacrilege: The greatest blasphemy of them all

We are so tired of being told that we can't be moral without an objective external source of goodness…yet here we have a group of people who most loudly claim as their professional calling a direct insight into the mind and will of the cosmic lawgiver, and what do we find? Violations of basic human decency at every level.

Stand up to Murdoch, Armando Iannucci tells BBC

In language worthy of his most famous creation, Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci today called on the BBC to do more to defend itself from its critics – and "find someone to articulately tell James Murdoch to fuck off".

Iannucci was speaking at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards, where his political satire won a hat-trick of awards. These included a first acting prize for the show for its star, Peter Capaldi, who plays Tucker.

The creator, writer, director and producer of the Thick Of It, Iannucci thanked the BBC for "holding its nerve over the series, especially when they have been under a lot of pressure over taste and decency and all sorts of things".

"I love the BBC dearly and would fight for it to the death," he said. "My only wish is that whenever it is accused of something, even if it's something it hadn't done, I wish it wouldn't go to the first police station and hand itself in.

It’s True: Hot Water Really Can Freeze Faster Than Cold Water

Hot water really can freeze faster than cold water, a new study finds. Sometimes. Under extremely specific conditions. With carefully chosen samples of water.

Ministry of Justice announces move on libel reform

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has announced that the government believes the case for libel reform has been made, and that the Ministry of Justice will now move to make reforms to England’s defamation laws, potentially with a Libel Reform Bill.

Commenting on the findings of the Ministry of Justice libel working group, Straw said the government would seek to address the issues of single publication, the strengthening of a public interest defence, and procedural changes to address issues such as early definitions of meaning and libel tourism.

Is the music industry trying to write the digital economy bill?

Two weeks is a lifetime in politics – especially in the political life of the backwards digital economy bill, Labour's gift to the incumbent entertainment industries that government is bent on ramming into law before the election.

In my last column, I bore the bizarre news that the LibDem front-bench Lords had introduced an amendment to the bill that would create a Great Firewall of Britain. This would be a national censorwall to which the record industry could add its least favourite sites, rendering them invisible to Britons (except for those with the nous of a 13-year-old evading her school's censorware). Over the following days, the story got weirder: the LibDem amendment got amended, to add a figleaf of due process to the untenable proposal.

And then it got weirder still: a leaked memo from the BPI (the UK record industry lobby) showed that the "LibDem amendment" had in fact been written – with minor variances – by the BPI.

The pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it.

On March 10, the chief exorcist of the Vatican, the Rev. Gabriele Amorth (who has held this demanding post for 25 years), was quoted as saying that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican," and that "when one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' in the holy rooms, it is all true—including these latest stories of violence and pedophilia." This can perhaps be taken as confirmation that something horrible has indeed been going on in the holy precincts, though most inquiries show it to have a perfectly good material explanation.

Concerning the most recent revelations about the steady complicity of the Vatican in the ongoing scandal of child rape, a few days later a spokesman for the Holy See made a concession in the guise of a denial. It was clear, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, that an attempt was being made "to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse." He stupidly went on to say that "those efforts have failed."

Brits: ask your MP to demand a debate on new copyright law before voting

Last week's extraordinary leaked UK record industry memo on the Digital Economy Bill candidly asserted that the only reason Britain's retrograde, extremist new copyright law would pass Parliament is because MPs were "resigned" that they wouldn't have a chance to debate it properly.

For context: Labour cancelled its anti-fox-hunt legislation because there wasn't time for proper debate, but they're ramming through this copyright bill even though it's far more important and far-reaching — for one thing, a broken UK Internet will make it harder for people who care about fox hunts one way or the other to organise and lobby on the issue.

Now, 38 Degrees is asking Britons to write to their MPs and ask them to call for a full debate on this law before they vote on it. […] No matter what side you come down on for the Digital Economy Bill, is there anyone who wants law to be made without debate?

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Links for March 12th

Cyprus conflict closes leaders’ eyes to water shortage

Water has been rapidly disappearing in Cyprus since the 1970s, but conflict between Turkish and Greek communities means fixing the problem is not high on the political agenda. Alex Bell finds that Cypriots are now struggling for control of land that is slowly dying.

Atheists meet in Melbourne to celebrate lack of faith

More than 2,000 atheists from around the world are gathering in Melbourne, Australia, to celebrate their lack of religious belief.

It is thought to be the world's largest gathering of atheist thinkers.

They plan to issue a statement on what they say are the negative effects of religion on society.

Leaked documents: UK record industry wrote web-censorship amendment

Last week, the UK LibDem party was thrown into scandal when two of its Lords proposed an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would allow for national web-censorship, particularly aimed at "web-lockers" like Google Docs and YouSendIt. Now a leaked document from the British Phonographic Institute suggests that the amendment was basically written by the record industry lobby and entered into law on their behalf by representatives of the "party of liberty."

Leeds University Students’ Union refuses to show Fitna

If you've been reading this blog today, you might have seen that I've been engaged in a strong debate on the post below about the merits of right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who's in town today to show his anti-Islam film at the House of Lords.

Funnily enough (perhaps they'd been reading my earlier post, I don't know), just this afternoon I received an email from the secretary of the Leeds University Atheist Society telling me about how Leeds University Students' Union banned the society from screening Fitna at an event.

BBC News – Internet access is ‘a fundamental right’

Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests.

The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.

Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.

International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.

Expiration dates mean very little

There's a filet mignon in my fridge that expired four days ago, but it seems OK to me. I take a hesitant whiff and detect no putrid odor of rotting flesh, no oozing, fetid cow juice—just the full-bodied aroma of well-aged meat. A feast for one; I retrieve my frying pan. This is not an isolated experiment or a sad symptom of my radical frugality. With a spirit of teenage rebellion, I disavow any regard for expiration dates.

The fact is that expiration dates mean very little. Food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored.

Australian copyright society blows more than it gives to artists

The Copyright Agency Limited, an Australian copyright collecting society (an organization that collects money on behalf of authors for use of their copyrighted works) is spending more than they give to authors on their own salaries and expenses. The Chief Executive is paying himself AU$350,000 a year out of the money that he is meant to serve as trustee for. They've also paid for staff junkets to China and Barbados out of the sums. All told, the staff are spending AU$9.4 million a year, and giving the creators whom they are meant to serve AU$9.1 million per year.

The Bleakest Day for Homeopathy

The much anticipated House of Commons report into the Evidence Check on Homeopathy has now been published and it may well be the report that changes the face of homeopathy in the UK. But more than that, its implications will also be felt around the world.

In a thorough appraisal of the issues and evidence that will become required reading for any health official looking at the public funding and provision of homeopathy, the MPs conclude,

By providing homeopathy on the NHS and allowing MHRA licensing of products which subsequently appear on pharmacy shelves, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy. Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.

Grow Onions from Discarded Onion Bottoms

This Instructable outlines how to grow fresh onion plants from discarded onion bottoms that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. You can theoretically create an endless supply of onions without ever having to buy bulbs or seeds, and if you're as big of an onion lover in the kitchen as I am, you'll have a full bed of onions in no time.

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Links for February 9th

Digital Economy Bill bill could ‘breach rights’

An influential group of MPs and peers has said the government's approach to illegal file-sharing could breach the rights of internet users.

The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights said the government's Digital Economy Bill needed clarification.

It said that technical measures – which include cutting off persistent pirates – were not "sufficiently specified".

In addition, it said that it was concerned that the Bill could create "over-broad powers".

iPad Snivelers: Put Up or Shut Up

It's taken me a couple of days for me to understand the wet sickness I felt in response to all the post-iPad whining, until it finally came up in a sputtering lump: disgust.

The iPad isn't a threat to anything except the success of inferior products. And if anything's dystopian about the future it portends, it's an American copyright system that's been out of whack since 1996.

Apple – an open and shut case?

In a fascinating and well-argued piece in this morning's Financial Times, the Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain expresses a worry that is now taking hold amongst many – that Apple has moved firmly from the "open" to the "closed" camp in the software community.

He points out the tight control that is now exercised by the inhabitants of 1, Infinite Loop, Cupertino over the software that can be installed on the iPhone – and in future on the iPad – and worries about the power that gives governments and content owners to demand that certain applications be switched off.

Open Societies need open systems

Openness, like democracy, must be constantly defended, says Bill Thompson.

Are expensive digital HDMI cables better?

"You wouldn't spend £20,000 on a car then put cheap tyres on it, would you?"

That might seem like powerful argument for road safety, but it's the kind of line being trotted out in high street electrical stores to sell HDMI cables.

These short, unexciting-looking wires are used to connect devices such as Blu-ray players and games consoles to modern, flat screen televisions.

HDMI cables rarely come included with new gadgets and while they can be bought for as little as 95p, some retailers stock models costing up to £110.

Gates: $10B vaccine program could save 8.7M lives

Bill and Melinda Gates announced plans Friday to invest $10 billion in the fight against a number of illnesses including AIDS and said the record donation could save nearly nine million lives.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they said the 10-year program will focus on vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, rota virus and pneumonia.

"We must make this the decade of vaccines," said Bill Gates.

"Vaccines are a miracle," added Melinda Gates. "With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime. We've made vaccines our priority at the Gates Foundation because we've seen firsthand their incredible impact on children's lives."

None dead in mass homeopathic overdose

The mass homeopathic overdose, organised by the 10:23 campaign, went ahead on Saturday morning, and it appears everyone involved lived to tell the tale. Hundreds of sceptics gathered at various locations around the country, many of them outside branches of Boots, and at 10:23am downed entire packets of homeopathic pills. With the exception of an amusing remark reported in the Observer from Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who quipped that one "swallower" hurt their thumb while opening the pill bottle, there were no reports of casualties.

Ericsson cutting an extra 1,500 jobs

Swedish telecoms equipment group Ericsson has said it is cutting an extra 1,500 jobs, as it reported a 92% fall in quarterly profits.

Hit by the cost of its restructuring work, and a continuing drop in orders, its net profit for October to December was 314m kronors ($43m; £27m).

This compares with 3.89bn kronors for the same quarter in 2008.

The latest 1,500 job cuts come on top of the 5,000 positions that the company shed last year.

British Newspapers Make Things Up

[A]ll British newspapers are tabloids because they don’t distinguish between what is true and what they make up. I knew this from my own experiences of dealing with British journalists, but, as it turns out, even the British government admits, in an official government publication, that British newspapers make things up and report them as facts.

It’s idiotic to blame God, the devil, or anything other than geology for the Haitian earthquake

[…]we can clearly identify the "fault" that runs under the Atlantic Ocean and still puts Portugal and other countries at risk, and it took only a few more generations before there was a workable theory of continental drift. We live on a cooling planet with a volcanic interior that is insecurely coated with a thin crust of grinding tectonic plates. Earthquakes and tsunamis are to be expected and can even to some degree be anticipated. It's idiotic to ask whose fault it is. The Earth's thin shell was quaking and cracking millions of years before human sinners evolved, and it will still be wrenched and convulsed long after we are gone. These geological dislocations have no human-behavioral cause. The believers should relax; no educated person is going to ask their numerous gods "why" such disasters occur. A fault is not the same as a sin.

Web Security: Are You Part Of The Problem? – Smashing Magazine

Website security is an interesting topic and should be high on the radar of anyone who has a Web presence under their control. Ineffective Web security leads to all of the things that make us hate the Web: spam, viruses, identity theft, to name a few.

The problem with Web security is that, as important as it is, it is also very complex. I am quite sure that some of you reading this are already part of an network of attack computers and that your servers are sending out spam messages without you even knowing it. Your emails and passwords have been harvested and resold to people who think you need either a new watch, a male enhancement product or a cheap mortgage. Fact is, you are part of the problem and don’t know what you did to cause it.

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Links for January 13th

France’s anti-piracy goon squad pirates the font in its logo Boing Boing

Hapodi, the French agency that’s in charge of the country’s new anti-piracy scheme (if someone you live with is accused of three acts of infringement, your whole household is taken offline and added to a list of address to which it is illegal to provide Internet access) has been accused of pirating the font used it its logo. The font designer is talking lawsuit. Hadopi says it wasn’t infringement, just an “error of manipulation.”

Armando Iannucci: Why I love Mahler

Throughout 2010 we’ll be celebrating the music of Gustav Mahler as never before. Mahler was born 150 years ago, on July 7, 1860. Poignantly, he died only 51 years later, bringing to a sudden end a startling cycle of great symphonic works that journeyed from brilliant, ostentatious orchestral impressions of nature and folksong, through lengthy studies of emotional turmoil and finally, under the strain of the heart condition he knew was going to end his life still in middle age, in extraordinary last symphonies exploring the darker and more extreme reaches of what orchestral music can achieve.

Britain’s Digital Economy Bill will cost ISPs £500M, knock 40K poor households offline Boing Boing

In the UK, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has tabled his “Digital Economy Bill,” a terrible piece of legislation that requires ISPs to police their customers on behalf of the music industry when the latter claims that its copyrights have been violated (no evidence necessary). The UK music industry blames piracy for £200 million in annual losses, and this is Mandelson’s excuse for abridging human rights and fundamental justice in his witch-hunt for pirates.

But the government’s own research shows that Mandelson’s plans will cost the UK ISP industry £500 million to implement, and when these costs are added to each customer’s bill (as they surely will be), the rise will be enough to knock an estimated 40,000 British families off the Internet.

The Galilean Revolution, 400 years later | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Four hundred years ago tonight, a man from Pisa, Italy took a newly-made telescope with a magnifying power of 33X, pointed it at one of the brighter lights in the sky, and changed mankind forever.

The man, of course, was Galileo, and the light he observed on January 7, 1610 was Jupiter. He spotted “three fixed stars” that were invisible to the eye near the planet, and a fourth a few days later.

Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Conde Nast being sued by anti-vaccinationist : Terra Sigillata

Thanks to the always vigilant eyes of Liz Ditz, Ratbags.com is reporting that pediatric immunologist and vaccine developer Dr. Paul Offit, writer Amy Wallace, and Condé Nast (publisher of Wired magazine) are being sued for libel in US District Court by Barbara Loe Fisher, founder and acting president of the so-called National Vaccine Information Center.

Readers will recall that Wallace’s article on Dr. Offit and the fear and misinformation propagated by anti-vaccinationists was the centerpiece of a feature in Wired magazine aptly titled, “Epidemic of Fear.”

My short take: The lawsuit is an attempt to silence or intimidate those who speak out against individuals and organizations that threaten public health. When scientific facts accumulate that refute their views, the response is to file frivolous legal action.

’tis a bit nippy, guvnah! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

As I write this, it’s about -15 C outside where I live in Boulder, and even the snow looks like it’s shivering. So I’m not sure if I’m happy to share the grief or feel badly about the weather for folks in the UK, who generally don’t get (metric, I suppose) tons of snow. But then I saw this image from NASA’s Earth observing Terra satellite:

Bono’s “One” Ignorant Idea

U2 frontman and humanitarian Bono had a page-long op-ed in this past Sunday’s New York Times, where he describes what he calls “10 ideas that might make the next 10 years more interesting, healthy or civil. Some are trivial, some fundamental. They have little in common with one another except that I am seized by each, and moved by its potential to change our world.” So let’s look at some issues that made the list…. a twist on cap and trade, fighting the rotavirus, new cancer research, the rise of Africa and… limiting the scourge of file sharing.

Yes, that’s right, file sharing, clearly one from the “trivial” category. Bono blames Internet Service Providers for “this reverse Robin Hooding” which he says hurts “the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales….” His “big” idea for stopping the scourge? Enforcement of copyright through deep packet inspection and filtering

Vaccines work

I just wanted to post this graph, which I found while researching vaccinations.

Bono net policing idea draws fire

Bono, frontman of rock band U2, has warned the film industry not to make the same mistakes with file-sharing that have dogged the music industry.

Writing for the New York Times, Bono claimed internet service providers were “reverse Robin Hoods” benefiting from the music industry’s lost profits.

He hinted that China’s efforts prove that tracking net content is possible.

The editorial drew sharp criticism, both on its economic merits and for the suggestion of net content policing.

Bono: reinforcing the fact that so many people think he’s a DICK

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Links for December 23rd

The BBC’s digital rights plans will wreak havoc on open source software

Last summer, the BBC tried to sneak “digital rights management” into its high-def digital broadcasts.

Now, generally speaking, the BBC isn’t allowed to encrypt or restrict its broadcasts: the licence fee payer pays for these broadcasts, and no licence fee payer woke up today wishing that the BBC had added restrictions to its programming.

But the BBC tried to get around this, asking Ofcom for permission to encrypt the “metadata” on its broadcasts – including the assistive information used by deaf and blind people and the “tables” used by receivers to play back the video. The BBC couched this as a minor technical change, and Ofcom held a very short, very quiet consultation, but was overwhelmed by a flood of negative submissions from the public and from technologists who understood the implications of this move.

Fundamentally, the BBC is trying to leverage its broadcast licence into control over the devices that can receive broadcasts.

Ivor the Engine brought back to life in new book

Cartoon favourite Ivor the Engine is being brought back to life in a new book, 50 years after first appearing on television.

The book, which will raise money for charity, has been written by the son of the late Oliver Postgate, who wrote the original Ivor stories.

It will be illustrated by Peter Firmin, the original illustrator.

The last full length story of the Welsh engine and his driver, Jones The Steam, was made in 1977.

Major record labels gang up and screw over indie record store

A small indie record store owner in Ottawa, Canada, has plead guilty to a charge of copyright infringement for importing rare CDs from abroad. Apparently, these discs (which are themselves licensed, as far as I can tell) aren’t licensed for sale in Canada, and Canadian law (apparently) bans this kind of parallel importation.

But none of these CDs are actually available in Canada. And no one orders rare, expensive imports unless he’s already got the artist’s entire catalog. And, of course, the record labels that went after this record store owner (whose whole purpose in life is to sell their CDs) are presently being sued for $60 billion in copyright damages for ripping off artists, and have admitted to $50 million in liability already.

James Randi, Global Warming and the Nature of Scepticism

It was something of a shock then to see Randi write an article on his site that questioned the scientific consensus that man made activities are responsible for climate change and that dramatic intervention is required. Such views, we tend to think, are the preserve of the ‘denialist’, loon or vested interest. How could Randi do such thing?

Firstly, of course it is perfectly respectable to cast a skeptical eye over the apparent consensus of global warming. There are indeed undoubtedly inflated claims around, and we need to be on our guard. The activities of lobby groups, such as Greenpeace, have done much to damage the scientific credibility of the green agenda over the years. However, the science community has acted independently of these groups and the consensus has emerged from within rather than channeled and gilded by the usual environmental loud mouths.

The media and the message

Innovations, not paywalls, are the future for media companies says regular commentator Bill Thompson.

Ericsson: Keep R&D in Coventry

Unite is campaigning to save communications giant Ericsson’s research and development site in Ansty, Coventry following the company’s announcement in November that it plans to close the plant in mid-2010 with the loss of 700 highly skilled jobs.

Unite is calling on the government to support the UK’s role in innovation and research and development of hi-tech communications which it has hailed as one of the key areas of future growth for the UK economy.

Unite argues Ericsson’s decision to close the site and transfer the work to China and elsewhere is a huge blow to the UK economy and the union is particularly concerned that the closure of the site will reduce the UK’s capacity in this key hi-tech industry.

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Links for December 14th

Cleaners ‘worth more to society’ than bankers – study

Hospital cleaners are worth more to society than bankers, a study suggests.

The research, carried out by think tank the New Economics Foundation, says hospital cleaners create £10 of value for every £1 they are paid.

It claims bankers are a drain on the country because of the damage they caused to the global economy.

They reportedly destroy £7 of value for every £1 they earn.

Why AOL Time Warner failed to change the world

Was there ever a deal like the one which saw AOL merge with Time Warner in January 2000?

It took place during the biggest bubble the stock market had ever experienced, and it marked the final triumph of the internet over the old media.

Or so it seemed at the time.

Libel Reform

Our libel laws are a menace, but not to journalists, or even to doctors: they are a menace to you. Put very simply, when you restrict the free criticism of medical ideas and practices, you harm patients and the public.

Major Labels Accused Of $6 Billion Worth Of Copyright Infringement In Canada

The major labels and their friends like to throw around huge numbers of “damages” when it comes to copyright infringement. But how about when they’re on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Up in Canada, there’s a class action lawsuit against the Canadian divisions of all of the major record labels, suggesting that the labels have infringed on the copyrights of artists to the tune of $6 billion

The arguments made by climate change sceptics

At the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, 192 governments are aiming for a new global agreement to constrain greenhouse gas emissions and curb human-induced climate change.

But some commentators are unconvinced that rising greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of modern-day warming. Or they say the world is not actually getting warmer – or that a new treaty would hurt economic growth and well-being.

So what are their arguments, and how are they countered by scientists who assert that greenhouse gases, produced by human activity, are the cause of modern-day climate change?

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The Interweb

Links for December 4th

Don’t strike up the band

Visit a pub and there’s every chance you’ll hear background Muzak, or high-volume Sky Sports coverage of Premiership football. But what are the chances of hearing live music?

At least as good as they have ever been, says the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which controls the licensing of pubs. Nonsense, say musicians, who blame the 2003 Licensing Act for drowning live music in red tape. The facts to settle this argument ought to be there, but aren’t.

Ever since the act came into force there has been a long-running argument between the department and its critics, who assert that dodgy statistics, misleading statements by ministers, and a failure to collect the right sort of data make its claims unbelievable. Far from “flourishing”, as the Government claims, music in pubs is declining or dying, they say.

New Agers and Creationists should not be President

New Age beliefs are the Creationism of the Progressives. I move in circles where most people would find it absurd to believe that humans didn’t evolve from prehistoric ancestors, yet many of these same people quite happily believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation, the Tarot deck, the i Ching, and sooth-saying. Palmistry and phrenology have pretty much blown over.

If you were attending a dinner party of community leaders in Dallas, Atlanta, Omaha or Colorado Springs and the conversation turned to religion, a chill might fall on the room if you confessed yourself an atheist. Yet at a dinner party of the nicest and brightest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and (especially) Los Angeles, if the hostess began to confide about past lives, her Sign and yours, and her healing crystals, it might not go over so well if you confessed you thought she was full of it.

Study shows lower autism rate in vaccinated kids

A study just released claims that kids who are vaccinated against measles have a much lower autism rate.

Web giants unite against Digital Britain copyright plan

Some of the biggest names on the web have written to Peter Mandelson to express “grave concerns” about elements of the Digital Economy Bill.

Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay object to a clause that they say could give government “unprecedented and sweeping powers” to amend copyright laws.

“We urge you to remove Clause 17 from the bill,” the letter read.

However, the government has said it believes the clause will “future-proof online copyright laws”.

Australian skeptics cheer David and Toni McCaffery

Continuing with Australian Skeptics awards, they are giving out a new award in honor of Fred Thornett, a skeptic who died earlier this year. The first recipients of The Fred, given to outstanding promoters of reason, are David and Toni McCaffery.

The McCafferys are heroes of mine. Earlier this year, their four week old infant daughter lost a battle with pertussis. Yes, whooping cough. She was too young to be vaccinated, and because the antivaccination movement is strong in their area, vaccination rates were low, and the herd immunity was in turn too low to help little Dana.

When this grieving couple was shrilly and mercilessly attacked by Meryl Dorey and the AVN, the McCafferys fought back. They went on TV, they gave interviews, and they told the truth: their daughter died from an easily preventable disease, and that people like Dorey and the AVN are a public health menace.

Deepak Chopra: redefining “wrong”

I am no fan of Deepak Chopra. For years he has gone on TV, in print, and in his books, peddling all manners of nonsense. Here’s a quick reality check: if his claims of “quantum healing” are correct, why is he getting older?

Anyway, he has gone to the very font of new age nonsense, the Huffington Post, to spew more woo: he’s written an article about why skepticism is bad. It’s almost a bullet-pointed list of logical fallacies.

Brits 2, Scientologists 0

It’s nice to see the Brits sticking it to the Scientologists – first I read how English Heritage have turned down an application from the cult’s supporters to place a blue plaque on a building once occupied by founder L Ron Hubbard in London’s Fitzroy Street, and then I read this story on how Winston Churchill’s descendants are threatening legal action over a Scientology poster (pictured) which uses the wartime PM’s image. The poster was aimed at recruiting new Scientologists to work, funnily enough, at the same Fitzroy Street building for which English Heritage denied the blue plaque.

Keeping cyberspace open to the public

Bill Thompson doesn’t want to see the online commons enclosed by private interests.

Why does Peter Mandelson favour the Analogue Economy over the Digital?

Mandelson is standing up for the Analogue Economy, the economy premised on the no-longer-technically-true idea that copying is hard. Companies based on the outdated notion of inherent difficulty of copying must change or they will die. Because copying isn’t hard. Copying isn’t going to get harder. This moment, right now, 2009, this is as hard as copying will be for the rest of recorded history. Next year, copying will be easier. And the year after that. And the year after that.

And don’t suppose for a moment that other countries are in the dark about this. Right now, the future of the world’s economies hangs on each government’s ability to ignore the Analogue Economy’s pleading.

Countries that declare war on copying – and on all those businesses that are born digital – are yielding their economic futures to countries that embrace it, creating a regime that nurtures the net and those who use it.

Categories
The Interweb

Links for November 17th

Labels may be losing money, but artists are making more than ever

The Times Labs blog takes a hard look at the data on music sales and live performances and concludes that while the labels’ profits might be falling, artists are taking in more money, thanks to the booming growth of live shows.

The Times says that they’d like more granular data about who’s making all the money from concerts — is there a category of act that’s a real winner here? — but the trend seems clear. The 21st century music scene is the best world ever for some musicians and music-industry businesses, and the worst for others.

Which raises the question: is it really copyright law’s job to make sure that last years winners keep on winning? Or is it enough to ensure that there will always be winners?

Huawei Pushing Aside Cisco and Ericsson

There was a time, about a decade ago, that Cisco (CSCO) executives would comment that Huawei was so good at copying (aka appropriating) Cisco’s technology that it even replicated bugs in the software. What was once a joke has morphed into a juggernaut in the communications-equipment marketplace that shows no sign of abating.

Huawei has pushed itself onto the world stage of equipment OEMs for carriers worldwide in wireless, IP-broadband, core networks, software, and services. According to market research firm Informa, Huawei is now the number three supplier of wireless infrastructure equipment, trailing only Ericsson (ERIC) and Alcatel (ALA)

How to cope with unemployment

Unemployment can be one of life’s toughest challenges, but there are many practical steps you can take to help you best cope.

An array of information is available through the BBC News website and various groups offer help for people who are unemployed.

Here is a guide to some of that advice and information.

Surreal drama of Zambia ‘porn’ trial

The trial of a news editor in Zambia, accused of distributing obscene material, is coming to an end. Chansa Kabwela says she sent photos of a woman giving birth without medical help to senior government officials to highlight the effects of a nurses’ strike. Jo Fidgen has watched the trial, and reflects on what it reveals about Zambian culture.

Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap

You won’t find a better media center than the open-source XBMC, but most people don’t have the space or desire to plug a noisy PC into their TV. Instead, I converted a cheap nettop into a standalone XBMC set-top box. Here’s how.

The David Nutt affair, Lord Drayson, and the new political confidence of science

As I’ve been covering the repercussions of the sacking of David Nutt as the Government’s chief drugs adviser over the past two weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what the affair means for British science, and its role in political life.

On one level, of course, the episode has been rather depressing. This Government talks a good game on making evidence-based policy, but as I’ve argued before, the dismissal of Professor Nutt highlights that what many ministers prefer is policy-based evidence. Scientific advice is still too often seen as something to be embraced if it supports conclusions that are politically palatable, and ignored if it does not.

Cut the Cable For Good with Boxee and Apple TV

If you vaguely recall hearing similarly over-the-top pronouncements before, you’re almost certainly right. For more than a decade, pundits have been saying that your internet connection would, any day now, be the primary pipeline for television shows, on-demand movies, YouTube videos, music videos, video podcast feeds, online radio, personalized audio streams, online and offline pictures and music—anything you could fit on your screen, really.

Enter Boxee
Boxee’s media center gives you that, and all from one application. It’s free, it’s open source, it’s built from the guts of the killer Xbox Media Center (which is still a quite active project itself), and it simply works. Loaded onto an Apple TV, or any TV-connected computer, Boxee also gives you free license to drop your cable or satellite dependency with hardly any regret, especially once you realize your year-to-year savings.

Free Speech Is Not For Sale

After a year-long Inquiry, English PEN and Index on Censorship have concluded that English libel law has a negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and around the world. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and should only be limited in special circumstances. Yet English libel law imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech, sending a chilling effect through the publishing and journalism sectors in the UK. This effect now reaches around the world, because of so-called ‘libel tourism’, where foreign cases are heard in London, widely known as a ‘town named sue’. The law was designed to serve the rich and powerful, and does not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society.

Ofcom knocks back BBC DRM plans

BBC plans to copy protect Freeview high definition (HD) data have been dealt a blow by regulator Ofcom.

It has written to the BBC asking for more information about what the benefits would be for consumers.
Initially it looked as if Ofcom would approve the plans but, during its two week consultation, it has received many responses opposing the plan.

Critics say a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system for Freeview HD would effectively lock down free BBC content.

My son has cancer. He can’t go into day care because of unvaccinated children. – By Stephanie Tatel – Slate Magazine

Current public opinion about childhood vaccinations sometimes seems to be influenced less by science and more by Jenny McCarthy. But here’s something that rarely gets discussed: the threat posed by the nonvaccinated to children who are immunosuppressed.

Categories
The Interweb

Links for November 4th

Childhood vaccines, autism and the dangers of group think

Wallace has run smack into an abiding, perhaps growing, phenomenon of the Internet Age: Citizens armed with information are sure they know better. Readers who brush up against expertise believe they have become experts. The common man rebels against the notion that anyone — not professionals, not the government and certainly not the media — speaks with special authority.

Where it stops, nobody knows. But already we see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job.

Unhappy with the scientific consensus that man’s activities have exacerbated global warming? Then just find and promote the academic naysayers. Or merely post your personal musings: “Climate change, bah, there’s a foot of snow on my lawn.”

Heavy illegal downloaders buy more music – Boing Boing

A new British independent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori concluded that the people who do the most illegal downloading also buy the most music. This is in line with many other studies elsewhere and is easy to understand: people who are music superfans do more of everything to do with music: they see more live shows, listen to more radio, buy more CDs, buy more botlegs of live shows, buy more t-shirts, talk about music more, do more downloading — all of it.
And of course, these are the people the music industry’s supergeniuses have set their sights upon for bizarre enforcement regimes like the one that British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has promised

3 Silly Religious Beliefs Held By Non-Silly People

Not everything is a matter of opinion or perspective. Not everything can turn into something completely different if you just look at it differently. Some things are either true or not true. It is not true that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. It is not true that the sun goes around the earth. And it is not true that evolution is shaped by the hand of God, or that consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul, or that the universe is sentient.

Denying physics won’t save the video stars

Peter Mandelson’s proposal to disconnect the families of internet users who have been accused of file sharing will do great violence to British justice without delivering any reduction in copyright infringement. We’ve had 15 years of dotty entertainment industry proposals designed to make computers worse at copying. It’s time that we stopped listening to big content and started listening to reason.

An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry[…] Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, […] administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

[…]

So what has this award-winning 58-year-old scientist done to elicit such venom? He boldly states[…] that vaccines do not cause autism or autoimmune disease or any of the other chronic conditions that have been blamed on them. He supports this assertion with meticulous evidence. And he calls to account those who promote bogus treatments for autism — treatments that he says not only don’t work but often cause harm.

European Internet sinking fast under 3-strikes proposals – Boing Boing

Things look bad for the European Internet: “3 strikes” (the entertainment industry’s proposal for a law that requires ISPs to disconnect whole households if one member is accused — without evidence or trial — of three copyright infringements) is gaining currency. Efforts to make 3-strikes illegal are being thwarted by the European bureaucracy in the EC.

The Pirate Party, which holds a seat in the European Parliament, proposed legislation that said, essentially, that no one could be disconnected from the Internet without a fair trial. When the proposal when to the European Commission (a group of powerful, unelected bureaucrats who have been heavily lobbied by the entertainment industry), they rewrote it so that disconnection can take place without trial or other due process.

‘Bracelets’ useless in arthritis

Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps are useless for relieving pain in people with arthritis, say University of York researchers.

In the first tightly controlled trial to look at both alternative therapies, there was no benefit to their use for pain or stiffness.

All 45 patients tested a copper bracelet, two different magnetic wrist straps, and a demagnetised version.

An arthritis charity said people should not waste their money on the therapies.

Jabs “as bad as the cancer”

“Jab ‘as deadly as the cancer’” roared the giant black letters on the front page of the Sunday Express this week. “Cervical drug expert hits out as new doubts raised over death of teenager” said the subheading, although no such new doubts were raised in the article. We will now break with tradition and reproduce a whole paragraph from the Express story. I’d like you to pay attention, and perhaps build a list of its claims in your mind. This is one of those stories where every single assertion made on someone else’s behalf is false.

Reading Kafka improves learning?

New research suggest that exposure to bizarre, surreal storylines such as Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” can improve learning. Apparently, when your brain is presented with total absurdity or nonsense, it will work extra hard to find structure elsewhere. In the study by the University of British Columbia psychologists, subjects read The Country Doctor and then took a test where they had to identify patterns in strings of letters. They performed much better than the control group.

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The Interweb

Links for September 17th

BBC looks to copy protect content

BBC plans to encrypt Freeview HD data have come under fire from critics, who say it will effectively copyright free BBC content.

Under plans submitted to regulator Ofcom, the broadcaster has requested that it be allowed to encrypt certain information on set top boxes.

Only trusted manufacturers would be offered the decryption keys.

How to read articles about health

People often ask “how can I spot bad science in a newspaper article?” as if there were a list of easy answers, and it can be very difficult – given the lengths newspapers go to in distorting evidence, and witholding facts – but here is an excellent set of pointers. It’s written by Dr Alicia White from the Behind the Headlines team, and this is a resource I cannot recommend highly enough: they describe, in everyday language, the actual scientific evidence behind each day’s major health news stories

Run, Izzard, run and run again

It’s the last leg of Eddie Izzard’s 43 marathons in 51 days. How did the less than athletic comic pull off such a feat of endurance?

Tomorrow’s World classics go online

As footage of the weird and wonderful inventions that defined Tomorrow’s World is released online from the BBC archives, it is a good time to remember how much of the technology we now take for granted was demonstrated for the very first time on Tomorrow’s World.

Patry’s MORAL PANICS AND THE COPYRIGHT WARS: elegant, calm, reasonable history of the copyfight

Few people are as qualified to write a book about the copyright wars as William Patry: former copyright counsel to the US House of Reps, advisor the Register of Copyrights, Senior Copyright Counsel for Google, and author of the seven-volume Patry on Copyright, widely held to be the single most authoritative work on US copyright ever written.

And Patry has written a very fine book indeed: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is every bit as authoritative as Patry on Copyright (although much, much shorter) and is absolutely accessible to a lay audience.

Salford 24-30 Leeds

Leeds finished the regular season with the League Leaders’ Shield after a battling victory over Salford to spoil Robbie Paul’s final Super League game.

Tries from Luke Adamson and John Wilshere helped Salford to a 12-0 lead but Leeds were level by the break after Kallum Watkins and Jay Pitts scores.

The Rhinos carried their momentum into the second half with Luke Burgess and Brent Webb putting them 24-12 up.

Salford fought back late on, but Carl Ablett’s try was enough for Leeds.

Help! I’m a Beatles hater

The re-release of the entire Beatles album catalogue has unleashed another wave of veneration for the 60s pop band. But could there really be anyone who actively dislikes their music?

Sex, flies and videotape: the secret lives of Harun Yahya

Inspired by the high profile of its Christian American counterpart, Muslim creationism is becoming increasingly visible and confident. On scores of websites and in dozens of books with titles like The Evolution Deceit and The Dark Face of Darwinism, a new and well-funded version of evolution-denialism, carefully calibrated to exploit the current fashion for religiously inspired attacks on scientific orthodoxy and “militant” atheism, seems to have found its voice. In a recent interview with The Times Richard Dawkins himself recognises the impact of this new phenomenon: “There has been a sharp upturn in hostility to teaching evolution in the classroom and it’s mostly coming from Islamic students.”

The patron saint of this new movement, the ubiquitous “expert” cited and referenced by those eager to demonstrate the superiority of “Koranic science” over “the evolution lie”, is the larger-than-life figure of Harun Yahya.

Musicians hit out at piracy plans

An alliance of music stars, songwriters and record producers has spoken out against UK government proposals to kick file-sharers off the internet.

Persistent file-sharers could have their internet accounts suspended in an attempt to crack down on piracy.

But Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, a member of the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC), said: “It’s going to start a war which they’ll never win.”

The FAC said “heavy-handed” tactics may turn fans away from music for good.

Categories
The Interweb

Links for September 8th

Cory Doctorow: Special Pleading

Six years ago, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom couldn’t be counted as a real success for open publishing because I was too obscure to feel the cost of the lost sales. Now, I’m too successful, someone whose name is so widely known that I am uniquely situated to benefit from open publishing, since the micro net-fame I enjoy provides the vital push necessary to wrest sales from freebies. Hilariously, some of the people who say this go back in time and revise history, claiming that I was only able to sell as many copies of Down and Out as I have over the years (nine printings and still selling great!) because I was such a big shot famous writer in 2003, on the strength of a dozen short story sales.

There’s a name for this rhetorical tactic: “special pleading.” Special pleading is when you claim that some example doesn’t merit consideration because it lacks, or contains, some special characteristic that makes it unique, not part of the general discussion.

How UK Government spun 136 people into 7m illegal file sharers

The British Government’s official figures on the level of illegal file sharing in the UK come from questionable research commissioned by the music industry, the BBC has revealed.

The Radio 4 show More or Less – which is devoted to the “often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers” – decided to examine the Government’s claim that 7m people in Britain are engaged in illegal file sharing.

The 7m figure comes from the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, a Government advisory body.

Thinking about downloads

A few weeks ago, Peter Mandelson announced his intention to push forward on stringent measures to deal with “illegal” filesharing and downloading. The measures went much further than what had been envisaged in the Digital Britain report, with responsibility for the decisions and implementation passing from Ofcom to Mandelson.

[…]

It now appears that “internet suspension of illegal downloaders could become law”. Before that happens, I thought it would be worth while to share some of my thoughts about this.

I was in Hitler’s suicide bunker

At his living room table, 92-year-old Rochus Misch shows me some of his old photo albums. Private pictures he had taken more than 60 years ago. There are colour images of Mr Misch in an SS uniform at Adolf Hitler’s home in the Alps, snapshots of Hitler staring at rabbits, and photos of Hitler’s mistress and future wife Eva Braun.

For five years, SS Oberscharfuehrer Rochus Misch had been part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, as a bodyguard, a courier and telephone operator to the Fuehrer.

Plinth debut for Marillion songs

Marillion are allowing a fan to play tracks from their new album on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square on Tuesday evening.

Richard Loveridge, 38, will spend his hour on the plinth talking about his 26-year love of the prog-rock veterans.

“My longest adult relationship has been with these five men, so I wanted to frame the story of my life with the story of Marillion,” he said.

Snow Leopard reveals new spots

Apple’s latest operating system – Snow Leopard – is a strange beast.

It’s curious because there are few new features to shout about.

Snow Leopard’s major changes are under the hood; Apple has been spending time changing the stuff that you do not usually see – or care about.

Why? Because spending time there should mean a faster, more stable operating system tuned to today’s hardware. Also, the changes should mean that in the future third-party application developers will have more to work with, allowing a richer, faster system.