Saturday, July 17, 2004


I have a brief piece on Microsoft suing spammers over at Samizdata.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Forthcoming movies

This looks like it may be a fun little romantic comedy. From looking at the trailer, the plot appears to be "Once promising British tennis player played by Paul Bettany who never quite made it is being ignored as he plays his last Wimbledon. He meets sexy champion tennis player Kirsten Dunst on the court one day, something happens between them, he gets his drive back, and suddenly starts winning matches. All of England is watching as he makes the final and ....."

Of course, Hollywood cliche requires that in such a movie some obstacle must get in our hero's way and, forced to choose between the game and the girl at the end he realises that his ambitions on the court are nothing compared to true love, and the film ends with the couple running away on a bus oblivious to the tennis tournament. Or something like that.

And in many situations the British would be quite sympathetic to such a story.

However, this is Wimbledon. No Englishman has won it since 1936, and the desperation to see a British winner is reasonably strong at this point, as Tim Henman knows. If a British tennis player were to give up a chance to win the men's single title for a small thing like the love of a woman he would be torn to pieces, or at least mocked for all eternity. It is not possible for this movie to have a happy ending without Bettany's character actually winning Wimbledon, and I hope the film-makers know this.

Of course, such an English victory would take the film from "romantic comedy" territory to "outrageous and ridiculous fantasy" territory, but in comparison that is a small thing.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

I love London

When you cross the eastern limit of the City of London, you enter the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. To the south you initially enter Whitechapel (most famous for being the location of Jack the Ripper's Victorian murders), to the north you come to Spitalfields, and Brick Lane in Spitalfields is where I am right now.

Spitalfields is London's first immigrant neighbourhood. In the 17th century it was the destination of Huguenots who fled France (the first mass migration to Britain in quite a few centuries). By the nineteenth century the Huguenots had integrated into Broader English society and Spitalfields was the destination for Jewish emigres from elsewhere in Europe. (Britain's first Bagel shop is a legacy from that period and is just across the road from where I am now).

In the twentieth century that pattern repeated, the Jews integrated into broader British society and moved elsewhere, and Spitalfields then filled up with Bangladeshis, who now dominate the area. Down the road is a building that has been both a church and a synagogue in its time, and which is now a mosque, the only building in Britain (I think) that has performed all three roles.

However, over the last decade, the area has gentrified, as inner city living has become more popular and as London has grown as a financial capital, and young childless people in particular have taken advantage of the proximity to the City of London. Brick Lane has filled with Bangladeshi restaurants catering to non-Bangladeshi customers as much or more than Bangladeshis, and the street has also filled up with bars, cafes, music venues, and it has generally become one of the hippest places in London.

However, it is still principally an immigrant (Bangladeshi) area. Local prosperity has flowed into the area though, and shops catering to young customers of various races have flowed up under the ruins of the Bishopsgate goods yard to the top end of Brick Lane, which until recently was rather run down and was only interesting when there were markets on Sundays. (To me, it feels like the way prosperity grew down the bottom end of King Street in Newtown in Sydney in the 1990s). The local Bangladeshi shopkeepers and the like are doing their best to cater to the hip young crowd as well as locals.

Which is why I am in a newly opened internet cafe in the top half of Brick Lane. This is clearly trying to cater both for the clientele that wants internet access and the clientele that wants coffee. They seem to be doing okay with the internet access, but on the coffee score they are mixed. I was served by a woman in a hajib, and the coffee is only so-so. (These Bangladeshis haven't quite got Italian by way of Seattle coffee right yet). The internet cafe section is filled with Dell machines with 15 inch TFT screens that look a couple of years old: I suspect that repackaging ex-office PCs and selling them second hand to internet cafes is a nice little business for someone. The seating is not as comfortable as it should be. The cafe breaks one of the cardinal laws of cafes, which is that it doesn't greatly matter whether you have table service or counter service (or whether you want the customers to pay at the beginning of the end) but you should make which arrangement that you are using very clear. (There is a nice selection of newspapers for me to read). There is free wireless, but I am not sure if it is provided in this shop (I doubt it) or if it is coming from somewhere else nearby.

There are other internet / coffee shops nearby, but they are run by white people and not Bangladeshis. Some of the Bangladeshis are trying to move into the trade, which is clearly good. And I am sure they will iron the bugs out soon enough.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More fun with satellite photographs

This one is Sydney, Australia. The city has unusual constraints on its growth, that are much easier to show via a photo like this than any other way.

Firstly, a national park was declared to the south of the city about 150 years ago. Combined with other land that is legally protected from development in a couple of other ways and which is contiguous to it, this makes up the green patch that follows the coast to the south of the city and which sort of juts inland a towards the south of the picture. The section of coastal plane (with the visible lake in the middle it) to the far south of the picture near the coast, is the city of Wollongong, which is where I grew up. (I grew up in the section to the north of it where the coastal plain narrows). The body of water close to the coast just to the north of the green section is Botany Bay, and the river that goes inland from it is the George's River. To the north of that is another body of water, and this is Sydney Harbour itself.

In any event because the national park was declared to the south of Sydney, the city was not permitted to grow south along the coast as would be expected.

To the west of the city of Sydney we find another green section, which is the Blue Mountains. This is extremely rugged country, and the mountains form a natural barrier to the growth of the city to the west. The blue patch towards the south of the mountains is Lake Burragarang, which is an artificial lake that provides Sydney's water supply. A little to the north of that is a light line going through the mountains from west to east. This is the Great Western Highway, which follows a high ridge across the mountains. There are towns along the highway, and my sister (hi Leonie) lives in one of these towns. Just to the north of this you can see a very deep valley the name of which temporarily escapes me. There is another road across the mountains along the next ridge, bits of which are visible in the photograph if you look carefully.

Whereas the edge of Sydney in the south is very clearly defined, to the north the edge is less clear. This is basically because that part of Sydney north of the harbour is also rugged country, even very close to the ocean. One walks through fairly ordinary looking (and upmarket - this is a prestigious area in which to live) suburbs, and at the end of the street one find's oneself standing on the edge of an immense canyon. So Sydney north of the harbour is a mixture of residential suburbs and forest and National Park all mixed in together. As you go further north it is more National Park and less residential suburb. In essence, the parks form a barrier to the growth of the city in the north as well, but in a slightly less clear cut and sudden way than in the south. (In the north, urban areas resume again once an area of national park and rugged country has been passed. This area (around the city of Gosford) is visible at the far north of the photo.

This all makes Sydney a curiously constrained city. It can't spread east because of the ocean. It can't spread north or south close to the ocean due to mainly manmade constraints. It can't spread west because there are mountains. Which means that Sydney's urban sprawl in recent years has been in both the north-westerly and the south-westerly directions, leading to the curious triangular shaped city you see in the photograph.
Why I don't particularly like Microsoft

I have been attempting to install Windows 2000 on the windows partition of my desktop PC. I booted up a copy of Windows XP using the backup disk for my Dell when I built the PC to test that I could get it to work, but that is not legal (and anyway it will stop working after 30 days). As it happens, the Windows 2000 copy I have is perfectly legal for me to use, and Windows 2000 is adequate for my uses. So fine.

However, the intallation crashes half way through the installation process, and gives me a black screen. Now a sensible installation process would stop rather than crash, but not in this case. As it happens, looking at the on screen text and pressing F6 at an appropriate time allows me to determine that the problem is that the installation CD does not contain an appropriate driver for the IDE controller on my motherboard (a Biostar M7VKB) and so cannot see my hard drive. (Somehow though, the BIOS was able to see enough to start the installation process from the CD-ROM drive, and this is being driven by the same IDE controller.

The solution to this problem is to obtain a driver for the IDE controller from my motherboard manufacturer and install this during the installation process. No real problem, except for that the only means of installation of such a driver is via a floppy. And as it happens, I don't have an internal floppy drive.

Why would I? By today's standards floppy drives hold ludicrously small amounts of data, and people who require portable storage use flash drives, CD or DVD burners, or even portable hard drives. (A USB portable hard drive based on Toshiba's new 1.8" minidrive would be fun). Those of us who wish to transfer files too and from our friends or from one computer that we own to another just use networks a lot of the time anyway. Many new computers these days do not include floppy drives.

However, the Windows 2000 installer will not allow a driver to be installed mid-installation by any other method. A sensible strategy would also allow the installation to take place by swapping the CD from which the installation is taking place out and replacing it with a CD containing the driver. This would work in all installations without fail, because the fact that you are making an installation at all implies that you have at least a CD-ROM drive (as indeed I do). (I also tried plugging a USB floppy into my floppy drive and seeing if that would work, but no. Recognising that drive was clearly something that came later in the installation process than installing the IDE driver.

But somehow Microsoft didn't think of that. The fact that essentially every PC had a floppy drive in 1999 was enough for them.
However, no. (And I suppose from a business point of view they would like me to buy a new copy of XP now rather than use an old but still perfectly legal copy of 2000). That in the future that it would both become less likely that people would have floppies and that they would be more likely to have motherboards with controllers that the software on the intallation CD was familiar with also apparently didn't seem to occur with them. (Another idea would have been to get the network software working first and then to

So if I want to install W2K on this PC, I am going to have to install a floppy drive. The regular place that I buy computer parts from online charges about £4.00 for a floppy drive, but wiith shipping it is about £6.00. The local Maplin Electronics store wants £9.50. Not a lot of money, but I am trying to save money here. The trick is probably to find a friend with an old computer they are not using and ask if I can have a floppy drive. Not terribly hard (the world is full of old PCs lying around with perfectly fine floppy drives that are not being used) but it will probably take me a week or two for me to find one.

This sort of muddled thinking and lack of planning for the future is entirely typical of Microsoft. That they have consistently done things in such a half baked way and have still managed to conquer the world anyway rather baffles me. (Well actually I more or less do understand it - it just depresses me).

(Just for comparison, I tried also to install a Windows XP CD (ie without Service Pack 1) on the same system, and the same thing happened - it crashed half way through and careful checking determined that it could not see my IDE controller. Presumably something was updated between the original version of XP and SP1).

Update: The problem ultimately turned out not to be the ATA driver but instead to be an incompatible ACPI interface. This problem was fixed by disabling ACPI in the BIOS. On the other hand, if I had needed to update the driver, that ridiculous floppy only business would have still been the case.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


I have a piece on some particularly stupid ticket machines used to collect London bus fares over at Transport Blog.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Sunday evening quiz

I am presently using this satellite picture as the wallpaper on my Linux box.

Just as is the case with New York, a great city has been built on an island at the mouth of a river. Also like New York, this is the largest city and the finanancial and commercial capital - but not the political capital - of the country that contains it. Name the city.

(I suspect that this is a very easy question for people who come from the country in question, so I ask any readers from that country to disqualify themselves).

Update: The answer is Mumbai (Bombay), India. As Mark Holland said when giving an answer in the comments, westerners aren't generally familiar with the layout and appearance of cities in that part of the world, great cities that some of them are. The irony I suppose is that there are more movies filmed in Mumbai than in any other city in the world. We just don't see those, either.

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