Lately I’ve been having a lot of fun (well, okay, some fun) going around the web with Mozilla 1.1 and BannerBlind making all the adverts disappear. Between them, they knock out all popups and most sizes of ad banners. For all the other ones that remain, I just block the images coming from the server (this surely can’t last for long – sooner or later they’ll just store ad images on the same server as the non-ad images).

So I was roving about, blasting away ads from the Onion, Coming Attractions and so on. When I got to Dealmac and blocked an ad there, I took a double take and said (to myself), “Wait a second, I’ve actually seen some useful stuff here before.” And so the ad was unblocked.

Most people already know the spiel about targeted advertising being far more effective – so you’d expect that more ad companies would do it, right? Yeah, right, and then they’d start using text ads.

Driving simulators

Something I’ve been idly wondering about on and off for a while is why there aren’t any decent driving simulator/trainers for PCs (or consoles). Surely there must be a market for this sort of thing? If you sold a package with force-feedback driving wheel, pedals and gearstick, together with a fairly up to date and realistic graphics engine (Gran Turismo 3 comes to mind immediately) for maybe £100, wouldn’t you get a fair number of sales?

Granted, it obviously wouldn’t replace the entire driving experience but it’d go a long way in teaching people the basics, and also clutch control, speed and so on. Add on a written driving test trainer and it’d be perfect. I’m a bit ambivalent about using a VR headset – I know that they’re cheaper these days, but I don’t know much about compatibility issues, or lag time and graphics.

The problem is that I can’t think of anyone who’d attempt this. Games publishers might view it as an unknown market, and the developers of simple ‘edutainment’ software simply don’t have the skills to pull something like this off. I wouldn’t imagine hardware being too much of a problem; you could just rebrand or bundle existing force-feedback peripherals.

DDR and iPod

I made my regular pilgrimage to the nearby bowling alley a couple of days ago to worship at the altar of the Dancing Stage Euromix machine they’ve got there (“I don’t want to go there just for DDR!” said I”), and was inordinately pleased to discover that you now get 5 songs for £1 instead of the previous 3. Needless to say, this saved my friends from hearing my ‘arcades in America are three times cheaper’ mantra again.

I think it’s because they’re going to get Euromix 2 in a few weeks, and also keep the old machine. If so, it’s a good decision. Well, of course I’d say that, but the game is very popular there. Anyway, after a enjoyable session playing double for 5 songs before bowling – a serious workout, let me tell you – I was very happy to get another go after bowling, because someone had left some money in it.

A friend asked me what would happen if I played against someone from Japan. I replied that I’d get beaten. Not badly, by any means, but people in Asia and California have a few years head start on me. I consider myself to be an above-average DDRer, but still nowhere near the dizzy heights of the best freestylers. Now, if Cambridge were to get a DDR machine, well, let’s just say things would be different…

One last thing about changing the firmware on my iPod to Windows; the iPod is now hot-pluggable, which basically means that it doesn’t crash my computer when I plug it in. It’s finally attained true magnificence.

Daily Summit

Nice to see that the British Council is running the Daily Summit weblog, providing continual coverage of the World Summit. It’s impressively teched up, with RSS feeds, and has a load of original content. I’d say that this was very forward-thinking of the British Council, but to be honest they’ve always sponsored cool stuff in the past.

Douglas Adams

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Douglas Adams’ writing until I started reading The Salmon of Doubt today. It’s not just his fiction that I like; his essays are equally – if not more – fun to read. Take this excerpt from his essay called Hangover Cures, for example, written in December 1999:

“What is it we are all going to be trying to make next Saturday? Not New Year’s Resolutions, if we’re halfway sane. They all fail so embarrassingly early into the New Year that few of us are going to want to compound our sense of futility by making New Millennium Resolutions and have them fail, relatively speaking, a thousand times earlier than normal.”


Easyweigh is a nice little cardboard letter-weighing gadget that you can get for free from the Royal Mail. No, I haven’t used mine yet, but I do send letters abroad every so often. That it looks cool was admittedly a significant factor influencing my decision to get one.

iPod and RSS

Apple, bless their souls, have just started shipping the Windows versions of iPod, along with the update and restore software that allows users to reset their iPods. Since the Apple and PC versions of the iPod are have basically identical hardware, it’s a simple thing to go and download the update/restore software and convert your Mac iPod into Windows one. While you’re ‘allowed’ by Apple to go the reverse way, from Windows to Mac, they don’t support Mac to Windows (no surprises there). In fact, it’s technically illegal because you’d have to pirate the update/restore software. But that’s never stopped people before, and now I have a fully functional Windows iPod!

It’s come not a minute too soon, as otherwise I’d have had to register my Mac emulation software (now uninstalled), which would’ve involved paying money. I doubt Apple are going to be too bothered about people changing their Mac iPods to Windows iPods – the only people who’d bother changing are Windows owners who bought an iPod before the Windows versions were released – and surely they were doing Apple a favour in the first place.

In other news, is now fully RSSed up, with feeds for all three weblogs available. You can find the RSS links at the bottom of each column or in the about page, and there are also links in the header to allow autodiscovery. At the moment I’m using Feedreader as my news aggregator, with an eye to moving to Aggie if/when I download the required .NET extensions for XP. You’d have thought that someone would have made an aggregator as good as NewsNetWire (Mac only) for Windows, but no. The best Windows aggregator costs $25. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to wait until someone writes Mozilla extensions for this.

Science Year

I’ve just become a student member of the British Association of Science so that I can attend upcoming the Festival of Science for free. In the newsletter, I’m told that Science Year has been extended to the end of 2003.

I’ve never been a fan of grand gestures like ‘Science Year’, partly because I’ve never seen it done well, and partly because I don’t think that giving something a year will necessarily improve anything. I’m not sure that even 1% of people would be able to tell you that 2002 was the Science Year, or any events that it involved.

I’d rather see more fundamental changes made if science education is to be improved in this country, starting with better teaching at school. Extending it to 2003 makes the entire enterprise ridiculous – what does Science Year mean, if it lasts for 24 months? And what happens when (or indeed, if) Science Year finally ends?

Metafilter on the AI game

Metafilter’s talking about the AI game again. I’ve already said a few things in the thread there, but I thought I’d add something here. I’m always happy to see that there are still people out there who are interested in massively multiuser online entertainment (mmoe) of the AI variety, yet it seems that most of those fans are waiting for something.

Yes, there are several games going on right now and a few lined up to start soon, as you can see at the ARGN forums. I don’t think a single one of them has equalled the AI game, or created the same kind of buzz. That’s not a criticism, as many of them have been good. They just haven’t reached the excessive quality you need to reach in order to really capture the attention of the Internet.

The AI game simultaneously kicked off the entire subgenre of mmoe and formed unnaturally high expectations for all subsequent games. No surprise that Microsoft is always at the centre of controversy.

Website improvements

I’ve made some minor improvements to, by adding the little permanent link icons to individual posts, as well as the dinky little comment icons. I’d intended to add permalinks for everything a while back, since previously you’d have to sift through the monthly archives to find a particular post. When I upgraded to a new version of Moveable Type (my weblog software) and started using Trackback – basically, a way of making other people automatically link to your posts – it finally became necessary to add them.

For those who know or care about these sorts of things (i.e. hardly anyone), I still haven’t fully implemented Trackback because there aren’t any ping urls for my posts. I’ll get around to this sooner or later, once I’ve designed new templates. I’m also thinking about adding RSS feeds for, since everyone seems to be using aggregators these days. It makes sense to do it for the ‘middling’ and ‘tiny’ blogs, but I’m not so sure about ‘massive’ considering it’s rarely updated and the entries are more like essays.