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Scunthorpe

Recently, YouTube got into a spot of trouble with a security flaw, which they had to fix in a hurry. Without getting too technical, somebody discovered a way of inserting HTML in video comments, causing all sorts of mayhem.

Because the exploit involved typing <script> in the comment, part of the brute-force fix the powers that be have forced upon innocent users simply edits out any occurrance of the word “script”.

It’s similar to the way a profanity filter works, except that these filters normally replace the offending string with a row of asterisks. YouTube has decided simply to make it vanish, as if it had never been typed.

Of course, the problem is that the word “script” occurs in ordinary English, so a comment like “Was the script difficult to write?” becomes the unintelligible “Was the difficult to write?” which allows much to the imagination, to the enrichment of all.

It gets better. Not only is the word itself filtered out, but any occurrance of the sequence of characters embedded within a longer word is similarly edited. People often refer in their comments to the video description, which must now be called a “video deion”.

This is a variant on what is known as the Scunthorpe problem after a town in England whose name regularly falls foul of profanity filters. It contains, you see, an obscenity, which most people are completely unaware of until it is pointed out to them by obliging profanity filters which render the name as “S****horpe”.

How much more entertaining it would be if profanity filters worked on the same principle as the YouTube security patch. Because then the name would be “Shorpe”, which doesn’t shove the presence of foul language in your face, and, as an extra bonus, has readers engaged in a fruitless search of Google Maps for the place in question (I’ve checked: the nearest match is Thorpe).

There are so many other words that inadvertantly include naughty words, and instead of being defaced by the classic — sorry, “clic” — asterisks, we could make entirely new words and abbreviate our language in the process (making books a tiny bit shorter and thus saving paper and other valuable resources).

It would be great. City-dwellers could live in skysers, people wanting to know the time would simply glance at their wrisches, and borderline alcoholics could be discouraged from drinking by the knowledge that rum is made from fermented moles. I don’t know why nobody thought of this sooner.

So, what is a coalition?

For those bamboozled by recent events in British politics. Thanks to somegreybloke and Sugartalker for finding this.

Unintentional dark humour

I feel really bad about this, because it involves a very nasty accident that left one woman dead and at least one person in hospital being treated for profound shock. What happened was — and it’s horrible just to think of it — a grass cutter hit a piece of steel pipe and either the pipe or one of the blades flew into the air and killed a passer-by.

The macabre piece of humour is probably in my own head, but it popped in, unbidden, as I read the headline in the Daily Telegraph: Australian woman died after “head was cut off during freak lawnmower accident”.

Her head was cut off… and then she died? What else, I was horrified to find myself asking, could she have done at that point?

(Note: There seems to be some doubt as to whether or not the unfortunate victim was actually decapitated. The Telegraph seems to be cautiously distancing itself from earlier reports. Other reports, which are few and far between, either don’t mention decapitation at all, or mention it in the headline only, suggesting a hasty re-write of copy.)

The rumour mill

Ah, rumours. Gotta love them.

A slightly panicked subscriber asked me if I knew anything about the latest plans to block American YouTube videos from Germany for copyright infringement. Well, I haven’t, and having poked around the net a bit, I still can’t find any reliable information about this.

The “news” was broken by German YouTuber HerrTutorial on his Twitter feed, although he also admits he doesn’t know for sure and has promised to try and find out.

I can’t imagine for the life of me that anything like that is planned, but I would be grateful if anyone happens to know where this rumour came from and could provide me with some source.

There are two sources of misinformation I can think of:

  1. YouTube has been in dispute with GEMA, the German collecting society, for the best part of a year now. Effectively, this means that YouTube is not able to broadcast any video containing music on GEMA’s register — effectively meaning most commercial music — in Germany, regardless of where it comes from. This is, however, nothing new, and isn’t a blanket ban on all videos, or even all videos from one country.
  2. User FlippyCat recently had problems with German users unable to see some of his videos. He has traced this to a new section on the revenue share form which partners have to fill in to “monetize” their videos. The new section, which is optional, allows them to enter details of any music used in the video, but if you do fill it in, the video appears to be automatically blocked from Germany, even if the music is not registered with GEMA. I’m guessing this is an automated process which assumes that if you are filling that part of the form in, you must be using commercial music.

Those are my best guesses, and if either of those is the source of the rumour, there is nothing to worry about. If you happen to know better, and have a reliable source, please let me know.

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In this style

This afternoon, as I was doing what is generally known as “waiting half an hour for a bus in cold, wet weather”, I had a quick browse in a nearby bookshop, which is usually good for the brain. I did learn that Stephen Hawking had demonstrated not only that time had a beginning, but that our universe is pear-shaped, which probably explains a great deal. However, that knowledge isn’t particularly useful for me (it’s not the sort of thing you can really say at parties), so I went off to a different section to find some less taxing fare.

That came in the shape of a book full mostly of pictures relating to the new film version of Alice in Wonderland by Tim “Nightmare Before Christmas” Burton.

Well, one of the first things I noticed was that about a third of it was full of Alice’s relatives, who never featured in the book, in a clear sign of a misguided attempt to give the protagonist a “back story”, which seems all the rage these days. Of course, it goes deeper than that: it seems that it’s not the original story, or not quite, but Alice’s return to the fantasy world of her childhood. That explains why she’s suddenly 19 years old.

Burton, apparently, never really liked the original book and thought it felt more like a series of unconnected events than a real story. Well, yes, Mr Burton, that’s the point: the whole thing is a dream.

Having got that far, of course, the great man could have let somebody else film it. Of course, it would have looked very different, and I love Burton’s deliciously insane visuals, but at least it would have been done with a great deal more respect for the original. It seems that Burton’s only role in life these days is to let Johnny Depp practice his English accent. Although perhaps you shouldn’t take my word for it: obviously (because it hasn’t been released yet) I haven’t seen it.

I’m sure, in its own right, it’s a great film. And the pictures look gorgeous. And in the book, they were helpfully annotated, allowing me to glean, for example, that Alice, much to her mother’s dismay, refuses to wear a corset. And the picture of the Mad Hatter’s hat was also annotated.

And that particular page, dear friends, marked the point at which I snorted with derision, snapped the book shut and made for the bus stop.

If you’re familiar with the original illustrations by cartoonist John Tenniel, you’ll no doubt recall that the Mad Hatter’s hat has a label which reads: “In this style 10/6”. According to the book of the film, this is the “Mad Hatter’s number”.

It’s possible, I suppose, that this has some significance in the film. Whether it does or not, it seems that somebody is ignorant of, or wilfully ignoring, the fact that 10/6 is actually the price in pre-decimal British currency: ten shillings and sixpence.

The error may not be Burton’s, of course. It may simply be that the people who put the book together decided the picture needed an annotation, any annotation, and they just couldn’t be bothered to perform a quick search on the internet to get the answer. Whatever: it says something of modern film-making that so much energy can be expended shoehorning a whole galaxy of tedious characters with motivations into a fairy-tale that already has more characters that you can shake a jabberwocky at, but nobody has any time for a five-minute session on Google.

Still, I did get a good laugh at the MPAA’s justification for handing it a PG rating: for “fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar”.