30th August

I've been hanging on to see what becomes of Ken Livingstone's proposed ban on replica guns, but in the end I've decided to risk it... A revolver is about the only thing I want to complete the collection, right now, and it's been a close call between the Marushin replicas, which use faux cartridges for realism but have a reputation for fragility and low power, or the Tanaka revolvers which use a less authentic mechanism but come across far better in the reviews.

In the end practicality has won over realism (for a change!), and Tanaka's replica of the S&W M629 Performance Centre is the current favourite. The cylinder contains the gas reservoir and fifteen BBs in a cunning feed mechanism, and although the replicas aren't perfect, they do seem to be the best revolvers on the market. The finish is apparently excellent, the power very respectable, and overall they seem to be a very good buy. Watch this space...

29th August

So, the FBI have arrested the kid who wrote the second Blaster/Lovesan worm variant, commonly known as "teekids" after the renamed executable that it uses to infect systems. The latter seems to have contributed significantly to his downfall, actually, as he uses the nickname T33kid on any number of online services and is the registered owner (at his home address) of the domain t33kid.com... A classic mixture of vanity and stupidity, and this time I have a considerably more personal desire to see him nailed to the wall - I've spent the last couple of weeks worrying about his little toy, and have no sympathy whatsoever. The real creator of Blaster is still unknown, of course, and it's quite possible that the hapless T33kid will catch the rap for the whole deal - but he should have thought of that before he put his name to a federal offence and spread it world-wide...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the law - according to this article at Cyperpunks, Dell's latest laptops ship with an EULA (end user license agreement) screen that appears on first boot and insists that you agree to a legally binding document that it hasn't actually shown you yet...  Like most other people, I usually click right through these pop-up EULAs without paying them any attention (especially on the fifth Dell PowerEdge server in a row!) but many people are far more cautious and this is definitely a worrying development.

28th August

I finalised the deal on my RaQ 4 server appliance, today, and it should be with me in a week or so... then all I have to do is to learn the all intricacies of the Linux-based operating system and a full suite of web and email server apps, and we're away! The first service we bring in-house is likely to be email, changing the MX records of our personal domains to point directly to the RaQ's SMTP service and then collecting mail from the RaQ via POP3, and in an effort to cut down on the amount of spam that actually reaches the desktop I'm intending to install some kind of recognition and filtering system. This is proving to be an extremely steep learning curve, so far, and has been complicated today by the sudden demise of one of the major spam "blacklist" filtering services, Osirusoft.

The service's operator blames the pressure of lawsuits levelled against him by the big spammers, together with large-scale denial of service attacks probably originating from the same source, and today he extended the blacklist to block all mail domains, effectively paralysing any email systems depending on the service! Opinions as to whether he should have bowed-out in this highly disruptive manner are many and varied, but at least it's made the termination of the facility extremely obvious!

Meanwhile, here's another "death of the Internet" story, this time complaining about the growing quantity of low-level background traffic...

Between viruses and spammers and just plain old bad code, the net is now subject to a heavy, and increasing level of background packet radiation. And the net has very long memory - I still get DNS queries sent to IP addresses that haven't hosted a DNS server - or even an active computer - in nearly a decade. Search engines still come around sniffing for web sites that disappeared (along with the computer that hosted them, and the IP address on which that computer was found) long ago.

He certainly has a point, and even if most sysadmins configure firewalls to block this kind of noise before it reaches the core network, it's still taking up bandwidth on leased lines and CPU cycles on routers and gateway servers - and if the levels continue to grow as fast as they have over the last few years, it may well become a serious issue. Having said that, though, I've been hearing prophecies of doom and gloom ever since AOL first opened its Internet gateway and unleashed one hundred thousand clueless newbies onto Usenet, and I'm sure that they go back even earlier... The Internet always seems to survive, somehow, by simply mutating into something that makes the problem irrelevant - but will that last for ever? Can we always rely on companies and techies to pull some new, hi-tech rabbit out of the hat, or online societies reorganising themselves to avoid the limitations of the technology? I just don't know...

27th August

I was surprised and annoyed to pick up a copy of Computer Weekly, today, and read that the law firm Wragge & Co would the be the first UK company to go live with Exchange 2003! According to an article by the evidently mis-informed Cliff Saran, the firm merely hopes to have rolled out the new version to a pilot of around one hundred users by October, and it's hard to see how that qualifies as being first... According to Microsoft my company was the first official RAP partner for Exchange 2003, going live with over 600 users on the 3rd August - and as far as I know the same consultancy  that planned our migration has been flat-out since then with other firms! Far from winning the race, Mr Saran, Wragge & Co have actually yet to place! Somebody has been talking out of turn, evidently, and from what I gather Microsoft's PR department are as annoyed as I am.

Equally annoying was the discovery that someone seems to have stolen my toolkit from my desk drawer, last night... I'm somewhat puzzled, as on the face of it it's hardly a desirable item, being very worn and battered and full of an extremely esoteric selection of tools - most people don't need Torx screwdrivers, for example, or DIL chip-pullers, or cage nut insertion tools... Hell, most people wouldn't even know what half of them were for! The toolkit was my own personal property, however, and I've been using, cherishing and adding to it since the mid nineties - and some items, like my anti-static wrist strap, date back to the late eighties! The company will fork out for another one, I'm sure, but I do feel rather distressed that it's gone...

Fortunately a new toy was waiting at home to cheer me up a little - I've been looking at 3" rheobus fan controllers since they started to come onto the market last year, and finally took the plunge with this neat little unit from Vantec. The black faceplate matches the case extremely well, and the soft blue glow from the LEDs around the adjustment knobs is extremely pretty - as usual, the camera fails to capture the full effect.

The lights are on, but as yet there's nobody home - I slid it into the bay and powered it up, but the fans are still on their little built-in potentiometers... It will take some fiddling to relocate them to the rheobus while still retaining the monitoring and alerting facility of the DigiDoc, and that will wait for another day - but in the meantime the blue glow is very pretty indeed, and lines up perfectly with the two blue drive activity LEDS just beside the bay.

My PC is now absolutely stuffed, once more - all the drive bays (both internal and external) and all the PCI slots are fully loaded, and although the myriad wires connecting everything are nicely tidied with braided sleeving and split loom, it's still an amazing knot of power and data and control and monitoring all intertwined... Even I flinch a little when I open the case!

26th August

Tired, tonight, so just some random links, courtesy of primo geek sites [H]ardOCP and Ars.Technica -

Smart Dust up and running at USCD - another step towards nanotech assemblers

The Lobster Cam - a webcam in a lobster pot, still going strong after four years

Maxtor releases external disk drive with one-touch backup facility

Challenged to hack Georgia's electronic voting machines

CD longevity testing - many unreadable after two years!

Inside Microsoft - eating dogfood is good for you

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

<yawns> At least it's a short week...

24th August

The prices of refurbished systems at 2nd Chance PCs are so tempting that I almost want to buy an Apple Mac - they're selling the oh-so-cool G4 Cubes for less than 600, which seems like a real bargain. There's a whole bunch of interesting Wintel hardware, as well, including a lot of cheap, current-spec Dells. If I was in the market, right now, I'd be giving them serious consideration...

Rather less impressive is something I spotted while searching for something else - a bra with built in holsters for a small handgun and a canister of pepper spray. One wonders if there is room for breasts, too? [Update: Apparently not - the SuperBra, brainchild of women's self-defence guru Paxton Quigley, is no longer on the market...]

Elsewhere... An extremely neat wall-mounted PC, converted from an unusual PC-cum-coffee table sort of affair. Equally cool, in Japan another classic science fiction idea has almost arrived - a powered, computer-controlled "exoskeleton" for helping disabled people to walk. I hope the software is extremely failsafe, though - it brings to mind Nick Park's classic The Wrong Trousers...

Meanwhile, the SCO vs. The World shoving match moves up yet another gear - with SCO accusing IBM of "stage-managing" the open source community's attacks on the company. Meanwhile, again, Linus Torvalds himself has finally spoken out, claiming that the code segments that SCO recently displayed as proof of their piracy claims can be traced back to the original AT&T builds from 1973, and have since been released as part of the freely reusable BSD license, anyway! None of this seems to have deterred SCO, though, who are still clawing and spitting like an angry wildcat. This one will run and run and run...

22nd August

I've said various things about Linux, here, over the years, and many of them have involved brash statements that I'd run that OS on my home LAN the day Bill Gates made Windows open source... It looks as though I'll be eating my words within a week or so, though, as we've identified a need for a server appliance to host our own web and mail servers and Cobalt's RaQ systems, running the Linux 2.2 kernel, are undoubtedly the industry standard. So I've swallowed my pride, and have found a nice little second-user RaQ 4r (the first generation branded by Sun after their acquisition of Cobalt) sporting a mirrored pair of 80Gb drives, 512Mb of RAM, SCSI, serial and USB ports and a pair of network interfaces, all wrapped up in a neat little 1U case. It will host email, web, FTP and various other services as I decide to bring them in-house, and ought to cope extremely well with the sort of traffic and data volumes we'll be needing in the foreseeable future.

A determined attempt to bring myself up to speed in a completely unfamiliar area of the industry, though, has revealed two interesting facts... firstly, that Sun Microsystems have spent the last few years acquiring smaller companies at a rate equal to or possibly even greater than arch-fiends Microsoft, and secondly, that the Linux-based operating systems have had just as many security issues in recent months as any Windows system! The RaQ I'm buying ships with all security updates to March of this year already applied, and I assumed that there would only be a couple to apply myself after delivery. Wrong - in order to bring my server fully up to date, I'll need to apply no less than eleven separate updates issued since then, and the grand total so far released in 2003 is eighteen! Hhmph!

Talking of security, I had to break into a Windows XP system yesterday after the owner managed to forget his local admin password. As usual Petter Nordahl-Hagen's Offline NT Password & Registry Editor stormed through the security in record time, and I can't praise that utility highly enough - it really is the absolute bee's knees. I haven't had to crack an XP installation before, and while I was downloading the latest version (now also available as a bootable CD image, for added convenience) I noticed a link to an interesting method of resetting the administrator password on a domain controller, something that Nordhal's utility is not able to do. After resetting the local password in the usual way to enable a boot into DS Restore Mode, the author suggests the extremely clever and non-intuitive trick of replacing the registry key pointing to the logon screensaver with the command interpreter -  and then waiting for the screensaver to cut in, providing a shell within which you can run the ADUC utility to reset the domain password! Very good indeed, and much faster and less dangerous than actually performing a full DS restore...

Meanwhile - last month I mentioned that researchers at Israel's Bar-Ilan University had devised a method of identifying the sex of an author from a sample of their written work, and today Ros pointed me to The Gender Genie, a site demonstrating the algorithm online. She fed it some snippets of her own writing, which it identified completely correctly, and also a segment of mine... The verdict? Apparently I write like a girl.

21st August

This has been a disappointing year for the movie companies, apparently, with a record number of blockbusters that flopped and failed to recover their cost in ticket sales - and now, according to a story in The Independent, the movie companies know why:

The problem, they say, is teenagers who instant message their friends with their verdict on new films - sometimes while they are still in the cinema watching - and so scuppering carefully crafted marketing campaigns designed to lure audiences out to a big movie on its opening weekend.

You know, I'm getting very tired with the way that the consumer is being blamed for everything that's wrong with the media industry these days... The fall in CD sales is due to online piracy, we're told, and of course has nothing to do with the fact that fewer CDs are being produced each year, or the fact that the prices are still sky-high... The fall in movie revenues is due to (you guessed it!) online piracy, and not because the ridiculous salaries paid to the stars make it really hard to recoup the costs, or because some of the movies just aren't much good - and now, apparently, it's the fault of ungrateful movie-goers who dare to tell their friends that, shock horror, the film isn't actually as wonderful as the adverts said it was...

I can't think of another industry that is so willing to blame its failings on the very people it depends on for its income, or one that gives such a strong impression that we don't really deserve to experience their products and that if we want to go on doing so we'd all better shape up - or else! With an attitude like that, surely at least part of the fall in revenues represents a general (and perhaps partly subconscious) backlash in public opinion... If CDs didn't cost quite so much even after all these years of mass-production, if DVDs weren't held back for months after a movie release and then restrictively region-coded even then, if the RIAA and MPAA weren't quite so belligerent about demanding the right to attack and destroy our computers as punishment for sharing music... well, maybe we wouldn't be voting with our feet as much as we evidently are.

20th August

To A.  -  a slap in the face

I can say this, now, as I've nothing else to lose - and I'm sorry, but it really needs saying. You've strongly discouraged everybody from talking about it, over the years, and these days it's very much a no-go area, but...

Martin missed his wake-up call, yes... Are you going to miss yours, too?

He ignored all the warnings and drank himself to death, and you're ignoring all the warnings and smoking yourself to death.

Think of how sad you feel now - and then think of the people who love you, and how they are going to feel when you're in hospital with lung cancer or some other ghastly smoking-related disease... Or how they'll feel when they find you cold and dead from a sudden heart attack.

Even this late in the day, it's not too late to at least try giving up.

You ought to think about it. Hard.

19th August

Disappointing news, this evening - I heard back from the tech support at Supermicro, manufacturers of my trusty old P6DBE motherboard, to say that the ATI Radeon 9700 All-In-Wonder graphics card that I've been lusting after since its launch won't work reliably on such an old board. This is rather annoying, as my current Radeon "classic" AIW is looking decidedly sluggish these days, and the benchmarks suggest that even with Pentium III CPUs the 9700 would run around three times quicker. Unfortunately the fastest current ATI graphics card that is rated for my old 2X AGP port is the 9000, and that will only be around 80% faster...  :-(  I hadn't really intended to replace my motherboard at this stage, as although high-end multiprocessor motherboards are expensive enough, the outlay for a pair of Pentium 4 Hyper-Threading Xeons (I absolutely couldn't settle for anything less!) would be positively crippling in comparison. I shall have to do some poking around the reviews section of 2CPU.com and see whether it's financially viable at present... here's a lot of background reading to do, as well - I haven't looked seriously at the various motherboard chipsets since the i440BX days, and I'm badly out of touch!

Hmmm. Another option is to track down one of the forgotten ATI cards - the All-In-Wonder 8500. This model was extremely popular for a while, but then was rapidly overshadowed by the stunning 9700 series, and is now long-forgotten. It would drop right into my old 2X AGP motherboard, though, and ought to be available relatively cheaply at present. The benchmarks suggest that it would be around 215% of the speed of my current card, compared to the 180% of the contemporary 9000 model and the 300% of the blistering 9700 - not bad at all! It sounds like a good deal until I feel more tolerant of the pain and expense of a motherboard upgrade, and I shall start keeping my eye open on eBay.

18th August

I gather that a friend died last week... I hadn't seen him for a while, for various reasons, but he'll be missed nevertheless. My very best wishes to those who were close to him.

Meanwhile, a response from Difficult Music, Laurie Anderson's production company, on the fate of the Moby Dick DVD:

I'm not entirely sure what happened with the project. I know that it's still in production - and there are still plans to release it - though there are no definite dates for the release schedule. I think they are actually working on it now - though it needs to be edited.

Well, it's been "in production" for several years, now, so I'm a touch dubious, but at least there's still hope.

Elsewhere, a fascinating article via Yahoo News on the many and varied problems arising when astronomers try to catalogue and classify the various objects orbiting in the outer parts of the solar system. Odd, unfamiliar names abound, with Plutinos, Centaurs, Cubewanos and EKOs - and, of course, different cliques of astronomers have different names for things that may or may not be the same type of object... Isn't science wonderful!

And talking of science, my friend Mike just forwarded this link - Using cellophane to convert a laptop computer screen into a three-dimensional display. It's certainly a fascinating idea!

17th August

Via Ars Technica - an entertaining parody of the ubiquitous Nigerian Funds spam...



Obviously a meme who's time has come, as there's something very similar in a recent column at Dr Dobb's Journal, too.

Elsewhere, an interesting personality test at Match.com - it's not a style I've seen before, and seemed to me to be just a little more accurate than these things usually are. Worth five minutes of clicking, I'd say...

Meanwhile, news of the toughest life-form yet - the catchily-named Strain 121 microbe can survive at temperatures of up to 266C. Captured in it's lair in a magma vent deep in the Pacific Ocean, it beats the previous record holder Pyrolobus fumarii by positively flourishing at the 250 temperatures that killed its rival stone dead. This is of interest to more than just geothermal bug hunters, though, as once more it raises the probability of life existing outside of the Earth's cosy little ecosystem.

Hhmph - I've just discovered that Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, a book of which I'm rather fond, has been made into a film starring John Cusack. I'm not convinced that it will survive the transition from North London to Chicago, somehow, and I'm not sure why anyone thought it ought to be moved in the first place - if UK moviegoers can survive having most of their entertainment set in the USA, I can't see why American audiences shouldn't be equally flexible on occasion!

16th August

The Acme Klein Bottle Company - they sell Klein bottles, or as they put it, "the finest closed, non-orientable, boundary-free manifolds sold anywhere in our three spatial dimensions"... Every geek should have one! On a related note, SciToys have instructions for a wonderful range of scientific and technical toys experimental apparatus, together with a full catalogue of components and complete kits if you don't feel inclined to scrounge up the materials yourself.

Elsewhere - I haven't been paying much attention to the trends in extreme PC customising and modding, of late, and so have missed out on the latest products from cooling stalwart Asetek. Their new VapoChill unit is a neat little black cabinet intended to stand next to a tower PC, containing a quiet-running air conditioning unit to cool the entire PC case. It's certainly a neat idea, and would probably permit a fanless design on the chassis PC itself. My current smart-fan design has coped very well through the hottest summer on record, but the Vapochill system is certainly something I'd consider for the next PC - although that may be  looming closer than I'd intended if, as I've recently come to suspect, the ATI Radeon 9700 AIW graphics card I've been lusting after demands a higher specification AGP interface than my old faithful P6DBE motherboard supports. It's rather confusing, though, as according to ATI's compatibility matrix my current Radeon AIW card shouldn't be working at all!

15th August

A pleasant afternoon, doing things with soil instead of silicon - my parents sent up a handful of little cacti cuttings to add to my collection, and I took the opportunity to re-pot the others while I was at it.

The Opuntia on the right-hand side are the descendents of a cutting my father collected from the Egyptian desert while he was with the Merchant Navy in the fifties. The plant has been handed-down like a family heirloom ever since, and my part of it reached around four feet long before I decided to cut it back earlier this summer. In their natural habitat they tend to grow flat along the ground, but practicality demanded that it was tied up to a stake - as it grew it had folded-over under its own weight, and was looking rather woody and ugly. I cut the top eight inches off the two main growing segments, and then cut the stalk itself back to a few inches above ground level... I wasn't sure whether the stalk would survive, but it within a few weeks it had sprouted three inches of new growth! By this time the cut-off pads had started to develop roots, and providing they don't rot in the rather moist potting compost, having planted them today the chances are that they'll take equally well.

Meanwhile, via Ros, Flame Warriors - a wonderful dictionary of all the different types of posters encountered on Usenet and the other online forums. It's funny, in that almost-too-true way, and the pictures that illustrate each breed of netizen are very well done. Take a look!

Another thing worth a look at is XVI32, a freeware hex editor. Now, like most normal human beings I only need a hex editor once in a blue moon, and so there doesn't tend to be one pre-installed on whatever system I'm using during that lunar cycle. XVI32 is an old favourite, and although it's name isn't the most easily memorable, fortunately hex editors are not especially common these days and a Google search on "freeware hex editor" always turns it up in the first page... If you need a hex editor, then XVI32 does the job without fuss, and best of all it has an extremely small footprint and no installation is needed - just unpack the files to a folder somewhere and run it.

14th August

Various incarnations of the Blaster / Lovsan worm are doing the rounds of the Internet, and although all the computers I maintain are well protected I have my own bug to cope with instead - some nasty summer cold has sneaked past my body's anti-virus systems and I'm laid low. Normal service will probably be resumed tomorrow, but in the meantime...

What Fassbinder film is it
The one-armed man
Comes into the flower shop and says
"What flower expresses
Days go by
And they just keep going by
Pulling you into the future
Days go by
Endlessly pulling you in the future..."
And the florist says
"White Lily"

- Laurie Anderson

The film is Berlin Alexanderplatz, by the way, specifically the 15 hour version from 1980 and not the 88 minute Dblin original from 1931. Not a lot of people know that - and I suspect that even fewer wanted to.

[Later] While researching that quote, I was moved to try to find out what happened to the long-awaited release of Ms Anderson's Songs and Stories from Moby Dick, a film of the London production we saw at The Barbican in May 2000. All appeared to be progressing well, with a 2001 release expected on DVD directed by the award-winning Mike Figgis and produced by Bob Jason of New York stalwarts City Lights Media. Bizarrely, the former now appears to gloss-over all reference to the project, and the latter appears to have disappeared completely... which is unfortunate, as the existence of the DVD encouraged Anderson to abandon her own plans to re-engineer the set as an album - apart from bootlegged MP3s of the live webcast (I have the complete set, of course!), only a couple of tracks survived as part of last year's album Life On A String, and that's a great shame... I'm no wiser after half an hour of poking about online, but I've emailed a few people and who knows what information may yet emerge. Watch this space...

12th August

I recently finished reading Spider Robinson's book Callahan's Legacy, one of the latest of the long-running "Callahan's Place" series. Unfortunately, I think the idea is past its best, these days - the plot seemed rather hurried and a touch stale, the trade-mark puns and shaggy dog stories more crinmge-worthy than usual, and the best characters (especially Mickey Finn the alien cyborg and time-travelling barkeep Callahan himself) seemed flat, unsympathetic and lifeless... and, all in all, well, I just didn't enjoy the book very much.

This was a surprise and a disappointment to me, as the bulk of the earlier stories (which I read in the massive compilation The Callahan Chronicles) were among the very best of their genre - and, on first encounter, a couple of them were genuinely moving... One in particular both aroused me and bought me close to tears, which is a unique achievement to date!

I've been reading and enjoying Robinson's work for decades, now and, as well as the Callahan's stories, his novels Mindkiller (later expanded and reissued as Deathkiller) and Stardance (I've yet to read the sequels) have been firm favourites. I hope that he doesn't put too much more effort into the Callahan's canon, though - the series has been running for thirty years or more, and I think that its day has now passed. Perhaps he bowed to pressure from the huge and active fan-base - with so many readers offering suggestions and making demands, it must be hard to ignore... Piers Anthony apparently fell into the same trap with the not dissimilar Xanth series.

Elsewhere, from online toys supplier iwantoneofthose.com, a Panic Button to add to one's computer keyboard. I already have the similar Any Key received a few years ago as a birthday present and carefully transplanted from keyboard to keyboard, and I think the new one would fit very nicely beside it. Well, there's another birthday coming next month, and as it will be my 37th I think I have every right to panic. Next stop, a sports car and a twenty-something blonde bimbo girlfriend. Heh.

11th August

Like The Grateful Dead, primo US live music act Phish have always encouraged fans to tape their concerts and, indeed, deliberately vary the set list more than usual to ensure that there's always something worth taping. In a new departure, however, their online service Livephish.com is bypassing the record labels completely to offer PC quality downloads of the entire performance within two days of the concert itself. The charges are quite reasonable at $9.95 for MP3 quality and $12.95 for uncompressed, and apparently the service has generated over a million dollars in the first four months since launch. The band is happy, the fans are happy, the hosting company is happy - I guess that only leaves the RIAA, who are probably hopping mad. Excellent!

Meanwhile, an excellent article at MSNBC on who really profits from spam, tracing a single advertising message back to the very companies who claim to have nothing to do with this kind of marketing. The report fingers the big ISPs, as well, which comes as no surprise to me... In spite of frequent protestations of innocence, the major-league spammers buy their bandwidth from somewhere and there's no way that the ISPs in question can really claim ignorance - a single customer sending out a million email messages a day is fairly easy to spot, don't you think...?

Elsewhere, Dan of Dan's Data has taken a break from the endless letters to review an exceedingly neat toy - the Zero Blaster smoke ring gun. As the name suggests, it creates and projects 6" smoke rings, and according to Dan really works rather well... The company, Zero Toys, have a couple of other interesting items as well.

Elsewhere again - Lemmings for the Palm. It's a really good conversion, too, playing just like the original PC version... although registering all three level packs to recreate the complete game actually costs rather more than I ever paid for the real thing! They also have an excellent port of the classic DOS game Hexx, a Nintendo GameBoy emulator, and a handful of other neat Palm things - including a utility that would appear to defeat their own product copy protection! Well worth keeping a close eye on, I'd say.

10th August

An annoying bit of inaccurate reporting from the BBC website, here...

Man held over 50 gun haul

A man has been arrested after police found nearly 50 firearms at a house in West Sussex. Officers from Sussex Police carried out a search of the house in Stephenson Way, Three Bridges, Crawley, at 0830 BST on Wednesday. They found a mixture of air weapons, replicas and ammunition, as well as guns capable of firing bullets.

What the article doesn't mention is that the "house" is actually the premises (located on an industrial estate) of a well-established firearms dealer, Trapper Industries, who are in full possession of the Section 5 licenses required to import, stock and sell all legal firearms, ammunition and accessories! Now, obviously there's some reason for the raid (speculation on the enthusiast forums is rife) but the report makes it sound like the arrest of a fearsome Yardie gang rather than what is probably either a misunderstanding or a purely procedural issue! Anything to further demonise firearms, replicas and their owners, it seems, is Ok with the UK media, and as usual the actual facts of the matter are largely irrelevant. Bah!

Elsewhere - it's very annoying that pepper spray is banned in the UK, but this seems to be the closest legal alternative: Defender Spray (also known as Dye Witness and Defence Spray), a foaming dye that blinds temporarily and stains skin green for up to seven days. It might not prevent an assault or mugging, but it should certainly make identification easier afterwards.

9th August

Last month I picked up a redundant HP Vectra PC, intended to replace Ros's aging Dell Dimension, and this morning I decided to make the swap. Unusually, the HP and the Dell both use  exactly the same chassis, and even though one is a  desktop configuration and the other is a mini-tower, the differences are mostly cosmetic. I spent a while dithering over whether it would be easier to transplant the HP's Pentium 4 motherboard into the Dell chassis, or to move the disk and tape drives from the Dell to the HP, but some investigation showed that the plastic cladding that gave the cases their desktop or tower orientation could be mixed and matched fairly easily. In the end I decided to avoid the awkwardness of Dell's traditionally non-standard power supplies and wiring loom, and bring the existing drives etc to the new chassis - after that, the Dell's cladding could be wrapped around the HP chassis to preserve the tower configuration that Ros prefers.

Windows 2000 is normally fairly tolerant to being woken up with a completely different hardware configuration than it went to sleep with, and as critical components such as the Promise IDE RAID controller will still be present, I'm wilfully ignoring Microsoft's advice in Technote 249694, How to Move a Windows 2000 Installation to Different Hardware, and intend to plunge ahead without any particular precautions... If any weirdness does arise, an in-place upgrade will normally help. I'm not completely reckless, though, and so I'm currently stalled for the next few hours while a full backup to tape is running - just in case!


Take one slightly tired Hewlett Packard PC...

Peel carefully...  
Stir in a middle-of-the-road graphics card... And four sticks of RAMBUS memory

Et voila! One HP in Dell's clothing.


[Later] The hardest part turned out to be the most trivial... although the metal chassis are the same, the plastic front bezels are subtly different - and the buttons that press on to the power and reset switches don't align well. This will be fixable with some fiddling and ingenuity, though, and in the meantime the system seems perfectly usable in spite of being naked and ashamed...

Windows had a small flurry of "New Hardware Found" messages on the first boot, but it managed to sort itself out with aplomb and everything appears to be working very nicely - and with jumps from a 600Mhz Pentium III to a 1.3GHz Pentium 4, from 513Mb of PC100 SDRAM to 1Gb of 400MHz RDRAM, and from a Radeon 7200 to a Radeon 9000, I'm expecting to see noticeable performance improvements. It only took a few hours (half of which was spent fiddling with the bezel), and cost about 250 all-in - I think that's a result.

7th August

I was very pleased to discover that digital TV channel FTN is re-showing all the Dilbert cartoons, but it was a surprise just now to find that they're censored! Today's episode was the one with the test engineer "Bob Bastard" - or, as FTN would have it, "Bob               ", with a short silence dubbed over each one of the several dozen occurrences of his name. I think that's a bit much...

Meanwhile, the excellent online purveyor of plastic kits, H. G. Hannants, has a new stock of models from ex-Soviet manufacturer Start. When time permits, I'm currently building their rather pleasing model of the Energia-Buran, a copy of the American Space Shuttle engineered with the traditional tried-and-tested Soviet engineering philosophy and probably destined to be a far better space transport system had not the collapse of the Soviet Union aborted the project. Hannants' stock is varied and reasonably priced, their delivery is fairly speedy, and I can certainly recommend them.

The kit is shaping up nicely, and only needs a few more hours work - another layer of the silver Metalkote on the Energia booster and a good polish to smooth it off, some detailing and weathering on the Buran to make it look more like the cheap Soviet knock-off that it is, and then the decals. It's a nice little kit - but I'm going to have to buy a bigger shelf...

6th August

The SCO vs. The World dispute moves into high gear, today, with SCO's release of their price list for Linux licensing - the fees range from a special promotional cost of $199 for a single desktop client license to a whopping $4999 for an eight-way server. Considering that they have yet to display a single shred of evidence to support their intellectual property claim, this does seem a trifle premature... Needless to say, the Linux community is foaming at the mouth (as well as every other orifice, it seems), and it is rather nice to watch them demonising someone other than Microsoft for a change!

Microsoft's own fat is certainly not out of the fire, however, with a news release from the European Commission today claiming that the company is still tending to abuse it's dominant market position within Europe. The basis of their complaint is the long-running issue over bundling Media Player, and as the recent Service Packs for both Windows 2000 and Windows XP have gone a fair way towards facilitating third-party players with the "Set Program Access and Defaults" extension, this does now seem rather moot. Still, that won't stop the EC if they decide to make a fuss, and as they can legally fine MS up to 10% of their European revenues it could be a nice little earner...

Meanwhile, the BBC web site has an excellent article on the real threat to the record companies' profits - not home file sharing, as they're claiming so vociferously, but instead large-scale organised commercial piracy:

According to the RIAA, CD sales dropped by 10% in 2001 and a further 6.8% last year, largely because of file sharing. But the figures tell a different story. In America and the rest of the world the biggest culprit in falling music sales is large-scale CD piracy by organised crime. In just three years, sales of pirate CDs have more than doubled, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). Every third CD sold is a pirate copy, says the Federation.

The article also mentions again something that the RIAA have generally tried to sweep under the carpet - less new albums are now actually being made, which goes a long way to explaining the slump in sales all by itself!

The peak of production was in 1999 when 38,900 individual titles were released. But by 2001 this was down to 27,000. Releases grew again in 2002 but were still below the previous high. Musician George Ziemann says if only 3,000 copies of each of the "missing" CDs were sold, the fall in sales would be wiped out.

It's a puzzle... As Caesar at Ars.Technica puts it, "The big question is: why? Why is the RIAA launching such a public offensive against its own customers when obviously the greatest threat to their business right now are real pirates?"

Uh - possibly because college students are a nice, soft, slow-moving target compared to organised crime syndicates?

5th August

The original movie of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was on television a  few days ago, and I still think it's better, in many ways, than the massively hyped TV series... The basic premise of Buffy is very silly indeed, and largely undeserving of the attention lavished on it by the media, the fans and, indeed, the participants themselves! The fans go to great lengths to explain how the quality of both the scripts and the acting is extremely (and unusually) high, and in the face of such conviction I'm quite prepared to believe that it is indeed the case - but that really only confirms my opinion: why waste such evident talent on a thoroughly stupid concept that never deserved anything more than a couple of hours' worth of B movie?

Meanwhile, the Exchange 2003 installation at the office has settled in very nicely. The only significant problem is that neither myself or my two PFYs have any real clue about how to drive it! I've been so busy building the servers and testing the applications over the last few weeks that I didn't really spare much thought to actually using the system for the basic day to day operations, and I suppose I just assumed that I'd pick it up as I went along... The last few days have showed that it's far too huge and complex for seat-of-the-pants hacking, though, especially as I came straight up from Exchange 5.5 and so don't even have the intermediate experience of the similar Exchange 2000 platform. My management is quite willing to send us all off for training, but we missed the beta phase that the training firms were using to perfect their courses and none of the finished versions officially start until September 29th! It's going to be an "interesting" couple of months, it seems...

Elsewhere - WiFi Speed Spray, for when 802.11b just won't quite cut it...

4th August

From servers to cisterns in one short jump... our loo stopped flushing, and some investigation showed that something called the flap valve washer had split. Working inside cisterns is wetter than working inside computers, it seems, but involves a similar amount of head scratching.

Elsewhere, and hopefully a long way elsewhere at that, The Biniki, "a bra for your butt". But, ladies? Don't bother, really... I'm a great fan of bottoms, and in my opinion a saggy bottom is no better or worse in any way than a pert one - just different! However, on the other hand the mindset of a woman prepared to strap herself into yet another unnatural body-shaping device in a vain attempt to look like a supermodel is definitely less than attractive...  Bras are bad enough, in many ways, as were corsets before them, but this? Sheesh! I thought women were supposed to be shedding themselves of these tired old value judgements by now...

3rd August

So, we went live with Titanium today! Wheee! The faithful old Exchange 5.5 servers are still in place to redirect the users to their mailboxes on the new servers, but their days are numbered and I'm planning to disconnect them by the end of the week. The migration all went extremely smoothly thanks to careful planning and testing together with the expert help of our consultant, and my blood pressure is remarkably low for the aftermath of such a major upgrade - Microsoft's 2003 server suite is looking to be the best ever.

Meanwhile, the venerable Steve Gibson has upgraded his online vulnerability scanning service Shields Up to include a whole bunch of new features. As well as the common ports, the new system can optionally check all the first 1056 TCP ports, the ports used specifically by file-sharing programs, check for vulnerabilities in instant messengers, for information leaking out of browser headers and for undesirable cookie activity. As usual, my home network barely even shows up on his scanners, but those without a hardware firewall are strongly advised to give the new service a try. A full scan takes less than ten minutes, and best of all it's still completely free. Thanks, Steve!

Elsewhere - some things never change:

"The capacity of this nation to inflict pain and suffering on those without power is virtually unlimited".

 - US Senator Walter Mondale, 1970, as quoted in Hunter Thompson's Fear & Loathing in America.

2nd August

Well, there's a turn-up for the books - our missing consultant suddenly re-emerged today, after various mishaps with accidentally locked cellphones and confusing double-bookings... When he re-enabled his phone this morning there was a series of increasingly fraught messages from his employers, so he called me and we plunged right into the upgrade. I'm back at home now after the first stage, leaving the mailboxes and public folders replicating to the newly-built servers, and we'll be back in tomorrow to install the applications and tidy up the configuration. So far, so good!

Meanwhile, "researchers" at Plymouth University have attempted to reproduce the old million monkeys thought experiment. In these days of limited academic funding, of course, the project had to be scaled down a little, and the final form involved six crested macaques with access to a word processor... Instead of producing Shakespeare though, a researcher said, "The lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was defecating and urinating all over the keyboard. They also pressed the 'S' key a great deal for some reason." Nice to see that standards at my old alma mata are as high as ever.

1st August

Well, the Exchange migration seems to have stalled, following the mysterious disappearance of our consultant - along with the media and serial numbers. We hadn't arranged any particular time to start today, but I'd expected him around lunchtime and by mid-afternoon I was starting to become a little edgy... Calls to his cellphone only produced voicemail, and eventually I phoned his company - he'd left the office earlier in the day, and as far as they knew he was already with us... By six o'clock this evening I'd had a series of apologetic phone calls from increasingly senior colleagues, none of whom had any idea where he was, and in the end we reluctantly decided that the project will probably have to be postponed until next weekend.

I'm rather anxious, I have to say - he drives a 340 bhp BMW M3 enthusiastically enough that last time he was on site he managed to terrify my manager and PFY while giving them a lift literally around the corner, and so there's a not insignificant chance that he's been in a serious road accident somewhere en route to us... That would be a damn shame, if so, as we've become friendly over the last few months of working together and he's a really neat guy... I'm crossing all fingers.

Meanwhile, The Overclocking Store, the UK's first and probably foremost PC modding and customisation supplier, has ceased trading and is in the hands of the receivers. Unfortunately I think the company was a victim of their own success - the peak of the market definitely seems to have passed, now, and although the man-in-the-shed outfits may well be able to keep going at a slower pace, the larger organisations just won't find enough business to recoup their overheads.

Further afield, here's a strange "review" of the upcoming Star Wars Episode III movie... Odd, to say the least, but dryly amusing, too...

Closer to home again, the start of a new month and once again a new record in the month just passed. The ratio of visits to page views keeps increasing, with a fair proportion of visitors having a good browse through the whole site, and once again some regular attention from a handful who just can't seem to stay away. At least three close friends are semi-regular readers, which I find enormously pleasing... One of them says that it's a bit like an modern novel - once you get into the plot, you have to keep reading to find out what happened! Well, if I have the choice, I'll be a Bret Easton Ellis story, please - Patrick Bateman is definitely one of my icons... So, vote for Epicycle by clicking the button below, and nobody will have to end up with their head in my microwave oven. Ok?



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