I recently read the late Charles Sheffield's SF novel "The Web Between The Worlds". Like several others it is based around the construction of a space elevator or "beanstalk", a transport system reaching from the surface of the earth 22,200 miles up to geostationary orbit and beyond. This is a popular idea in science fiction (Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series, Niven and Pournelle's The Barsoom Project, and of course Arthur C. Clark's The Fountains Of Paradise) and, interestingly, is widely considered to be a practical and desirable proposition in the real world once materials of sufficient strength become available - some kind of long-chain carbon filament seems the best bet at present.
Once the massive expense and huge difficulty of the construction had been overcome, however, for a number of reasons transportation costs could be very low indeed - the passage of the structure through the Earth's magnetic field could be used to generate electrical energy to power its systems, the earth's rotation would provide a centripetal acceleration to assist the payload's ascent (potentially to a velocity of over six miles per second!), and a mass being lifted into orbit could also be counterbalanced by an equal mass simultaneously re-entering the gravity well... The laws of physics working for us rather than against us!
Sheffield puts an interesting spin on the idea, though - literally. Most authors and scientists envision the elevator being started from a platform in geostationary orbit and being built inwards and outwards simultaneously, the two sections counterbalancing each other until one end reaches the surface of the Earth and is safely attached. Sheffield's characters are of the opinion that this idea would be impractical, though, with small displacements in position at the end points building exponentially into oscillations that would leave thousands of miles of cable thrashing wildly out of control.
To avoid this, then, he proposes building the entire structure in free fall at a Lagrange Point and then allowing all 65,000 miles of it to enter the atmosphere in a slow spiral - one end touching-down neatly and being buried under a billion tonnes of rock, the other simultaneously cupping around the carefully orbited asteroid acting as ballast. It's a marvellous idea, and I read the landing chapter several times smiling at his sheer audacity. Arthur Clarke thinks rather less of the approach, though, it seems - "Dr Sheffield's method of anchoring his Beanstalk is hair-raising ... I'm damn sure it wouldn't be permitted!". He has a point.
I've read a handful of Sheffield's other stories, mostly his earlier work, and have been impressed. Sight Of Proteus was fascinating and unusual in its treatment of recreational biotechnology and its social fallout, and I'm hoping to pick up a copy of the sequel, Proteus Unbound during one of my occasional second-hand book frenzies. Another early work, The Nimrod Hunt was good enough for me to forgive him when he re-wrote it as The Mind Pool - I usually become irrationally annoyed when an author does that, especially with Orson Scott Card's Hot Sleep, re-written and expanded as The Worthing Chronicle and not necessarily the better for it... Having said that, though, his Ender's Game short story is a gem in itself, but becomes simply stunning as the embryo of the ongoing Ender and Bean saga. Apparently a movie is in the works...
Elsewhere - and how long can I continue to plumb the depths of the Internet before finally succumbing to the madness myself? - if you like paper dolls, and you like Jesus, then boy have I got a site for you... Well, maybe not if you like Jesus, I guess...
Well, that didn't take long, then! Only a few days after my prophecies of doom, Microsoft have issued an advisory concerning security vulnerabilities in SmartPhone 2002, the operating system at the heart of Orange's brand new SPV cellphone-cum-PDA. As yet there have been no reports of infected phones, but it's been a few days since the weaknesses were described on the hacking boards and it's certainly not out of the question that some enterprising black-hat has already written an exploit. I suppose I'm going to have to start preparing to extend the anti-virus system to cover handhelds, soon - the company is already trialling GPRS phones and PDAs for the sales force, and my occasional voyages outside of the department suggest that a growing number of staff have installed support for their own PDAs on the office hardware. It needs some thought...
Yesterday, in what is being described as a "landmark" deal, the Recording Industry Association Of America and various technology companies jointly announced that they were calling a truce over copy protection and digital rights management. Exact details are sparse at present, but it is expected to permit a reasonable level of freedom for personal use of media; for example copying audio tracks from a purchased CD to an MP3 player, or making a DivX copy of a DVD to a PC's hard disk for convenience. The RIAA have also agreed not to call for further legislation concerning mandatory hardware rights management (disliked and feared by manufacturers because of its complexity and expense), and in exchange the technology companies have pledged to support "aggressive enforcement against digital pirates" - a somewhat ominous phrase, I have to say!
Presumably the deal is basically an attempt to regain some consumer good will, especially in the light of the recent settlement in the price-fixing suit. Will it work? Probably, yes - with CDs now set to be cheaper and a blind eye turned to personal digital recordings, in the absence of anything else it does seem like a reasonable proposition. The Motion Picture Association was conspicuously absent from the announcement, however, and they are still urging further legislation against film piracy - although in opposition the defenders of the faith, such as Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, have also reaffirmed their call for general "fair use" legislation to reinforce the basic rights of the consumer.
Of course, for every up (even a little one) there must be a down, and to keep the balance it seems that the US Supreme Court has voted 7-2 in favour of upholding the twenty year extension of copyright enacted by Congress (and immediately challenged) in 1998, at the same time making legal provision for further extensions in the future - in other words, no works produced in the United States since the 1920s need ever go out of copyright if their holder can wield sufficient political muscle to barter for a further extension. This is not an unexpected decision, I gather, after extremely forceful lobbying by companies such as Disney and AOL Time Warner. With the earliest incarnation of Mickey Mouse about to be up for grabs, as well as classic movies such as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, big money was at stake and the corporate muscle was duly flexed... It's a pity - I would like to have seen the porno version of "Steamboat Willie".
So I was reading the most recent letters page at Dan's Data just after answering a question someone mailed me about painting the ISS kit, and in my hubris it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should have a letters page too - and thanks to the miracles of modern science (well, Ok, thanks to FrontPage 2002, actually), an hour later I have. If you think I can help, or think that I'm an idiot - or both - feel free to drop me a line...
Various flavours of trouble at mill, today, to greet me on my return to the office. To begin with, one of the drives in the tape library had taken itself offline for reasons that never quite became clear. I had to open the library up anyway to install another pair of drives, and re-seating the failed unit in the chassis seemed to do the trick - but it's not the first time this has happened and it's a bit of a worry. However, all currently seems Ok, and I'm just about to dial in to restart the server and check what kind of throughput I can get by streaming to four LTO tapes at once. <rubs hands together> Probably enough to max-out the 160Mbit SCSI connection, I suspect. :-)
Unfortunately, I also had to tackle a more serious problem in the shape of a mysterious failure on our old SCSI disk array. This is a Metastor 3-series unit, now obsolete and unsupported, and although great things were promised when we bought it, somehow it's never quite lived up to expectations - an inability to perform on-the-fly partition resizing without losing the contents of the array was a fairly major drawback, and now it seems to be unable to hand-over from one allegedly redundant controller module to the other on the event of a failure... It's been offline for a few days while I've been on holiday with the classic "inaccessible boot device" problem, and I had to hit it with a stick quite hard before I could run the DOS-based management utility and persuade the remaining module to take control of the array. Some fiddling with cables and the NT BOOT.INI file (thanks, Winternals) allowed me to start the server and all appeared well...
Unfortunately ten minutes of testing showed that something somewhere was badly missing the failed module and kept trying to talk to it - an action that was doomed to failure with hardware in question sat on my desk at the time, but nevertheless the unknown process would wait about 45 seconds for an answer, stalling the server completely and timing-out all the sessions. I'm not quite sure what is happening, yet - I've legally failed-out the dead controller in the management software and the array should be working perfectly with just one... but it isn't. It's not a critical system, fortunately, as the company's main data store was handed over to a new array around a year ago, but since then we've been using it to hold the disk images used for cloning workstations and our desktop support team has been thoroughly stalled without them. I shall have to ponder a little this evening, and then have another go tomorrow before the muttering and finger-pointing starts...
Fortunately it hasn't all been bleak today, though. My department's last minute "use up the annual budget" spree usually comes in mid-December, and the results had been delivered while I was on holiday - the extra pair of tape drives, more pretty pink cables for the KVM switch, and a pair of additional CPUs for our SQL server and the new intranet server. [Damn, but I have to get busy with the latter, though - I have plenty of good excuses, but it's waaaay overdue...] Both servers use the new P4 Xeons with Hyperthreading, and so they now have somewhere between one and four processors each, depending on who you believe... Given the levels of application support for Hyperthreading I'm not actually expecting to see much benefit, but whatever the returns from the virtual CPUs at least an honest-to-goodness second physical CPU each will help spread the load. They slipped in extremely painlessly, thanks to Dell's ultra-modular design, and with Hyperthreading already enabled I didn't even have to re-install the HAL to enable multi-CPU support - and it still makes me grin to open the Task Manager and see four little performance windows. Neat!
For several years I've been reassuring my users that the "mobile phone virus" warnings relentlessly circulating the Internet are hoaxes, but I guess all bets are off now that most manufacturers are building Sun's J2ME Java Micro Edition into their high-end handsets. I've been idly looking at phones, today, having been forced to pay out for another hands-free kit for the car when the company moving it from the old Granada to the new BMW spannered the connection on the controller module - they may well have damaged the connection on the phone itself, too, but fortunately a friend has offered a replacement from his collection of cast-offs.
Anyway, the new cradle is apparently compatible with most of the latest Motorola phones as well as my venerable L7089, and having paid little attention to phones recently I was curious about the new features. It was rather alarming to discover that the most important new feature would be the potential to have one's phone hacked, spammed, subverted, and generally messed around with via any one of a number of possible interfaces! Wherever there's enough processing power and support logic to run a Java environment, there's also enough to run virii and trojan code - and, realistically, a strong probability of security weakness somewhere to let them in. Couple that with an always-on GPRS Internet connection and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and it's just asking for trouble - so I guess next time a user asks about that warning email, my first question will be "how old is your phone?".Myself, I think I'll play safe for a while yet...
Elsewhere; since the end of the Federal anti-trust case, Microsoft are
finally managing to shake off the
spin-off cases, and today have finalised the largest of them, a
class-action suit in
California, for a $1.1 billion settlement. Individuals and businesses in
California who feel that they have been over-charged for Microsoft products in
the five-year period before the Federal case can apply for apply for vouchers
that can be used to buy most hardware and software products from most other
manufacturers. As usual, the total amount of vouchers that will be claimed is
hard to predict, but any shortfall from the $1.1bn will go instead to the
California school system. It's odd to think, though, that whether from
legislation or PR or just plain goodwill,
Bill Gates himself have probably
done as much for the various government departments, arts groups, libraries,
health organisations, charities and diverse other good causes as any
company ever has... Most major corporates aren't too big on donations,
days, I suspect...
When I was designing INFINITY2, I was originally intending to use a rheobus to control the speeds (and therefore the noise levels) of the six main case fans. At the time, however, the only designs available were sized to fit a 5¼" drive bay, and with only four bays in the new case (already committed to CD, DVD and tape drives, and the DigiDoc) there were certain logistical problems... when I discovered the Enermax adjustable fans I shelved the whole idea, relying instead on the little trailing potentiometers to make the occasional adjustments. However, one year later there are several 3½" rheobus designs on the market, and I would be spoiled for choice.
The first offering was from NatriumTech (retail sales at Reviewmakers) and recently another emerged from EksitData, reviewed here at BitTech and R&B Mods. The latest is a product from a Canadian company, the oddly named AutoDeletePro, reviewed here at ExtensionTech. It should be noted that only the NatriumTech unit uses digital PWM technology, while the Eksitdata and AutoDeletePro designs use silicon voltage regulators, thus becoming a source of heat themselves... The latter are still an improvement over the more traditional rheostats that give these devices their name, though, and which produce considerable heat as well as a noticeable drop in the maximum voltage supplied to the fan. The PWM design pulses the voltage rapidly on and off to produce the desired speed, however, and can cause problems with fan monitoring as well as odd noises at certain speeds - pay your money and take your choice...
Elsewhere, while I was checking the links above, I discovered that the venerable PC-modding company Case Etc has just been acquired by US giant Directron. Case Etc were one of the first specialist suppliers to cater for the modding boom, and in a way it's shame to seem them swallowed up - but cosmetic PC addons are now thoroughly mainstream and presumably the deal is super-sweet for the founder Cole Dudley, so good luck to him!
Also, a quick plug for an old-favourite book, Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis. Aptly subtitled "Science Slightly Over The Edge", it covers a dazzling range of ideas from the wildly blue-sky to the wonderfully down-to-earth... L5 Society founder Keith Henson's design for moving a galaxy ("we might not ever need to, but it's kind of nice to know that we can"), visionary engineer Bob Traux building rocket bikes for Evel Knievel ("Watch the horizon - when you see more earth than sky, let go of this lever"), nanotech, cryonics, artificial life, and surviving the end of the universe. It's really worth a look...
There still seems to be some confusion over exactly what the Home Office's new legislation on replica firearms actually means, with the airsoft enthusiasts confident that it doesn't affect the legality of the hardware or its use, while media sources are still referring to a complete ban on all replica weapons - although later reports are moderating this to a ban on only carrying them in public, with considerable police discretion over whether to arrest.
All this may be moot, however, as Friday will apparently bring a "gun summit" involving the police, the Home Office in the person of Blunkett himself, HM Customs and Excise, and the Gun Control Network pressure group - the latter being somewhat mysterious and unusually well-connected in government circles... One of their prime targets is likely to be the Firearms Consultative Committee, who have acted as a beacon of common sense and reason in discussions on replica weapons, successfully staving-off the Home Office's desire for an outright ban for several years - until the new year's shootings whipped the media into a frenzy that the government couldn't ignore. GCN really wants to have the Committee dissolved or restructured, and this may be just the opportunity they need.
The involvement of C&E is especially worrying, too, as they are traditionally given to high-handed and arbitrary decisions, and whatever the letter of English law they are quite capable of impounding or destroying all airsoft replicas on their way into the country... Dutch customs have recently done just that, when a series of bulk consignments being shipped by TNT between Hong Kong wholesalers and English retailers were impounded en route - airsoft is completely illegal in Holland, and after a few days of legal bickering the entire shipment was incinerated!
So - not out of the woods yet, it seems.
Well, it looks like I picked a bad time to become interested in airsoft guns... In the wake of the highly-publicised shootings over the new year, there are loud rumblings in the press to have all replica weapons banned completely and the government, although currently vacillating wildly over their entire policy, is probably spineless enough to provide another knee-jerk reaction on demand.
There has been much speculation and excited chatter on the UK Airsoft Network forums since the Queen's Speech at christmas promised additional levels of control over replica and toy guns, but few people seemed to think an outright ban was likely, with the smart money being on a 17 year old age limit for possession and tighter controls on replicas in public places. The media circus after the shootings has, however, upped the ante a notch - although there is no immediate connection between the murders and any form of replica weapon (the full-auto assault rifles or SMGs apparently used in the shooting are completely illegal already, of course), it is probably clear in government circles that steps must be taken. Although speeches have been made about mandatory tougher sentencing (prompting strong and immediate opposition from senior judges) in the end something has to be banned and there is precious little left...
At present, airsoft replicas with a muzzle energy of less than around 1 foot pound are legally classified as toys, and there are no controls over their purchase or use. However, their realistic appearance has led to them becoming strongly associated in the media with the American gun-as-fashion-accessory attitude which we are assured is spreading rapidly to the UK, and after several recent incidents involving children playing and the police Armed Response Units it appears that the hobby is in severe danger of becoming demonised out of existence.
Banning anything is probably a pointless exercise by this stage, of
course - the stranglehold of gun control legislation in this country has been
growing tighter and tighter over the twenty years or so since I first became
interested in shooting, with every Dunblane or Hungerford instantly bringing new
laws and tougher sentences... and now, at the start of the twenty-first century,
private ownership of handguns and automatic weapons is completely impossible and
ownership of most other types of gun sufficiently awkward and bureaucratic as to
be unthinkable for any but the most determined. Unfortunately, just as in the
United States since their tighter laws were introduced, gun-related crime
has grown year-on-year nevertheless - and with
Home Office statistics showing that almost ninety percent of firearm-related
homicides in England & Wales are committed with illegal firearms, it
should be evident that legislation simply isn't working.
Any attempt to convert an expensive airsoft replica, let alone a cheap plastic toy, would be doomed to failure - even if the entire mechanics of the weapon could be converted from something that fires a 6mm plastic ball by air pressure to something that could feed and chamber a large chunk of metal, the plastic and low-grade steel construction would shatter in an instant from the massively greater forces of the live round's propellant... even blank firers and expensive metal air replicas are made of a far poorer grade of steel than a real firearm, and would be considerably more of a danger to their user than to the intended victim.
Ignoring this basic flaw for a moment, however, I have the feeling that some pundits and pressure groups are looking at the similarity of the calibres in question without realising that the size and shape of a live round is completely different to an airsoft BB:
Both are 6mm calibre... They are not equivalent...
One notable exception exists, however, in the form of replicas using the Brocock Air Cartridge System. These are a range of revolvers and target rifles firing a BB mounted in a faux cartridge case and propelled by compressed air stored in the cartridge. The size and shape of the assembled unit are broadly equivalent to a live round, and in theory a modification to fire .22 or .38 ammunition is possible - although certainly not the trivial task that the media suggests, and even the police admit that obtaining a real gun on the streets is cheaper and easier than buying and converting a Brocock air pistol. Unfortunately Brocok seem to have been singled out for special attention by the media and campaigners, and I won't be at all surprised to see them legislated out of business in another few weeks...
I doubt if it will stop there, however, and if we get away with only the ban on carrying replicas in public that the Home Office has been flirting for the last year, I will be pleased and somewhat surprised - unfortunately I think a complete ban on replica weapons of all types is a distinct possibility. Watch this space...
[Update - two hours later] Oh, dear. Looks like it's happening...
[Update - one hour later] Phew! The first stories were confusing, with reference made to a complete ban on replicas, but fortunately later versions clarify this to blank-firing replicas and specifically mention "low-powered airguns" as being exempt - although the rules on carrying them in public will be tightened further. The proposals are mostly targeted at Brocock, it seems, who have been the subject of frequent mention in Parliament (search Hansard) and unfortunately will now suffer for designing and selling the best product in their market niche... So much for the old saw, "all publicity is good publicity".
And yet another power cut yesterday evening, this time long enough for a pair of table lamps to exhaust a 1400VA UPS... I am becoming distinctly annoyed, and have decided to buy a 2200VA unit this time, rather than the planned 1500VA for both extra capacity and extra runtime - this model doesn't have the USB port I'd intended for the second server, but I can add an additional serial port via the SmartSlot instead. Now all I have to do is work out the best distribution of devices, calculate their power ratings, and either buy or modify a whole bunch of multiway mains extensions to power everything. <sigh> It's going to mean a visit to The Wiring Of Doom again, I'm afraid...
It looks like I'll be shopping with WStore this time, rather than the usual Dabs, as both their prices and shipping charge for a UPS seem more reasonable - although within a few minutes of registering at their web site an "account manager" called to check all my details and ask a bunch of questions... But given their pricing, I have decided to be pleased by the attention rather than annoyed by the invasion of privacy.
Elsewhere - surely this site has to be the definitive "George W. Bush or Chimpanzee" webpage. And, yes, there are others...
Administrative note - I've rearranged the structure of the weblog pages slightly, creating an extra level of subdirectories for the year, and so unfortunately any off-site links to 2002 pages will now fail. If anyone is keen to update their references, changing the path to /weblog/2002/ should do the trick.
Until the power went out last night, I'd playing with one of my christmas presents, a ferrofluid kit from Educational Innovations. We spotted the stuff at Dan's Data a while ago, and were impressed by the odd, geometrical beauty of it all... The kit contains 50ml of ferrofluid, a pair of neodymium rare earth magnets probably sourced from obsolete disk drives, and a big steel nut, bolt and washer to attach to them - when attached (with an irresistible, fingernail-chipping "clack") to one pole, the latter provides a more interesting shape to envelop and, of course, removes the need to bring the magnets themselves into direct contact with the fluid - not an operation that could be reversed...
It's great stuff to play with, and shares some of the spooky gravity-defying properties of Helium II, crawling around the lines of magnetic force until it finds an equilibrium - once the "north pole" of the bolt is fully loaded, dripping more fluid onto the top of the structure creates a flowing line of spikes that coils slowly around the screw thread before flowing down into the pool of excess fluid at the bottom... Rotating the assembly rapidly causes the ferrofluid to rotate too, but it lags behind enough to give a very pleasing swirling effect, with many little dancing, shimmering, wobbling spikes and domes. Woooooh!
One major problem seems to be recovering the fluid afterwards - at its peaks, the magnetic field is significantly stronger than the suction produced by a pipette, and the last few millilitres seem permanently attached to the bolt... If I could separate the bolt from the magnets I'm sure the excess fluid could be sucked up easily, but unfortunately the magnetic force is way too strong for sliding and teasing them apart with any subtlety and I haven't yet devised a way of doing it gently enough to avoid spattering ferrofluid across the room! Hmmm...
Bah! Another long power cut this evening, just after I'd put away all the torches and candles, and disconnected the emergency power cable from the UPS - talk about tempting fate. I'm currently shopping for another UPS, and sighing...
I've been looking at digital cameras today, with a view to replacing my aging Kodak DC120. Priorities are good low-light performance and a good macro facility for the techy photos of computer bits, support for Compact Flash memory cards to preserve my 200Mb investment in the format, and if possible either a TTL or electronic viewfinder - I'm fed up with the parallax problems and guesstimate framing of the usual compact camera format's design.
Fortunately, the Digital Photography Review is proving extremely useful for research, with full reviews of several hundred cameras and accessories and various ways of searching and sorting them, together with thousands of shorter user reviews - often just as useful. The Canon PowerShot S30 is currently looking plausible, with a good balance of performance, simplicity and quality... and as it's slightly obsolete, at least in terms of its 3.3 Megapixel resolution, the price is relatively appealing as well.
Elsewhere, Apple will start charging for software upgrades, PhysicsWeb presents their top science highlights of 2002, Wired lists the top vaporware, and the RIAA is sweating over the European copyright protection on a huge range of 1950s audio recordings that is due to expire imminently. Moving away from technology, UK 'blogger Phil Gyford is reproducing Samuel Pepys' diary, serialised day-by-day - a fascinating and worthy project!
No power cuts so far today, although I've probably jinxed it now by saying so... But it makes me realise how much I spoil myself with my home network - most people don't have any kind of UPS, and here I am planning to buy a third! <sigh> What it is to be a hardcore geek...
The aircraft cannon arrived at the crack of dawn, in a huge misshapen package made from many smaller boxes taped together, and unwrapping it was like christmas all over again. It's a wonderful looking toy, and the grin factor is massive - even Ros caught the full-auto frenzy, and there was a definite gleam in her eye when she tried it out: it makes a kind of thud-thud-thud-thud-thud noise, and the centre of the paper target just disappears! Fortunately I have a somewhat tougher alternative on its way to me, in the form of a Gamo Rocker Trap - a little steel box containing four metal disks that swing back and disappear when hit, requiring a smaller target to be hit to release them again. Use indoors would probably result in a carpet of shattered plastic BB fragments underfoot, though, so I shall probably set it up at the far end of the garden and shoot from inside the house, away from the rain and (especially) from prying neighbours - after a spate of New Year's shootings in London, I'd rather avoid a visit from the Armed Response Unit. There are a couple of glitches to sort out (the sling and spare batteries are yet to arrive, and the C-Mag drum magazine doesn't seem to have been assembled correctly and will need replacing) but apart from that I'm really pleased with both the gun and the custom work. Great fun!
A new year? But I hadn't used up all of the old one, yet!
The last three days have been plagued by intermittent power cuts, probably a result of recent prolonged and heavy rain - we phoned the utility company the first time we lost power, and were told that a fuse had blown, so I'm guessing earth leakage through failed insulation in an underground cable somewhere. Presumably they can't make a proper repair during the holiday period, so it inevitably fails again a few hours later... The UPS systems are coping admirably with the outages, and also with the spikes and surges when the power resumes, but I've kept most of the hardware offline on general principles. We survived the first night with candles and torches, but by the second day I was getting fed up with scraping up melted wax and decided that we shouldn't start the year like medieval peasants squatting in their hovel... in the end I carved up an IEC power extension cable and a regular multi-way block to make something that would let us plug appliances into the main UPS - it served very nicely to power a pair of lamps (a 1400VA battery will drive a 60W light bulb for hours) and at least we saw in the new year with electric light.
Power cuts are not a frequent occurrence in East London, but without access to technology I had plenty of time to sit and think about the home network's power supply - the server's antique SmartUPS 600 seems to cope very well, but the BackUPS Pro feeding the two main workstations is just far too primitive to provide the kind of feedback that I need - when APC build a dumb UPS, boy is it dumb. The PowerChute monitoring software just about recognises that a UPS is attached, but no data is available on input voltage, output load, approximate run-time, internal temperature, etc... Even the open source APCUPSD software, famed for extracting the maximum possible from the hardware, is incapable of adding more than the firmware version and local voltage settings.
So, I've decided to buy another UPS for the main PCs, this time one with a brain, and to re-use the current BackUPS to power the LAN and ADSL hardware - it will provide some additional flexibility for powering small appliances in the event of future electrical emergencies, and when it happens we'll have not only light but full net access too. :-) Well, this is the century of the fruitbat, you know...