A busy day at the silicon face, finishing the last few
details of the Exchange 2003 compatibility testing and then erasing and
rebuilding the pair of servers from scratch ready for the start of the
installation tomorrow. The rebuild was a slight unsettling experience, as
after several hours of performing exactly the same operations
simultaneously on both servers, installing exactly the same software,
completing exactly the same dialog boxes in exactly the same way... well,
I kinda felt like I was seeing double! The upgrade process starts
tomorrow, and by Monday morning we'll either have an email system hosted
on Exchange 2003 or I'll be out of a job - I've had some moments of doubt
during the testing phases, but it all seems to have come together now and
I'm betting on the former.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Los Angeles has
all previous judgements by ruling that the manufacturers of
peer-to-peer file-swapping software are not liable for any copyright
infringements that take place using their software! The judge's viewpoint
is that the applications, such as Morpheus and Grokster, are comparable to
the video recorders and tape decks used in more traditional media piracy,
and that nobody ever suggested suing the consumer electronics
manufacturers... Although the fact that companies like Sony owned both the
hardware and the media may have made a difference, there! Nevertheless,
this is something of a landmark, and the RIAA and MPAA must be absolutely
hopping mad tonight... <smile>
Hah! As we all knew - but great to have it proved at
last: wearing tight neckties can be
damaging to your
From Space Daily - China are on schedule to
their first manned spacecraft in the autumn. As my friend Mike put it,
"Red October", indeed... Both the Soviets and the US have orbited
spacecraft at one time or another, but China has never signed any
of the arms limitation treaties and it's a sure bet that the Chinese
government will deploy space-based nuclear weapons as soon as they
possibly can. Now there's a sobering thought...
Ros drove out to High Wycombe today, and collected the
CD jukebox, a
Pioneer DRM-5004X... Four feet tall, slots for 500 CDs, four SCSI CD
drives with full audio support, the robotics to move one to and from the
other and, completely undocumented and best of all, a neon light on the
changer hardware which moves a wonderfully eerie green glow around behind
the air vents in the front door... :-) Windows currently
recognises the CD drives, and almost recognises the changer, but it needs
some more work before it's actually any good for anything. Watch this
So Hunting For Bambi turns out to be
a hoax... With hindsight, it should have been fairly obvious, as a
browse around the web site showed that all the girls were available
for... ah, well, shall we say "other services", so I did have a suspicion
that it might just be a publicity front for an escort agency - after
you've shot Bambi, take her back to your motel room... But according to
reports that are starting to emerge today, no hunts ever actually
took place, the alleged hunters were Burdick's cronies, and the whole
operation was designed merely to sell sleazy videos. Well, it is
Las Vegas, after all! Full story
here, and the official in-depth rebuttal from Snopes
of all, though, is the furious outburst from Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman
-"I'll do everything I can to see this man is punished for trying to
embarrass Las Vegas!" Embarrass Las Vegas? Yes, indeedy!
Some assembly was required... Happy late birthday, Ros!
Meanwhile, after a lot of vacillation, I decided that
Palm Tungsten series are still rather too expensive, and not
dreadfully backwards compatible, so in the end I've picked up another
cheap M515 to match Ros's. I'll still have to replace most of my
peripherals, as the interface connector is different from the Palm III and
V series, but at least the new format is likely to be supported for a few
years yet. And the colour screen, if not as sharp as the hi-res display on
the Tungsten series, is extremely spiffy in comparison to the
monochrome screens I'm used to on a PDA...
Elsewhere, Ros pointed me to this strange and wonderful
thing - The Alphabet Synthesis
Machine. It's a font generator, in a way, based on what appear to be
mutation techniques - and if you manage to make it spit out
appeals it can be downloaded to your PC as a standard TTF font. A very
Finally - I'm not sure what to make of this... it's a
puzzle/adventure game - very pretty graphics, somewhat twisted in
content, and with a strong flavour of the Eastern European cartoons that
used to bemuse me as a child... Wait for it to load, then click on things
- the arrow shows the way to go forward...
I think I've decided to pick up another cheap M515 for
the moment, and see where Palm's wild flurry of new releases takes the
pricing in six months time... While browsing, though, I turned up a couple
of good PDA news and reviews sites -
PDA Buyers Guide and
Palm Info Center - both of
which are well worth a look if you're in the market.
interesting featurette at 3DGameMan on using dual displays with the
ATI Radeon All-In-Wonder graphics cards - unlike their mainstream
Radeon equivalents, the AIW cards are not advertised as being capable of
supporting multiple concurrent displays (except for the TV output, of
course) but the addition of a
splitter cable to the DVI video port appears to enable this facility
with no loss of features or functionality. A neat trick, for sure!
[Update: Not everyone has managed to get this technique to work... it may
well depend on the version of the Catalyst drivers in use...]
Warp2Search brings news of another USB update for Windows - it looks
rather useful, but like its predecessors it seems to be something of a
will-o-the-wisp, documented but currently omitted from both Windows Update
and the MS Download Catalogue. Very odd...
New Palms all round! Rather on whim, I picked up an
M515 for Ros (the
last of the "classic" Palms, a faster, more colourful version of the III /
V series) and I'm currently vacillating between another M515 and the
rather nifty but rather more expensive
for myself... It's a good time to buy the slightly obsolete Palms, it
seems, with the new
offerings forcing down the prices of the traditional Graffiti-oriented
models. I like Graffiti, after some initial misgivings, and as I'm
still extremely dubious about the functionality of a keyboard measuring
2½" across (the idea never worked on a PDA before, so why should it
suddenly be any better now?) I'm certainly not looking at the current
models. The choice between the M515 (a tried-and-tested interface, running
on more powerful, more expandable hardware) and the Tungsten T (hi-res
screen, Bluetooth, MP3 support - and a price to match) is a tricky one,
though, and in the end it may depend on which one I find first at a price
I can't refuse. Watch this space...
Update - Eight hours after I wrote that, Palm launched
Tungsten T2, with an improved display, more memory, and a different
software suite... This means that the price of the original Tungsten T is
bound to fall fast over the next few months, so maybe now isn't a good
time to buy... Oh, it's all so confusing!
I posted only a few days ago to say
that our ISP,
Telenor, was to be sold to the oddly-named
2Escape2... so imagine my
surprise to read today that they'd been acquired by a different company,
GX Networks (until recently
known as Zipcom and before that Transigent) instead! It seems to me that
the ISP is being bought and sold like a cheap share certificate, and I
can't help but think that this bodes extremely badly for any continuing
levels of service, commitment to customers, and even expected lifespan.
Well, count me out - I'm voting with my feet and leaving as soon as I
possibly can, and I would advise other ex-Cixen to do the same...
A more plausible gadget, however, is
this handy device for carrying and protecting LCD monitors... If
you've just dropped $1000 on a spiffy flat panel, another $60 for a padded
case sounds like a really good deal... I don't plan to move my LCD (except
when I next move house, and then it will be packed safely back in its box)
but even so I kinda want one anyway!
Still in the odd gadget department, here's an
lamp designed for horse-drawn buggies... I'm not quite sure what's so
friendly about it, as obviously it's still electrically powered, but the
advantage seems to be that it can be recharged from low energy solar or
mechanical generators rather than requiring a mains supply. Um, Ok...
neat little article at CNN's Popular Science column, by a researcher
trying to determine exactly what sort of "revolutionary nanotechnology" is
in use in the new
Dockers trousers... To no one's surprise, I'm sure, the customer
helpline wasn't much help...
Meanwhile, SCO are
still determined to claim the rights to the Linux operating system and,
eWeek, have just informed 1500 large corporates that they could well
be liable for royalty payments on every copy of Linux they use. The
lawsuit with IBM
continues unabated, with figures of over a billion dollars being bandied
about, and it will be fascinating to see how this all works out...
We won the
Pioneer CD library on eBay for a very reasonable £400, and the main
problem now is likely to be collecting and transporting a device the size
of a fridge and weighing over 170 lbs... In the meantime, I took advantage
of the continued ADSL problems to rearrange the infrastructure niche down
in the basement and bring the new server online. It's little more than a
giant disk drive at present, but the next step will be to pass over the
Active Directory functions and the DNS/DHCP services so that the old
system can be retired. From left to right, in the photo below - the
Digital RAID array salvaged from work, the
new server itself, and the 2200VA UPS that powers it all. The old server
is the little Gateway tower up on the shelf - destined to be sent down to
my older brother in the wilds of Devon, an area still apparently suffering
from a severe IT famine...
Elsewhere, there's a
minor war scandal brewing over Sky News coverage purporting to be film
of a cruise missile launch during the Iraq war - but which later turned
out to be a complete fake, assembled from stock footage, routine exercises
while docked, and random additions. However, one marvellous quote caught
"A left mouse push fires it. Kinda crazy really.
We actually asked for a great big red button, but they wouldn't give us
- Missile officer, nuclear submarine HMS Splendid, on
how the weapons are launched.
I heard today that our DSL provider is
yet again! This is beyond a joke, as in the last two years they've
been Cix, Telenor, Nextra, and now the bizarrely named
2escape2 Limited - and each time the
company has changed hands the service they provide has become worse and
worse! As I write this we're without DSL again, the latest in a series of
major outages stretching back over a week, and I am not a happy bunny...
If I hadn't already decided to move away from them as
rapidly possible, this would have been the last straw.
What bugs me most is not so much the outages (as a
sysadmin myself, I do accept that bad things sometimes happen to
good networks) but the fact that when they happen we're left fumbling in
the dark without any announcements or updates. Telenextra or whatever
they're calling themselves justify their incredibly high prices by
claiming to provide an enterprise-level service, but without even basics
such as an online network status page that claim is hard to take
seriously... My UUNet account at work, for example, can produce on demand
3D real-time graphs of my bandwidth utilisation, TCP errors, and packet
latency! Now that's an enterprise-level service...
It seems to me that each new owner of the company has
been far too busy redesigning their corporate logos and planning the next
sale to actually bother with the service that they're selling, and in this
case that's a real shame - the original owner,
Compulink Information Exchange
or "CiX", was one of the pioneering commercial BBS systems in the UK...
Founded in 1985, it was where the early adopters went after they'd
outgrown Prestel and the FidoNet boards, and before the Internet became
readily accessible to the public CiX was the place to be... tens of
thousands of users, in its heyday, and thousands of themed discussion
groups covering literally every topic imaginable. I spent far too
many hours on a small subset of those groups, and met most of my friends
and lovers there... Happy days, indeed...
It was also the forum where a pair of entrepreneurs
named Cliff and Clive first suggested that if enough people clubbed
together to provide the initial investment, they could buy a feed from the
embryonic UK Internet backbone and resell it to the hardcore techies who
were crying out for dialup net access - and how would ten pounds a month
sound, guv? The result, Demon Internet,
eventually became another victim of it's own success, of course, being
bought out by
Scottish Telecom (who promptly rebranded themselves as "Thus") a few
years ago and losing all heart and soul in the process.
[Update, 24 hours later] I couldn't post this when I
wrote it last night, as the ADSL connection stayed dead all evening... and
after a brief connection this morning was on-again, off-again all through
the day. When I got home I finally gave in and phoned the tech support
line of the company formerly known as Telenextra, and they seem to have
diagnosed a configuration error in
BT's NTE hardware. Not a
failure, note, but a configuration error - in other words, some bozo was
fiddling with it last week, and got it wrong, and we've had
now-you-see-it-now-you-don't bandwidth ever since as a result... So here's
a big Fuck You to that unknown BT techie. As I write this the line
works for five minutes, then is offline for five minutes, then repeats...
What a mess!
Las Vegas entrepreneur Michael Burdick has created
new hobby... hunting naked girls through the desert with paintball
guns. Now, I like guns, and I like naked girls, but I have to say that I
find the "sport", Hunting For
Bambi, fairly unpleasant... The girls aren't allowed to wear any
protection except for a pair of training shoes, and paintball guns are far
too powerful to use safely against a naked human body - in my opinion the
$1000 the girls are paid is not nearly enough compensation to risk losing
an eye, or having a nipple torn off... Nevertheless, it seems certain that
Burdick will make a killing financially, if not in any other way -
apparently he has no shortage of customers even at a cost of up to $10,000
research suggests that women are more likely to lie about their sexual
history than men, in spite of the common stereotype. Teams from Ohio State
and University of Maine surveyed over 200 heterosexual college students
under differing conditions - some surveys were completely were anonymous,
some subjects were told that their answers might be reviewed, and some
were connected to a fake lie detector apparatus. The responses of men
varied little between the three test conditions, but the number of sexual
partners reported by women nearly doubled when they thought they were
hooked up to the "lie detector" machine.
This is an extremely interesting result, as sex surveys
since the 1960s have typically shown heterosexual men as having more
sexual partners than women - a statistically impossible outcome.
Previously this anomaly has been explained by suggesting that the men were
exaggerating their number, while women were understating theirs - but if
this study is correct the odd statistic can be firmly blamed on the
duplicity of women!
I'm plotting and scheming again, tonight... late last
night we spotted a slightly obsolete
Pioneer CD jukebox going very cheap on eBay, and the idea of having
500 audio CDs available at the click of a mouse is extremely appealing.
The unit is the size of a refrigerator, and at a list price of over
$20,000 is not the sort of thing I ever expected to be able to play
with at home... but some research online suggests that it should be
straight-forward to hook it up to a spare Windows server in the
basement (especially if I can persuade my guru programmer friend to tweak
some code for it), and that would be great fun indeed... Watch this space!
Meanwhile, back at the office, we've started installing
the latest version of Microsoft's Exchange server, the application
formerly known as Titanium... So far, so good - although it's certainly
hugely complex in comparison with the venerable old Exchange 4 and 5.x
systems I'm used to... Interesting times.
I was very disappointed to discover that Lilt, my
favourite soft drink for hot summers in the office, has just been reworked
to include Aspartame. Lilt was one of the very few remaining drinks
without this thoroughly unpleasant sweetener, and even leaving aside the
extremelydubioussafety of the
chemical itself, I just plain don't like the taste! What a bummer!
Elsewhere - by no means new, from the look of it, but
I've just spotted this:
To coin a phrase, it's exactly what it says on the tin
- and some of them are truly wonderful. I didn't realise you could
actually register a domain name that long, though!
Margret: You haven't washed all the lettuce. Mil: I've washed the bits I'm going to eat. Margret: And left the rest for me to wash. Mil: If you wash it all, it goes off quicker. Margret: So, we'll eat it quicker, then. Mil: I don't want to eat it quicker. Margret: But I do. Mil: Then wash it yourself if you're so bloody desperate to gorge
on lettuce. What am I? Your official Lettuce Washer? Margret: My last boyfriend was taller than you.
Further elsewhere, an article at
last week discusses
new advances in language analysis software - a team at Israel's
Bar-Ilan University claim
that their systems can identify whether anonymous text was written by a
man or a woman with better than 80% accuracy. Interestingly, the key
differences apparently tend to be subtle, in the minor refinements of
language rather than the major constructions. I think it would be
interesting to test the software's prediction on the work of two authors
over whom just this controversy occurred - 19th century novelist Mary Ann
Evans, who wrote under the name of
and, more recently, science fiction author Alice Sheldon, AKA
James Tiptree Jr...
Meanwhile, a marvellous spoof at BBSpot on
underclocking - which reminds me of something I saw on a modding forum
somewhere, recently... how the next wave of PC customisation is going to
be buying off-the-shelf cases from PC world et al, then covering up
the windows, ripping out the blue LEDs and neons, throwing away the extra
fans and then spraying the whole thing beige for that unique one-of-a-kind
look... With pre-modded cases now as common as the traditional featureless
boxes, it's becoming almost plausible!
And, lastly - why it's probably a mistake to run
Windows 9x on a giant public TV screen... Courtesy of security site
and Zem's BSOD Page.
In your recent article "If
it looks like a gun, ban it", Vaneesa Bellew writes that replica guns
can be converted to fire live ammunition in as little as ten minutes. It
is a great pity that she has evidently failed to verify this claim with a
firearms expert, as it is completely and totally absurd! However realistic
they look, the "£50 replicas" she refers to are made of plastic, and any
attempt to convert them to a real gun would be doomed to failure. Even the
considerably less common (and considerably more expensive!) metal replicas
are made of an inferior grade of metal to genuine firearms and could not
possible contain the power of a real bullet. Aside from all that, the
engineering skills required to convert a mechanism intended to fire a 6mm
plastic BB pellet to one that could load, chamber and fire a considerably
larger, heavier and differently shaped live round would be nothing short
It is a complete mystery to me how this myth of "easy conversion" has
arisen, as it bears no relation to the real facts of the issue, and if you
are at all interested in the accuracy of the stories you print I strongly
urge you to check with a licensed firearms dealer before repeating claims
of this type. In spite of the current media scare stories, the
overwhelming majority of gun crime involves genuine firearms and not any
type of conversion, and ill-informed allegations to the contrary threaten
to cause irreparable harm to the personal freedom of law-abiding Londoners
to pursue their hobbies and interests.
- Dominic C. Thomas
Elsewhere, John O'Farrell writes in the Guardian on the
absurdity of the recent guns amnesty, a rare beacon of common sense in
the midst of the Guardian's otherwise rather hysterical "Gun
Violence in Britain" feature. It's annoying to note that their "Useful
Links" list consists exclusively of anti-gun organisations, with no
representation at all from the opposite viewpoint...
I've been very much enjoying the writing of two very
different Dans, this week... The first is Dan Rutter, proprietor of one of
my all-time favourite tech sites, Dan's
Data. Dan is an Australian, which probably explains a lot, and from
what I saw of Australian geeks while I worked for their High Commission in
London a few years ago he's definitely one of the cream of the crop. His
writing is accessible, witty, and best of all extremely accurate
technically... I've learned a lot from Dan over the years, and have no
hesitation is pointing people to his site when they ask me about such
common tech issues as the NiCad "memory
effect", the risk of fatal
electrocution from CRT monitors, or how much
thermal paste is enough and
how much is too much...
The second Dan is a more recent discovery - Dan Savage,
the writer of the
Savage Love sex advice column in Seattle's online magazine
The Stranger. This Dan is an
extremely in-your-face gay man, although he shows no particular
bias towards any particular sexuality (everyone is treated with equal
disdain!), and he doesn't pander to his correspondents at all - if he
feels that the writer of a letter is being whiny, selfish, unreasonable or
stupid he'll tell them so in no uncertain terms and with little regard for
their hurt feelings... On the other hand, he can also be extremely
compassionate and understanding when he thinks that someone has a serious
issue and genuinely needs help and advice, and the advice he offers under
those circumstances appears to me to be extremely practical,
down-to-earth, and useful.
Both writers maintain a huge
online archive of
their work, reaching back three or four years, and I've spent many happy
hours chuckling at their wit and nodding at their advice... Two very
different people, writing in very different areas, but both at the
absolute peak of their field - and both are highly recommended.
Faxes to Ken Livingstone notwithstanding, it looks as
if a London-wide ban on toy and replica guns is a strong probability. I'm
told that there is a new gun control advisor in town, and she's feeding
copious lies to Ken and the Metropolitan Police about the ease of
converting replicas to fire live ammunition. From what she says, entire
underground factories are working day and night to take £50 plastic
replicas and convert them into "lethal firearms" - a claim that is
laughable to any weapons expert but apparently swallowed hook, line and
sinker by gullible police and local government officials keen to make a
good showing in the media. It's a damn shame, and won't reduce the levels
of gun crime one iota... Bah!
I understand from
today's BBC news, and from
previous reports over the last few months, that you're becoming
increasingly concerned with the use of replica guns in the Capital and are
currently considering a complete ban on replicas of all kinds. I
understand that you are interested in hearing the views of London's
populace, and so I have been moved to contribute mine...
A little background - I am 36, in a stable long-term relationship, and
work full-time for a large corporate designing and managing their computer
networks... Possibly not the sort of person you would expect to have a
keen interest in toy guns, but nevertheless I own
a collection of several highly
realistic replica guns and a "target range" in my basement where I greatly
enjoy firing plastic BB pellets at empty cardboard boxes!
I was taught to use real firearms by my school's cadet force many years
ago, and have had an interest in guns since then - but the ever-tightening
legal restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms in the UK has
meant that in practical terms owning the real thing is just completely out
of the question.
Last year, however, I discovered the increasingly popular sport of
"airsoft", which utilises realistic replicas of military firearms in a
sport very similar to paintball - although these airsoft replicas are
significantly less powerful than any paintball weapons (or air rifles, for
that matter), and are widely considered to be completely harmless - the
little BBs weigh only 0.2g, are completely
incapable of penetrating the skin, and even the Home Office categorises
them as toys.
Although I don't actually participate in these airsoft "skirmishes" at
present, I am on the fringes of a large, well-organised community of
enthusiasts based around several
online discussion and advice
forums, and do consider myself part of the hobby. Unfortunately it
seems that your proposed ban would affect not only the skirmishers, but
also basement target "shooters" such as myself - and it would be a great
shame if all of us were criminalised because of the actions of a
completely unrelated subculture of criminals!
With respect to the use of replicas in gun-related crime, there seem to be
a number of separate issues:
1) The use of non-firing, blank firing, or pellet-firing "toy" replicas in
criminal acts - in other words, someone pretending that they are in
possession of a real firearm in order to commit a crime. It certainly
seems eminently reasonable to treat a crime committed or attempted with
use of a non-lethal replica as if a real gun had been used - the intent to
scare and victimise is much the same, and therefore the legal response
should also be the same.
2) The possession or use of replicas
converted to fire live
ammunition. Any replica capable of firing live rounds is completely
equivalent to a firearm, both in practical terms and in the eyes of the
law, and therefore is already covered by the UK's comprehensive firearms
legislation. In the particular case of my hobby, it would be completely
impossible to convert the mostly plastic airsoft replicas into anything
capable of firing live rounds and, as I understand it, only the now
strongly frowned-upon Brocock replicas are really eligible for a
conversion of this type.
3) Children and teenagers carrying or using toy replicas in public places
- scaring passers-by, possibly resulting in alerts to the armed police
units, and conceivably even resulting in injuries or deaths when the
police consider an armed response is required. Unfortunately there seems
to be no good solution to this problem - teen and pre-teen boys are famed
for stupid and illegal acts, the armed police are famed for
stupid and unnecessary over-reactions, and this state of affairs seems
likely to continue whatever laws are in place at the time...
Points 1) and 2) are definitely covered by the existing firearms laws and
any further ban simply seems like redundant over-legislation. Point 3) is
caused by the known
foolish behaviour of adolescents, and legislation has never been very
successful in addressing that area.
Also with respect to point 2) - the common idea that replica guns can be
converted to fire live ammunition in ten minutes is completely and totally
absurd! However realistic they look, the "£50 replicas" commonly referred
to are made of plastic, and any attempt to convert them to a real gun
would be doomed to failure. Even the considerably less common (and
considerably more expensive!) metal replicas are made of an inferior grade
of metal to genuine firearms and could not possible contain the power of a
real bullet. Aside from all that, the engineering skills required to
convert a mechanism intended to fire a 6mm plastic BB pellet to one that
could load, chamber and fire a considerably larger, heavier and
differently shaped live round would be nothing short of miraculous! I urge
you to check this with an independent firearms expert - perhaps one of
London's few remaining licensed gun dealers.
Gun crime has not decreased in spite of successive restrictions on private
ownership of real guns - handguns are completely illegal, now, but gun
crime continues and indeed increases - and it seems extremely unlikely
that a ban on replicas would be any different. The Yardie gangs and crack
dealers targeted by the
don't care about the existing legislation, and I doubt that they'll care
any more about your proposed ban... Just as with all previous gun-control
legislation, the only people it will really affect are enthusiasts such as
myself, and once more the incidence of gun crime will almost certainly
I wouldn't personally feel any safer on the streets as a result of a ban
on replica guns and, in my opinion, banning replicas will not address the
problem in any way, shape or form, but will simply result in further
erosion of the personal freedoms of otherwise law-abiding citizens...
something that is already progressing far too fast for my peace of mind. I
voted for you in the Mayoral election, have supported your work in
general, and will probably vote for you again... But I'm extremely worried
by what appears to be a "twitch reaction" intended more as a response to
media hype than to address real issues, and I strongly urge you to
reconsider this ban, and any other planned restrictions on replica
I'm annoyed with Demon Internet because they can't run
a basic email service without screwing it up, refusing to accept
responsibility for their mistakes, making me help them debug it in the
evening after a long day doing the same thing at work, and then not
bothering to call back when they say they will.
I'm also annoyed with Cix (or Nextra or Telenor or
whatever they're calling themselves this month) because they can't run a
basic ADSL service without screwing it up, refusing to tell us when it's
broken, and then charging us double the going rate for a "business class"
service that is nothing of the sort.
I think it's time for a change...
Actually, it's long past time for a change, but
as there are approximately six hundred and sixty-six ISPs on the UK market
these days, choosing between them is virtually impossible (last month's
best bet always seems to have become this month's no-hoper) and as I'm
using legal IP addresses on my home LAN, even when I do finally
make a decision switching provider will mean a complete reconfiguration of
my internal domain. Aaaaaaargh!
I think I'll go and lie down in a dark room somewhere
for a while, in the hope that someone else will have sorted it all out by
the time I emerge... Fat chance...
Screwfix are very
quick - my little set of security bits arrived today, and it's really
neat! Most of the drivers are familiar from bolts and fasteners that have
aggravated me in times past, but some of them are as yet unknown and it's
great to be prepared for whatever future bastardry the hardware
manufacturers throw at me!
Meanwhile, we've finally become fed up with our cable
TV provider, NTL.
Our part of London was the very first area of the UK to be wired for cable
TV and unfortunately, in spite of a dozen changes of ownership over the
last twenty years, the basic cable network is unchanged - modern
facilities such as telephony, internet access and digital TV are
completely unavailable, and NTL (and all their predecessors) have
consistently refused to even hint at when we can expect an upgrade.
This is the least of our irritations, though, and would be tolerable if we
received an acceptable basic level of analogue service.
We don't - the great age of the hardware and
infrastructure ensures that the image quality is poor (some channels even
have a strange Matrix-like effect ghosted behind the picture), the sound is
primitive (it's not even stereo, let alone NICAM!) and the outages
depressingly common... In between failures, channels sometimes vanish
completely with no warning when they're moved over to the digital services
(and I was enjoying Film Four, too!) and, perhaps worst of all, NTL's
basic incompetence means that our monthly bills are wrong every single
time, and require at least one phone call to sort them out.
The one redeeming feature is that the service is
relatively cheap, and it is this as much as anything that has kept us
hanging on in the hope of an upgrade to digital cable one day - but
tonight the service failed completely again, and when we discovered that
the call centre now closes two hours earlier than it used to (and than the
documentation on the back of the bill says it does) and so it was too late
to report the problem before tomorrow morning... Well, enough was enough,
and we're now booked in to have
Sky+ installed on Friday.
Ros is going to take great pleasure in cancelling the cable
service, I think.
The colour printer on my home network, an old
DeskJet 1120C, has been getting gradually more fussy and flakey in
recent months and this weekend we decided that it was finally time for a
replacement. Ros has always been annoyed at having to discard an entire
ink cartridge because one of the three inks has run out, and in the hope
of avoiding this we've chosen one of HP's "Business Inkjet" offerings, the
low-end 2230. It's not an ideal printer, as I would have preferred
something with a duplex facility, but thanks to the confusion and
complexity of the model range that feature was only available bundled
along with a bunch of other features (Postscript, a network interface,
etc) that we didn't want, raising the price to an unrealistic
In spite of that, though, it seems to be a nice little
unit - four separate ink reservoirs and four separate print heads, so only
the failed and expired components need to be replaced, and the little LCD
panel to monitor ink levels is a great improvement over the obscure
patterns of flashing LEDs found on the home inkjets. Initial tests suggest
a fair turn of speed, too, at least on the regular mix of text and low-res
graphics... We'll try stressing it with some A4 photos later, and see what
happens under load.
Elsewhere, I've just acquired a cast-off
HP Vectra P4 system, and to my amazement it uses exactly the same case
Dell Dimension PIII - to find the same chassis from two big-name PC
makers is really, really unusual, and it offers all sorts of
potential for mixing-and-matching to upgrade Ros's PC with the cream of
the components of each. The HP uses
RDRAM memory, unfortunately, a technical dead-end that never really
took off thanks to over-restrictive licensing on the part of it's creator,
Rambus. Although it's very quick by
the standard of the day, it's notoriously fussy about compatibility and in
order to upgrade the 512Mb installed to the gigabyte required for Ros's
usual mix of office applications, I've had to shell out well over £250...
That would have bought around 2Gb of regular PC133 DIMMs, so I hope the
boost in overall performance gained by moving from a 600MHz PIII to a
1.7GHz P4 turns out to be worth the fuss and expense! It probably will...
Spent a while this afternoon browsing back through the
Love" sex column at Seattle's online magazine
The Stranger. A wildly varied
combination of practical advice, opinionated rants, useful information and
the column's archives are definitely worth a long, leisurely read.
Meanwhile, I've just come across a marvellous little
screwdriver bits for all those awkward anti-tamper bolts - the strange
star-shaped, slotted, bevelled and irregular heads that manufacturers use
when they absolutely, positively don't want you opening up their
products to fiddle around inside... That's a red rag to a techie, of
course, and although it's usually possible to fiddle and fuss them open
with regular tools, this will certainly make poking one's nose into things
ever so much more pleasant. It's about a tenner from online tool supplier
Screwfix Direct, and one is on its
way to me right now. <rubs hands together> Now all I need is
something to take apart!
classic post to Usenet, the Iraq war as performed by Monty Python...
So good, it's almost not funny...
Further elsewhere, and I think deservedly so, Dan's
Data reviews kittens...
Personally, I'd stick with the new video card - still 1.5 times more
desirable than a baby, Dan reckons.
Oh, and while I'm thinking of it - in The Simpsons,
what is the ethnic origin of Professor Frink supposed to be? It seems to
be unanswered in even the
most voluminous FAQs, so please
if you have a clue...
Well, it's been well
over a week since I smoked,
and so far it's proving to be embarrassingly easy... I haven't had
anything even approaching a craving, and as I've been a smoker
since my late teens, around twenty years ago, that just doesn't seem quite
right! I must have quite an unusual body chemistry! I'm missing the
familiar habits and patterns a little (the breaks during the working day
where I used to step back from the current crisis and catch up on the
trade journals etc for ten minutes) and I've been somewhat edgy in the
evenings when I'd normally be smoking as I read or watch television, but
it's certainly no worse than that! I'm very lucky, and very glad that it's
proving to be so painless...
I do feel something of a sense of loss, though, having
said that - I'm from probably the last generation that considered smoking
to be cool,
and it's always been rather a
defining part of my
image... Given the choice between losing my cool and losing a lung,
though - well, I guess I've made that decision already, and I know that it
was the right one. As one of my icons, author
Bret Easton Ellis, once remarked - it's better to give up smoking,
drinking and drugs before your doctor tells you to...
Colour me smug!
Elsewhere, today is the
anniversary of the first successful flight of a piloted
heavier-than-air flying machine. In 1853 a coachman working for Sir George
Cayley, Yorkshire landowner and life-long aeronautical experimenter, was
persuaded into his employer's
creation, a large monoplane glider with multiple control surfaces and
a suspended, pram-like cockpit for the hapless pilot.
The latest of a long ling of
increasingly sophisticated kites and gliders, the "New Flyer" covered
a distance of over 200 yards before ending in a gentle crash landing - the
pilot, one John Appleby, broke his foot and resigned shortly afterwards ("Please,
Sir George, I wish to give notice. I was hired to drive, and not to fly!")
- but history was made, and to me the Wright Brothers' first powered
flight 55 years later was something of an appendix...
To mark the anniversary a
full-sized replica of Cayley's glider has been constructed, and was
successfully flown today by various enthusiasts (including entrepreneur
Sir Richard Branson) at the
site of the
original flight, Brompton Dale in Yorkshire, with several of Cayley's
descendents in attendance. An excellent way to commemorate one of the true
pioneers of aviation science.
I was away from my desk for a while this morning, and
when I came back I was rather surprised to find a message from one of my
colleagues saying that British Gas
had called about the gas alert at my house! This was a puzzle, as I knew
that Ros was at home and I was sure that she would have phoned me if there
was any kind of problem - I called her right away, and she knew nothing...
I asked Ros to return the call for me, and when she did
she was quickly connected to a certain Jason, who denied any knowledge of
a "gas alert", but instead informed her that he'd had to cancel the
appointment I'd apparently made to talk about a burglar alarm system, and
asked when we would like to reschedule. Needless to say, I'd never made
any kind of appointment with them, and in fact didn't even know that
the gas company had now
diversified into supplying alarm systems!
In short, this was a scam - leaving a scary message
about a gas alert guaranteed that someone would actually return the
call, and when it turned out to be the target's partner the spurious claim
that an appointment had already been made evidently provided the best
chance of setting up a real one, and therefore the best chance of selling
an alarm system.
Lies, lies, and more lies - and after the other equally
annoying experiences we've had with the various deregulated gas and
electricity companies over the last few years, I've had enough... So here
is the number of Jason at British Gas, 01384 847795,
provided in the hope that it will be harvested by evil web-crawling 'bots
and signed up to some unpleasant cold-calling telemarketing company. Do
feel free to call to offer him some worthless service or other, and don't
forget to add a +44 if you're hounding him from outside the country...
Meanwhile, here's an odd idea - the
London Bloggers Tube Map.
I've added Epicycle to the appropriate stop at Plaistow, but I do wonder
at its value or utility...
Elsewhere, another free
web page change
detection service - but, unusually, this one can also monitor password
protected pages, which could certainly be useful.
So, the "Stella
Awards" post seems to be circulating the Internet again this week and,
as usual, most people seem to be taking the message at face value... It
purports to be a list of frivolous lawsuits where vast payments were made
to thoroughly undeserving recipients, for example the woman who
successfully sued a nightclub when she fell from their bathroom window and
broke several teeth - but only because she was attempting to climb in
through the window to enter the club without paying. Some research at
elsewhere, however, shows that
the contents of the list are complete fabrications, but nevertheless it
raises some interesting issues in itself.
The "Awards" are named for Stella Liebeck, the woman
who sued McDonalds after burning herself badly when she spilled coffee she
had just purchased from the chain. She seems to have become something of
an American icon, but the
actual facts of the case don't seem to be nearly as widely known
as the mere existence of the payout itself. At first glance it seems
absurd to sue the vendor of the coffee because you're enough of a klutz to
spill it on yourself, but it turns out that Stella's accident was one of
more than seven hundred burn incidents caused over the preceding ten years
by McDonald's policy of massively over-heating their coffee in
spite of their knowledge that it was a dangerous practice - and that all
the previous cases had been quietly paid off out of court, avoiding any
negative publicity... A lawsuit that exposes this kind of corporate
negligence seems to be a benefit, with hindsight, and not the object of
ridicule that the case is normally held up to be...
Nevertheless, many of the re-posters of the list seem
to be using it as a platform to demand tort
reform in one degree or another, a platform that seems to have as many
bad aspects as good... A limit on the awards payable by juries, for
example, would significantly reduce the deterrent to the large corporates
(such as McDonalds) who could easily afford the judgements against them
and therefore would have little reason to change their policies...
Motors' take on the risk of fuel system fires in their vehicles - when
it costs less to settle the lawsuits than fix the problems, where is the
incentive to save lives?
It's interesting to note that when George "Dubya" Bush,
well known thief of elections and denier of constitutional rights, became
Governor of Texas in 1995, one of his very first acts was to sign into law
a tort reform bill to
limit punitive damages to $750,000 - small change for the big businesses
that he supports so avidly, I'm sure, so rendering them effectively
bullet-proof in the courts... And with that sort of carrot on offer, is it
any wonder that corporate contributions to the
expensive presidential campaign in history were so generous?
I've just stumbled across
cockeyed.com, and urge you to visit
- bizarre eBay auctions, Internet scams exposed, peculiar pranks, the
skinny on commercial bacon bits, and more. Much more. Take a look...
Ordnance Survey are now
offering personalised maps - based on the excellent Landranger series, and
covering a 25 square mile area, the
OS Select offerings are custom printed and centred on your own choice
of location! No more living on the edge! I think this is a really
neat idea, and they can be ordered online from the OS shop or via the
printed form in leaflets available in book and map stores.
Oh, now this is good - an online
Twenty Questions game with a
very proficient expert system behind it... Ros and I both thought of some
distinctly unusual objects and it managed to guess them all, if not always
within the twenty questions technically allowed. The algorithms are
apparently heavily heuristic, though, so presumably it will only get
better - and it's well worth playing it a few times, I'd say, to help it
along a little.
On a less frivolous note, the US Government has
initiated a programme to develop an
unmanned hypersonic bomber known as the HCV. The final version,
expected after a twenty year development cycle, would be capable of
delivering a 12,000lb payload anywhere in the world inside of two hours,
but interim versions with lower speed, range and capacity are planned
before the end of the decade. Scary stuff, in the hands of the
Meanwhile, it's that time of the month again, and the
Tweakers Top 50
list just wouldn't be the same without EPICYCLE lurking somewhere
down in the thirties... A quick click on the button below is enough to
register your vague, disinterested approval, and it will save me all the
bother of training a new batch of