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31st July

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 completely reversed 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>

Elsewhere, newly discovered extremely large squid of various types, and also the world's biggest chocolate bar - see comments passim about hands and too much time...

29th July

Hah! As we all knew - but great to have it proved at last: wearing tight neckties can be damaging to your health...

From Space Daily - China are on schedule to launch their first manned spacecraft in the autumn. As my friend Mike put it, "Red October", indeed... Both the Soviets and the US have orbited purely military 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...

Elsewhere, building pyramids by hand - rock and roll!

28th July

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 space...

Meanwhile, linkage...

Subgenius mixed with Illuminatus! - The Flat Earth Society. Great stuff...

Thirty years on - new revelations over Watergate

Cracking Windows XP Product Activation - a step-by-step guide

Chinese government investigates "alien structures"...

Free trade magazines, courtesy of [H]ard|OCP

Now I'm off to try to make the jukebox do something other than hulk in the corner of the basement and glow gently to itself...

26th July

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 here, and the official in-depth rebuttal from Snopes here... Best 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!

25th July

That's not a knife... THIS is a knife:

Some assembly was required... Happy late birthday, Ros!

Meanwhile, after a lot of vacillation, I decided that the 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 William Laytham-like mutation techniques - and if you manage to make it spit out anything that appeals it can be downloaded to your PC as a standard TTF font. A very interesting project!

And finally - kinda tasteless, but cleverly done - and made me giggle... Blair and Bush, At The Gay Bar...

24th July

Thursday is often a very tiring day at work, for some unknown reason, so just some links tonight...

The Whole World Was Watching: an oral history of 1968

Backup your data - to the moon!

Boston College and MIT challenge RIAA lawsuits - but only on procedural grounds

And - the RIAA's initial hit-list. Is your name on it...?

Translated via Babel Fish - Italian companies fear reprisals in media piracy suits...

eBay still not using secure authentication

And a new trick for cracking Windows passwords - fast...

Finally - I'm not sure what to make of this... it's a whimsical online 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...

23rd July

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.

Meanwhile, an 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...]

Elsewhere, 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...

22nd July

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 Tungsten T for myself... It's a good time to buy the slightly obsolete Palms, it seems, with the new keyboard-based 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 2" 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 the 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!

21st July

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...

Ultrasonic insect repellers - just thought I'd mention that they don't work... They don't repel any of the other things claimed in the adverts either, according to the FTC. Thanks to Dan of Dan's Data for the heads-up.

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 Amish-friendly LED 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...

Elsewhere, a 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, according to 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...

19th July

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 my eye:

"A left mouse push fires it. Kinda crazy really. We actually asked for a great big red button, but they wouldn't give us one."

 - Missile officer, nuclear submarine HMS Splendid, on how the weapons are launched.

18th July

Just some odd links, tonight - making hay while the ADSL shines...

Windows development found cheaper than Linux

Restoring shredded documents

MIT scientists build robotic snail

Masturbating lowers prostate cancer risk

Porn sites banned from streaming video

Jail sentences for P2P file-sharers

17th July

I heard today that our DSL provider is changing hands 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!

16th July

Las Vegas entrepreneur Michael Burdick has created a 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 per hunt...

Meanwhile, new 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!

Elsewhere, The Matrix - in ASCII,

as a table tennis game,

and as an impressive but rather peculiar PC case/chassis.

Some people definitely have too much time on their hands...

15th July

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 fairly 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.

14th July

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 extremely dubious safety 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:

http://www.thingsmygirlfriendandihavearguedabout.com

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 Ars Technica 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 George Eliot 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 RootSecure and Zem's BSOD Page.  <giggle>

13th July

Dammit, those bastards are making me get all political again...  :-(

To the Editor, "This Is Local London"

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 of miraculous!

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...

12th July

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.

Elsewhere, some space art links:

International Association of Astronomical Artists

BBC's Space Art Gallery

"Sky At Night" Mars Competition

HobbySpace Art Section

Chesley Bonestell, The Grand Master

Novaspace Galleries

11th July

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!

Elsewhere, some random science links...

Kilometre-long neutron microscope

"Anti-gravity" Lifters - again

Map the net - go to jail

Columbia's smoking gun?

One-way bullet-proof glass

Now excuse me while I sit here stroking a replica gun and thinking uncharitable thoughts about politicians...

10th July

To Mr Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

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 Trident unit 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 remain unchanged!

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 firearms.


 - Dominic C. Thomas

9th July

I'm annoyed!

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...

8th July

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.

7th July

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 relatively 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 level.

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 as Ros's 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...

6th July

Spent a while this afternoon browsing back through the marvellous "Savage Love" sex column at Seattle's online magazine The Stranger. A wildly varied combination of practical advice, opinionated rants, useful information and bitter sarcasm, the column's archives are definitely worth a long, leisurely read.

Meanwhile, I've just come across a marvellous little set of 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!

Elsewhere, a 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 mail me if you have a clue...

5th July

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 150th 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 latest 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.

4th July

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.

3rd July

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 Snopes and 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... Remember General 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 most expensive presidential campaign in history were so generous?

2nd July

First day back at work after a nice long break, and my brain seems to have shut down in sympathy. Just some random legalistic links for tonight, then:

Guerrilla advertising legal, says court

... but anonymous P2P networks are not

Email is not trespassing...

... but trespasses must be reported to users

Digital shoplifting frowned upon

...but not all teens are media pirates

And finally - When geeks attack!

1st July

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...

Elsewhere, the 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 Bushistas...

 

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 ice weasels.

 

 

 

 

Vote with your Liver,
Not with your Spleen!

 

 

 

 

 

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