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29th November

Saturday night, and welcome to Epicycle's Bizarre Spam Of The Week Award!

Greetings Dominic

Distressing to believe but Dave Darabond, your nice ally, told me you are dull and idiot!
Is it precise?
Verify my page, if you want to be my incredible chum and comrade!

Truly yours, Terry Morze!

What? Dave Darabond is telling people that I'm dull? The basta...

Wait! I don't know any Dave Darabond! Is not precise! No, indeed! My incredible chum Terry must not be true after all!   <sigh>   Presumably somewhere in the world Dave and Terry are sitting there thinking "Dominic says I'm dull? The swine! Wait..."

After some minor detective work, the enclosed porn link can be traced back to scripts on a fake Geocities home page, so I've reported them to Yahoo's abuse address... It won't help much, as there will probably be dozens or even hundreds of equivalent pages on the other free hosting sites, but one has to do what one can. It's clear that the various half-arsed anti-spam laws currently working through the legislature aren't going to help very much (and may even make things worse!), and as politicians are still coming up with stupefyingly dumb ideas like "put your post code in the address" I'm starting to think that the less legitimate ways might be best after all...

Elsewhere - fetish researcher Katherine Gates on gun porn. Wonderfully politically incorrect...  :-)

 

28th November

I've just come across a web site attacking the Gun Control Network, a misguided and annoyingly influential pressure group arguing for even more stringent (is that actually possible?) firearms legislation in the UK. I have to admit that the parody is a touch clumsy and heavy-handed at times, but its heart is definitely in the right place and there are occasional gems - this one, unashamedly stolen from their links page (after all, they stole it from an American pressure group first!), is probably the most notable:

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Elsewhere, more violence - this time directed towards defenceless computer systems, with one of the finest selections of EtherKillers and related hardware that I've ever seen. As usual the management of Epicycle will not accept responsibility for damage arising if anyone actually builds one of these evil, twisted devices...

Hhmph! Ros has just pointed me to these little gems of complete bastardry, apparently from Bush's recent speech on Medicare:

"Free countries don't develop weapons of mass destruction.
Free countries don't attack their neighbours.
Free countries listen to the hopes and aspirations of the people who live in those countries."

Where does he find the sheer gall to say things like that? What about the US nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry arsenals (WRT the latter two - oh yes they do!)... What about Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua - in the last twenty years alone? And unless your hopes and aspirations include being shot, tear-gassed, clubbed or poisoned then what about Kent State, the Democratic National Convention, and the People's Park... All a long time ago, maybe, but they were anti-war protesters, too.

Bah! Even for a Republican president this man is a vicious, loathsome fraud...

27th November

I've just picked up a new model kit on eBay, and in a departure from my usual NASA and Soviet space hardware this one is the S4 UFO by Testors, a classic flying saucer. Rather belatedly, perhaps, this morning I started looking for reviews of the kit, and not surprisingly soon found myself wading through Roswell and Area 51 conspiracy pages. One of these took me to a "Have you been abducted by aliens?" test at Zenhex, and as I'm always game for a laugh I filled it in. Apparently there is only a 28% chance that I've been abducted, which I guess is something of a relief, but it did seem to my layman's eye that a significant number of the questions described the classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia rather than of extraterrestrial behaviour... Still, if you'd rather not wait for giant antenna to emerge from your butt to confirm your worst fears, this is the test for you.  [As an aside - bookmark the excellent South Park episode guide where I found that picture]

Elsewhere, Rasta poet Benjamin Zephaniah has refused the award of an OBE, claiming that the honours system is merely being used to make the establishment appear more modern and inclusive:

"I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'," Zephaniah wrote in an article for the Guardian. "It reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality."

<nods enthusiastically>  Good for him!

Meanwhile, I've just spent several minutes trying to explain to Ros that there is a difference between hydroponic gardening and simply over-watering plants... she muttered a lot, and I still don't think she's convinced - so presumably hydroponics has now joined the list of sciences (along with quantum mechanics, topology and chaos theory) of which she Doesn't Approve. Having said that, though, she approves of quantum mechanics when it suits her - for example her theory of how quantum coupling explains the alleged twin phenomena is certainly... ah, interesting... Mostly, though, she seems to feel that the Copenhagen Interpretation is some kind of con, a gyp intended to pull the wool over her eyes - and when the subject arises she makes it perfectly clear that she has no intention of falling for it! Never mind - I love her anyway...   :-)

 

26th November

Still all burned-out, this evening, so just  links again - gleaned mostly from The Register, tonight:

Spammers vs. Bloggers - the war between Customerblast and Retecool escalates again

Unpatched website pulled - and not before time, some would say...

IE Vulnerabilities Index - in the style of Windows Update, and it's a sobering read...

Just say "Yes" to spam - the new bill will actually make life easier for them, it seems!

Why knock Microsoft? - the bounty is a good idea, says The Register's Tim Mullen

Apple iPod battery scam publicity - it costs how much? Sheesh!

Steve Ballmer on Open Source - and, boy, has he rattled a few cages with this one!

New IE security issues - bad ones, and they may well stay unpatched until next month...

IDE disk drives not politically correct - oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...   [Update - More here]

Hopefully normal service will resume shortly...

 

25th November

The mid-week slump... No brain, no energy, just links:

Security flaw in Apple's Safari browser... The cure? Use a different browser... Pah!

SCO's legal claims comprehensively taken apart

Weakness in Exchange 2003's Outlook Web Access. Oops!  <blush>

Apple's iTunes hacked - and that name looks familiar.  :-)

More geeks than you ever imagined!

Oh, and news is just coming in that there is a problem with one of the UK US Internet backbones - UK ISP Pipex is badly affected, at present, and other ISPs are certain to be experiencing problems as well. If things are behaving oddly for you, tonight, that will be why.

 

24th November

As everybody knows, of course, Linux and Linux applications are inherently secure. The high quality of programming ability employed, in comparison with that of corporates like Microsoft, ensures that no errors are ever made... and should the unthinkable happen and bugs somehow creep in anyway, the keen scrutiny applied to the code by the open source development methodology will guarantee that they would be spotted immediately - if not sooner!

I was slightly puzzled to read today, therefore, that a serious security weakness existed in the latest version of Opera for the Linux OS, and also that four Linux servers managed by the Debian Project, distributor of one of the major Linux packages, have been compromised by hackers and subsequently taken offline for repairs.

A bad week for Linux security overall, it would appear - and a salutary warning to anyone who thinks that any operating system or web application is secure without expert attention and constant vigilance. Linux is a good, tough operating system - but it only tales one slip, or one period of inattention, to make it just as vulnerable as any other OS... and the prevailing attitude of smug complacence enjoyed by so many Linux advocates goes a long way towards ensuring that sooner or later those vulnerabilities will definitely occur.

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Meanwhile, the second of my free engineering samples arrived from JMC Products. I was quite impressed with the Panther low-noise fan they sent me last month, but today's offering, the Phoenix 70 cooler for high-end Intel Xeon CPUs, is a marvellous piece of work. Although obviously inspired by the classic Agilent Arcticooler units (often found in HP Vectra systems after HP acquired the company) it is nevertheless an order of magnitude chunkier and more imposing than either the Arcticooler or the later, equally Agilent-inspired Thermaltake Orb designs.

Fitting the current Akasa heatsinks to my CPUs was something of a battle, so replacing them with the Phoenix units for a real test is going to have to wait until a suitable weekend, but first impressions are very favourable. The contact patch at the base of the heatsink appears to have been machined to a mirror finish, although I'm intending to remove the pre-installed layer of thermal compound, and compares very well with the Akasa's rather rough base surface. The rest of the heatsink is machined fairly coarsely, though - I noticed this mentioned in a review at FrostyTech, where it was put down to the pre-production nature of their test sample, but as it's present on my unit too I suspect that it's an intentional part of the design... presumably it will increase the surface area somewhat, which can only be a good thing. Whatever the surface finish, though, in spite of an all-aluminium construction the heatsinks certainly have a solid, businesslike feel to them, and I'm looking forward to being able to test them out on the 80W of dissipated heat from the furnace-like P4 Xeons. Watch this space...

 

23rd November

I've just spent a while browsing Engrish.com, a site dedicated to the bizarre and often funny use of the English language in Japanese advertising and product branding. I've seen this sort of thing before, of course, most notably examples of poorly translated technical manuals often referred to as "Japlish", but the site seems to be a definitive collection and they even have an online store! To be fair, though, their FAQ does explain that English words used in this way are not usually intended to convey information, but are just a design element in the same way that random and inappropriate Japanese characters often appear on Western products - and their links page contains several pointers to bizarre snippets of Japanese used throughout the rest of the world, so apparently dumb mistakes that way round are equally common!

The site also pointed me to a new form of art, the origami boulder - and if the artist in question is managing to make any money out of this, then I take my hat off to him. Well, I would if I had a hat, anyway, as the whole site is as witty as it is outrageous. The site even had a reference in Internet comic strip Geek Salad, but unfortunately a link on the increasingly funny letters page suggests that maybe, just maybe, he's not the first to have come up with the idea. Shame...

Also linked, however, is a book entitled "Why Cats Paint", just one of a number of strange things about cats on that site, and the site of another eccentric conceptual artist, J.S.G. Boggs. Boggs' art bears a striking resemblance to money, and the US Government is not at all amused...

Elsewhere...

The 10 biggest spam myths - including several surprises...

First self-assembling electronic nanotechnology device - now we're cooking!

Finally, AnandTech has a review of an impressive 20" LCD monitor from Dell, bundled with their equally impressive new Dimension XPS desktop, a newly revamped model targeted directly at gamers. Ros has one of the old Dimension XPS models (well, she did until I ripped its guts out and replaced them with a Pentium 4 motherboard from an HP Vectra) but hers was aimed at business users and was nothing like the current model... How times change.

 

22nd November

Well, today's planned remote access server upgrade was a bit of a bust... PFY #1 and I worked like fiends to backup the current NT4 configuration and then re-install the server with Windows 2000, but evidently there was some misunderstanding and the consultants who were going to re-install the RADIUS and SecureID authentication suites never showed up! We waited as long as we could, but even on a Saturday the remote users were metaphorically banging on the door and after waiting for two hours past our deadline in the end we had to revert back to the original NT4 configuration... An annoyance, to say the least, but we re-installed NT4 to different disks, preserving the Windows 2000 disk set, so that at least when we try again we have the OS already built. Knowing my luck, though, by the time the next upgrade opportunity presents itself the software will finally be Server 2003 compliant and the Windows 2000 build will be redundant...  <long sigh>

While I wait, though - links from that wonderful UK organ The Register:

A useful Bluetooth security overview

SCO vs. The World, as a gangster movie - rather good...

Chinese DVD-beating format announced

UK bosses blamed for mediocre IT

Dialup virus scammer busted

And elsewhere, via Reuters, "Man gets 'spam rage' over penis ad". Spam rage... Brilliant...

 

21st November

One final flurry of activity with the SMS server, this morning, and it's now well and truly deployed. We've installed the client on around 80% of the company's PC systems, and the helpdesk and desktop teams are already using the reporting, asset management and remote control facilities for real world support tasks. So far, so good - but I'm thoroughly fed up with enterprise systems after the last few months, and would very much like to use nothing more complex than a word processor for the next few days! No such luck though, of course, as tomorrow I have to be back in the office to upgrade our RADIUS server to Windows Server 2003. No rest for the wicked, as the saying has it - so I guess at some point I must have been very, very wicked indeed.

Oh, and my RaQ 4 web server went funny a few days ago... I'm not quite sure what happened to it, as I haven't had the time to pay much attention to it recently, but I suddenly noticed odd messages in my local backup log, of all things, and when I tried to connect to the RaQ to check them out it just laughed at me. A shutdown and restart fixed it up, but I do find it rather peculiar - it hasn't actually been doing anything so far, just sitting in a corner idling, and as it isn't yet exposed to the vagaries of the Internet there's no chance of it having been hit by malicious code. I haven't done anything more than use the management GUI to install the official security patches myself, either, so it can't even be user error! Evidently it just crashed - so there goes another Linux myth.

Meanwhile - SCO, purveyor of many other Linux myths, is upping the ante considerably in the SCO vs. The Rest Of The World intellectual property dispute. Taking a leaf from the RIAA's book, it seems, they intend to sue several of the largest corporate Linux users, presumably guaranteeing that said corporates will never do any kind of business with SCO ever again. They have also announced plans to expand the scope of the copyright violation claims to include veteran Unix house BSD in 2004, and are also intending legal action against aging dinosaur Novell... The latter is about to re-invent itself for the nth time with the acquisition of Linux vendor SuSE, a move which SCO claims would violate an existing contract that prohibits Novell from competing with their Linux business. Curioser and curioser, as Alice would say.

Elsewhere, while following up the discussing arising from yesterday's The Top 10 Internet fads link, I came across a wonderful obituary of the doomed Pointcast service. I could never see what all the fuss about Pointcast was, either.

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And, finally, if only to add a splash of colour... Finding Nemo? Nemo, found...

 

20th November

More wrestling with SMS 2003 today, and up until the last minute we thought it was going to beat us... there was a tricky problem concerning distribution points for the remote offices, locally held shares designed to allow big software packages to be installed over a fast LAN connection rather than over the slower WAN links back to the central site. We spent about six hours struggling with the settings, finding and fixing odd problems but mostly banging our heads against the logical walls, but at around 3:30 in the afternoon all the tweaks and changes suddenly came together and we finally managed to send out a software update from a remote server. The relief was enormous, needless to say! Tomorrow is the last day assigned to the initial stage of the project, but with today's success we're nicely on schedule and I'm extremely pleased with the results. Many thanks to Mike at SynTech for his perseverance and huge, bulging brain...

Meanwhile, links:

Tabula PC - a 'blog and information resource for Tablet PCs

The Top 10 Internet fads

Another Mac aquarium - this time in a G4 Cube

Geek horoscopes at BB Spot

AutoPatcher XP - like Windows Update on a CD

And - wow - this has to be seen: The biggest diesel engines in the world... Absolutely incredible!

 

19th November

It's been an extremely busy week, so far, but a productive one too - I've been wrestling with Microsoft's new Systems Management Server 2003 with the able assistance of our pet consultancy, Synchronous Technologies, and although the new version has lived up to the reputation of its predecessors by being fiendishly complex to configure, we're managing to hack our way through it with only minor bouts of hear-tearing and teeth gnashing.

Unusually for recent Microsoft installations, we're not actually in a Rapid Adoption Programme for SMS, but we've had access to some of the beta builds over the last few months and we've been able to carry out fairly extensive testing before going live this week. It hasn't been a completely smooth process, though, I have to say - the documentation is woefully inadequate or outdated in places, and the release code shows some definite rough edges... I'm expecting a number of hotfixes relatively soon and, with luck, maybe even a service pack early next year!

The sheer power and flexibility of the system is obvious after only a few days in a production environment, though - my network team are in love with the unprecedented level of control over the client PCs, and the desktop support team are already in raptures over the reporting and asset tracking. Once my SQL geek is up to speed on the huge and labyrinthine database structures we'll really be able to make it sing and dance - and with another RAP for Microsoft Operations Manager 2003 due early next year, for 90% of network management tasks I'm never going to have to leave my desk!  [sigh]  I can feel the middle-age spread setting in already...

 

18th November

[Abashed grin] No venom today, I promise...

Firstly, the incomparable Dan Rutter asks "how much does a computer cost?", and ends up concluding that it really depends on who you ask. He definitely has a point, too - I find it almost impossible to envision even a basic PC without a tape drive and mirrored disks, options which are completely alien to most home users.

"Now, try asking a Linux geek. Try to find a mellow yet knowledgeable one - somewhere between the ones who get angry if you don't say it "GNU/Linux", and the fakes who don't even have a beard. Hi-ho to ebay.com.au you'll go in search of a perfectly serviceable used P-II (or, these days, slow P-III) box for a couple of hundred Aussie bucks, at most. You'll probably get a monitor as well, for that money. You're likely to end up with a superannuated business machine with 64Mb RAM, a well-used low capacity hard drive and The Worst Mouse You'll Ever Touch, of course. But for unpretentious users of the Finnish OS, that's A-OK."

Running Linux [cough] sorry, GNU/Linux, is not all that obsolete computers are good for, though. The venerable Macintosh Aquarium concept now has a dedicated home page, it seems, so if you fancy building a Macquarium this should definitely be the first stop for links, pictures and advice.

An equally unlikely combination of silicon and carbon can be seen in a more recent idea, though - if one that started off as a joke on the case modding scene last year. In a classic case of youthful exuberance TechTV contributor Kevin Rose has incorporated an ant farm into the transparent side panel of his PC...

Elsewhere - a story at Wired suggests that the signals from the RFID tags currently much in vogue for spying on consumers [oops, some venom creeping in, there!] tracking stock levels are actually weedy enough to be blocked by... well, the example they quote is an aluminium foil hat! Now, foil hats don't seem to have caught on in England, as yet, but the article also mentions a rather more significant example:

"Any conductive material can shield the radio signals," said Matt Reynolds, a principal at ThingMagic, which develops RFID systems. "There are all kinds of ways to render the tags inoperable." That means Coca-Cola, which eventually wants to put an RFID tag on every can of soda it sells, will have a hard time getting around the metals, plastics and liquids that block the radio signals from the tags.

Whatever the limitations of the current systems, though, the threat to privacy is clear - according to the article the pioneers of the technology are shunning publicity and only notifying consumers that they are being tracked in the most vague, ambiguous terms... And I was especially interested to note that, as yet, none of the retailers who are using RFID tags on their stock are actually disabling the tracking mechanism when the consumer leaves the store. Hmmm.

Lastly, P2P stalwart Sharman Networks, owners of the popular but dubious Kazaa file-sharing software, is running full-page print advertisements in major newspapers this coming week in the hope of improving the software's unsavoury image. The $1 million advert campaign will exhort music and movie industry executives to stop treating file swappers as pirates, and also ask computer users to lobby the media companies to put aside their animosity toward Kazaa and P2P file sharing. In spite of the multiple lawsuits currently pending against Sharman (and the anti-trust suits Sharman have replied with) the company is still keen for the record labels to use customised versions of the Kazaa platform to distribute licensed, copy-protected versions of their works.

Personally, I don't see this working even slightly - the media groups have always been implacable in their fear and mistrust of the file sharing networks, and I'm sure that they are firmly resolved to crucify Sharman in a series of protracted and expensive legal battles, acquire the Kazaa software as part of the settlement, and then kill the network stone dead with poisoned data before launching their own, grossly inferior offering. Oh, dear, there's that venom again...

 

17th November

So Bush is in London tomorrow, and I'm feeling cross already. I'll try not to rant too much, here, as the specialist political 'blogs are far better for this sort of thing - but having watched the ITN evening news just now, I'm simmering too much to ignore it. The trigger was a GOP mouthpiece from some odious organisation called "Republicans Abroad" saying that American citizens in London shouldn't be called to answer for Bush any more than the British are called to answer for the Royal Family. To a small extent, I actually agree - there are similarities, after all, in that neither was actually elected by a majority of the people they claim to represent - but mostly I'm annoyed that the TV interviewer didn't question a statement like that. Apart from the fact that British people overseas should be called to account for the bloated hereditary parasites whose sleaze and excesses we somehow tolerate year after year (and often are, I gather, during whatever royal scandal is currently fermenting), it seems thoroughly bizarre to compare Bush to the Queen instead of to his partner in crime Tony Blair. Whatever you think of the Queen and her extended family (and, as you can tell, I don't think much of them at all!) even I can't equate her rather ineffectual, detached, callous self-interest with Bush's lies, greed, intolerance, arrogant stupidity and downright criminal behaviour both before and after his "election". Oh, well...

On a rather more promising note, however, I also saw terse little warnings from senior teachers, government officials and the police aimed at discouraging London children from skipping school this week to protest against Bush and the war. I have to admit that I'm surprised that it's considered to be a serious issue, as from my own experience of today's teens I'd assumed that they are mostly as politically ignorant and lethargic as my own generation were, but given the fuss and threats being made to deter them presumably significant numbers are considerably more interested and active than I'd realised - and that's extremely good news, I'm sure.

 

15th November

I was seized with a sudden enthusiasm, today, and decided to do something with the Remington shotgun heat shield I picked up from ATI back in the spring. The original plan was to mount it to the M1100 replica, but that would have required considerable machining of either the shotgun's foregrip or of the heat shield itself. However, some fiddling a while ago suggested that it would fit to the M870 rather more easily, and as the M1100 was already looking quite pleasing as it was, I decided to try for a makeover of the pump action replica instead.

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When it came to it, everything slotted together relatively easily. The heat shield is designed for the "real steel" M870, and Maruzen's replica is a close enough copy that everything fitted tolerably well without any modification. To complete the businesslike SWAT look I transplanted the magazine extension tube from the M1100 and added a stock-mounted shot-shell holder - the former another ATI component, the latter an airsoft accessory sourced from one of the Far East suppliers.

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The magazine extension required some considerable modification when I first fitted it to the M1100 earlier this year, as a real 12 gauge shell is considerably longer and fatter than Maruzen's replicas. Once I sliced off the over-sized mounting section completely, though, it formed a relatively tight push-fit onto the magazine tube's screw thread, and is held firmly enough by the plastic clamp. Now that I'm happy with the overall appearance, though, I may well epoxy it in place to provide a rather more permanent solution. Now all I need to do is find a cure for the wretched "pop" sound that the M870 replica makes on firing - even more of a disappointment, now, since it looks so macho otherwise...

Elsewhere, a wonderful video advert from Trojan, manufacturer of rubber unmentionables. Very funny indeed...

 

14th November

Today's Epicycle is brought to you courtesy of a soundtrack of Hayseed Dixie's AC/DC covers - music that probably Shouldn't Be Allowed. I need the light relief, though, as today's bout of all-in wrestling with our new SNA server ended in a complete victory for the server... In the end I brought the old system back online again - the users have had a whole week of vanishing queues, lost print jobs, misaligned documents and general annoyance, and by Friday lunchtime they were about ready to hang me in effigy. It's especially annoying, as this was already the second attempt to bring the new server live, and we really did throw everything we had at the project... Now we'll have to retire and regroup, and hope that some cunning plan occurs to us before making a third try later in the month.

However, today I finally evaded the clutches of IBM's demon protocol and arrived home to find that Ros had managed to procure a three foot cylinder of CO2 for the shell-ejecting airsoft assault rifle I'm expecting imminently. The tank holds 6Kg of gas, and if my supplier is correct it should be good for around 40,000 rounds - although the BOC guy Ros dealt with seemed to think it would be significantly less. We shall see...

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Update: Annoyingly, my replica supplier neglected to tell me that I needed a very specific sort of gas tank to power the gun, so of course we rented the wrong type. For the benefit of any equally confused potential customers, the correct type is "liquid withdrawal" - BOC supply both, but default to the "gaseous withdrawal" variety that will not work at all well with airsoft or paintball replicas. Dammit! There is some very useful information on the surprisingly complex procedures for filling CO2 tanks at the following sites -

Radiation Blues Paintball
Ian Pellant Airguns
Warpig Paintball

Meanwhile, people with far too much time on their hands have been very busy indeed, and have created a large and comprehensive parody of archetypal geek site Slashdot. "Slashnot" went live a few days ago, but I feel that they may have gone too far - from a cursory examination, it's hard to tell the difference, and evidently the real thing is already enough of a parody of itself to make a satirical re-rendering almost pointless... Ho hum.

 

13th November

A frustrating day at the silicon face, wrestling with Microsoft's long-obsolete SNA Server and the connection to our leased mainframe. I'll spare you the technical details, as nobody left alive is much interested in the SNA protocol these days, but suffice it to say that it all SUCKS. However, while I was tracking down the link above, I spotted a little bit of information that may be absolutely critical, and I'm now considerably more hopeful that I can get everything back in good working order again tomorrow. It's been a very annoying week with these SNA problems, and any improvement would be extremely welcome...

And talking of Microsoft, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to re-examine the validity of the infamous Eolas patent, after considerable pressure from the W3C and other groups over the last few weeks. The W3C's request came as part of a much wider campaign to identify prior art relevant to the case, and with significant support from organisations normally directly opposed to Microsoft it's clear that there is a real groundswell of opinion against the patent itself.

Meanwhile, at Yahoo News - "We're not anti-American, we're anti-Bush". Oh, yes, I hear that!

 

12th November

The last S-ATA disk drive finally arrived from Scan today, having taken them a far from satisfactory eight days to test the faulty and issue a replacement. I don't think I'll be dealing with them again, if I can help it - my order with them has been a disaster from start to finish, with vanishing stock, missed delivery dates, bad advice and an overall slug-like lack of responsiveness. I am not impressed...

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However, installing it into the array was certainly painless enough - I already had a single drive hosting my secondary disk volume and, having physically wired in the new one, I just had to boot into Windows, launch the RAID manager utility and add the new disk as fault tolerance to the existing drive. It's re-mirroring nicely in the background as I write this, exactly as I'd expect from the considerably more expensive high-end Fibre Channel RAID systems I use at the office. I'm becoming quite fond of this ICP hardware...  :-)

Meanwhile, at least one Fermilab researcher apparently has far too much time on his hands - physicist Richard Carrigan is concerned that signals from the stars broadcast by an alien intelligence could also carry "harmful information", in a similar vein to a computer virus. The so-called "SETI Hacker" hypothesis, Carrigan argues, is an issue that should be taken seriously, and caution should be exercised when handling any data downloaded via the SETI programs. Now, maybe I'm being naive and foolish, but I have to say that I consider the threat from adolescent human hackers to be about a billion times greater than that from alien ones...

Elsewhere at Space.Com, though, some beautiful images of the recent Lunar eclipse, mostly taken by amateurs astronomers using relatively standard digital cameras - and especially impressive given that fairly low tech approach. Well worth a look.

 

11th November

So, Bush the Election Thief is in London next week, and his security teams have demanded a complete ban on protest marches and demonstrations, as well as other measures that would lead to large parts of the city being virtually shut down for the three days of the official visit. Thanks to Bush's spectacularly unsuccessful war on terror, and Tony Blair's whole-hearted support of it, apparently London is now at more risk of a terrorist attack than any other city in the United States or Western Europe, and Bush's 500-strong entourage is understandably nervous... Scotland Yard insist that protest marches will be allowed, and that Trafalgar Square will be available for mass rallies, but civil liberties campaigners say they expect draconian anti-terror rules to be deployed - including reportedly agreed "rules of engagement" allowing Bush bodyguards to shoot anyone they believe is threatening the life of the President.

I found all this especially irritating to read today, as yesterday I came across a particularly poignant and relevant paragraph in Hunter Thompson's classic political commentary Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail... Written about Richard Nixon in 1972, it's just as true thirty years later - about either Bush or his partner in crime, Tony Blair:

"There is no point in kidding ourselves about what Richard Nixon really wants for America. When he stands at his White House window and looks out at an anti-war demonstration, he doesn't see 'dissenters', he sees criminals. Dangerous parasites, preparing to strike at the heart of the Great American System that put him where he is today."

 - Hunter S. Thompson, September 1972

As Thompson would say, Selah...

Elsewhere -

Apple's "Fastest Computer" advert banned

Belkin spamming network users

Fallout of the Eolas ruling

A short history of graphics cards

And a very big handgun

 

10th November

Mike pointed me to another techie's weblog, recently, that of guru programmer John Topley, and having had time for a quick look through the first few pages there's some fascinating oddments, links and snippets of information. The current highlights are a link to patched versions of the original bundled applets from the very first versions of Windows, an explanation of why the word "Burgermaster" is buried deep in the innards of current Windows systems, and how the Windows NT development team couldn't colour in shapes as well as the Windows 98 programmers. Well worth exploring in more depth, I'd say.

Elsewhere, a fresh batch of updates at the incomparable Dan's Data - topics include giant magnets, getting electrocuted in the bath, and the startling revelation that Dan is currently the foremost money-grubber on the Internet. Kudos, dude!

Meanwhile, from BBSpot - The Scariest Geek Movies, Part III - work backwards to parts I and II. My favourites were "Invasion of the <BODY> Snatchers", "I Know Who You Hacked Last Summer", and "Natural Born Kill -9'ers". Good stuff...

 

9th November

The menagerie of space models expanded slightly, a few weeks ago, with the addition of four tiny little pieces from the Startales collection. I stumbled across these models on eBay, and was captivated immediately... they're tiny, but well-made and full of detail - the photos don't really do them justice. I found an obliging supplier for the entire range in Japan, and snapped up most of the ones that took my fancy. Full details, and lots of pictures, in the freshly updated and revamped Space Models section.

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8th November

I showed Mike the Microsoft Exchange PR video and he called me a whore, so I think my work is done.  :-)  The video turned out remarkable well, actually - even though it was finally edited down to just over three minutes, I ended up with a good proportion of that time and had all the best soundbites. It will be shown at the Microsoft IT Forum event in Copenhagen next week, but I have a small-scale 300KBit version that runs to about 7Mb, so if anyone is desperate to see it I can make it available here... Let me know.

Closer to home, I've finally completed the write-up on my shiny new PC. If you like pictures of the inside of computers, the Infinity page is a must-see... If you don't, then here's something with a rather lower silicon content. Either way, enjoy.

Meanwhile, some links -

Linux backdoor hack attempted - but foiled thanks to the prompt actions of the assembled lawn dwarves.

The tomacco - straight out of The Simpsons, how remarkable!

Nigerian Funds scammer exposed - well, one of them, anyway... presumably they're not all Canadian?

"Inventor of the computer" honoured - but far from being the un-sung hero the articles claim, this guy is all over the place these days...

3D modelling - in real 3D - sintering aluminium powder with a computer controlled laser. Gosh!

Digital Miss World - but no actresses from virtual porn movies allowed, please.

 

6th November

A few months ago Microsoft released an update to correct a security vulnerability in DirectX, and unfortunately it had an untoward effect on multimedia hardware such as my ATI Radeon All-In-Wonder card. The symptoms were a fuzzy display and inability to properly re-tune TV channels on an existing installation or, as in my case, the complete lack of any TV tuning ability at all in a fresh install.

The glitch only affected non-NTSC video hardware, so didn't immediately come to light, but after a while of "well, it works for me!" on the support forums, we started to notice that it was only users outside America who were affected. A degree of pressure from the assembled users prompted ATI and Microsoft to investigate, and in the fullness of time a patch was released - although, initially, only available by special request direct from Microsoft tech support. As of this morning, though, after a further degree of pressure from, well, me, actually, it is now available from their public download area. The patch works perfectly, is a far cleaner option than mixing-and-matching driver versions, and is a far safer option than sticking with earlier versions of DirectX V9.

Talking of Microsoft, this afternoon I was sent a copy of the pre-production cut of Tuesday's interview. The whole sequence is around eight minutes, of which I have about a quarter - but apparently the final version will be edited down to a bare three minutes, and by that stage I expect my contribution to be essentially a Beavis and Butt-Head style "Exchange is cool... huh... huh..." soundbite. Oh, well!

Elsewhere, some great little Flash animations courtesy of Andy Foulds Design - the interface is a touch obscure, but look for "The Economists" and "The Dancing Blair".

 

5th November

In the wake of yesterday's Gartner report on the myths of desktop Linux, comes a remarkable statement from Red Hat's Matthew Szulik, CEO of one of the original and foremost distributors of pre-packaged Linux. The Linux operating system just isn't suitable for the desktop, he says, and consumers should stick to Windows for the foreseeable future... and he's putting his money where his mouth is, too, announcing in an email to existing users that his company is ending production and maintenance of the workstation-orientated builds and concentrating only on the enterprise level server releases.

I hate to say "I told you so", but, well... I told you so. It's been clear to me for years that none of the current flavours of Unix was ever going to make significant headway into the home and office PC market, and none of the spluttering and evangelising by Unix lawn dwarves has made me want to change my mind... I've based this impression firmly on my own experiences, too, as I've tried on several occasions to get to grips with small-scale Unix installations only to retreat each time in frustration. The latest attempt has been with my Cobalt RaQ appliance, running a fairly straight-forward build of Linux, and even the initial process of applying the critical security updates was enough to turn me bug-eyed after a evening of what felt like the IT equivalent of all-in wrestling.

And I'm certainly no tyro, either. I've been tweaking and hacking computers of all types since the late 1970s... I predate DOS and Windows in all its forms, and can remember a time when CP/M was still a rather new and funky thing... I've used and supported pretty much the full spectrum, from the smallest handheld computers to mid-range and mainframe systems, and although these days I'm firmly oriented towards Windows/Intel-based systems I regularly have to configure enterprise-level network hardware via peculiar and Byzantine command-line interfaces. Complexity doesn't scare me, and after twenty five years of experience I don't usually need my hand held - but I know what I like, and I know what I consider to be reasonable behaviour in a desktop computer system, and having to reach for a compiler to rebuild the OS kernel every time I want to perform some minor hardware tweak is not it.

I'd be the first to admit that Linux (and any other Unix you care to name) has a place in the data centre, of course - it has always been an excellent high-performance high-stability platform for critical systems such as public-facing web servers, and until recently I probably wouldn't have considered implementing any other OS in such a high-profile application... but since Windows Server 2003 was released earlier this year, with the much-improved IIS6, I'd be quite happy using it to host an external web system and, indeed, I'm currently doing just that.

For anything other than corporate or scientific back-office systems, though, Linux always has been and probably always will be dead in the water... and, for the first time ever, I find myself in complete agreement with Red Hat's Szulik - like its penguin mascot, desktop Linux just won't fly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... Microsoft today announced what can only be described as a bounty of a quarter of a million dollars each for information leading to the arrest of the authors of this summer's Blaster and Sobig worms. The reward is being announced in conjunction with the FBI, but the money is apparently coming completely from Microsoft. Given the traditional tendencies of hackers and virus writers to turn and stab each other in the back when it comes down to the wire, I have a strong suspicion that this tactic will prove extremely productive... Somebody knows who wrote those worms, and as most of the authors' friends and acquaintances are probably a spotty, adolescent script kiddies the lure of a vast stack of hard cash is sure to prove thoroughly irresistible. I think that we'll see a lot of false accusations initially, but I'd be surprised if some genuine suspects don't emerge in a month or two - and, perhaps more importantly, the remaining $4 million that Microsoft has apparently budgeted for rewards of this kind may well act as a strong deterrent to future virus writers. It will certainly make taking any credit for your work, even amongst your own circle of friends, a far more dangerous proposition... Nice one, Microsoft!

 

4th November

Well, the video shoot went Ok, although I was better in the rehearsal than the real thing... Possibly the presence of two of the largest, most high-tech camcorders I've ever seen, pointing straight at me from three feet away together with a small battery of assorted lights, microphones and reflectors, contributed to that. Filming me in 16:9 wide-screen seems a trifle extravagant, though - I mean, I haven't put on that much weight since I gave up smoking...

Meanwhile - as part of the PC upgrade last week, I moved from BackupExec V8.6 to the relatively new Version 9, and it has not been a particularly pleasant migration. To begin with, the upgrade process failed to preserve my scheduled tasks and previous backup history, which although not life-threatening was certainly a pain in the neck - but the same thing happened on the various systems I've upgraded at the office, too, so it seems to be a fairly routine failure. More significant and annoying, though, is the apparent failure to enable any kind of data compression with my VXA-1 tape drive... The drive's own hardware compression now seems completely inoperative, and BE's software compression is actually making the data larger - with ratios of around 0.6:1 reported, I'm only fitting twenty-something gigabytes on each 33Gb tape, which is hardly satisfactory! I have support calls in with both Exabyte (Ecrix as was) and Veritas, so we shall see what transpires...

Elsewhere, for the techy who has everything - well, everything except a hand-carved wooden USB memory stick, that is... Also from The Enquirer, IBM votes with it's feet and dumps Lotus Notes from their internal networks. I have to sympathise - I never liked the damn thing either, and would be happy to say so even if I wasn't an unpaid mouthpiece for Microsoft's Exchange Server publicity machine... And, finally, a report from The Gartner Group, analysing the eight myths of desktop Linux.  [FX: Counts on fingers and toes, runs out, borrows Ros's as well]  What, you mean there are only eight?

 

3rd November

I'm very pleased to see that all sorts of campaigns are underway to resist the infamous Eolas patent that threatens to kill off most of the existing broser plugin technologies. Microsoft are still intending to appeal against the monstrous $521 million judgement against them, of course, but in the meantime all the big guns are coming out against the very existence of the spurious patent itself. The latest player is the World Wide Web Consortium, which has just released a briefing document claiming that the technology in question existed in an similar form long before the Eolas patent was granted - many examples of prior art exist where non-HTML data was displayed in a separate browser window, instead of the main window covered by the patent, and the W3C insists that this is functionally equivalent. With virtually the entire industry mobilising against the patent, I'm becoming a little more hopeful that the judgement will eventually be overturned... One thing is certain, though - Eolas is making no friends at all with this behaviour, and they're probably doomed as an IT company whatever the outcome. I have the feeling that being a functional IT company was never part of their plan, though - this entire saga has smelled more of corporate greed than the cutting edge technology to which the the company claims to be so committed.

Another example of corporate greed can be seen in the latest email virus to hit the Windows platform - the new flavour of the Mimail virus, dubbed W32/Mimail.e@MM by Network Associates, is designed to launch a distributed denial-of-service attack against major anti-spam organisations Spamhaus, SpamCop and SPEWS. It seems fairly obvious that this code was created by or at the behest of the spammers themselves, hoping to shut down their relatively poorly-funded opponents completely - and with several anti-spam organisations already driven of the net by DDoS attacks from this summer's Fizzer and Sobig worms, it appears to be working...  :-(

Closer to home, one of Microsoft's PR media teams is turning up at my office tomorrow to film me talking about Exchange 2003 for the European launch next month, and on Wednesday my own company's PR department are having me photographed for an upcoming story in Computer Weekly. Gosh!

 

1st November

A new month, and a new PC... All the side panels are back on, it's safely back on my desk, and everything seems to be working very nicely indeed. There's still a fair bit of fiddling about to do at a later date, with some additional systems software to install, the S-ATA disk activity LEDs to debug, and the most of the temperature probes to wire in, but it's been a very productive and successful day so far and I'm on the home stretch now. Phew!

Full details, complete with many geek-porn images of the inside of a PC, coming imminently at the new Infinity page...

 

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A surprising climb in my stats last month, too - after the plateau of August and September I'd assumed that I'd found my natural level, but an additional five hundred visitors in October suggests that there's still life in the old dog yet. That's no excuse not to vote for the site at Tweakers Australia, though - just click the button below if you want to avoid a long, detailed lecture on exactly how I routed all the wiring in the new case... And don't think I wouldn't do it, too.

 

 

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