Friday 31st October

I'm up to my ears in hardware and software tonight, so just a handful of random links...

W3C sides with MS against Eolas

Scariest geek movies

Nigerian funds scammer busted

Peltier beer cooler

Linux destroys CD drives!

New Apple OS loses data!

Extreme Pumpkins

Aerodynamics of the USS Enterprise

Cringely on Microsoft and Open Source


Thursday 30th October

Four, count 'em four, CPUs...  <big grin>  Only two of them are "real", of course, but thanks to Intel's HyperThreading Xeons my Windows Task Manager really looks the business!

There's still a lot to tweak and tune and upgrade and install, but the system seems perfectly stable and  very, very fast - which is a considerable relief after all the fun and games earlier this week. Details at the weekend, once I can think about it all without wincing...

Meanwhile, a story at Ars.Technica relates how Gator, manufacturer of the annoying, intrusive and apparently all-pervasive browser plugin, are making a dual-pronged attack on their shaky reputation. Not content with suing web sites that refer to their offering as spyware, it seems that they're now in the process of renaming themselves to Claria, the "leader in online behavioural marketing". What tripe.

Elsewhere, UK airsoft supplier Airsoft Dynamics have just launched their new website - it's certainly very slick, and their range seems to have widened considerably - but it remains to be seen if, unlike so many other online retailers with fancy-pants web shopping sites, their listed inventory bears any resemblance to reality. It would be nice if it did, but I'm not holding my breath at this stage...


Wednesday 29th October


Well, that was all rather more complex, annoying and long-winded than I'd hoped... but I have a working Windows installation this evening, with all my settings and data intact, and that's the best news in days...

More when I've caught my breath a little.


Friday 24th October

I'll be offline for a couple of days while I rebuild my main PC...

Watch this space.


Thursday 23rd October

So, my motherboard finally arrived today, as well as the last few oddments that have trickled in from the US in the form of some rather nice two-way Serial-ATA power adaptors and a selection of pin removing tools for use with the extensive variety of Molex power connectors used in a modern PC. Now all I need is time, and lots of it - and unfortunately that may prove even harder to find than the motherboard, as I'll have to be in the office for two of the next three weekends... Ah, well.

Oh, now this is rather neat - someone with far too much time on their hands has painstakingly animated all the references in Billy Joel's song "We didn't start the fire" into a neat little Flash sequence. If you're at all fond of the song, you should take a look. Hell, take a look anyway - it's a neat little piece of work, and his asides in the bridge sections are funny, too. I spotted it by accident in a list of musical animations while tracking down the truly bizarre "Terrible Secret Of Space" for a second look - the music and video are OK, I guess, as rather undistinguished techno goes, but I love the title...

Meanwhile, via Mike, an oldie but definitely a goldie - MIT's Meme Tag project from the 1998 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Far more up to date - and this is geek porn at its finest - a stunning picture of IBM's brand new POWER5 multi-core CPU. Moving from the micro to the macro, here's the full skinny on the Great Wall of China, and how well it (and other man-made structures) can be seen from various parts of space... the myth is officially dashed, now, so there you go. And talking of myths, The Physics Classroom has a wonderful explanation of that perennial bugbear, "centrifugal force", complete with neat little animations. What a wonderful site!


Wednesday 22nd October

So, the annual Loebner Prize was not awarded again today, when the assembled "artificial intelligences" still proved to be incapable of fooling small children. Next year's contest should probably be moved from Guildford, though, as a new study published by Symantec suggests that computer users in Southern England are more likely to physically attack their computers when frustrated. Northerners are less likely to be impressed by the new GameBoy game "Boktai", however, as it relies on strong sunlight to recharge the character's weaponry!

Meanwhile, it emerges that creatures that spontaneously change their sex do it when they reach 72 percent of their maximum size. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied dozens of species of sex-changing creatures such as fish, worms, shrimp and molluscs, and all of them followed the same rule when altering their gender. "Ninety-eight percent of the variation in the size at sex change across 121 species can be explained by this rule of 72 percent of maximum body size", said David Allsop, one of the biologists leading the study. Now isn't that interesting...

Elsewhere - and a long way elsewhere, too - in a press conference Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei had to admit that, in spite of the almost universal meme, he didn't see the Great Wall from space. I've always found the idea rather perplexing, though, as although contrary to the common version of the myth no manmade artefacts are visible from the Moon, in fact many structures are visible from Earth orbit, including cities, roads, canals, dams, and port facilities. The Great Wall of China is visible from Earth orbit, too, if not very clearly - but Yang just didn't see it. Maybe next time, then?

Oh, and while I think about  it - last week, having been let down by Scan and trying to find a supplier for the motherboard I needed, I mailed around a dozen UK suppliers who listed Supermicro hardware on their websites to check availability. Somewhat to my surprise, only two of them actually replied, and I must admit that I find this completely bizarre... I assume that the others couldn't obtain the model I wanted, but it would only have taken thirty seconds to reply "sorry, it's not available" as one of their competitors did, and so avoid being entered on my metaphorical little list... Are they so flush with customers that they can afford to turn away trade like this?

Among the no-shows were Amazon International, The PC Store, Micro Direct, TMC Technology, PC Upgrade and Light Computer Systems. They obviously don't understand how easily online shoppers can vote with their feet, and I just won't even bother asking, next time...

And the good guys, in contrast, are Hamiltone Ltd, who have been extremely helpful and extremely speedy - they've delivered exactly what they promised, and I will definitely be dealing with them again. It's good to see that some suppliers, at least, still care about customer service.


Tuesday 21st October

A very successful day, and everyone from Microsoft seemed extremely pleased with my presentation... to the point where they want me to participate in the SMS 2003 launch next month, as well! Having spent almost twenty years in the back rooms of IT, suddenly being out in the spotlight like this is rather amazing - so I think I'd better make the most of it while it lasts.

Elsewhere - and elsewhen, too, this time...

"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

 - Charles Babbage (1791-1871)



Monday 20th October

I've just come back from the rehearsal for tomorrow's Microsoft Exchange 2003 launch, and rather to my surprise apparently I managed everything very well. I want to learn my script a little better, so I can spend more time looking up at the audience rather than down at the lectern, but as long as I remember to press the button to change my slides (Coo! I have slides!) it should all be straight forward. They'll be taking photos while I'm speaking, apparently, so I can post one here with a Microsoft logo behind me - although I doubt I'll ever be as scary as Steve Ballmer...

Microsoft's CEO - Whatever you do, don't feed him after midnight.

Elsewhere, videogames magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly has just conducted an experiment to see what modern kids thought of classic video games from the seventies and eighties. Unsurprisingly, they didn't think much of them... "It takes this whole console just to do Pong? What is this? [Picks up and twists the paddle controller] Am I controlling the volume?"

And talking of retro games, the commercial arm of venerable net list NTK has some excellent geek T-shirts, including one inspired by the classic 'Beeb' game Elite - although I'm rather more tempted by some of the others, especially "Memes don't exist - tell your friends". And on another related note, I stumbled across the Retro Remakes site, a centre for modern versions of the classic home computer arcade games, which sounds like rather less fuss than maintaining a library of emulators. Meanwhile, Ian Bell, one of the original authors of Elite, seems to have branched out considerably these days - among his current projects is some rather striking ultra-violet body art, which is definitely worth a look.


Sunday 19th October

In the continuing absence of my motherboard I've been fiddling with some of the components, and yesterday seemed like a good time to test fans and power supplies. I've built up quite a collection of cooling hardware, as the 3GHz Xeon is still rather a new and unusual chip and none of the off-the-shelf solutions are officially rated for its rather excessive heat levels. Some experimentation will be called for, and I'll almost certainly end up mixing and matching.

On the left, clockwise from the top - YS Tech's 70mm Tip-Magnetic Driving fan, the multi-blade 70mm Akasa that comes with the heatsink, Intel's 60mm high-flow from the stock Xeon cooler, and JMC's new Panther 70mm low-noise unit. To the right, the TMD mounted on an Akasa AK-680Cu cooler, probably the configuration I'll try first - the TMD fans are certainly smooth and quiet, and when combined with a good heatsink should be powerful enough to cope with the Xeon CPU's 80+ Watts of dissipated heat.

Intel's Wind Tunnel Xeon cooler is really quite a beastie, with delicate aluminium fins slotted firmly into grooves cut in a thick, heavy slug of copper forming the base. A plastic shroud ducts the airflow from the deep 60mm fan down through the fins, and it certainly puts out an impressive draft - if at a price... It is allegedly thermally controlled, but it's really quite noisy even when isolated and presumably running at its lowest speed, so I hate to think what it would be like under heavy load. I'll save the Wind Tunnel as a last resort, I suspect...

Still to come are a pair of JMC's Phoenix 70 orb-style coolers, and these will go head-to-head with the Akasa/TMD combination to see which works out best - both in terms of cooling efficiency and noise levels. With two CPUs to cool, noise is even more of an issue in my PCs.


Saturday 18th October

Today's gripe is about SonicWALL, manufacturer of network firewalls, a company which I am far more used to praising than complaining about. I've owned one of their entry-level firewall appliances, the SOHO2, since July 2001, and I've been always been really pleased with it - it's flexible, powerful, easy to configure and, on the odd occasion I've needed technical support, they've always been relatively helpful and well-informed. It has kept my home network completely safe with only minimal attention, so I've recommended it to all my friends, specified it for a odd one-off tasks at the office, and was even planning on upgrading to the latest model sometime in the next few months just to gain access to some new connectivity features.... I've always been more than happy with both the hardware and the company.

However, last weekend I upgraded the firmware to the latest version and, unlike all the other upgrades over the years, the process forced me to re-register the appliance when I first entered the management interface - and although I thought nothing of it at the time, it was there that the problems apparently began.

I've never expanded the SOHO2 with SonicWALL's own VPN modules, but instead have configured it to transparently pass the authentication packets and encrypted data between the Checkpoint VPN client on my PC and the Firewall-1 system at the office, enabling me to make a secure connection over the Internet to access the servers from home in the event of an emergency. Well, a small emergency arose earlier this week, and I was rather annoyed to discover that the firmware upgrade had apparently changed the way the SOHO2 behaved to "foreign" VPN tunnels, blocking my connection completely. A little fiddling and testing revealed a new warning message in the logs when access was attempted, and as it wasn't documented in the knowledgebase I used the online tech support facility to raise a support call, just as I have several times before over the past few years.

I was extremely surprised, therefore, to be told curtly that I had no right to raise a support call,  that I had never had any previous contact with the company at all, and that (in their exact words) "I insist you buy a support plan for this unit like any other customer". I queried this, asking when the support policy had changed, and was informed that there was no record of me ever having registered the SOHO2 hardware or of ever having made any previous support calls - their policy had never changed, they assured me, so please go away and buy a support contract.

SonicWALL - Just say No Support


This was extremely puzzling, as I could see the previous calls in the list alongside my current query, together with full details of both myself and my firewall, and I'm convinced that the mysterious re-registration process has had something to do with it. However, even though I've spammed half the company in the last few days (including two senior executives who were foolish enough to reveal their email addresses elsewhere online) nobody will explain why my right to technical support has suddenly been jerked away with out any warning or acknowledgement after happily dealing with me for more than two years. It's all very peculiar, but I guess is just a symptom of the inevitable decline when a high-tech company outgrows its geek founders and the bean-counters and management bastards take over the reins...

Now, I've no intention of buying highly expensive support on obsolete hardware, when the contract would cost significantly more than the value of the firewall - and their offer of per-incident cover at between $75 and $150 per call is just plain insulting. I'm fairly confident of being able to fix the problem myself, either by rolling back to the previous firmware, or by somehow isolating whatever the firewall is objecting to and working around it  [Later: I did, so I'm feeling quite smug],  but it's completely removed my faith in SonicWALL as a company and I definitely won't be buying from them again... Two years ago there wasn't much alternative, but these days there are all sorts of SOHO firewall solutions on the market and I'm quite willing to vote with my feet. It's an inconvenient annoyance for me in the short term, but in the long term it is definitely SonicWALL that will loose out.


Friday 17th October

In the wake of last month's new anti-spam legislation in the UK, I've just heard an anecdotal report of a customer who ordered a CD-ROM drive from an as-yet unknown hardware supplier - and was then told that he had to agree to being spammed by them at any time in the future or they would cancel the order. I'm currently trying to ascertain which company would do such a bastardly thing, and if I do I will have no hesitation in naming them here in the largest font size that FrontPage will permit... as well as anybody else who tries the same trick.

Meanwhile, my own problems with the suppliers of my Xeon hardware continue... I've just had to cancel the order I placed with Scan for the motherboard, as they're now advising a lead time of 1-2 weeks... What I don't understand is that although it was unavailable when I placed the order, a few days ago it was shown on their website as "In stock", and if that was accurate then I can't see why the order wasn't sent out then! I've managed to find an alternative supplier, in the shape of the small but hopefully perfectly-formed Hamiltone Ltd, and hopefully they'll be able to save the day - but it's thrown my schedule out completely, as there's a lot of out-of-hours work in the office coming up and I'd really hoped to get my own upgrade out of the way this weekend.  :-(  Here's a picture of the damn thing, instead...

Elsewhere, a fascinating development in the shape of the newly-launched Public Library Of Science, a free online scientific journal run by a non-profit foundation. This is causing quite a stir, as it will be competing head-to-head with more traditional commercial journals such as the big names Nature and Science as well as hundreds of smaller, more specialised publications. PLOS intends to speed up the entire publication process, getting the research out into the field and removing the usual constraints of secrecy during peer review so that new theories and discoveries can be reviewed instead by the communities of working scientists. Only the Biology section is up and running, as yet, but it certainly looks promising - there is already a fair range of articles online, and as most of them are completely over my head presumably they're thoroughly worthwhile research. A Medicine section is planned for launch next year, but as a geek of course I'm mostly interested in a physics section, and disappointingly no plans for that have yet been announced.


Thursday 16th October

To stressed and tired to write anything much, tonight. Between regular work and Microsoft's PR, I'm being run ragged...

Why not read something at Dan's Data instead... Dan is my hero.

Some suggested articles:

Thermal transfer compound comparison - Arctic Silver vs. Vegemite

Avoiding electrocution (It may be easier than you think)

Dan's Quick Guide to Memory Effect, You Idiots

Inside the EMPower Modulator!

Review: Juvenile felis catus

Enjoy... I know I did.


Wednesday 15th October

My friend Mike, a primo space geek if ever I saw one, is exceedingly smug at having accurately predicted today's Chinese manned orbital flight. I have to confess that his timing was spot-on - back in July he mailed me to suggest an October launch, and here we are bang in the middle of October. I was interested to hear the astronaut's speech including a reference to gaining honour for the People's Liberation Army, though - "Red October" indeed, and what a giveaway for one of their real reasons for embarking on a potentially ruinously expensive space programme...

I have to argue with one of Mike's other proclamations, though - he told me last week that nobody needs more than one assault rifle, and I really can't agree with that... UK custom gunsmiths Area 51 Airsoft are converting the RAM paintball mechanism for conventional 8mm BBs, and the lure of a compressed air-powered full-metal M4 Bushmaster variant that ejects its empty shell cases just like the real thing is just too much to resist. I am intending to sell the Tokyo Marui replica at some point, though, but I'll hang on to it until I've mixed-and-matched various components between the two.

Elsewhere, a fascinating 'blog, The Everlasting Blort, which I stumbled across by accident and which defies any description - and from there, I discovered Ruminations, and some remarkable Latin doggerel. Well worth browsing around all three pages - there are some very clever, funny, witty people writing there...

Oh, and I've just spotted this - the Metropolitan Police conducted a series of raids in the Islington area of London, earlier today, in what is being described as "a pre-emptive strike against gun crime in the capital". A total of five hundred police officers carried out house-to-house searches, following up on investigations by teams of detectives over the last six months, and eventually arrested twenty one people... but in fact only two firearms were actually recovered! The official statement says that the raids were intended to send a clear message to the borough and, indeed, the message does seem fairly unambiguous, to me - not only is Britain fast becoming a police state, but also an incompetent one... If illegal firearms are really as widespread as the Met and the Mayor keep assuring us that they are, five hundred policemen and a dozen detectives should have been able to turn up more than two handguns and a bunch of unrelated small-time criminals... Shame on them all.


Tuesday 14th October

A while ago I was asked to contribute some notes for the press launch of Microsoft's new Exchange server next week, and after a telephone interview with the PR writers the idea seems to have expanded somewhat... Having discovered that, for a hardcore systems geek, I'm relatively eloquent and presentable, they've cajoled me into doing into a ten minute presentation entitled "Pervasive Productivity" (whatever that means!), so after twenty years in the IT back room I'll be venturing out into in the limelight for once. I've never done anything like this before, and the idea is pretty scary, but I've made it clear to the various PR types that I'll need a fair bit of hand-holding and with their help I'm sure that I'll manage. It's next Tuesday, so wish me luck!

Meanwhile, some links...

MP3s may cause ear damage

Shrinking coins with 12000 volts

Pathe newsreel archive brought online

Pretty ferrofluid images

And a new letter, too! Everybody wants a piece of me, right now...


Monday 13th October

Californian spacecraft company Scaled Composites has taken another step in the journey towards private commercial spaceflight, recently, with further drop tests of their SpaceShipOne prototype. Intended to win the X Prize, a $10 million cash award intended to promote commercial human spaceflight, the progeny of aviation pioneer Burt Rutan's rather reclusive company is the front-runner in the small handful of current contenders. Other contestants are nipping at SpaceShipOne's heels, though, and the X Prize Foundation expects to see a successful manned suborbital flight within the next year. Full details at Space.com.

Elsewhere, a useful Online Binary Converter for when you just can't cope with more than two different numbers, and what is fast becoming the canonical list of anecdotes and fables about stupid-ass computer users.

And lastly, a thought for today - The wave function of a quantum mechanical process is dependent not only on the process in question, but also on the measurement being performed on that process. You don't write the wave function for an electron in isolation, for example, but for an electron passing through a Stern-Gerlach magnet. Hmmmm.


Saturday 11th October

The adventures of the ISP formerly known as Cix continue, and by now the plot has become increasingly bizarre. Not content with vacuuming up Firstnet, Telenor, and Cix Conferencing in the last few months, comms group GX Networks has just announced the acquisition of veteran UK ISP Pipex for the relatively meagre sum of 55 million - more than half of which was raised from an issue of new stock. This has come as somewhat of a surprise to the ISP industry, and as the Cix Online news story puts it, "The deal does without doubt make GX Networks currently the fastest growing telecoms network operator in the UK." I'm not at all convinced that this degree of rapid growth is a good thing, though - I'm left with the strong impression of a management team far more concerned with short-term status and profit than any long-term commitment to customers, and as their walk still shows no sign of matching their talk when it comes to technical issues, I can't see that acquiring yet another ISP is going to change anything for the better. Ho hum...

Meanwhile, back on my own network... My shiny new Serial-ATA drive cables arrived this morning, and one of them is shown above next to the the previous state-of-the-art, a shielded, rounded UDMA cable from Akasa that used to look quite sleek and svelte in comparison to the traditional grey ribbon cable... With four wires in the new cables rather than eighty the contrast is striking, and when the use of S-ATA interfaces has spread from hard disks to other devices over the next year or two, I expect to see a significant improvement in even a standard PC's general tidiness and overall airflow. Future incarnations of S-ATA promise significant performance improvements, too, both from increases in bus speed and from the use of high-end features borrowed from the SCSI interface specification, such as Tagged Command Queuing. Although still rather new and unfamiliar right now, S-ATA is well on course to become the universal standard for internal data connections.

And, finally...

Well I stopped in at the Body Shop
Said to the guy: I want stereo FM installed in my teeth
And take this mole off my back and put it on my cheek.
And uh...while I'm here, why don't you give me some of those high-heeled feet?

  -  Laurie Anderson on body modification...


Friday 10th October

Friday night is geek porn night at Epicycle... The new Xeon hardware has been arriving over the last couple of days, but as the motherboard and the disk drives are still outstanding about all I can do right now is take photographs of it. This first module is worth photographing, though, because as far as I can tell it is currently the only one in the country. Ordered specially via Supermicro, it's an ICP GDT8500RZ Zero-Channel Serial-ATA RAID controller, using a dedicated Intel 80303 CPU with 64Mb of cache RAM to support four independent 150Mbit/sec S-ATA channels via a 64bit / 66MHz PCI interface. That's more bandwidth than some of my balls-out SCSI systems at the office, and should certainly cope with anything I can throw at it!

Also of note is the Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro All-In-Wonder, which when I ordered it last week was about the fastest consumer-level graphics card on the market. It apparently became obsolete in transit, though, and with the launch of ATI's new 9800 XT card it is now merely the second fastest... On the right are a pair of Akasa's massive AK-680CU copper-based Xeon CPU coolers, with 70mm high-flow fans. I'm still not sure which heatsinks and fans I'll end up using, but as well as the Akasa units I have the standard Intel models (efficient but apparently very loud) and also a pair of "engineering samples" of JMC's orb-style Phoenix 70 coolers expected in a few weeks. I'll test them all, and see which works best in my configuration.

Meanwhile, via SF webzine The Infinite Matrix, Harlan Ellison on the election of Schwarzenegger -

"I thought, early on, that it was a great slate with Gary Coleman and Schwarzenegger both running: remember in MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, the behemoth called "Master Blaster" this seven-foot-tall brain-damaged, muscle-bound giant, with the midget strapped to his shoulders? Wow, what a terrific Governor we'd have if we just cranked Gary Coleman down onto Ahnuld's shoulders!! As long as nobody blew a high-pitched dog whistle, we'd be in sweet milk an' honey."

Check out the 'zine for comments from other SF names, including William Gibson, Jack Womack, Rudy Rucker,  and Pat Cadigan.

Which brings me to a new computer game that has just caught my eye, the wonderfully named "They Came From Hollywood". Strongly reminiscent of the old tabletop classic "The Creature That Ate Sheboygan" (which I think I still have in the basement, somewhere), the player assumes the role of the movie monster of their choice and proceeds to wreck havoc in a massive, completely destructible city. It has to be worth a quick look, surely... :-)


Thursday 9th October

I've been looking at cooling solutions for the new Xeon system, and have found a couple of interesting designs at Pacific Rim manufacturer JMC Products - firstly a range of new orb-style coolers strongly reminiscent of the classic Agilent/HP ArtiCooler design, and secondly a new contra-rotating dual-rotor fan technology. I've seen high-performance Delta fans in my Dell servers with a second fixed rotor, but as far as I know this is the first contra-rotating design to reach the PC market. [Update: Looks like I've talked them into sending me a couple of "engineering samples". Watch this space for a report...]

Now this is nice -  free online barcodes courtesy of Barcodes Inc. There are various types and styles available, and the generator can be called from a URL to embed dynamically created images right into a web page. Neat!

Elsewhere, SANS have released their new list of the Twenty Most Critical Internet Security Vulnerabilities, as usual listing ten for Unix and ten for Windows systems. There are no real surprises, with the usual suspects appearing again on both lists - IIS, Apache, BIND, Sendmail etc. The same old same old...

And finally, from Mike, who is obviously trying to weird me out again - "This brain is tender, juicy, and full of all the neurotransmitters a young, growing, bloodthirsty zombie needs" - brains4zombies.com.


Wednesday 8th October

I've never been quite sure if Epicycle is a weblog or a journal, as by the usual definitions it seems to have some characteristics of both, and on the whole it's never really seemed to matter that much. When I first started writing here the term "weblog" was very new, and people were using it fairly loosely to describe any regularly updated page in the newest at the top format, as long as it had some element of review and commentary on a specific theme or themes. Given that I was updating daily, and writing mostly about computers and technology (whether in general or specifically about my own systems) it seemed appropriate and I adopted the term myself.

There seems to be something of a schism developing now, though, with the writers who see themselves as "real bloggers" denouncing the more personally oriented sites as somehow second rate and unworthy - in an article at diarist.net, for example, Ryan Ozawa writes "I mean, who wants to be associated with online diarists?", and when linking to it, a certain Bunda explains how "it outlines why many webloggers like me do not want to be associated or confused with Journalers". Well, that's Ok, Bunda - whatever labels we use, I don't think anyone is ever going to confuse your pages with mine!

I have to admit to being somewhat puzzled by this attitude, but it's fine by me - I've always been surprised how very empty and circular many of the pure weblogs are, with a little clique of a dozen or so writers apparently doing nothing but referring to each other's logs... There's little original content, opinion, or editorialising, and if you follow their links for five minutes or so you nearly always come back to exactly where you started - usually without actually learning anything new! Maybe I flatter myself, but I like to think that for its target audience Epicycle is rather more interesting and informative than that.

Either way, though, there's some interesting work in this area at An Incomplete Annotated History of Weblogs and The Online Diary History Project - and just to keep things clear, as usual the Internet's great passion for classification is ready with a useful blogger code. Mine is something like b6 d+ t++ k s++ u-- f i o+ x+ e l c - decode it here.

Meanwhile, if only to justify my use of the term "weblog", some links!

Firstly, Downhill Battle, a new campaigning site aimed at the music industry's thoroughly unpleasant business practices... One of their first salvos is an attack on Apple's iTunes online music store, which they describe as "just a shiny new facade for the ugly, exploitative system that has managed music for the past 50 years". Well worth keeping an eye on the site, I'd say.

And talking of Apple, here's another anti-fan page, with strong words about Apple's fundamentally flawed benchmarking and false claims in the marketing of their latest G5 desktop systems. Oh, and by the way - he's not fond of Microsoft, either...

And talking of Microsoft - after the verdict in the bizarre claim brought against them by Eolas, Microsoft has announced plans to implement "minor changes" in their Internet Explorer web browser to comply with the ruling. Personally, I'm dubious that they'll be that minor, especially as under the terms of the settlement future browser plugins may even have to pop up a message box acknowledging the Eolas patent! Hmmm. I really, really hope Eolas have shot themselves in the foot with this one...   [Update: Eolas has just filed for an injunction to permanently prevent Microsoft from distributing the current versions of Internet Explorer. Incredible...]


Tuesday 7th October

So, the search for the Serial ATA RAID card I need for my new system continues... Today's winner of the Bozo Award is a salesdroid from the usually reliable supplier Scan, who suggested that Adaptec's 2000S card would be a suitable alternative. Now, I know that S-ATA is a fairly new technology, but there's really no excuse for confusing it with SCSI, Ok? Fortunately I've now established contact with Supermicro's main UK distributor, Boston, and hopefully they will be rather better informed...

Meanwhile, feedback suggests that yesterday's sexual fetishes diagram is woefully lacking in certain areas - both voyeurism and exhibitionism are completely absent, it seems, and on closer inspection several other fairly significant groups of behaviours seem to be missing, too. Human sexuality is a marvellously broad and diverse subject, of course, but I've now traced the diagram to its source at the website of sex researcher Katharine Gates, and to find such glaring omissions in what is obviously intended to be a significant piece of work is rather peculiar. Oh, well!

Elsewhere, the winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics have been announced, and it is shared between three researchers in two significant areas of quantum physics, superconductivity and superfluidity. Their work, some of which dates back more than fifty years, has been instrumental in developing the magnetic resonance imaging scanners that are now so useful in modern medicine. It's not the first time that the Prize in Physics has been awarded for work on superfluidity, and while I was checking into that I discovered that the Nobel Foundation's web site has a comprehensive list of all the Nobel laureates with biographies and transcripts of their acceptance speeches, as well as some background information on the science itself. It's an interesting and useful reference source, and kinda neat to browse through, as well.


Monday 6th October

Although WStore let me down over delivery of my disk drives, last week, I have to say that they' couldn't have been more helpful sorting out the mess... They immediately acknowledged that they'd somehow completely missed the delivery date, and offered a full refund without quibbling - I can't really complain about that. The major hardware for my new Xeon system is coming from Komplett and Scan, though, so we'll see how well they do instead. It should start arriving by the end of the week, and I'll probably be able to do the upgrade the following weekend. I just hope my remaining hard disk keeps going until then!

Meanwhile, here's something to turn my friend Mike green with envy - multiple panoramic monitors from new startup Liebermann Inc. Strangely, the rather Apple-like look of their website seems to have prompted a widespread debate over whether the entire company is an elaborate hoax! None of the reasons given for doubting their veracity seem to hold any water, and it's all rather bizarre... It just goes to show how quickly baseless rumours can spread online, and how much gravitas they can acquire en route.

Elsewhere, a map of all possible sexual fetishes, and how they relate to each other. Just in case you were confused about your place in the scheme of things...


Sunday 5th October

The spec for the new PC internals is almost finalised, now, and as predicted is embarrassingly expensive! The current shopping list is:

Supermicro X5DAL-TG2 motherboard
Intel DAC-ZCRINT Zero-Channel S-ATA RAID Card
Two Intel 3.06GHz "Northwood A" Hyperthreading Xeon CPUs
1Gb Corsair Dual-DDR ECC PC2100 SDRAM
Four 160Gb Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 Serial-ATA disk drives
Sapphire ATI Radeon 9800 Pro All-In-Wonder
Antec TruePower 550 EPS12V power supply
Akasa AK-680Cu Socket 603 coolers
S-ATA data and power cables
Black Molex connectors

I've managed to source all the major components in the UK except for the Supermicro zero channel RAID card - it's readily available in the US, Japan and Holland, but apparently nowhere else, and Supermicro's UK office haven't yet bothered to reply to my requests for supplier information. In the end I managed to locate one at US supplier Wired Zone, who so far have been extremely helpful with international shipping.  [Later: I spoke too soon - like so many other online retailers, an "in stock " tag on their web site apparently means nothing, and they've just advised that they can't get the hardware at all! It's too bad...]

I've had to make some tough decisions, though, especially with the disk drives. I'd always intended to get Western Digital's Caviar SE drives for the next upgrade, but when it came down to it they didn't offer significant performance improvements over the competition, and although their three year warranty was extremely tempting, the lower noise level and operating temperature of the Maxtor drives has finally won the day. I'll be adding an additional disk drive with the new specification, and given that high-performance Xeon CPU coolers are notoriously loud the extra background noise of the drives would be a significant issue. I hope that Maxtor's short one year warranty doesn't come back and bite me in the ass, though.

Fortunately, some of the fine details have been well documented in an excellent article at geek site WhiningDog, whose author has just built a system using many similar components to my design. Definitely worth a look if you're thinking of building a dual Xeon-based system right now...


Saturday 4th October

Last week I had mail from a fellow PC geek who had also found it impossible to resist the wonderful Pioneer CD changers that are becoming increasingly common on the second-hand market. He hasn't had much more success with his unit than I have with mine, but he's been taking a rather different approach and it's proving useful and informative to collaborate with him. Neither of us have actually managed to get the hardware working properly, as yet, but we've been nagging various Pioneer offices around the world and have finally managed to extract some very useful information. One pleasing result has been the location of the SCSI command reference for the changer robotics itself, and armed with this and a skilled programmer I'm quite confident of an eventual victory. I've created a new page to hold the manuals and utilities we've managed to locate so far, and I'll be documenting any successes or failures as we go along.

Elsewhere - oh, now this is useful... A power calculator designed to help determine the required wattage of a PC's power supply. The total is a highly theoretical absolute maximum required with all the hardware running flat out (which for my new configuration gives a thoroughly scary 600Watts or more!), but it's a very useful guide - and I'm not completely sure that my old Enermax 465 will handle the load. If I start suffering from the digital equivalent of brownouts, though, there are certainly some very nice models on the market these days...


Friday 3rd October

No disk drives. Hhmph.

A resounding thumbs-down for WStore, then, whose "Guaranteed next working day delivery" turns out to be merely a vague intention to have a good go at it... For a policy that is advertised in such a big, bold font, it sure has a whole lot of disclaimers buried in the terms and conditions! Unfortunately this has left me somewhat high and dry - I made all sorts of temporary hacks to get my PC up and running when the disk array failed, and hadn't really intended to leave it this way for so long. It's likely to be Monday evening before I see the replacement drives, now, and that's far from ideal.

On the other hand, the delay has given me time to plot and scheme, and I think I'm going to take the plunge and upgrade the guts of my PC to something approaching the cutting edge. My current specification consists of a Supermicro X5DAL-TG2 motherboard running a pair of 3.06GHz HyperThreading Xeons with a 533MHz FSB, a gigabyte of ECC PC2100 RAM, four 120Gb Western Digital Serial-ATA disk drives in a RAID-5 array on the Supermicro's optional  zero channel RAID card, and Sapphire's implementation of the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro AIW multimedia and graphics accelerator - nicknamed "The Beast". It will cost an arm, a leg, and several assorted internal organs, but if it survives as well as my current design it should deliver storage and processing power sufficient for the next three to four years. The main problem, as usual, will be locating it all - I can get most of it at Komplett, if their rather fragile website hangs together for long enough to place the order, but the Supermicro components range from rare to unobtainable and may well need to be imported.

Meanwhile, odd links - and they don't get much more odd than the first one. Uh, thanks, Mike...

Islamic Jihad recruiting army of zombies. Well, it is from the Weekly World News!

Also, pretty things - Planet Engine planetary simulator, and Xaos real-time zooming fractals

Actually, I can blame the latter for starting me off on the upgrade path, again - on my old dual 1GHz PIII, it isn't quite smooth enough at the higher resolutions, so I started thinking... and it's a slippery slope from there on down.


Wednesday 1st October

Not the best start to the month... I got back into the office to discover that our SMS RC1 beta test server had committed suicide while I was away, and then after a long day wrestling with that I got home again to discover that one of my mirrored hard disks had died, and that for some unknown reason the array controller would no longer boot from the remaining disk. Ho hum.

The disk is running Ok from the controller on the motherboard for the time being, and I've taken the opportunity to upgrade a little - a pair of Western Digital's 120Gb Caviar Special Edition drives are on their way, so I guess I'll be spending Friday evening rebuilding my hardware. I could have done without that to end the week...

Updates here will be a touch sporadic for the next few days, I expect, but that's no excuse not to vote for the site at the Tweakers Australia Top 50. Do it now, or I'll come over and slouch around outside your house looking pathetic.



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