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30th April

The end of the week at last, and somewhat to my surprise I survived again. A week without both of my PFYs is no joke, though, and I really hope they don't make a habit of it...

So, is this totally bad, or what? It's a replica of the Franchi SPAS-12 semi-auto shotgun, manufactured by Japanese custom airsoft specialist Sheriff. There were only fifty of this particular model built, I gather, and these days it's something of a classic. It's something of a hybrid, too, made by combining the body of a KTW spring-cocking replica with an Asahi BV gas mechanism, and then completely rebuilding the outer shell and furniture by hand. The build and materials quality approach that of the real thing, and with an all-metal construction it's a monster both in weight and length. In fact, it is considered to be so realistic that I've asked the seller to include a covering letter explaining to customs how they can easily determine that it is only a replica.

On its way to me from the US now. Watch this space for details...   :-)

 

29th April

Just links, tonight - both of my PFYs have been out of the office this week, and the strain is starting to show... I'd forgotten how annoying and distracting it is to deal with the endless stream of network account creations and deletions, web site unblocking, mailbox quota resetting, etc etc - as well as my regular tasks, which this week have included trying to oversee the SMS roll-out of Office 2003 to our regional sales offices and compiling an overview of the increasingly tangled data security in our Finance division. Oh, boy!

Unpublished data reverses risk-benefit of SSRIs in children - some of the commonly proscribed anti-depressants are both ineffective and potentially harmful, according to a new review of research... and the pharmaceuticals cartel has deliberately suppressed the information.

Boosting your brain with exotic chemicals - but haven't we been here before? Once in the sixties with the illegal drugs, and then again in the eighties with the so-called smart drugs. How long before a new batch of legislation to expand The War On Some Drugs?

More science fiction comes to life - drawings straight onto the retina with lasers, so that digital images can be viewed in superimposition to the real world. Neat stuff!

Suing your competitors for fun and profit - the growth of intellectual property disputes in modern business practice. And, talking of which...

SCO vs. AutoZone - one of the companies targeted in SCO's attack on Linux end users last month has asked for  the case to be stayed until results from three prior SCO lawsuits against IBM, Red Hat and Novell are known. It seems like a reasonable request, to me!

And, also, the RIAA has just filed 477 more lawsuits - everybody's least-favourite corporate pressure group is at it again, bringing their total to more than 1500 lawsuits so far this year. Many of this week's targets are university students...

DVD post-processing in software - everybody is raving about the quality of the image enhancement systems that are suddenly cropping up all over, but it isn't that long ago that plain old DVDs were considered to be pretty spiffy on their own!

Net Advertising set to boom - although, as I said a few days ago, it will probably just mean increasingly intrusive and annoying methods of displaying the adverts - such as these new ones, which are apparently resistant to advert and pop-up blocking systems. Grrrr!

New SSL worm in the wild already?  Symantec claim to have found a worm that exploits the PCT vulnerability disclosed by Microsoft only last week. Other analysts claim that it is only a code fragment, though, and not a finished product - but even if so, it won't stay that way for long!

TurboLinux to license Windows Media format - I'm very interested in the recent trickle of Linux systems starting to add support for various Windows standards. This could be very good for Linux in general, I think, if it heralds an end to the ridiculous "Microsoft is Satan" stance so prevalent amongst the fanboys. They're not doing their cause any favours with that attitude, I'm sure...

 

28th April

To Mike Field, sales team, MDS Battery Ltd, after a UPS battery I'd ordered failed to turn up on time:

How bizarre!

You know, when I have to deal with an unhappy customer, I start off by apologising that his experience with my company hasn't been up to the standards we aspire to, and only then go on to point out why he's probably a moronic fuckwit. Your strategy seems to be to jump straight to step two, and then miss out step one completely. How very courageous! Do you find this works well for your business?

Obviously UPS have made one of their not infrequent mistakes - I would hazard a guess that they tried to deliver to the wrong address yesterday, but that's rather irrelevant now. However, I specifically arranged for somebody to be waiting for several shipments yesterday, and they waited all day with no sign of UPS at all - although three other deliveries were received successfully during that time. Had it been otherwise, I would have been trying to deal with UPS directly rather than sending annoyed email to your company - something that presumably didn't occur to you!

I am even less of a happy bunny, now, but it doesn't have to end there - this is what I can do to register my displeasure with your attitude:

1) Vote with my feet, and not order from you again. If you feel that an unhappy customer "is hardly your problem" then I shall be happy to buy my batteries from Kara's or direct from APC in future. Because of this, I insist under the terms of the Data Protection Act that you delete my account from your online shopping site, and remove any and all personal details held on your company's computer or paper-based systems.

2) I shall find the time to give your company a suitably glowing write-up in the "disappointing online traders" section of my weblog. In these days of well-indexed, fully-searchable amateur journalism, all publicity is good publicity, don't you think? It seems to me that the "hardly our problem" comment will go down especially well.

3) As one of your customers who was targeted by the "mdsbettary.co.uk" phishing scam a few weeks ago, and who never had a response to the anxious query I sent to you about the security of your customer list, I was unsure whether to risk re-ordering from you anyway. Now, however, I shall be happy to pass on to the UK tech journalism sites such as The Register my speculation that, as the scam emails were so accurately targeted to existing MDS customers, you may well have had your site hacked and an unknown quantity of secure data stolen. Phishing is big news, right now, and as your company is one of the first non-banking sector sites to be attacked in this way I'm sure that they will be very interested.

Just remember - as a salesman, unhappy customers aren't your problem. Have a nice day!

 

27th April

So I was flipping through this week's CPC Computer Commodities flyer, and noticed HP's new ScanJet 4600 series scanners. These are ultra-slim "see-through" units, with the scan head under a transparent top cover looking down onto the item to be scanned. It's an interesting design, allowing a page to be aligned far more easily than in a conventional flatbed, and this fundamental change in layout even allows the 4670 model to be used vertically to minimise the footprint. Not to be outdone, though, it seems that Canon's new LiDE USB2 range of scanners can also be used in a near-vertical position, and given how much space a scanner usually takes up I think this is a major improvement for today's increasingly crowded desks. It has to be said that one of my main purchase criteria these days would have to be availability in a colour to match the rest of my PC hardware, though, and this puts the black and gold LiDE 80 well ahead of the rest!

Elsewhere, I stumbled across Word Origins, a small but well-formed etymology site. Among the entries that popped out at me was that for "hello", which to my considerable surprise apparently dates back only to the invention of the telephone early in the 20th century. Interestingly, Alexander Graham Bell, creator of the finished product if not the underlying technologies, favoured use of the word "ahoy" instead - the traditional greeting of The Simpsons character Monty Burns.

Also featured was the term "jumping the shark" - not one I had heard before, but apparently coined from the episode of the TV show Happy Days in which Fonzie jumps over a shark tank on water skis. Many fans of the show consider this cliff-hanger episode to be the best of the series, after which it was down-hill all the way, and the term is now used to describe the high point of any TV show or, increasingly, of anything else as well. Etymology is fascinating stuff!

Meanwhile:

Spain's national ISP blocked by anti-spam group - although according to guru Steve Linford the group in question is new, small and generally not influential...

CNet providing free music - not via the MP3.com site they bought and closed last year (although they claim that will be back online again in the future as an information site) but a similar showcase for independent artists and small labels.

LavaRND, a cryptographically sound random number generator - actually a purely digital spin-off of SGI's famous lava lamp random number generator.

An interesting feature at Ars.Technica - DVRs poised to change advertising culture... Although probably it will just mean increasingly intrusive and annoying adverts on both television and the web!

Liquid body armour - Kevlar soaked in STF, or Sheer Thickening Fluid, which consists of nano-particles of silica  suspended in polyethylene glycol. A liquid under normal conditions, it hardens instantly on impact to add additional ballistic protection without sacrificing mass and mobility. Very science fiction!

Problems with the latest semiconductor fab plants - the industry-wide move to the 90-nanometer fabrication process is not going at all smoothly, it seems... IBM, especially, seem to be having great difficulties, as their chip manufacture division managed to lose $150 million last year...

Electronic Arts sued - EMI says that the games manufacturer has has infringed copyright for the background music used in three of its sports games - but EA says that there is actually only one song, containing legally sampled extracts from the others, and that it is fully licensed!

 

25th April

Last summer I salvaged an external disk array subsystem from an obsolete DEC Alpha on its way to the scrap heap, and it's been working quite happily since then providing 36Gb of RAID-5 storage for my home server. Given that the disk drives are a few years old and of unknown provenance I don't trust it with anything important, but it's been very useful for data I don't care about very much - backups of my RaQ server, temporary volume snapshots, etc.

However, a few days ago the Adaptec CI/O SCSI management software on the server rather belatedly informed me that one of the five 9.1Gb drives had failed earlier in the week. I'm not quite clear why it chose to wait several days before informing me, but I rarely check the server manually and as the array redundancy kept the data online without any sign of a problem I'm very glad that it did - better late than never! The drives are Compaq-branded Seagate Barracudas, and readily available on eBay for between £10 and £15, so I bought a pair just in case...

Elsewhere, The Register exposes some of the double-think behind Blunkett's compulsory ID card scam. As expected, there are a lot of lies being told to justify the plan on the grounds of keeping us all safe from terrorists and criminals - and more and more I'm thinking of Herman Goering's little speech on controlling societies...

Meanwhile, gratuitous replica handguns!  [Rubs hands together]  Clockwise from top left - Para Ordnance P15-45, SVI Infinity Xcelerator Hybrid, Browning Hi-Power, S&W M629, Beretta M92FS, and an SVI/Para Ordnance composite.

 

24th April

As I suspected, the batteries in one of my home UPS systems (don't laugh, but I have three, legacy of a month of frequent mains failures a couple of years ago) seem to have almost completely died. The unit feeding the desktop PCs upstairs is managing to provide at least an hour's runtime, but the identical but slightly less heavily loaded unit feeding the servers is only achieving around seven minutes! I did try my new IT director's suggestion of rolling it onto its top and back again a few times without any improvement, and having read a little in APC's technical documents I'm not surprised that it didn't help - apparently the electrolyte gel is held in open-weave fibreglass mats to prevent leakage, so there isn't really much scope for agitation to release the putative gas bubbles. Never mind - it was worth a try!

The rather less off-the-wall solution has been to buy a set of replacement battery packs, and somewhat against my better judgement I decided to source them from MDS Batteries, a UK supplier of every type of battery imaginable. I was a touch reluctant, as the company seems to have had its customer list leaked or stolen a few weeks ago - I got a message from a misleadingly similar domain name asking me to confirm my login details, and some investigation showed that it was a classic phishing scam. The fact that I am actually a registered customer of a relatively small company made me think that the scam email had been specifically targeted rather than just sent out randomly, and the company's firm refusal to elaborate on the exact details of the scam seems to confirm that...

Nevertheless, their prices are more than £50 cheaper than buying from APC's own online store, and that's a convincing argument - so I crossed fingers that whatever the security breach was has now been corrected, and voted with my wallet. While I was comparing prices, though, I spotted a new addition to APC's product line, the TravelPower laptop carrying cases. This is a range of cases with various neatly built-in power supply and charging options - a universal PSU for the laptop itself, several USB charging sockets for cellphones, PDAs etc, and the facility to take its power from not only mains electricity but auto and air power sockets as well, with basic surge and spike protection built in. It's a really cunning idea, and I can think of at least one road warrior who would find it very useful indeed.

Meanwhile,

Apple vs. Apple - a group of independent retailers were protesting outside the company's Cupertino headquarters during Thursday's shareholder meeting, claiming that Apple is heavily favouring its own shops over the authorised dealerships. Their lawsuit accuses Apple of breach of contract, fraud, trade libel, unfair competition, false advertising, misappropriation of trade secrets, intentional interference,  violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (whatever that is!), and more... Gosh!

Closer to home, security software firm Network Associates is changing its name yet again, this time reverting to the McAfee name they used until a couple of years ago... Considering that their product branding has only just started catching up with the change to NAI, and that some internal components still have the old Dr Solomon's branding from the name change before that, this sounds like an excellent way of confusing everyone and wasting a whole bunch of money. Classic corporate management strategy, as usual...

 

23rd April

Anyone who is still unaware of the calibre of the men running the country (and, from the results of yesterday's poll on compulsory ID cards that seems to be a significant majority!) could learn something from the details that have just emerged of the government's treatment of suspected terrorists. One of the two suspects released today was held for sixteen months without being charged, without being shown the evidence against him and, indeed, without even being questioned by the security services... The man, a Libyan referred to only as "M", was finally freed after a tribunal ruled that the government did not have any reasonable grounds to suspect he might be a terrorist. A second suspect, an Algerian known as "G", has been transferred from prison to house arrest on medical grounds, after the tribunal found that his indefinite imprisonment without charge had driven him insane - and "M" claims that he is by no means the only one.

I first started to become politically aware and active during the Conservative governments of the late 1980s, and the Home Secretaries we suffered under then seemed to be the very worst that the Western political machine could produce... But fifteen years later they all look like cuddly cartoon characters in comparison to the loathsome, inhuman toad that is David Blunkett. It finally seems to have come to the point where I'd actually prefer a Conservative government again to another term under Tony Blair's so-called Labour party. Sad times, indeed...

 

I remember when we was both out on the boulevard
Talkin' revolution and singin' the blues
Nowadays it's letters to the editor
And cheatin' on our taxes
Is the best that we can do

- Steve Earle

 

Elsewhere: Raids on warez groups worldwide - more than 200 computers seized and nearly 100 individuals identified, according to the US Justice Department.

Wooden computers not yet popular - an article in Pravda (Oooh! Pravda is online!) suggests that nevertheless wooden computers are more environmentally friendly than their plastic cousins - a claim which I find somewhat dubious, I have to say...

Emulation layer allows Windows apps to run on Linux - although from the scorn poured on most Windows applications by the Linux fanboys, I can't imagine why they'd ever want to!

Unsolicited CDs ought to come with return envelope - a bill before the California Assembly will force companies to be responsible for taking back the disks if it they aren't used. This could be the final straw for AOL, who send out an estimated 300 million CDs every year...

Lockheed's airborne anti-missile laser reaches maturity - I've been watching this system slowly developing for around twenty years, from it's genesis in Reagan's SDI programme, and I think it's about time that it's finally ready!

More IP lawsuits as Forgent's JPEG claim resurfaces - is anyone actually doing any IT development, these days, or are they all just suing each other? Sometimes I wonder...  :-(

And, finally, a new LED fan from Aerocool - it changes colour depending on the air temperature! I think this is a very elegant idea, but I do wonder if it will survive Antec's lawsuits...

 

22nd April

An excellent rant about this morning's Mori survey on compulsory ID cards, from John Lettice at The Register. The public want them, it seems, but as expected they have absolutely no idea about the practicalities of the technology, the ability of the government to implement the scheme properly, or the accuracy and fairness of the data that will probably be encoded on the card. Unfortunately the six percent who do understand the realities of the situation will almost certainly be swamped by the wretched, sheep-like mass of the UK's great uninformed. It's a damn shame.

MS hires ex-SUSE executive - the project leader behind the migration of the Munich local government IT services to Linux has defected to Microsoft... Although, as reported last month, the once acclaimed flagship roll-out seems to have bogged down with problems and delays.

Fake phone bills fool Canadians - but was it a scam, or just clever marketing? The company responsible claims the latter, of course, stating that their promotional "bill" looks completely different from the real thing - but the prosecution maintains that they are so convincing in overall appearance that the differing layout is irrelevant.

Another Infinium lawsuit - this is becoming just as entertaining as the SCO fracas! And, talking of which, the vulture capital firm behind SCO is demanding a "regime change", complaining that the current management are spending too much time talking and not enough time in court. Damn, but I remember SCO when they were still a software house...

And, finally, courtesy of The Bloodhound Gang - "A Lap Dance Is So Much Better When the Stripper is Crying". Um, yes...

 

21st April

So I met our new IT director today, and he turns out to be an ex-techie... I think that may bring both benefits and problems in the long run, as although he'll obviously have a far more realistic understanding of what can and can't be done with computer systems than many directors, on the other hand - well, he'll have a far more realistic understanding of what can and can't be done with computer systems! It's a double-edged sword...

On the other hand, while we were talking about UPS systems, I mentioned that one of the APC UPS boxes on my home LAN has lost a lot of run-time, and he came up with a novel solution - rolling it over onto its back then upright again a few times! A little research shows that over time the gel electrolyte in sealed lead-acid batteries can trap gas bubbles next to the plates, decreasing the metal-acid contact area and so reducing the power capacity of the cell. Some gentle agitation helps to release these bubbles, restoring the full surface area of the electrode plates. With a run-time of around seven minutes at present, it has to be worth a try - but as the SmartUPS 2200 models weigh over 50kg it's going to be an interesting manoeuvre! I'll report back...

Elsewhere:

EFF to fight against bogus patents - to start with, they're taking aim at Amazon's "One-Click" shopping patent, and another covering online credit card payments.

New speed record set on Internet II - and a new unit of measurement, too, the terabit-meter per second.

Microsoft refund claims still sparse - but what is the status of the similar CD price-fixing claims, I wonder?

SATA-2 standard already on the horizon - 3Gbps, plus all-new cables and connectors... Just when I'd got used to the current ones!  <mutter>

RIAA ends MP3 amnesty - for all the wrong reasons, as usual! They really are the most sneaky, slippery bunch of bastards imaginable...

Some people actually like dial-up net access? I was talking to one the other night, as it happens, but I have to say that I consider it to be deeply perverted behaviour.

Hacker profiles exposed at ZDNet - Kevin Mitnick and the other all old-timers, so I guess it must be a slow news day in Australia...

Anti-SCO insurance - everybody is making a buck out of this, it seems, except for the corporate end-users of Linux operating systems!

Ars.Technica reviews alternative IM clients - I've been using GAIM, recently, and although it's not without its quirks I'd never use AOL's own offering.

Major new TCP vulnerability could affect Internet backbone routers - still theoretical at this stage, but apparently very easy to exploit if anyone wants to try. Many major providers have already modified their systems to work around the issue, though, so hopefully we will never see an effective attack.

And, finally, money for sending spam - marketing firm Sendmails Corp offers users $5 for downloading and installing the company's mail delivery agent software, then an additional $1 for every hour of computing time that their PCs spend blasting out e-mails on behalf of Sendmails and its clients. Now this we can do without...   :-(

 

20th April

Well, that was an incredibly annoying day, on the whole. My management roped me into running a two day security seminar for the edification of the techies managing the networks belonging to our other offices worldwide, and not all of them were very keen on the idea... One American delegate, especially, arrived with a massive chip on his shoulder - although, fortunately, he was jet-lagged and spent most of the morning asleep. Around lunchtime, though, he woke up and announced loudly that he had been trained by the military to learn in his sleep! I really didn't know what to say to that, but after another half an hour of his "contributions" most of us were wishing that he'd go back to sleep again...

Still, the day was not without its interesting points, as one of the security consultants brought in to help out with the cat-herding mentioned the incredibly strict money laundering laws now in force in England. Leaving aside the offence of money laundering itself, it turns out that failing to report even a suspicion that money laundering is taking place is also an offence - and one punishable by up to fourteen years in prison! And these sentences carry no remission, either, so a person sentenced to fourteen years will actually serve fourteen years. Given that this is significantly longer than the sentences served by many convicted murderers, it clearly shows the English legal system's opinion of crimes against property as opposed to crimes against people...

The consultant also pointed me to a marvellous document, too - The Ten Commandments of The Computer Ethics Institute. Given that I routinely break several of them without a single qualm, and have flirted with most of the rest over the years, in some ways I am not excellently suited to be giving a seminar on computer security.  :-)

Elsewhere,

Judge throws out chat-log evidence - in an interesting twist, a judge in New Hampshire (a "two-party consent" state, where all parties to a conversation must agree before the conversation can be intercepted or recorded) has refused to admit the main evidence against an accused online paedophile.

Germany moots jail for spammers - big fines for spammers and the companies which use their services, and prison sentences for the worst offenders. Now that's what I like to hear!

New siege engine models from RLT - the possibly fictional Petraria Arcatinus, and a PVC trebuchet design. Neat stuff!

Dan's 100th Letters Column - with more on the Gigabyte Controversy, the word on the expected lifespan of high-end video cards, and a strange question about an Iraqi computer...

Forget dogging, here comes "toothing" - The Register covers the latest in fashionable sex adventuring. Fire up those Bluetooth phones and PDAs...

And, finally, calculate your risk of death by giant asteroid strike. Thanks to the Department of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona, we can all sleep easy in our beds... or not, as the case may be!

 

17th April

So the US Government has firmly denied that they have any intention of re-activating the "Selective Service" draft mechanism to supplement the badly over-stretched troops in Iraq, so of course college students and techies everywhere are now feeling extremely nervous. BartCop has a handy draft alert status checklist, and if I lived in the US, I think I'd be printing it out for reference - I trust Bush's government even less than I do Tony Blair's, and that's saying something...

Meanwhile,

AnandTech reviews the Jetway Magic Twin - a miniature PC designed to support two separate users simultaneously. How clever!

Free download of rebadged "Linspire" OS - in an attempt to publicise the new name, the distribution is freely downloadable "for the next few days" via the BitTorrent P2P network.

eMachines employees receive $72.5 million bonuses - after the lucrative sale of the low-end PC manufacturer to Gateway, every employee has been given a bonus of at least 30% of their annual salary. Wow!

New polymer technologies emerging - a plastic that conducts electricity, and one that can be moulded at room temperature.

A first-person shoot-'em-up game in less than 100Kb - it looks great, and the screenshots for ".kkrieger" are a bigger download than the game itself!

It's a bad time for the gullible, right now, with a wonderful 419 scam involving a Nigerian astronaut trapped on a secret ex-Soviet space station, a phishing scam offering plasma TVs from Estonia, and the classic premium rate dialler trojan resurfacing.

And, finally - soft, cuddly versions of the dread haunter of the deep, Great Chthulhu himself. They have a plush Nyarlethotep, too - collect the entire range of Great Old Ones, and all without anyone having to eat their own eyes!

 

16th April

The only real problem with the network management job I've been doing for the last five or six years has been the IT department manager, who is an annoying, irrational, capricious, insecure bully of a man, and who over the years has done more to lower morale within the department than anything else imaginable. One of the main reasons for the chip on his shoulder, I think, has been the continuing refusal of the company to promote him to IT director - and although he's come close to resigning over this several times in the last few years, he's been with the company for three decades and so presumably has no faith in his ability to find another job elsewhere.

The IT department has grown fast over the last few years, though, along with the rest of the company, and it's become obvious that we needed representation at board level. Now, my spies within HR have been keeping me informed of developments over the last few months, so a few days ago it came as no great surprise to be told unofficially that a new director would be joining us next week to run the department. To make space for him, the annoying manager will be relegated to leading a project to replace our aging outsourced mainframe with a spiffy new in-house SQL-based system, and once that is out of the way in a few years time he'll probably just retire - to a collective sigh of relief from the whole company, I suspect, as he's no better liked outside the department than within...

The official announcement of our new director came today, though, and with it came something that my sources in HR hadn't thought to mention - he's only 34 years old, to my 37! I've always been Ok with the fact that my immediate manager is almost a decade younger than me, but to have the IT director several years younger as well suddenly makes me feel very old indeed! Only time will tell how this is all going to work out...

Meanwhile:

Some remarkable computer-generated nudes - rendered in Poser, apparently, but if so these are an order of magnitude better than anything else I've seen so far... Thanks to Mike for the link.

The Infinium rats are starting to leave the sinking ship - the alleged manufacturer of the alleged Phantom games console, not content with suing [H]ard|OCP, is now fragmenting and suing itself!

"She Hates My Futon" - a story of relationship angst, computer dating and, of course futons. Dryly amusing throughout...

Samurize system monitor - all sorts of useful system and status information displayed right on the desktop, highly customisable and highly skinnable. I think I'll give this one a try.

And, finally, spotted online by my friend Graham - "IRC is just multi-player Notepad". Hah!

 

15th April

Links. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Water that isn't wet - just as good for fighting fires, but without the soggy, squishy after-effects. I have absolutely no idea how this works!

Lindows is back, as "Linspire" - but does anyone actually care? I never got the impression that they were a particularly successful business, even before they attracted the Baleful Eye of Gates...

Google's GMail, yet again - the contrast between Google's secretive nature and the liberties they take with their customers' data.

The true American addiction - worse than crack, worse than sex, worse than gambling... Quail at the evils of Solitaire.

"Offshore" is now a dirty word in business - but with more Dell workers overseas than in the US, it's simply going underground.

An extensive wave of Unix break-ins at colleges, universities and research institutions - attackers are using known vulnerabilities in Linux and Solaris, along with compromised user accounts, to gain access and control of systems ranging from standalone servers to HPC clusters. It's instructive to read the thread at Slashdot, though - the prevailing attitude is so very different from when a Windows security flaw is announced...

And, finally, rude ASCII animations - who would have thought it! One here (if it's too large for your screen, change the point size in the pull-down in the top left) and one here - the latter purports to be the entire "Deep Throat" movie, although in ASCII it's really hard to tell. Some people have far too much time, and CPU cycles, on their hands.

Oh, and...  six handguns, three shotguns, two SMGs and a pair of assault rifles. Is someone going to tell me when it's Ok to stop...?

 

13th April

After a day spent wrestling with SMS, HIS and LTO, I have no brain for anything but a handful of quick links.... So you'll take what you're given and like it, or it's back to the fish heads again.

Claria (the company formerly known as Gator) files for IPO - so how will one of the world's least well-regarded software houses fare on the market?

New NetSky variants open back doors - versions S, T and U leave a listener running on TCP port 6789, permitting future updates to the trojan's core code.

Bit-Tech on Antec's LED fans patent claim - they document at least one commercial offering that pre-dates Antec's unit, and a whole bunch of homebrew versions to show prior art. Oh, and there's a thread here, at Modder's HQ, where a representative from Antec puts their side of the argument.

Google's GMail faces legal challenge - Californian state senator Liz Figueroa, the architect of the "Do Not Call" law that allows citizens to opt-out of telemarketing calls, is trying to block the new mail service because of its keyword-based advertising.

Iomega targets tape backup market with 35Gb REV disk drive - but only time will tell if the new hardware works out better than their previous offerings, either technically or in terms of the supported lifespan...

And, finally, the BBC are to broadcast sperm racing - you heard me, yes, sperm racing. I wonder if the high street bookmakers will be taking bets?

 

12th April

So, according to Ars Technica, it seems that the actual risk of the notorious Mac OS X trojan has been inflated by a company trying to sell anti-virus software. Now, where have I heard that before? Still, as someone on the Ars discussion thread pointed out, virus writing is now a directly profit-driven activity, which ensures that the spam programmers will turn their attention to the Mac platform sooner rather than later - and proof-of-concept code does seem to be finding its way into a working implementation extremely fast these days. If I was a Mac user, I would be taking this as a fortuitous early warning and putting proactive security measures in before the code finds its way into a genuine virus.

Meanwhile, my friend Mike pointed me to the fuss that is surrounding the advertising for the new Dawn Of The Dead movie. Apparently one of the billboard posters has a rather spooky picture of a staring zombie child's face, and the residents of rural Lincolnshire are up in arms about it...

I have to say that I am rather tired of the current obsession with protecting children from every conceivable image that might upset the little dears... The world is a horrid, nasty, brutal place, and the tactic of wrapping childrens' sensibilities in cotton wool until suddenly exposing them to all the harsh realities at age eighteen or thereabouts seems really butt-headed. I was regularly traumatised by movies and television programmes when I was a child (a couple of Doctor Who episodes spring to mind), but none of it lasted for any significant time and, as the saying has it, it never did me any harm! Actually rather the opposite, I suspect, for as a young adult I was capable of looking past the gore of a violent news story, for example, to consider the political and sociological aspects of the story itself without being hung up on the loss of life. In this day and age, I think that's a useful ability - and will it be one that tomorrow's cosseted, delicate teens will share...?

Elsewhere:

From Think Geek, soft, cuddly microbes - a whole range of them, from the Rhinovirus that causes the common cold to Streptococcus, H.Pylori, and the Saccharomyces brewer's yeast. I think these are wonderful!

Seagate to release FATA drive - Fibre ATA is basically a Serial ATA drive with a fibre channel interface bolted on. Seagate are aiming it at entry-level servers, but in spite of the marketing hype it does seem to be a technology desperately searching for a worthwhile application...

PC cases by Katsuya Matsumura - life sized sculptures of female anime characters, robots, and mythological monsters...  some remarkable work, undoubtedly, but the fact that they're also a PC case is really rather secondary!

User Friendly's take on Bill Gates' downfall - oh, the shame of it all.

 

10th April

Quick links...

Third arrest in spam dragnet - up to twenty years in prison under Virginia's anti-spam law

Server 2003 keygen leaked - annoying for them, but not as bad as an XP keygen would have been

Call for Pure Software Act - software companies should reveal the presence of undesirable features

PlayFair removed from SourceForge - utility to remove copy protection from iTunes tracks pulled

Nasty security hole in Windows HTML help facility - and no immediate sign of a fix, either... :-(

Wood veneer and leather computer cases - [FX: Homer Simpson] Mmmmm, leather...

SpaceShipOne completes second powered flight - and receives the first license for a sub-orbital flight

Remington's million-sellers - the ever-popular M1100 and M870 shotguns, among others

The Machine Room - retro computing archive, rather sluggish site but with a good range of hardware

Security enhancements for Server 2003-based networks imminent - and they look very interesting!

 

9th April

After some consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Hawkwind's pairing of "Assault And Battery" and "The Golden Void", the sweeping and melodic semi-instrumental opening segment of their 1975 "Warrior On The Edge Of Time" album, is absolutely one of the finest tracks of the period. I urge you all to go out and buy a copy tomorrow - or anything else by Hawkwind, for that matter, one of the few groups from my teenage rock phase for whom I can still raise any enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, almost exactly fifty years earlier...

I don't know, but I believe I'm right
The auto's ruined the country
Let's go back to the horse and buggy
And try to save some money

 - "Uncle" Dave Macon, Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel

It should be noted that Uncle Dave, as well as being one of the era's most prolific recording artists with more than two hundred songs to his name between 1924 and 1952, actually owned a horse-and-wagon road haulage business. What a marvellous piece of propaganda...

Elsewhere,

NetSky-Q virus attacks file-sharing sites - with the home pages of Kazaa, eMule and eDonkey either under serious pressure or actually flooded off line, is it reasonable to speculate that the RIAA are responsible for this new flavour of the virus? Given their general attitude and declared aims, I'm inclined to think that they probably are...

And, talking of viruses - the first Mac OS X trojan horse has been spotted in the wild, and it's a clever one... The malicious code is encapsulated in the ID3 tag of an MP3 file, of all things - double-clicking the file launches the hidden code, which damages and/or deletes system files, then connects to iTunes to play the music contained in the file and so cover its tracks. Hah! That will take the smug, self-satisfied look off the Mac-zealots' faces.

RealPlayer security flaw - a buffer overflow in the R3T media plug-in that allows arbitrary code to be executed, affecting all but the latest V10 Gold of the player. Yet another nail in Real's coffin, I guess - small in itself, but the cumulative impact of all these flaws and annoyances has to be significant.

DVD players with built-in censor - Wal-Mart and Kmart are planning to sell a DVD player that includes a technology that can automatically skip sexual content, graphically violent scenes and language deemed offensive.  <long, heartfelt sigh>

Defeat CD copy protection via an analogue copy - uses an obsolete technology path to bypass the digital security, but then processes the resulting stream from an online database to add track boundaries and titles. A clever idea, I guess, but...

Researcher claims online anti-virus scanners buggy - security pundit Rafel Ivgi, also known as "The- Insider", claims that the online scanners from Symantec, McAfee and Panda all contain buffer overflows. Other experts claim that his warnings are exaggerated though, so it will be interesting to see what transpires.

Over 1 million people hoping for spammer's Porsche - after last week's announcement by AOL that they were running a sweepstake for the seized Boxster S convertible, the ISP has been receiving several hundred applications per minute at peak times. The winner will be announced during the week of April 19.

Antec claims patent on LED fans - I'm in two minds over this, as although Antec probably did make the first commercial model, the hard-core modders were wiring up LEDS to their case fans several years before the recently awarded patent - and in the long run it doesn't usually pay to alienate the very community who put your company on the map...

And, finally, the story of the infamous Hello Kitty vibrator - an item which the holder of the otherwise sweetly wholesome "Hello Kitty" license, Sanrio, would much rather had never even existed...

 

8th April

Thanks to the Easter holiday, it's the end of the working week at last - and boy, am I glad that one is over...

Here, have some random links:

Snapshot chat creates automatic captions - a system that can caption digital photos by listening to people talk about them is being developed by Hewlett-Packard. It starts recording when a digital photo album is opened, then processes the resulting conversations with speech recognition and extracts keywords with which the photos are captioned and indexed. Clever, but probably capable of producing some very odd results...

What it takes to be a terror suspect - the ACLU are mounting lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security and the Transport Security Administration over the shady 'no fly' list distributed to US airlines. There is a significant number of people who really shouldn't be on the list, apparently, but there is no way of finding out why they are there, and apparently no way of getting off the list either!

Teenage girl on child porn rap for posting her own pictures online - after sending images of herself naked and having sex to acquaintances met on chat rooms, a teenager has been charged with the possession and distribution of child pornography, and with the sexual abuse of children.  <sigh>  A perfect illustration of the law being a complete and utter ass.

Google still under heavy fire over GMail - watchdog Privacy International, known for its annual Big Brother Awards, has asked the UK Information Commissioner to investigate Google's email service. Simon Davies, director of the group, describes GMail as "a vast violation of European law", and suggests that Google itself doesn't actually appear to have performed due diligence!

Bush to host ranch tour for NRA and environmental groups - it amazes me that anyone would seriously contemplate combining the hunting fanatics of the NRA with such tree-hugging organisations as (and I'm not making this up) "Ducks Unlimited" and "Pheasants Forever". I foresee bloodshed in the car park...

Linux vendors hit back at analyst report - after a report from analyst firm Forrester claims that in practical terms Linux is no more secure than Windows, the Linux weenies are up in arms. It's not fair, they say, to take all the Linux security flaws into account, instead of just the serious ones...

The latest fashion must-have, eyeball jewellery - tiny slithers of shiny stuff are surgically inserted into the conjunctiva of the eyeball. "So far we have not seen any side effects or complications", said the Dutch surgeon who pioneered the procedure, "and we don't expect any in the future." I have to say that I'm not convinced.

Frequent ejaculation may protect against cancer - frequent sexual intercourse or masturbation may well protect men against prostate cancer, suggests the largest study of the issue to date. "More than 12 ejaculations per month would start conferring the benefit", says the report - "on average every second day or so." So, there you go!

 

7th April

I'm delighted... After four years of frustration over LSI/MetaStor's enterprise RAID array hardware, I've finally managed to achieve the Mecca of storage management - adding extra disks to an array and then expanding the volume to fill the new capacity, right in the middle of the day, and without the users being any the wiser. This facility has been advertised on their systems for ages, but every time I've actually tried to perform the expansion there turned out to be some stupid, fiddly and most importantly undocumented reason why it wasn't possible - it doesn't work on disk volumes upgraded from NT4, it needs free space after the partition to work with, there is an "r" in the month, etc etc...

On every previous occasion that we've needed to expand a volume, therefore, I've had to re-create it from scratch and then restore several hundreds of gigabytes from tape, a process that takes most of a day and usually leaves me with fingernails chewed down the the elbow. On the last occasion, though, I tried as carefully as I could to build the new volume with all the known eccentricities in mind and it seems to have paid off, as I was able to add the new capacity without doing more than slowing the disk subsystem down a touch for the few hours it took for the array to resynchronise. I am a happy bunny indeed, tonight.

Meanwhile... I had no idea that there were so many versions of an old bluegrass song I'm fond of, "Jordan Is a Hard Road To Travel". I was aware that the version I know best, recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in 1927, was inspired by a considerably earlier original from Daniel "Old Dan" Emmett in the middle of the 19th century, but while trying to track down a better set of lyrics for the former I came across a site that carefully cross-references no less than twenty five significantly different variants of the song, as well as an extensive collection of other fiddle music from the period. The site is well worth exploring, if you like bluegrass - and, face it, after "O Brother, Where Art Thou", who doesn't...

Elsewhere...

A Brief History Of Spam          Iron Chef haiku          Lindows throws in the towel

 

6th April

What a day... We're busy replacing our old NT4-based SNA Server installation with a shiny new Server 2003-based HIS Server, and simultaneously upgrading the FormScape print processor that formats the mainframe documents from version 2 to version 3. Although everything seems to be going well it's a fiddly task indeed, and as I'm apparently the only person who understands all the links of the chain I've been run ragged coordinating the various teams involved in the project... Next we'll spend a couple of weeks testing it and chasing whatever issues arise, with the intention of switching over to the new system sometime around the end of the month. Phew!

Meanwhile, a bumper crop of links...

Humanoid robot conducts Beethoven symphony - and there's a link to video of a remarkable robotic dance troupe, too.

Turbocharging Linux - new scheduling services optimise disk IO, and can potentially deliver a significant performance boost.

Privacy International warns of Google's new GMail service - with the permanent message retention and the content-keyed pop-up adverts, it all sounds extremely dubious to me.

Research for the next generation of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles - am I alone in finding the idea of an armed robotic vehicle rather scary...?

Dell closes Indian call centres after complaints - complaints about the quality of customer service prompt closure of the Bangalore centre, but the jobs will probably stay overseas in the long term.

Sudhian Media reviews Turtle Beach's new sound cards - and is not at all impressed. It looks like Creative are still the smart choice, unless you have unusual requirements.

Blue light scanner detects dirty hands - and pinpoints on a digital display where more scrubbing is necessary.

Mysterious "Fairy Circles" defy explanation - plausible theories about the strange, bare circles in the Namibian desert all come to nothing...

Periodic table extended - elements 113 and 115 isolated, the former of which is unusually stable with a half-life of slightly over a second.

NASA to test the fabric of space-time - but surely there are things that man was not meant to meddle with - no good will come of this!

University of Akron hosts concrete canoe race - they look like normal canoes, but range in weight from 130 to more than 200 pounds. It begs the question "Why?"

IKEA founder overtakes Gates as world's richest man -  but only because the dollar is a touch weak against, well, everything, at present...

Dante's Inferno Test - Impurity, Sin, and Damnation - I wasn't especially surprised to find myself banished to the sixth level, the City of Dis, where the heretics hang out.

And, finally, on a lighter note... The Great Cornholio Soundboard. "Do not make my bunghole angry!"

 

4th April

So, Area51 Airsoft truly lived up to their name this weekend - the UFO-obsessed conspiracy theorists who monitor the US government test area of that name would be thoroughly familiar with my recent experience spending days watching and waiting without seeing any signs of activity whatsoever...

I don't quite know why I decided to give this most unreliable of companies yet another chance, but a few weeks ago I spotted their mainstay Dee Sheldrake advertising a replacement 11mm barrel for my M4 shell-ejector on eBay, and foolishly decided to bid. I suppose I thought that under the strict terms and conditions of an eBay auction he might actually be capable of completing the deal in a reasonable timescale - but if so, I have been completely disappointed once again.

The auction ended on the 14th of March, and over the subsequent two weeks I sent a handful of queries to Dee, receiving in reply the traditional assurances that the barrel would be in the post to me imminently. Nothing materialised, of course, and eventually another enquiry brought the news that Dee would be in London over this weekend, and could actually deliver it personally! I was intrigued at the prospect of actually meeting this phantom at last, and so we agreed that he would come to my house sometime around Friday teatime.

Friday teatime came and went, along with the rest of Friday, but when I got up on Saturday morning I found that Dee had sent email at around 4am claming to have been delayed in a business meeting until 2 o'clock in the morning! Its hard to imagine what kind of business meeting takes place at that time, I must admit, but I shrugged it off and sat down to wait for his promised appearance on Saturday morning instead. The entire day passed without any sign of him, or any further communication - and as I write this on Sunday evening I very much doubt that I'm going to see any sign of him now. I shouldn't really be surprised or disappointed, I suppose - but, actually, for some reason I am...

It would be completely wrong to refer to Dee Sheldrake as a con man, as I'm quite convinced that there is no basic dishonesty involved and that his intentions are completely honourable - but it has to be said that the end result is exactly the same. The money is paid, the goods take forever to arrive and are of unpredictable quality when they finally do - and a lot of broken promises and unconvincing excuses are offered along the way.

My own experiences of this company are nothing out of the ordinary, either - in spite of the widespread propaganda on the UK airsoft forums, it's easy to find the truth, and I've spent the last couple of months chatting in email with a number of Area51's other customers, including a fellow owner of the shell-ejecting M4 replicas. Our experiences are uncannily similar, it turns out, and as a result we're all equally frustrated and disillusioned with both the products themselves and the company's general attitude and abilities. It's a damn shame...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Metallic sound heard by space crew - and not for the first time, it seems. Somebody left a window open?

Open source vulnerability database launched - and boy, it's certainly a comprehensive list already! Now remind me about open source and inherent security, again?

Mysterious fireball crashes in Queensland, Australia - but given the April 1st date of the article I do wonder about its veracity.

Scientists levitate ultra-pure glass - but this is another 1st April article, too, so who can tell.

Japan's anti-monopoly spotlight shines on Microsoft - another country climbing on board the gravy train...

And, finally, dire warnings at The Register over Google's new mail service - once held up to the light for a close look, it seems to be an online privacy enthusiast's nightmare. Scary stuff, indeed.

 

3rd April

Thanks to its many and varied security flaws, and general bad behaviour on the part of its owner, I'll never use the ghastly AOL Instant Messenger on any of my PCs, and usually counsel against its use elsewhere, too. Unfortunately it has now become the de facto standard for messaging so a few weeks ago I was rather pleased to come across an open source equivalent, GAIM. The client is quite a nice piece of work, but predictably enough the development group responsible has despaired of making any money from a freeware release so has resorted to a rather unorthodox approach to raise funds. They're holding a series of auctions on eBay for various highly unlikely items, including a $10 bill, a recording of a babbling brook, the DNA of one of the programmers, and the toothbrush of another. I really do wish them well - but what a damming verdict on the basic viability of the open source licensing business model...

Following yesterday's legal settlement between Microsoft and Sun, The Register has a well-balanced article on what it all really means - and how settling rather than persisting with the suit was really the best bet for beleaguered Sun right now. It's an interesting summary, and I was especially pleased to read this paragraph, which puts some of the recent news concerning Microsoft into a perspective that many in government and business would do well to adopt:

"Microsoft's unethical business practices should be put into context. Unlike the pharmaceutical cartel or arms manufacturers, Redmond doesn't overturn democracies or kill thousands of civilians; unlike News Corporation it doesn't debase social discourse or undermine language. Unlike Google, it doesn't pretend to present 'all the world's knowledge', when most of the world's knowledge isn't even on the Internet. Microsoft simply makes some fairly mediocre software and charges a lot for it."

The EU politicians who imposed an unprecedented €497m fine last month should remember that the next time they're sponsoring international arms fairs and encouraging the drugs companies to literally get away with murder... But they won't, will they.

Elsewhere, the remarkable Dan of Dan's Data celebrated his 30th birthday a few days ago - so as such a stripling is even more remarkable than I'd realised - although the news of his tender age does make me feel very old tonight... His latest letters column contains tips on floppy disk emulation, the pros and cons of digital photography, an excellent rant on intellectual property rights and a pointer to a new offering from RLT.com group of e-shops. Their Backyard Artillery and Catapult Kits stores have been favourites of Dan's for a while, now, with good reason - and as they have now been joined by a store selling some extremely unusual radio controlled toys I think they must be aiming themselves directly at Dan's own taste in hobbies! Highlights of the new range include a replica Wright Flyer, a bomb dropping blimp, and a Patriot missile launcher - with a radio controlled monkey and a "real" flying saucer" promised soon. This has to be worth keeping an eye on, I'd say.

[At this point I paused to replace a blown fuse on the mains supply to the server farm in the basement, and in doing so noticed that although the 2200VA UPS on the desktop systems upstairs is managing to provide at least an hour's runtime, the identical but slightly less heavily loaded model feeding the servers is only achieving around seven minutes! I'll try a recalibration to begin with, but it was a second hand UPS and I have to face the possibility that the batteries are failing, which would be an annoyance I could do without right now.]

And, finally...

“Get the cheese to Sick Bay - the doctor should look at it as soon as possible.”
(B'elanna Torres - Star Trek: Voyager, "Learning Curve")

 

2nd April

So Microsoft and Sun have reached a settlement in their long-running royalty and patent disputes, with  Microsoft agreeing to pay a total of $2 billion in appeasement. This is excellent timing for Sun, which just issued an earnings warning amidst plans to cut 3,300 jobs, and re-affirms what has now become an extremely reliable mantra within the IT industry - if you can't make a profit selling products and services, sue Microsoft instead...

Meanwhile, via The Sideshow - a marvellous list of funny or unusual chemical names, hosted at my brother's alma mater Bristol University and complete with many diagrams. Among my favourites are the carbon ring molecule Arsole, the mineral Cummingtonite, the alcohol Fucitol, the radioactive compound Bi-Curious Chloride and the glycoprotein Draculin - the latter found in vampire bat saliva!

PC Stats has a guide to diagnosing problems caused by faulty memory - and as I was wrestling with just this issue myself earlier this year, I can confirm that the article has some interesting tips. What they don't mention, however, is that faulty RAM is often quite capable of passing every test and diagnostic you throw at it with flying colours, but crashing horribly as soon as it is exposed to regular patterns of use. I've seen this time and time again in my career, and sometimes one just has to go with the gut feeling and swap the memory out anyway.

A Canadian federal court has found the concept of P2P music sharing legal, and not in contravention of any copyright laws. I just can't fathom the Canadian government and legal system - they seem to vacillate wildly between the most restrictive, oppressive and draconian measures on one hand, and then a completely off-the-wall libertarian ruling like this on the other. Bizarre!

I missed April Fool's Day yesterday, thanks to extreme busyness, but better late than never... The Museum Of Hoaxes has a list of the Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time, and rather to my surprise an old favourite is heading the list - the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest spoof from a 1957 edition of UK news programme Panorama. I'm not quite old enough to remember the original broadcast, but it was re-shown throughout my childhood and I'm glad that it's now considered a classic.

And, talking of April Fools - Google's announcement of a new advertising-sponsored free webmail service was so unexpected yesterday that many industry analysts dismissed it as another hoax. It seems to be genuine, however, and although I'm surprised that they are planning entry into an already well-settled market (especially with an amazingly generous 1Gb of storage space), Google is not famed for butt-headed business decisions. Time will tell...

Elsewhere:

DOS gets its final outing - seventeen years after launch, the absolutely last ever (promise!) incarnation of the operating system has just been released.

New York finds "Buffalo Spammer" guilty after sending 825 million junk e-mail messages - and he'll be going down for somewhere between two and seven years.

Government to fast-track compulsory ID cards. I'm speechless about this - except to refer you to the quote from Hermann Goering I posted last week... Can you feel the puppet strings?

 

1st April

Just back from a fast trip to Southampton and back to put Ros on a ship bound for Malta - although the departure time has slipped and slipped again, and as we're now looking at a delay of another twenty four hours she's currently stalled overnight in a local hotel. Oh, the perils of travel - it makes me glad to be a stay-at-home at heart.

Meanwhile, January's wonderful dragon hoax turns out to be a hoax indeed, but one of an unexpected kind... Desperate to find a publisher for his fantasy thriller novel, author Allistair Mitchell had the dragon made by a firm of specialist model makers and concocted the whole story of its Victorian origins in order to provide publicity. There are too many meta-levels in this whole affair for me to process, right now...

Elsewhere - and this is firm proof that you really can buy anything over the Internet - full-sized inflatable military vehicles and planes, courtesy of the imaginatively named militaria supplier Militaria & Co. At the moment they offer a Soviet T-72 tank, an assorted handful of trucks and transports, and an F16 Falcon fighter. They do offer some more pedestrian products as well, but the inflatable are just wonderful.

Another undistinguished month in the stats, as although visits are up slightly on last month's slump overall page views are down even lower - and the latter is really the mark of success in a site like this. I shall have to roll out some new content, I think, and in fact an overview of my extensive experiences in shopping online is almost ready to upload - and as I'm not holding back from naming and shaming where appropriate, that should bring in some additional traffic from solicitors preparing lawsuits, if nothing else.

So, just click the button below to vote for this site at the newly re-launched Tweakers Australia Top 50 - while you still have the chance...  :-)

 

 

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