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30th August

Last autumn I found myself stripping and rebuilding my high-tech dual-motor vacuum cleaner to replace a sudden spate of broken parts, and after several hours of fiddly, perplexing work I ended up feeling quite smug that I managed to get it all working again. The smug feeling lasted for a few months until I had to use the cleaner myself, though, and discovered that our cleaning woman hadn't mentioned that the front beater thing (technical term!) was no longer spinning round. This demoralised me completely, as I was convinced that it would be some subtle, obscure electrical fault that would be beyond my abilities to diagnose, and so the vacuum languished unused for all of this year while our cleaning lady used a £30 cheapie pull-along.

The imminent departure of said pull-along with Ros galvanised me into reluctant action this weekend, though, and I reached for my screwdrivers and metaphorically rolled up my sleeves. After half an hour I had most of the innards exposed - an awkward job as the wretched device needs to be disassembled almost completely before any work at all can be performed - and then I suddenly became aware of something that had previously escaped my notice.

Although I'd already examined the foot switch that turns the beater on and off, for some reason I'd failed to appreciate that the little orange button right next to it was actually one of those mechanical circuit breaker thingies (another technical term!) and that it was looking suspiciously like it was broken. I pressed the button, there was a little click from inside, and having struggled all the casings back together with the eleven different types of screw supplied everything is now working perfectly.

<long sigh>  There is a well-known tendency for sufficiently advanced techies in all disciplines to see only the most complex solution to any problem, and to overlook the sort of things that less technically minded people would check first. I think I have that trait, in spades...

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the inestimable Dan's Data now has a spin-off - Anne, Dan's girlfriend, has her own blog and evidently isn't afraid to use it. Topics so far include the joys of obsolete PDAs, Aussie political scandals, and vegetarian cookery. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the birth of the Internet - waaaaaay back in 1969, when dinosaurs such as Stephen Crocker and Vint Cerf roamed the earth, the first two computers were hooked together in a test lab at UCLA. Four months later three other systems had joined the network, and the cat was firmly out of the bag.

Nullsoft amazingly quick off the mark - only a few days after the vulnerability in the Winamp skins subsystem was revealed, the company has released an updated version which fixes that problem and a number of other issues.

More power than you can shake a (drum)stick at - the new Neko64 synthesiser keyboard from Open Labs has a hardware specification that puts many high-end PCs completely to shame: the $12,000 top-of-the-line model has dual AMD Opteron 64 bit CPUs, four 250Gb hard disks, 8Gb of RAM, and an embedded 15" touch-screen LCD panel. Oh, and it runs Windows XP, too, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your point of view! Either way, though, it is indeed a spectacular musical instrument...

News.Com has a long interview with Bill Gates, where he justifies the recent decision to cut some of the more exotic components out of the upcoming Longhorn operating system as well as explaining some of the rest of the roadmap for the next few years of development. Some think that the cuts are a good thing, though, especially developers still reeling in the wake of WinXP SP2...

Shuttle repairs still problematic - NASA's goal of develop methods of repairing damage to the shuttle while in orbit is still a long way off, it seems. Current work is focussing on patching holes of the sort that doomed the Columbia shuttle last year, but as yet none of the "over-wraps" can resist the 3000 degree re-entry temperatures. Equally problematic is the requirement set by the accident review board that no foam fragments heavier than a fraction of an ounce should detach from the tank during the ascent stage, and all-in-all it looks as if it's going to be quite a while before STS is up and running again...

 

29th August

So, Conservative leader Michael Howard has been banned from visiting the White House following criticism of Tony Blair and his policies on the Iraq war. Back in February, Howard gave a speech in the House Of Commons calling for Blair to resign, and this appears to have personally offended Bush's puppet master, Karl Rove - his message to Howard sounded like a sulky child: "You can forget about meeting the President, full stop. Don't bother coming, you are not meeting him". Given how long ago this actually happened, though, it seems likely that the news has now been deliberately leaked to coincide with the imminent Republican National Convention in New York, just one of a series of bizarre stories that have hit the media in the last few days.

My favourite, as reported at The Sideshow, has been the allegation that veteran members of 1970s radical group the Weather Underground are coming out of retirement to cause chaos and havoc at the Convention. According to a story in the New York Post, several members of the Weathermen have recently been released from prison, and are apparently keen to pick up just where they left off thirty years ago, leading contemporary activists in strikes against the establishment. Needless to say, the Post claims, the NYPD is on top of the situation and is monitoring their every move...

Strangely, though, the NYPD themselves seem to be ignorant of the plot. They're not tracking any of the released Weathermen, they insist - and, indeed, it hadn't actually occurred to them that these antique anarchists represented any kind of threat.  Rather the opposite, in fact - according to an expert on the radical group, the four recently released members are all women, none of whom are noticeably skilled in the techniques of terrorism, and after so long in prison they are are determined to follow the terms of their parole and stay firmly on the right side of the law.

Apart from that, of course, it seems quite clear that the current generation of disaffected youth is managing quite well on its own, and that none of them seem to need the advice and leadership of the Weathermen - or, for that matter, the SLA, the Red Army Faction or the Black Panthers... Raising the spectre of one of the great anti-establishment bugbears is a great way of stirring up right wing hysteria, though, and given the timing presumably this is exactly what was intended by the architect of the story. Media whores, indeed...

Elsewhere:

Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World - an archive of some of the best contemporary left-wing satire cartoons. They amuse me at the same time as they annoy and inform me, which has to be a recommendation of some kind, at least...

What did George Washington look like? - a year-long project to create a more accurate picture of his appearance will bring together every known image, bust and sculpture of the first US president, together with hair samples, eyeglasses, personal clothes and all available written description of Washington's physique. The end result will be life-size models representing three different points in his life, to be displayed in a new museum at Mount Vernon.

Cherry launches keyboard for Linux users - the CyMotion Master Linux keyboard has the Linux penguin logo, Tux, instead of the Windows start key and features 29 hot keys - although given that these are designed to assist with such OS-independent operations such as cutting, copying and pasting text, and moving between Web pages, one wonders quite what all the fuss is about...

And, finally, a quick reminder that the new series of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy starts in around three weeks, on Tuesday 21st September at 6:30pm (repeated on Thursdays at 11pm). I'm hoping that if I keep reminding everyone else, I might actually remember it myself...

 

28th August

It is important to note that the lack of an entry yesterday was due to a general malaise of the spirit rather than any sudden destruction of the Internet by Islamic cyber-terrorists. I just thought I'd stress that...

Meanwhile, a handful of random, desultory links:

Council frames phone bosses - angry at the refusal of phone companies to cut off numbers advertised on prostitutes' calling cards, Westminster council is distributing their own fake cards containing the numbers of senior telco executives. The council has always had a real bee in their bonnet about cards in phone boxes, and it's depressing to see that they still haven't gained any sense of proportion.

DDoS-for-hire group - A Massachusetts businessman allegedly paid members of "the computer underground" to launch crippling denial of service attacks against three of his competitors. Flushed with the success of the first attacks, he seems to have made something of a business of it himself - but having attracted the attention of the FBI he has now fled the country to escape prosecution. Gosh!

FBI spying for the RIAA - only two days after the Justice Department announced that they weren't interested in probing for copyright infringement on the behalf of the media giants, they decided to do just that, infiltrating a peer-to-peer network to investigate sharing of copyrighted movies, software and music - although right at the moment nobody seems to agree on what they actually found.

Winamp skins hack - a vulnerability in the skinning engine of current versions of Winamp will allow malicious code to be executed under the guise of installing a new skin. The way that skins cam be installed straight from the web is very slick, but of course as usual the trade-off for increased usability is decreased security. Caveat emptor...

Remember VeriSign’s "Site Finder" search engine, that would thrust itself forward if you mistyped a URL? It was leapt on from a great height by the ICANN shortly after launch, and so VeriSign subsequently took them to court alleging anti-competitive behaviour. Well, fortunately a federal district court has thrown out this claim, so our 404 Not Found messages are safe for a while, yet, at least...

Microsoft trims down Longhorn - the new version of the Windows operating system, due to ship in 2006, is gradually being pared down in order to meet that deadline. Among the first casualties are Avalon, the much-hyped new user interface, and the WinFS filesystem, both of which are likely to ship in a subsequent feature pack.

Phone deaf? - Siemens has issued a safety warning over it's recent 65 series cell phones. If the battery runs down while a call is in progress, under some circumstances the phone will play the shutdown melody so loudly that the user's eardrum may actually be damaged... Siemens has promised an update, but in the meantime recommends that the offending melody is disabled. Indeed.

Computer Universal Bah - one of the worst translated advertisements I've ever seen - if it wasn't for the picture, I'd have absolutely no idea what it is they're trying to sell... I have to admit that it actually looks like rather a useful product, though!

And, finally, for the SF movie buff who has everything - well, everything except a life-sized replica of the Terminator robot built out of used car parts, that is... It's up for auction on eBay with only a day or so left to go, but even with a starting price of £3000 I'm really surprised that it hasn't yet attracted any bids - it certainly is a spectacular piece of work.

 

26th August

Well, apparently the Internet didn't melt down on demand, today, and so of course Kaspersky is stressing that he only said that there might or might not be attacks...  <sigh>  Meanwhile, the silly season news is at its summer best...

MPs petition to impeach Tony Blair - When Ros mentioned this I originally thought it was probably just deliberate disinformation, but the petition's own site is backed up by stories at The Guardian, so there does seem to be some substance to it. I doubt anything will come of it, unfortunately, except to gain some publicity for the previously unknown Welsh and Scottish Nationalist MPs who are heading the campaign.

Video game stars posing for Playboy - for some peculiar reason, the upcoming issue of the magazine will feature characters from games such as Mortal Kombat, Tekken and Leisure Suit Larry. This is a somewhat peculiar concept, if pleasingly whimsical, but what I really find odd is that most of the characters will not be posing nude! Evidently the software companies are determined to protect the virtual reputations of their property, and will only let them go so far...

Teen PCs... Like, dude! - aimed squarely at teenagers, the new Hip-e PC from Texas-based Digital Lifestyles Group has a screen and keyboard framed in fuzzy pink fur, a leopard skin design, or a graffiti pattern. It also comes with some bespoke task-oriented software, but I think it's going to take more than that to make the system stand out from the other strange, unsuccessful niche products that have already fallen by the wayside.

Politicians in chewing gum horror - posters of politicians such as Jeffrey Archer, Tony Blair and Iain Duncan Smith are being erected by Bournemouth town council in the hope that people will stick used chewing gum to them instead of dropping it on the pavements. Who knows - they may actually have something, there...

 

25th August

Doom! Doom! We're all doomed! The anti-virus hysteria is mounting again, with shrill warnings from Eugene Kaspersky, founder of Kaspersky Labs, a Russian (you guessed it) anti-virus company, that Islamic terrorists will paralyse the Internet tomorrow on Thursday 26th. This announcement has spread to everywhere from the news services to the NTBUGTRAQ security mailing list, but as usual it appears to be 99% hot air. When I see this kind of wailing and moaning online, I tend to point people to the VMyths site run by the indefatigable Rob Rosenberger - I can always count on him to provide an unbiased and rational rebuttal, without any apparent sign of axes being ground. You really can't say the same about Kaspersky himself...

The Seattle Times on Penny Arcade - I catch up with online comic Penny Arcade every week or so, and it definitely brings some smiles... I'm not particularly plugged into the gaming scene, so some of the clever bits tend to pass over my head, but there are some real gems nevertheless. For some reason, they haven't yet been sued...

Oops! It's Microsoft's turn to fall foul of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, when their claim that running a Linux-based  network is more expensive than a Windows-based one was found to be misleading. For some bizarre reason, they featured comparisons between Windows on a standard PC server and Linux on an IBM z900 mainframe, which I rather think was a good way of shooting themselves in at least one foot... Ah, well.

 

24th August

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me..."

I thought I had enough airsoft replicas, but having checked it turns out that I don't. Fortuitously, at around the same time as I discovered the lack of a large, excessive handgun, I also discovered this little gem lurking in the For Sale section of the UK Airsoft Network forums. Some keen bargaining by instant message soon resulted in an agreement, and I'm very pleased with the deal.

This is KSC's replica of the "Auto-9", better known as the gun from the Robocop movies. Based on a Beretta M93R machine pistol, the additional of an extended barrel, frame and compensator, together with a built-up grip, transforms the piece into something quite remarkable. With both three round burst and full auto modes as well the more conventional single shot, it should certainly be an interesting experience. I've never handled a KSC replica before, but although they don't have quite the reputation of Western Arms, the manufacturer of my other automatics, as a science fiction movie prop I don't think that's going to be a problem. I shall post some more pictures when it's safely nestled in my hot little hands, hopefully sometime early next week.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

A 'Peeping Tom' virus - the recently discovered Rbot-GR trojan exploits the usual Windows vulnerabilities but comes with a new twist - if an infected PC has a webcam installed, the virus will stream video and audio to anyone connecting to its built-in back door. Heh!

$1 billion for robotic fighter plane - aerospace giant Northrop Grumman has been awarded the contract to develop the X-47B unmanned combat plane. Three prototypes of the high aspect ratio delta plane will be made over the next five years, with the first flight tests scheduled for sometime in 2007.

Ars.Technica has the skinny on electronic voting - around a third of American voters will cast their ballots in the November presidential election using touch-screen voting machines, but controversy surrounds the choice of manufacturers, the hardware itself, and also the auditing process. Given the likelihood that Bush can only win this election if he steals it again, this is indeed a worrying state of affairs...

Oh, and finally - today is the tenth anniversary of Windows 95. Although brave early-adopters (such as myself) had been testing the new OS during Microsoft's first open beta program, the general public were first exposed to the revolutionary operating system on August 24th 1994. Happy birthday, Windows!

 

23rd August

Discovered in 1937, the muon is a subatomic particle almost identical to the more familiar electron, but around 200 times heavier. Unlike all of the particles that had preceded it (and indeed much of the rest of modern physics up to that point) its existence had not been predicted by theorists prior to its unexpected discovery in the laboratory - it didn't fit into a conveniently empty niche, provide the missing piece of a scientific puzzle, or fit into any of the known families of other particles... It just was. So unwelcome was this new particle, in fact, that when the Nobel-winning physicist I.I. Rabi was told of its properties, he greeted it with a less than enthusiastic "So, who ordered that?"...

Meanwhile, back at the silicon face, I've bought a little disk array for my home server - a second hand Sun StorEdge Multipack. And it is a little array, too, at least physically - only 9" tall and 16" deep, which is actually considerably less than I'd expected in spite of the not inconsiderable research I did online before buying it! It's anything but small in terms of capacity, though - with all twelve hot-swappable bays populated with 19Gb drives, as in my version, I can create a RAID-5 array of over 200Gb - and installing larger drives (36Gb or 73Gb are readily available on eBay) would increase the overall array size proportionally.

200Gb may not sound like much now that regular desktop ATA drives have broken the 400Gb barrier, but they don't offer any measure of fault-tolerance - and this just isn't acceptable to me. Given that backing up the huge volumes of data that modern drives can hold is increasingly difficult without high-end tape devices, and the fact that having worked in IT for twenty years or more I've seen far too many failed disk drives to ever trust my data to a single device, a combination of RAID for short term security and occasional backups to protect over the longer term seems to cover all the bases.

I have to scare up a spare 68 pin SCSI cable from somewhere, and after that I'll be able to demonstrate the other significant advantage of a RAID array over a single drive - for read operations in a multi-tasking or multi-user environment, having the data spread over a number of drive spindles is usually noticeably faster, and in any case replacing the old 36Gb DEC SCSI-2 array currently in use with this new SCSI-3 unit is going to help speed things up however many drives are involved.

Oh, and Mike? The DEC array is yours, now, whenever you like... And seeing as it's you, I'll even throw in an Adaptec 2940 to hang it off.    :-)

 

22nd August

Just a few links, again, as I'm a touch short on enthusiasm this weekend...

South Pole 'cyberterrorist' hack - a classic storm in a teacup, wonderfully exaggerated by the FBA and the NSF to make everything sound all scary and dangerous. You can actually hear the sound of axes being ground, intrusive laws being drafted, and additional funding being solicited...

Science museum to suspend operations - Georgia's state museum of science and technology  has closed, this weekend, following years of declining attendance, interest and contributions. For a state where reason and education are already under threat from religious stupidity, I think that's a sad development indeed.

Pilots to pluck space capsule from air - the Genesis satellite, an orbiting solar wind experiment package, will be intercepted by stunt helicopter pilots during re-entry and snagged safely by a long cable. It sounds outlandish, but the procedure has already been tested in a dozen or more practice runs. Gosh!

DNA technique protects against 'evil' emails - a revolutionary method of identifying spam emails using algorithms designed to process DNA sequences claims an almost perfect success rate - although actually, it doesn't really sound any different from the more traditional Bayesian techniques.

Epson parades tea cup-sized flying robot - controlled remotely via a Bluetooth wireless connection, the FR-II is actually the latest in a long series of flying micro-robots from Seiko Epson. Who knew that the apparently pedestrian manufacturer of printers, watches and cash registers was working on stuff like this?

Intel's world-wide Wi-Fi hotspot finder - publicly accessible wireless hotspot, and there certainly seem to be a hell of the lot of them...  with 6587 in the UK, only 849 of which are in the London area, the coverage is extensive indeed. I really had no idea that the idea had been so widely adopted!

And, finally, a rafting tournament on sex dolls - firmly in the "too much time on their hands" department, the second annual Bubble Baba Challenge was held in St. Petersburg this weekend, and did indeed involve contestants navigating the Losevsky rapids of the Vuoksa river buoyed up by inflatable sex dolls. And why not...?

 

20th August

Not a pleasant week... One gets used to having a pair of eager PFYs at one's beck and call, and it's going to be a busy time until the helpdesk bod moves over to replace my missing one. My management agreed completely when I explained that some of the less urgent projects were going to have to be put on hold - and then over the next few days they proceeded to load me down with brand new ones that they hadn't even mentioned before! I wouldn't mind so much if I wasn't supposed to be moving house at some point in the next few months, but with everything happening at once it's going to be hard to cope...   :-(

Microsoft's geopolitical bloopers - an article at News.Com suggests that Microsoft's lack of cultural sensitivity and geographical awareness has cost them millions of dollars over the years, but given that they're one of the biggest companies in the world, and that the report mentions cases going back ten years, I think that actually their record doesn't sound so very bad after all...

Nintendo patents online gaming - an unexpected patent application from Nintendo, the only major games console manufacturer that has never really provided an online play facility for its users, may cause problems for the other companies that have. It's the old story, I'm afraid - if you can't compete in the market, sue Microsoft (and, this time, Sony and Nokia too) instead.

And, talking of eccentric patents and suing Microsoft - Eolas, the company formed purely to sue the company for patent infringement over the concept of browser plugins, has just had a major setback when the US Patent Office rejected the basic claim that was used used to win the record $521 million award last year. Hah!

Also in court - the US Court Of Appeals has upheld last year's ruling that P2P file-sharing programs are not inherently illegal, presumably to the great annoyance of the various media industry pressure groups. Unfortunately this may become irrelevant, as the Induce Act (soon to be even more biased towards the corporates, it appears!) proposed by Senator Orrin "RIAA" Hatch will criminalise the software authors anyway. Sad times...

Meanwhile, out of court - the most impressive example of quantum entanglement to date has been demonstrated in Austria, using two laboratories on opposite sides of the River Danube. The quantum states of a photon in one lab were instantaneously transferred to a photon in the other via 800m of optical fibre fed through the public sewer system. "Spooky action at a distance", indeed!

Elsewhere, I stumbled over a US firearms dealer with a very unusual line in machine guns - miniature replicas of the classic Browning heavy machine guns, chambered in .22 calibre. Nevertheless, they're otherwise completely accurate to the original WW1-era weapons - water cooling, cloth ammunition feed belts, brass fittings, the works... I have to admit that they're as cute as anything - and for $49,000 for the set of three, they certainly ought to be! The company has a number of other exotic and unusual firearms, too, including a belt-fed HK51. It's been fun to browse through their online catalogue and daydream that I didn't live in a country where even replica guns are in danger of being banned...  :-(

 

19th August

Too busy for anything but a few odd links...

'Offensive' ad lands Amen in hot water - their advert for Linux web servers pictured a semi-naked woman wearing a mask under the headline "Bound to serve", and the caption "Take control of your very own dedicated server". A mere six people complained that it was degrading to women, and as usual the ASA agreed. Tsk...

Resident Evil viral marketing ploy backfires - far more offensive and annoying than the provocative server advert are unsolicited SMS text messages sent to mobile phones telling the the owners that they are infected by the so-called "T-Virus". Now that's something that should be stopped...

Real anti-Apple poll swamped by pro-Apple posters - Real are trying to drum up popular support for their attempt to break Apple's monopoly on their own FairPlay music distribution system, and predictably enough the Mac fanboys are not impressed...

And talking of predictable over-reactions from the Mac fanboys - earlier this year a parody of Apple's "Switch" adverts resulted in the usual balanced, reasoned response - "I hope you burn in hell" is a common reaction, which says a lot about the character of the average Mac zealot.

ISPs gang up on spammer-run websites - UK ISPs belonging to the LINX group have resolved to close down web sites advertised in spam email, whether they're actually responsible for the email or not. It's something of an empty gesture, though, as the latest figures suggest that only 1% of spam messages actually have any connection with the UK.

And, finally, The Interface Hall of Shame - a classic site, showcasing all that is confusing, awkward, annoying and downright misleading in the design of graphical user interfaces. Every programmer should read this site carefully, and try to learn from it.

 

18th August

With the departure of my original PFY, yesterday, it's one big game of musical chairs at the office... PFY #2 moves upwards to replace PFY #1, the senior helpdesk techie becomes PFY#2, the junior helpdesk techie becomes the senior, and a new lowest-of-the-low is recruited from elsewhere in the company to fill his place. This saves a lot of money in salaries and recruitment costs, I'm told, and speeds the process up a lot (in theory, at least - in practice the senior helpdesk bod won't be moving to my team until he's finished his current assignments in another month or so) but only time will tell whether it will all work out Ok. Hmmmmm.

Meanwhile...

Optimus Prime? Hardly - a collection of pictures of Transformers fancy dress costumes, ranging from bad to worse...

The Museum Of Unworkable Devices - some loon wrote into Dan's Data with his pet idea for a perpetual motion machine, and Dan pointed him to this comprehensive exhibition of the beasties.

Just Pistols - an excellent resource for airsoft handguns, created by UK 'softer Snowman: reviews, documentation, articles and advice. Recommended.

Digital Gun Club - beautiful computer generated images of firearms of all types. It's a bit Japanese, but pictures this good really do speak a thousand words... I especially liked the cut-away rendering of a Walther target pistol.

And still on the subject of guns - UK audiobook publishers AudioBooksForFree.Com are selling an MP3 player built into the magazine of an AK47 Assault Rifle. Um, OK...

Kickboxing robots? - This sounds like a complete debasement of technology, to me, and as usual I thoroughly approve. It reminds me of the old Emo Phillips line, though: “A computer once beat me at chess... but it was no match for me at kickboxing” 

Are viruses getting smarter? - backed by large quantities of cash from the global spammers, virus writers are developing new ways of sneaking their code into unsuspecting PCs.    [Mutters darkly]

 

16th August

Still feeling lazy, and somewhat uninspired too... more random links...

Found on a computer in Afghanistan - it's a pity that the full article is part of The Atlantic Monthly's subscription only content, but the synopsis at Ars.Technica certainly gives a feel for it. Fascinating...
[Update: Google's cache is holding a copy of the article in a freely available form, at least temporarily]

Silicon-28, isotopically pure for your pleasure -  this particular form of silicon seems to heat up more slowly than the usual mixture of isotopes, and so may be extremely useful in the next generation of semiconductors.

Retro Philco TV mod - a PC built into a classic fifties pedestal television set... A wonderful idea, and one which has been implemented with real skill and imagination.

LTO-3 tape format to ship early in 2005 - with a native 400Gb per cartridge and 68MB/sec transfer rates, I think I know what will be using up most of my storage budget at the office, next year. They'll cost between £4000 and £5000 each, by the look of it, and I'll need at least five...

Information Commissioner speaks out on ID cards - "Britain is at risk of sleepwalking into a surveillance society". The CBI said much the same thing last week, too, but unfortunately I suspect that both reports will as be water off a duck's back to Herr Blunkett...

Microsoft has a little list - As discussion on the pros and cons of the new SP2 for Windows XP continues to spread, Microsoft have released details of applications with known compatibility problems. As well as the expected issues caused by the new firewall subsystem, there are a number of unexpected inclusions... the DivX video codec has problems, for example, as the rather eccentric defences against reverse engineering incorporated into the code fall foul of the new memory protection features.

And talking of Microsoft, the details of that controversial Newham Council decision were released today. The highlights - open source would cost less to buy, but more to implement; migration to an open source solution would take significantly longer; open source systems are actually less secure than the equivalent Microsoft products. Controversial, indeed!

 

15th August

Just a handful of random links, tonight, as I'm feeling lazy.

Cheat on me and the sex vid goes live - a salutary lesson for both parties, in that the departing partner had her bedroom exploits displayed to the general public (or a small subset of it, at least), while the jilted one ended up ended up in court facing charges of harassment.

The strange bounty of the deep ocean - video at Yahoo of a giant squid being displayed by the fishermen who caught it. Well, giant as squids go in real life, at least, even if somewhat of a tiddler by Hollywood standards.

Encabulators, turbo and otherwise. The classic engineering in-joke is still going strong, it seems, if this footage is anything to go by. My own post on the subject has recently been referenced in the Snopes forums, too - neat!

I Group, a recruitment agency with an unusual advertising campaign - drumming up business by making employers aware of exactly how obnoxious and/or unrestrained their staff might be. No surprise to discover that it's an Australian Company, I'd say...

At Wired - Modern Students Devour Old Math. I've been using some of these shortcuts for decades, though, and I'm a) actually rather poor at mathematics, and b) know nothing at all of Sanskrit or the Vedic writings...  I guess an English public school education is good for something, then, after all...

And, finally. Kyle Bennett of primo tech site [H]ard|OCP demonstrates his feelings towards Infinium Labs by venting his spleen on a captured prototype one of their infamous Phantom games consoles. Hah! You go, Kyle!   :-)

 

14th August

My friend Mike, a space enthusiast who makes my interest in the subject look like the occasional casual glance, has forwarded links to a couple of news items concerning the Indian government's embryonic manned space program. The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO, has recently announced that the organisation has the resources and the technology to schedule a manned moon landing within the next seven or eight years, and needless to say this claim is making headlines throughout the scientific media.

I have to admit that I am somewhat dubious about this claim - although the Chinese have recently had significant successes in an equally ambitious timescale, to a large extent they have piggy-backed on ex-Soviet research and technology, an option not available to the Indian space programme. The current level of technology is communications satellites and relatively dumb boosters, and it's a long step indeed from that to a complete set of Lunar mission vehicles  together with a life support system viable for at least a week...

Secondly, even the initial estimates of the cost of such a project run to in excess of Rs 100 billion - around $2.1 billion or £1.1 billion, which is a tremendous amount of money whatever the currency... Given the incredible levels of poverty, disease, malnutrition and violence amongst the general population of the country, the question of whether it would be ethical to spend this amount on a space programme that is extremely unlikely to return any material benefit at all is one that must be seriously considered...

To their credit, though, the ISRO have also announced their intention to hold a national debate to seek consensus on the issue before proceeding further with the programme, and given that support is not universal even within the organisation I suspect that opposition from outside will be vocal indeed... It will be interesting to see what transpires.

Elsewhere in space...

NASA Chief: 'Let's Go Save the Hubble' - although given the long haul required to re-fit and re-certify the Shuttle's external tanks, it's not clear exactly what he's planning on saving it with... A ladder, perhaps?

Redesigning rockets - NASA's new Propulsion Research Center, based at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will be developing the next generations of propulsion methods - likely candidates include solar sails and ion engines, along with more blue sky technology such as fission motors and anti-matter drives. Also under review will be the technique of aerocapture, where atmospheric braking is used to insert a vehicle into planetary orbit in a single pass without expending any fuel.

Russian alien spaceship claims raise eyebrows - Oh, dear... The old idea that the huge explosion that decimated miles of forest in the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908 was caused by an alien spacecraft crashing has apparently surfaced again. I first came across this idea in Ian Watson's 1983 science fiction story "Chekhov's Journey", and although the novel is marvellous the idea itself hasn't become any more plausible over the decades. My own eyebrows are not just raised - they're in danger of floating away completely!

Meanwhile, closer to home...

Google to lose rights to GMail name? - It has not been a good month for Google, so far... First the costly settlement with Yahoo over advertising, then the delays in the IPO auction site, then the possibility of the Playboy article violating the SEC's "quiet period" regulations, and now the possibility that three other organisations may have prior claim to the GMail brand name. Even if things go really badly in the IPO, though, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are set to make gazillions of dollars anyway, and I have to admit that it's rather hard for me to drum up any sympathy for their plight...

HP blames SAP roll-out for $208 million loss - a puzzling story, this one, as HP is very much in bed with SAP these days and normally wouldn't dream of criticising the system... If the problem really did lie with SAP, therefore, having a major strategic partner condemn the product is a real blow for its future credibility. On the other hand, if the faults lie elsewhere within HP itself, it must be such an enormous problem for them to be willing to throw SAP's reputation to the dogs that HP's own credibility should perhaps be called into question. Gosh...

Newham Council's Linux U-turn - last year my own local council were making a lot of noise about converting their entire IT infrastructure to open source in order to save money, but at the start of 2004 they abandoned these plans and signed a huge deal with Microsoft instead. A lot of us had a strong suspicion that this entire sequence of events was carefully designed to screw the best licensing terms out of a reluctant Microsoft, but on Monday a joint press conference will finally reveal the rationale of the strategy. Until then, we're just left with what to a Windows evangelist such as myself, is one of the classic sound bites - migrating to Linux, said the council's initial report, would put its services at "unacceptable levels of risk". Indeed.

 

13th August

I'm amazed - twenty five years after they aired the original radio series of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the BBC is has created radio productions of the next three books, Life, The Universe And Everything; So Long And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless. The first series will start on 21st September, with the second of the three due in the spring of 2005.

Remarkably, the new productions feature almost all of the original cast - Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan, Mark Wing-Davey and Stephen Moore. Only "The Voice Of The Book" is different, with the late Peter Jones’s great friend, William Franklyn, replacing him in the role. Even more remarkably, Douglas Adams himself is also included - he always hoped to play the part of "Agrajag", and recorded the character's lines before his death for use in any future production!

I've been a huge fan of the HHGTTG canon since - well, since it first aired twenty five years ago, I guess - and needless to say I am really looking forward to this. Neat!

Meanwhile, an unusually eclectic set of links, tonight...

A decidedly Mexican webcam, complete with jacket and sombrero. A unique selling point, or just a stupid gimmick? I know what I think...

Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists - I came across this while I was looking for something else, today, and it certainly is a wonderfully comprehensive document.

A stamp for Feynman? - Another attempt to have the US Postal Service issue a stamp to commemorate a remarkable man. Organised by Ralph Leighton at the marvellous Friends Of Tuva site, it certainly sounds like a worthy campaign to me.

Dan on a wine gadget scam - the Wine Clip is supposed to use magnetism to break down icky tasting tannins and impurities in red wine, and unlike the manufacturer the incomparable Dan Rutter has made the effort to perform at least the semblance of a proper double-blind taste test. To nobody's great surprise, the claims made for the device are apparently completely spurious.

Everything you ever wanted to know about neutron stars - well, probably far more than most people really do want to know, actually, except for the people who already know all of it already... Um, yes...

Patches for CDDB apps - remember the original free, user-maintained CD Database, before Escient  grabbed it and turned it into the "Gracenote" commercial service? Well, the open version is still online elsewhere, and it's possible to patch older multimedia apps (such as my favourite CD Valet, now apparently re-released as freeware) so that they can connect to the service at its new location.

The James Randi Educational Foundation - I ran into links to Randi's site while looking for something else (it's been a day for that, it seems) and was hard-pressed to drag myself back to my original search. Randi is a touch smug and over-inflated, I admit, but his heart and his mind are definitely in the right place and there's tremendous amount of interest there. Recommended, as always...

Finally, Cockeyed, indeed - Rob Cockerman's site has grown a tremendous amount since I last stumbled across it a few years ago, but is still just as hard to categorise or describe. Go there and have a look around - you probably won't regret it.

 

12th August

So, 19 year old Jeffrey Lee Parson, better known by his net ID "Teekid", has pleaded guilty to creating the variant of the Blaster worm that bears his name. While the original Blaster worm was still causing widespread problems to sysadmins and end-users world-wide, Parson modified the code enough to avoid detection by the current anti-virus signatures and then deliberately released his new version. Fortunately he was both foolish and egocentric enough to embed his own alias into the code, and given that he was the registered owner of the T33KID domain name, even the FBI's rather lacklustre anti-virus specialists could hardly fail to put two and two together...

Sentencing will take place in November, and is likely to be a prison term of between 18 months and three years.  In this day and age, nobody can seriously claim that releasing virus code is a harmless teenage prank, or profess ignorance of the problems that worms can cause, and although I'm not generally in favour of prison sentences for disaffected teens, in this case I have little sympathy. The sooner the potential virus writers learn that these days there is a good chance of having their asses nailed to the wall, the happier most sysadmins will be.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Adrian's RokakPot has an article on soft-modding the ATI Radeon graphics cards into the high-end FireGL series. I've never been particularly tempted by these rather unorthodox procedures (there's usually no way back if it doesn't work out well) but this one is certainly interesting. Who realised that ATI's expensive OpenGL cards, aimed squarely at professional animators and CAD users, were just the consumer Radeon models with different firmware! It's a bit of a con, really...

321 Studios settles out of court with the MPAA - It has not been a good year for the beleaguered multimedia utilities company. Back in February the MPAA won an injunction to prevent 321 from selling its DVD backup software... The company subsequently removed the contested CSS decryption code from the product and launched an appeal; however, mounting legal costs and falling sales have finally driven the company into liquidation. This is extremely unfortunate in general, as well as for 321 themselves, as the lawsuit looked as if it was going to set an important precedent - as the judge in the case pointed out when she confirmed the consumer's legal right to make backup copies of movies,  paradoxically the DMCA makes it illegal for them to buy software that actually enables this! The collapse of 321's legal defence leaves the question unresolved for now...

Build your own PC chassis with Lubic - half way between Lego and Meccano, these beams and joints from overclocking specialist AeroCool allow you to create an open chassis to support the various components that make up a PC . This could be useful for someone who is constantly tweaking and tuning, or who values the aesthetics of the components themselves, or who just wants something thoroughly different. For the latter group. there's even an aeroplane!

 

11th August

My company is about to start refurbishing the entire office building, and in an attempt to save money they have decided to decommission the small computer room used to host the Digital Alpha / VMS servers run independently by our Finance department. These servers, together with their annoying, poorly informed and dogmatic operator, have been a thorn in my flesh for years, and so I was less than impressed to be told yesterday that instead of being retired (and then safely buried at a crossroads with a stake through their motherboards) they would instead be re-located into the main computer room along with my shiny new Wintel systems.

Now, the computer room is already extremely full, and waste heat from the existing hardware is stretching the air conditioning system to capacity, so suddenly discovering that I have to find space for three large, obsolete AlphaServers and three equally obsolete external disk arrays (not to mention assorted serial terminals, modems, and other junk) is bad enough - but to have to share responsibility for the running of the facility with the aforementioned operator is distressing indeed. He and I have a gift for rubbing each other up the wrong way, and today's meeting to inventory his hardware was the first time in living memory that we haven't ended up bickering with each other - a situation that I don't see continuing for more than another few days. Mark my words; no good will come of this...

Elsewhere:

Messenger-hosted adverts banned - the US Federal Trade Commission has ruled that pop-up adverts displayed via the Messenger service built into Windows 2000 and XP violate consumer protection law. The company responsible, San Diego-based D Squared, has been banned from sending pop-up ads over any of the instant messenger services, and will also have to let the FTC monitor its business activities for the next five years. Result!

Anti-wireless wallpaper? UK engineering firm BAE Systems have come up with a cunning idea to prevent Wi-Fi network data from being transmitted outside of the building hosting the network - a wall covering formed from a thin sheet of polymer coated with a film of copper on each side. The copper is carefully etched away to leave a pattern of polarised crosses, and the spacing between these crosses allows particular radio frequencies to pass through while blocking others. In this way, unlike the conventional Faraday Cage technique, the material can block Wi-Fi signals without affecting mobile phones.

Only a few days after the release of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, Microsoft have provided instructions on how to prevent it from being applied... Because of the significant changes to system security and the undesirable side-effects that may arise, many corporates are understandably wary, so this update will allow them to prevent the service pack from being installed via the Automatic Updates and Windows Updates feature. I find this a little puzzling, as I would have though that any company large enough to care about this would be using the centralised Software Update Services facility rather than updating on a PC by PC basis, and so could just refrain from marking the service pack as approved for distribution. Odd...

And, finally, you can get fired for buying IBM... well, maybe not IBM themselves, but definitely their equivalents among the big names in enterprise IT, SAP and Cisco. The CIO of the City of San Jose, co-incidentally Cisco's hometown, has resigned amid allegations that the contract she brokered with the company was grossly biased in their favour. Meanwhile, way up North in Tacoma, Washington, the city's new $51m SAP-based computer system has so many bugs that staff can't get it up and running at all. I have to say that doesn't really surprise me - SAP traditionally has a very poor reputation amongst the people who actually have to implement, support and use the system...

 

10th August

In spite of heavy and persistent rain in the last eighteen hours, it still seems really hot and sticky this evening - although possibly the fact that I'm surrounded by computers, monitors, tape libraries and UPSes all blowing hot air at me might have something to do with that... It's not as bad as in the computer room at the office, though - this morning I was taking some photographs to have printed onto a mouse mat for my PFY's leaving present, and photographing the back of seventeen Dell PowerEdge 2650 servers, each producing between 100 and 160 Watts of waste heat depending on the age of their dual P4 Xeon CPUs, is literally like standing next to a fan heater. Phew!

Meanwhile, links...

Roxio goes crazy, becomes Napster - originally the software division of SCSI mainstay Adaptec, the company has sold its entire portfolio of CD writing software to competitor Sonic and will reposition itself in the digital music sector. They're even going as far as to change their company name to Napster, presumably to capitalise on the cachet of the original bad boys of peer-to-peer file sharing. Gosh!

Google buys off Yahoo with shares - to avoid an awkwardly-timed lawsuit over an in-line advertising patent, Google will now issue 2.7 million shares to competitor Yahoo. SO far the IPO is not going very well, overall, and now has been pushed back a week in order to allow more time for the online share auction site to be completed.

X Prize competition hotting up - quite literally, for some, as the vehicles belonging to two of the teams have blown up during their initial test launches... I'm still betting on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, the only vehicle with a proven track record, but it would be foolish to ignore the Da Vinci Project's balloon-launched Wild Fire, which may yet prove surprising.

The Straight Dope on barbequing and cancer - a rare outbreak of common sense about the health risks of carcinogenic hydrocarbons. The verdict? "All things in moderation, bubba..."

Hospitals defy manufacturers to patch Windows systems - I have a lot of sympathy for the plight of those medical IT staff, as I'm currently trying to deal with an R&D division who have a similar head-in-the-sand approach to security updates...

And, finally, talking of security updates... Yet another vulnerability in the AOL Instant Messenger client, this time a buffer overflow that can be triggered by persuading the victim to click on a specially malformed URL embedded in an AIM chat. Upgrading to the latest beta, released yesterday, will apparently solve the problem...

 

9th August

I came face to face with one of the classic lessons in data security, today - make sure that your backup is actually working the way you think it is before you find out the hard way that it isn't... My soon-to-depart PFY had somehow allowed himself to be roped into doing some freebie work for a local company run by a relative of one of our managers (you know how it is), and in the course of the work he had to recover some accidentally deleted data from tape backups. Somewhat to his surprise, the only file versions he could find to restore were really, really old, so he brought the media to me for a second opinion.

I catalogued them all very carefully, and it soon became apparent that in spite of the regular series of dates written on the labels of the tape cases, the last backup that had actually run successfully was late in November of 2003. For the last nine months some poor sap has been religiously swapping and labelling DAT tapes every Friday, and nothing (nada, zilch, diddly, zip!) has actually been written to any of them in all that time...

Now, most pundits would suggest that a company that loses this much data is probably doomed, but I think that this one may actually get away with it... In spite of having a quite respectable little Dell server configured as an Active Directory domain controller hosting Exchange 2003, they seem to have been saving the majority of their data to their local drives, and using Outlook Express to talk directly to a POP3 mailbox rather than using Exchange. An eccentric approach, to say the least, but under the circumstances one that may just save their corporate bacon.

I do hope that they cope somehow, of course, but it does rather reinforce my growing certainty that IT (any IT, from a PDA to a small business server) is simply not ready for non-techies to use. The entire industry pretends that it is, but there are so many pitfalls waiting for the unwary Joe Public User that in actual fact many of them would undoubtedly be better off with typewriters, card indexes and filing cabinets... And as a veteran sysadmin, I have to admit that the idea has a definite appeal.

Meanwhile, at The Sideshow - it was thirty years ago today that Richard Nixon resigned, with what must be the most concise letter of resignation that I've ever seen; terse as it was, my PFY's recent missive was positively flowery in comparison. Also at the Watergate.Info site, though, is The Speech That Might Have Been, written by the Nixon's speechwriter in case he refused to resign. Fascinating stuff...

 

8th August

So, the long-awaited Service Pack 2 for Windows XP was finally released to manufacturing late on Friday, and is already available for download to MSDN subscribers. The rest of us will have to wait until tomorrow, when the 475Mb network edition will be posted to Technet, or later on in the month for releases to SUS and Windows Update. Needless to say, as a sysadmin I have mixed feelings about this particular installation...

Bluetooth - more holes than a colander. An article in Wired paints a gloomy picture of the many and varied security vulnerabilities in the protocol - and has pictures of a marvellous "rifle" that can capture data from a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone at a distance of more than a mile! Yow!

Crossing America on a Segway - and, unfortunately, they're blogging the epic journey as they go. Starting today in Seattle, the 4300 mile journey to Boston is expected to take 80 days - although I suspect that is a conservative estimate to say the least. Some people have far too much time (at least 80 days, in this case) on their hands...

Buffer overflow in PNG image support - a vulnerability in the popular open source libPNG library could allow specially created PNG graphics files to execute malicious code when an application displays the image. Affected systems include the Mail application on the Mac OS X, the Opera and Internet Explorer browsers on Windows, and the Mozilla and Netscape browsers on Solaris. A remarkably wide-reaching bug, this one!

Western Digital launches RAID-ready disks - with a high MTBF and a three year warranty, the Caviar RE series drives also have a new feature, Time Limited Error Recovery (TLER), which "helps prevent drive fallout caused by extended desktop hard drive error-recovery processes". I'm not at all sure what they mean by that, but given my current experiences with a drive occasionally disappearing until after a reboot it certainly sounds interesting...

The first genuine trojan for Windows PDAs - Backdoor.Brador.A attacks the current flavours of Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 / Pocket PC 2003 / Windows CE 4.2 operating system hosted on an ARM platform. When active it will send the IP address of the infected system via email and then listen for further instructions on TCP port 2989. It will allow directory listings, file transfers and remote execution of arbitrary code, so is a fairly comprehensive back door. Given that I'm expecting around 130 XDA handhelds to arrive at the office in the next few weeks, I'm not overjoyed at this news...

 

6th August

So, one of my PFYs is leaving for pastures new at the end of next week, and unusually he's moving sideways from a network management role to a kind of roving trouble-shooter for end-user software... So it was rather amusing today to watch him suddenly realise that at the new company he won't be in charge even of his own PC, let alone the network as a whole. Instead he'll be completely at the mercy of whatever Nazis are controlling the group policies and global system security - no more unfiltered Internet access straight through the firewall; no more freedom to install whatever software he wants, or reconfigure the entire operating system on a whim; no more poking his nose into any data held on any system anywhere on the network...  It's going to take quite some getting used to, I'd say!    :-)

Elsewhere, SCO is suing IBM again, this time over code that was legitimate for them to use in the doomed Project Monterey back in the late nineties, but which allegedly should not subsequently have been used for IBM's own proprietary AIX operating system. Now, I remember the fuss over Monterey, and it's possible that (unlike the majority of SCO's claims), there may actually be something to this one. Interesting - especially as AIX is a major money-spinner for IBM these days...

Spyware incidence continues to climb - ISP EarthLink and anti-adware vendor Webroot have released their third annual report on the state of the spyware industry, and they claim that the number of PCs running some kind of significantly dangerous or intrusive software has  doubled between the first and second quarters of this year. Scary stuff...

Home Office bans happy passport photos - all new passport photographs must be of an unsmiling face with the mouth closed, to avoid confusing facial recognition scanners. Well, given their current plans for universal ID cards, I don't think there's actually much to smile about anyway...

Oracle criticised for delaying security fixes - UK security consultancy NGS Software has identified 34 vulnerabilities in current versions of Oracle's database system (around half which are in the latest 10g version) and claims that Oracle has delayed providing fixes since the start of the year until a new patch distribution system is completed.

And finally, at the Democratic Convention last week, around 30 webloggers were invited to join the 15,000 or so accredited representatives of the traditional mainstream media. Apparently it was a strange experience...

Far from home, and vastly out-numbered by "Big Media", the Webloggers were forced to submit to some bizarre requests.

"They carted the bloggers out like zoo animals, seated them at tables and then let people examine them as they ate breakfast," writes Halley, of the very famous Weblog "Halley's Comet".

"WTF?!" she asks.

What indeed - there's nothing in journalism's unwritten Geneva Convention that condones such behaviour. We were looking at the depths of depravity.

That report certainly stirred up some controversy in the letters column of UK tech news site The Register, including a pointer to a comment on Slashdot that rather struck a chord with me:

Blogs are going to change the world. Example:

OLD, TIRED MEDIA: "The Associated Press reported that Saddam Hussein was captured yesterday by American forces."

NEW, EXCITING MEDIA: "omg like kos reported that he saw on chris's blog that john trackbacked to mike's journal where he read about bob's girlfriend's brother's cousin who was like watching Fox News (fair and balanced my ass! lol) and they said something about saddam i dunno   current music: brittney   cleary - im me   current mood: corpulent"

Notice the synergy of information and the ease by which information propagates throughout the blogosphere.

Indeed. If anything, that's too true to be even slightly funny, and the vast prevalence of writing in just that style is the main reason why I rarely mention to anyone that I write a weblog.

Selah.

 

5th August

It's at it again! This tiny little cluster of cacti, the largest of which is less than an inch across, is flowering for at least the fourth time this summer! This is unprecedented in my (admittedly limited) experience, and I'm really rather impressed with the little thing.

All is not quite right in my cactus collection, though, unfortunately. The neighbouring trough seems to have been attacked by an insect, with the soft tissues of several of the plants completely hollowed out for a centimetre of more at the growing tips, leaving just the dry, papery outer skin. Now, the most common cactus pests are mealy bugs, but these are usually significantly larger, and tend to leave distinctive cotton-wool like clumps behind them. I don't see anything like that, but instead I have little green blobs that look almost like droppings, joined together on almost invisible fibres just like a tiny string of beads! I can't find reference to anything even remotely similar online, and a call to my parents (long-time cactus enthusiasts and the source of most of my collection) has so far proved fruitless.

However, today I carefully cut off one of the dried, hollow tip segments, and finally spotted a couple of tiny white insects - even with a magnifying glass they were too small to make out any details, but I am assuming that they are the culprit... although I would have thought them to be far too small to produce those string of beads "droppings", and given the rapid onset of the damage I would also have expected to find a lot more of them. It's a bit of a mystery!

I've isolated the affected trough while I decide what to do about it, as whatever the insects are, they seem to be equipped with enough legs to spread as far as they want to. To avoid using insecticide, the recommended treatment for mealy bugs is to individually paint them with a solution of methylated spirits - but whatever I have is almost too small to see, let alone to paint, and so that doesn't seem terribly practical in this case. I shall probably resort to Malathion or a similar contact insecticide spray, together with a systemic to add to the soil of all the other plants - just in case.

Elsewhere...

SCO says "no more lawsuits" - CEO Darl McBride, surely the most unpopular man in IT next to Bill Gates, says that the company will be moving back to its core business of developing UNIX. I'm amazed that he still remembers...

Global participatory "Fool's World Map" project - a remarkable page, if depressing... Thanks to The Sideshow for the link.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 delayed again - and again, and again... If I hadn't already seen the early beta releases, I'd have started to wonder if the beast was actually completely mythical. Microsoft are still promising it for August, but have stopped mentioning the year. This story at Microsoft Watch seems to differ significantly from the News.Com story, though. Odd...

 

4th August

Following an email from yet another dissatisfied customer of the infamous Viper Shoes, I've updated my online shopping page with Viper's contact details, and also the details of the local Trading Standards officer who is familiar with the company. If you're already having problems with Viper, then Trading Standards are the ones to talk to - but anyone contemplating a purchase from the company would be well advised to attempt contact by telephone first, in order to confirm that they are prepared to fulfil an order placed online - as right now the evidence tends to suggest otherwise...

Elsewhere... It's just too hot for links. I had some, but they melted.

 

3rd August

So, the Dell engineer turned up at around midday, several hours late, and to our delight and amazement the server obliged by crashing only a few minutes after he turned it on. The power supply was duly replaced, the server slid back into the cabinet alongside its sixteen brothers, and all is well again. The next step is for my manager to try to persuade Dell that when we phone them up to say that a power supply is failing, all they need to do is nod their heads in agreement and send a replacement, rather than embarking on a campaign of misdirection and evasion in the hope of pinning the blame on something else for a few days...

Elsewhere - and unlike every other tech site on the Internet, I am NOT going to mention Doom 3... Oh, dammit!

Audit exposes 283 patent infringements in Linux - examination of the 2.4 and 2.6 code base by consultancy Open Source Risk Management unearthed significant quantities of code already covered by various patents, including 27 held by Microsoft, 60 by IBM and 20 by Hewlett Packard. Whilst this discovery is very unlikely to spark a wave of lawsuits, I think it will serve to take the smug, self-righteous grins off the faces of the Linux fanboys for a while.   :-)

Meanwhile, a Sun spokesman has been talking about the potential benefits of "owning Linux" - wouldn't it be nice to buy Novell, the current holders of the SuSE Linux distribution, in order to annoy IBM by refusing to allow them to use it...  <sigh>  I do rather think he's missing the point.

Symantec sued over "adware" description - small San Diego software house TrekEight (AKA Trek8, TrekData, TrekBlue, Blue Haven, etc.) is complaining that Symantec's web site and the Norton AntiVirus software describes its products as potentially damaging adware. The jury is still out as to whether the current version of the software is actually adware, but there's no doubt that products from a company with that many aliases bear keeping a close eye on...

Rescue robots under test - in order to test robots designed to locate victims trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, an artificial disaster site (complete with artificial body parts!) was created in a San Jose convention center. Initial results suggest that this is going to be an extremely workable idea.

Finally, Microsoft's new mouse, courtesy of designer Philippe Starck - it's curvy, and comes with an orange or blue illuminated strip right down the middle. It doesn't seem to have any overt buttons, though, so obviously there's something subtle going on there. I shall have to see if I can find one to fondle in a shop somewhere.

 

2nd August

One of our relatively new Dell 2650 servers started misbehaving, today, and I spent half the afternoon on the phone with Dell trying not to grind my teeth in frustration. Having run quite happily for several months, today the server started spontaneously shutting itself down with ever increasing frequency - very suddenly, and with no warning, explanation or logged errors. It was rather warm in the computer room thanks to the current heat wave, and my first impression was of a thermal shutdown. However, during the brief periods of uptime I thoroughly checked the server management utility to make sure that all the fans etc were working at full speed, and everything seemed to be perfectly happy.

We were scratching our heads over this when, to my horror, the computer room was suddenly filled with an extremely strong smell of over-heating electrical equipment - as one of my PFYs put it, "Scalextric smell"... This is one of the worst smells to encounter in a computer room, and after some anxious nosing around failed to locate any clear source, we pulled the server out of the rack and took it out into the corridor to see of the smell came with it. Rather to my surprise the smell stayed firmly in the computer room, and it was only after another ten minutes of puzzled sniffing that we found out that a burnt-out air conditioner in an office on the other side of the corridor had just been repaired, dumping a vent's worth of fried electrics smell into the same roof space as the computer room aircon used as an inlet!

Back at the server again, I tentatively diagnosed a faulty power supply, and called Dell to arrange an on-site replacement. Now, these days it seems that Dell would prefer their engineers to visit hell to deliver ice cubes than to attend a customer's site to fix a server, and to my annoyance the support monkey started off blaming the operating system, saying that any hardware issue would be detailed in the system logs. I was extremely dubious of this, however, having just watched the server shut down instantly without the management system having any opportunity to do anything about it, and started to put my foot down...

We went around in circles for a while, with me becoming increasingly terse and him becoming increasingly defensive, and in the end he put me on hold for a few minutes, ostensibly to consult with a colleague but probably mostly in the hope that I would calm down somewhat... While I was waiting, though, my PFYs and I ran through some tests of our own, and proved conclusively that it was indeed the power supply - it seemed that the bearings in one of the fans were failing, and when the fan started  to slow down the PSU would overheat and switch itself off. The power supplies in this model of server are not particular smart, I knew, and this would explain the complete lack of helpful information in the system diagnostics.

When he came back on the line I laid out the tests we had run and their result, and to my frustration and amazement he performed a complete U-turn, claiming that he had known that it was a faulty PSU all along! By this time my PFYs could see the veins on my forehead starting to throb, and were quietly edging away - so I decided that enough was enough and passed him back to our helpdesk to finalise the details of the replacement. When it comes down to it, all I want is my server back up and running again, but it makes me yearn for the time when I could ring Compaq, or DEC, or AST, tell them that I had a server with a dead PSU, then have the thing on my desk the next morning without a whole song and dance about it. Ah the good old days...

Elsewhere...

Virtual machine shootout - Virtual PC vs. VMware courtesy of Ars.Technica.

Google IPO online registrations service - and a cute mathematical joke, as the initial value of the shares is $2,718,281,828 - $1 billion multiplied by e, the base of the natural logarithm. Clever.   :-)

Apple vs. Real over iPod DRM - as predicted, Apple have their knickers firmly in a bunch over Real's analysis and replication of the Fairplay copy protection system.

A wrist watch with web access? Well, not an actual browsing capability, I admit, but unfortunately that's surely the next step...

Test your gullibility to phishing scams - rather to my annoyance, I only scored 70%, although in my defence I've never actually seen a genuine email from American ISP Earthlink, for example, and didn't notice the rather subtle clues.

And, finally - "A group of newspapers in London has finally seen THE LIE and now reports only good news". Huh? Is it just me, or is this completely butt-headed? Any newspaper worthy of the name ought to report whatever news needs to be reported, whether it is good or bad. An editorial policy suitable only for Pollyanna is no way to run a newspaper...

 

1st August

August already... I can't believe how fast this year is moving! 2003 felt like that, too - maybe I'm getting old.

Elsewhere, ID cards: a bad idea, but we'll do it anyway - The Register reports on the Home Affairs Select Committee's verdict on Blunkett's heinous ID card plans... Their concerns are mostly the same ones that have already been raised by opposition MPs, the IT industry, and the civil liberties groups, but in spite of that they're broadly in favour of the idea itself! Sheesh! Time to get your NO2ID T-shirt now, and help fund the opposition...

 

Meanwhile, back at the stats... Well, it could be worse. My spirited defence of Al Gore attracted a fair bit of attention (politics is always more popular than computing!) and that doubled my traffic levels for a couple of days, giving the overall figures a decidedly more perky look. Haute die welt, morgens das sonnensystem!

I'm losing interest in the Tweakers Top 50, though, thanks to the constant presence of the thoroughly inappropriate Elite Guides at the top of the list. Given that it is completely obvious that they're artificially manipulating the stats (their pages don't even have the voting button!) and the fact that the site is in no way associated with computer modding and tweaking, it's a complete mystery to me why the Tweakers Australia admins allow it to remain. After all this time with no action taken, one might assume that they have a vested interest... Still, vote for me there if you like - I won't send the ice weasels if you do.

 

 

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