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EPICYCLE

 

29th February

Who would have thought the old month to have had so many days in it?

So, an appeals courts has ruled that DeCSS, the original DVD encryption standard, has been circulated so widely that it is no longer a trade secret...  :-)  But it looks like it might well be replaced by Microsoft's Windows Media 9 format instead, all ready to tie in with the top-to-bottom digital rights management eagerly anticipated by everybody except end-users. No changes are likely until the second generation "Blue Laser" DVD formats, however, and that gives plenty of time for the bad boys to winkle out a flaw or two in the encryption methods.

It's interesting to see that these days Microsoft is increasingly moving to embrace existing industry standards as well as attempting to establish their own, though - and, indeed, that this seems to be paying off in unlikely ways... Old-guard mailing systems company Sendmail has just announced that it will be backing and helping to develop Microsoft's new "Caller-ID For Email" scheme, as well as Yahoo's not dissimilar Domain Keys facility. This is a smart move for both Sendmail and the end users themselves, I'm sure, as these authentication methods will only work if they are supported right from source to destination.

And, talking of Microsoft, it seems that the widespread reports of a new release of Windows XP planned as an interim release before the next generation Longhorn OS may well be a touch premature. The project, code-named "XP Reloaded" <groan> within Microsoft, is at this stage merely a feasibility study rather than an actual planned code release - and as many in the company still flinch at mention of their previous interim OS, Windows ME, I'm sure that the entire idea is being held up to the light for an especially close examination.

Meanwhile, as a follow-up to the wildly successful CAN-SPAM act, a group of US Senators are drafting a bill to oppose spyware, adware and the other intrusive, sneaky, nasties that are so prevalent these days. Whilst I agree with the aim, of course, I can't help think that even if it isn't neutered by big business the way that CAN-SPAM was, the result will be sufficiently vaguely worded and hard to enforce that it will make little or no impact on the real world of malware... And, of course, these measures do little to control the non-US parts of the Internet, still a significant factor in spite of what the US government would like to think.

Elsewhere:

Hitachi is developing an omni-directional 3D display based around a spinning column of mirrors. There are so many companies working in this area, now, that I think we'll be seeing some significant advances over the next few years - and hopefully something will finally make it into the consumer arena.

The Canadian government are planning to make reception of foreign satellite television illegal, and punishable by large fines and a prison sentence! Making no distinction between unpaid reception of domestic signals and paid reception of American signals, the change seems to have been bought by significant donations by the TV industry lobby, desperate to retain their monopoly in the face of increasing competition from the US. What a shower of bastards!

NASA's two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have begun to scale down their operations due to power issues - the shorter days caused by the onset of the Martian autumn, together with an accumulation of dust on the solar panels themselves, means that significantly less battery power is available to the rover's systems. To help counteract this, transmission of data has been cut from three times per day to two, and more use is being made of the UHF antenna, which uses about a third of the wattage of the faster high-gain antenna.

 

28th February

About a year ago I bought a Navman iCN 630 in-car GPS navigation system, and on the whole it has been absolutely marvellous. It turned out that Ros has made far more use of it than I have (I never really go anywhere except the office, it seems!) but it has happily navigated her around not only the local area of Essex and the Home Counties, but further afield to the West Country and The North without any significant problems. The unit was not without it's eccentricities, it has to be said, for example an inexplicable tendency to occasionally direct the driver to leave a motorway at a junction, proceed right across a roundabout, and back onto the motorway again at the other side of the same junction - but after the first few times these erroneous directions could be recognised and safely ignored.

In fact, the only serious annoyance was that due to the constant changes in the UK road network, the maps were a touch out of date: the new M6 toll road was completely absent, for example, and the current improvements to the A13 in Essex meant that some of the time we were apparently driving through fields - not ideal when one is  trying to spot the correct turning onto a minor road...

A few weeks ago, however, I noticed that the manufacturer was offering a free upgrade to the latest version of the built-in mapping application, together with updated maps from a different provider, and these sounded very appealing. The new software offered the ability to navigate straight to a postcode, which seemed extremely useful, and also an adjustable 3D perspective view that rather took my fancy. We also hoped that the updated maps would remove a number of the more unsettling moments, when the Navman insisted that we were in the sea, or driving through fields...

The upgrade itself went smoothly enough, but after Ros had given the system a thorough workout driving from Northumberland to Devon over the last week, unfortunately the results were far from impressive. To begin with, the M6 toll road was still absent - rather disappointing, and considering how long it has been in planning and construction there really isn't much of an excuse! Secondly, even on roads that were in the system's map database, it sometimes found it very hard to decide where the car actually was - while driving down the M4 it apparently insisted for the best part of an hour that she was on the nearby A420 instead, and several times it told her that she was driving off-road when in actual fact she was on a major and well-established motorway! Finally, just to add insult to injury, for no apparent reason it frequently lost the satellite signal altogether for extended periods of time - something it has never down before except while driving through tunnels.

Fortunately, and somewhat to my surprise, it has been easy enough to revert to the original software and maps, and I've spent the last half hour doing just that. According to the discussion online it may well be possible to mix the later software with the original maps, apparently the favoured combination of the available modules, but given that Ros is off on her travels again on Monday I've elected to play safe and revert to the original and familiar configuration. We shall see how it goes...

Elsewhere, via The Register...

German police drop iBook power rustling charge - they were prosecuting for €0.002 worth of electricity...   <long sigh>

Memory makers hit by price-fixing claims - it is alleged that Samsung, Hynix, Micron, Infineon and others covertly agreed to increase prices to help themselves out of a price slump.

IT workers do it for free till 9 March - some techies do so much unpaid overtime that they are effectively working for free until March every year! You won't catch me doing that, though...

South Korea mulls spam curfew regulations - unsolicited commercial email to be banned between the hours of 9pm and 9am. Oh, sure, that will help!

Japanese ISP Softbank rocked by giant data leak - and the president and other senior execs have put themselves on half pay for the next six months to apologise! I'm not holding my breath until that starts happening in the UK, I have to say!

Open source punch-up surrounds mobile Java upgrade - but Sun has to make it open source to guarantee rapid uptake and widespread support, claim critics. I'm not holding my breath for that, either...

Spam villains named and shamed - AV company Sophos have released the list of the worst offenders, and the US is far, far in advance of anyone else... Nice to see that CAN-SPAM is working so well. Not.

 

27th February

So, open source evangelist guru Eric Raymond has published a rant on the complex, obscure and ugly procedures required to perform what should be simple tasks under the Linux OS. Focussing on the routine task of attaching to a print queue on a remote server, he really tears into the design and documentation of the CUPS network printing services:

"This kind of fecklessness is endemic in open-source land. And it's what's keeping Microsoft in business - because by Goddess, they may write crappy insecure overpriced shoddy software, but on this one issue their half-assed semi-competent best is an order of magnitude better than we usually manage."

Gosh!

Needless to say, the reaction from the online community has been mixed, ranging from predictably venomous responses from the mindless evangelists, pouring scorn on an "old has-been", to thoughtful acceptance and approval from many of the people who have run up against exactly the sort of issues he describes. Raymond has a lot of influence in the Linux community, of course, and it will be interesting to see if his article has any long term effect.

Elsewhere...

A pair of nasty flaws in the Sophos anti-virus software - certain attachments without MIME headers can pass straight through without being scanned, and attachments with faulty headers can actually hang the scanner. Oops!

LaserMonks - prayer, austerity, charity and refilled inkjet and laser printer cartridges...

Chameleon Springs - a new and rather appealing idea for PC cable management.

Domain-squatting porn merchant sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

VeriSign is suing ICANN over the controversial Site Finder service.

Oh, and I bought a camera... We've both been very pleased with the Canon S45 that Ros has taken around England and America over the last year, but in use it's become clear that I need something a little better suited to indoor close-ups of guns and computer components. There's no doubt that its bigger brother the Canon G5 has some flaws, but having poured over a whole sheaf of reviews this week I think that it will be very suitable for my needs, and one is one its way to me now. Unfortunately this means that I've lost my last excuse for not updating the airsoft pages with all the more recent acquisitions, so I guess I'll have to pull my finger out. Watch this space...

 

26th February

To nobody's great surprise, more random links...

Operating System Sucks/Rules-O-Meter - rating the public opinion of operating systems, based on searches at Google. Clever, but hardly statistically rigorous...

Slicing time - German scientists have successfully recorded an interval of one ten million billionth of a second. I'm sure they had a good reason for this, but right now I can't imagine what it was!

The Register's 419 haiku competition - and it seems I missed the farewell JenniCam competition a few months ago, too...

RFID jamming - from the R in RSA, of all people! Great to see that not all of the old-time geeks have faded away into corporate obscurity.

And talking of old hippies, the EFF has proposed a voluntary tax on P2P music sharers, with the money going straight to the artists themselves. I have to say that this sounds a touch kooky even for the EFF...   :-)

Computer gaming fans are not quite so isolated and friendless as the meme suggests, according to a survey by... wait for it... a company that organises computer gaming events.

If looks could kill - Boeing wins the contract for the new version of the Air Force's Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, a targeting computer that aims where the operator is looking.

A truly wonderful hand-built PC case, based on the Borg Cubes from Star Trek. I've seen similar ideas before, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest. Beautiful work...

 

24th February

More quick links - it's one of those weeks, again!

FCC to push relaxing of low-power FM restrictions - this might slow the corporate homogenisation of American radio just a little, if it succeeds.

More legal P2P Music sharing - listen to new music, rate it, then receive recommendations based on your tastes. Interesting!

Dan Rutter on file sharing and copyright - as always, with Dan's unique spin on the subject and many interesting links...

Mandrake Linux bullied by media company King Features, holder of the "Mandrake The Magician" trademark. This is another bullshit lawsuit if ever I saw one - nobody could ever confuse an operating system with a TV show, so obviously it's just another attempt to make a fast buck for nothing.

ZDNet is faintly surprised that the Can-SPAM act doesn't seem to be working - they're probably the only ones, I'd say...

Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about computer cabling - all in one convenient place at cable supplier My Cable Shop.

And, finally, an extremely useful guide to installation and maintenance of PC power supplies at InformIT, courtesy of hardware guru Scott Mueller.

 

23rd February

Quick links...

Problems with Spirit - the fascinating background to the Mars rover's difficulties in January.

Wireless USB in 2005 - probably the death knell for Bluetooth, then?

"Stop Pretending You're A Real Company" - Penny Arcade contributes to the Infinium Labs exposé.

DVD X Copy finally ruled illegal - not surprising, I guess, with the full force of the DMCA against it...

Three new security flaws in Linux - and Linux servers are now the main targets for hackers!

Anti-virus companies chortling and rubbing their hands together - again... And Rob Rosenberger thinks he can predict the cycles of virus hysteria, now.

The Register on the first year of London's congestion charge - and, predictably, all is not as it seems...

Fresh from Hollywood - how to overclock a grunt with DARPA's Metabolic Dominance Program.

 

21st February

Another sad day for the few remaining British shooting enthusiasts, unfortunately, with the news from Practical Airsoft (via the BASC) that the Firearms Consultative Committee has been dissolved. The FCC was an independent expert group organised by the Home Office, and over the last decades it has been virtually the only source of common sense and genuinely informed opinions in the face of continued and pervasive media hype, axe-grinding, and downright lies that the whole issue of gun control has produced. However, because they have so firmly opposed the Home Office's stance on blanket bans of firearms and, more recently, replicas, it has been clear for some time that the committee's days were numbered. At this stage the Home Office has been extremely vague about what, if anything, will be put in its place - but all evidence suggests that they'd much rather not have any kind of opposition to their increasingly draconian and ineffectual legislation and I wouldn't be surprised if the upcoming firearms policy review is undertaken without the benefit of any external opinion save that of the powerful anti-gun lobby.

To compensate for this, therefore, in however small a way, today's Epicycle is resolutely focussed on guns:

The new Heckler & Koch MP7 Personal Defence Weapon - a fistful of 4.6mm mayhem.

Also new from HK - the HKM4 midlife improvement of the venerable US military M4 carbine. Very slick!

The Modern Firearms and Ammunition web site - with more technical data and illustrations every time I visit,  this is fast becoming one of the premier reference sites. Highly recommended.

An excellent collection of gun porn at the Argghhh!!! weblog - mostly antique and classic firearms, including some extremely rare and interesting items. The rest of his site is unpleasantly right wing politically, but I'm prepared to overlook that just this once...

At the Smith & Wesson forum, everybody is posting pictures of their favourite S&W snub-nosed revolvers. It's kinda like readers' wives...

Slow-motion videos of guns firing - here, here and here... Very pretty!

Daniel Nauenburg's  pro-gun cartoon gallery - and the rest of his site, Green Ammo.

UK importer Russian Military is offering some very nice deactivated ex-Soviet assault rifles. As deactivations go these have been modified very elegantly, with the minimum of parts removed to comply with UK law. A full range of accessories and equipment is available too, and you can even find the technical manuals online, courtesy of the semi-official Kalashnikov site. Actually, they compare extremely favourably in price to replica weapons - at £300 for an AK-74, for example, and £1000 for the beautiful SVD Dragunov sniper rifle complete with scope, they're a real bargain...

The recent parody of the UK's Gun Control Network lobbying group - not an especially subtle piece of work, it has to be said, but as the real GCN are a thoroughly worthless, dishonest, self-serving organisation (in spite of the enormous influence they seem to wield!) any parody is still extremely worthwhile.

And finally, talking of which... a political message on behalf of the Glove Control Network:

 

End The Menace Of Gloves!

Millions of pairs of gloves are in circulation on the streets of England right now - many of them in the possession of children! The continuing manufacture, importation and sale of gloves threatens lives and lifestyles!

Gloves hide fingerprints - only criminals wish to conceal their identity! If you have nothing to hide, why would you need to wear gloves? Gloves aid crime - reduce crime at a single stroke and Ban Gloves Now! There is no good, legal reason for possessing these tools of evil!

The idea of using gloves to warm hands is just an excuse put about by liberals and Glove Nuts! If you want to keep your hands warm, simply keep them in your pockets! After all, what about latex gloves? Easily concealable, and think of the uses they are put to! Certainly not for warming hands!

Even fingerless replica gloves, or de-activated gloves that have had the fingers removed, can easily be turned back into fully functioning gloves with only a few minutes work. All gloves must be banned!

Gloves are currently legal to own! There are no age restrictions! Ban them now, before it is too late!

 

19th February

I have no brain, so I must link... (Apparently tonight's Epicycle is brought to you with with apologies to Harlan Ellison)

A £70,000 primary school classroom modelled on a Star Trek spacecraft bridge? The Sun is not noted for its accurate journalism, though, so one does wonder...

Suing the bejesus out of the spammers - Yay! Even it it is AOL!

How to win Pepsi's free iTunes music downloads - and maximise their costs, into the bargain.  :-)

RIAA sued under the anti-racketeering acts. Hah!

Police fined for detaining legitimate anti-war protestors. Hah, again!

Via my friend Mike - strange little Pulp Fiction figurines, strongly reminiscent of the Lego people. Odd...

And now, as it seems I currently own two and a half assault rifles, two submachineguns, three shotguns, two revolvers and five automatics - I'm off to shoot something in the head. Probably myself.

 

18th February

So the EU are still whining about Microsoft including Media Player with Windows, it seems, and insisting that even Microsoft's unprecedented offer to provide a CD of competing applications with every copy of Windows isn't enough! Imagine the furore if Microsoft sued the major Linux distributions for not bundling a Media Player port with Linux, though! Steve at geek site [H]ard|OCP suggests that MS should stop selling Windows in Europe and do just that... Ah, poetic justice.

Meanwhile, an examination of the leaked Microsoft source code shows that [Shock! Horror!] most of it is actually rather well written:

"In short, there is nothing really surprising in this leak. Microsoft does not steal open-source code. Their older code is flaky, their modern code excellent. Their programmers are skilled and enthusiastic. Problems are generally due to a trade-off of current quality against vast hardware, software and backward compatibility."

Many Windows techies and power-users won't be that surprised to hear that, I suspect, whatever the irrational bigotry of the Linux lawn dwarves and the foamings at the mouth of the Mac fan boys. Microsoft themselves are extremely un-amused about the leak, though, and are sending "back off!" emails to anyone they spot downloading it...

Elsewhere:

Competing search engines nipping at Google's heels

Apache vs. IIS in the Battle for the Web

Media backlash against Pepsi and the RIAA's superbowl advert

From the people who brought you the assassination of Bill Gates, how online music sales should be done!

A MiG 29 fighter plane, intact and working, up for sale on eBay - but if you can't afford the multi-million dollar asking price, how about settling for just the clock?

Meanwhile, a sneak preview of a new acquisition. I used to hate the fussy lines and garish colours of the Strayer Voigt pistols, but apparently this particular model grew on me overnight. Like all of the Western Arms Infinity replicas it has a metal frame, and even though the slide is ABS it still looks very convincing in a brushed nickel effect. I discovered that the well-known custom airsoft company Perversity Guns makes an aluminium replacement, though, and one is currently on its way to me from Tokyo Model, along with some upgraded internals to allow use of the highest-powered propellant gasses - something of a necessity given the considerable weight of the slide assembly even before the metal upgrade!

It's big, it's heavy, it's ostentatious - but, as a friend commented, it somehow manages to be sleek as well... I'll post a full review when my life settles down enough.

 

17th February

Just fish heads, today. Oh, no, my mistake - I mean links.

Problems developing for the flagship Linux migration in Munich? The city council seem to think so, and have asked for a detailed cost analysis and migration schedule.

Anime fans are going over to the dark side - using distributed computing grids in an attempt to decrypt Japanese TV signals.

Killing mosquito larvae with sound - kind of like the US invasion of Panama, from the look of it? I always wondered what would have happened if General Noriega had enjoyed rock music...

New "FISH" memory card standard - head to head with CF, SD, MMC, MS, and all the others... Is there really room for yet another format in the market?

Some images of one of the NCSA's Cray 2 supercomputers - including the "Waterfall" liquid cooling unit. Mmmmmm.   :-)

Meanwhile at Dan's Data, Dan is writing about the puzzling lack of computer generated 3D pornography - and along the way, as is his wont, he throws out some extremely unusual links:

Car Stuck Girls - pictures of women, mostly fully clothed, whose cars are stuck in mud, snow, sand, whatever. Um, Ok.

Frontal Assault - a game, allegedly, where one performs various "moves" on a large pair of animated breasts. In real life, of course, attempting "the helicopter" would probably provoke grievous bodily harm in return, so I suppose it's just as well the game is there...

And, finally, nVidia's "Dawn" graphics demo, displaying a highly realistic animated fairy (the traditional sort, not the San Francisco sort) in a charming pastoral scene - and which becomes nude when the program's EXE is renamed to particular names! Is there no end to the perverse imagination of geeks? I do hope not!

 

16th February

Anti-virus company MessageLabs are talking up a new worm - they're behaving more and more like the old-guard AV companies every passing month, it seems... Doom, doom, we're all doomed!

Marvellous papercraft from Yamaha, of all places - not origami, really, in that it actually looks like things...

New Apple store sparks crime wave - Mac zealots are breaking in for a look around even before the store is finished and open to the public!

Amazon accidentally outs self-publicists - and exposes a whole underground movement of commissioned reviews, personal attacks, fake reading lists and long-held grudges... Bizarre stuff.

Presidential candidates resort to video spam - as if we're not already saturated with bullshit from politicians in all the other channels of the media...

And finally, something I found at the office this morning while I was processing the weekend's mail, blocked by my anti-spam server's "hoax virus warnings" filter:

>--------------Original Message--------------
>From: xxxxxxxx
>Sent: Monday, 16 February 2004 07:48
>To: xxxxxxxx
>Subject: FW: SCAM WARNING
>
>Normally I hate these e-mail warnings, but this one is for real.
>
>Send this warning to everyone on your e-mail list.
>
>If a man comes to your front door and says he is conducting a survey
>and asks you to show him your tits, DO NOT show him your tits.
>
>This is a scam; he only wants to see your tits.
>
>I wish I'd got this e-mail yesterday. I feel so stupid and cheap.
>
>----------------------------------------------------

Well, it made me laugh - and laughs are few and far between first thing on Monday mornings, thanks to the quantity of spam and junk that needs to be checked manually these days...   :-(

Die, spammers, die!

 

15th February

Hardware geek links, today:

Extreme have a review of Swiftech's MCX478-V heatsink - I was looking at the Xeon 603 flavour of this one for my CPUs, but it wasn't launched in time to meet my schedule and as it turns out the Akasa coolers are performing very well. It's an impressive device, though.

A guide to wiring PC cases at Modder's HQ - including an idea that I haven't seen elsewhere, installing a Plexiglas partition to hide the bulk of the system wiring. The result is probably the least cluttered case interior I've ever seen, and almost makes me ashamed of my nest of cables, beautifully sleeved though they are!

Overclock Intelligence Agency have a review of the super-cool Corsair Pro Series RAM with activity LEDs. It seems to be pretty good RAM actually, even if the full potential is probably wasted on unclocked systems like mine - but those LEDs are really rather sweet... :-)

ATI have released a new version of the Catalyst driver suite - no major changes, and no major performance gains, but it seems stable and as I'm running a little behind I'll probably take the plunge for this one.

And finally - risqué, but rather funny: A while ago I posted a link to an advert by Trojan, manufacturers of latex unmentionables, featuring a parody of Olympic weightlifting... and following their recent launch into the UK market they've released a couple more. They're all available at the new Trojan Games site:

Judo Semifinal          Pelvic Powerlifting          Precision Vaulting

 

14th February

Some of my geek friends have made fun of me because the core of my home network is a rack-mounted 24 port gigabit switch, but I've usually defended myself on the grounds that actually it was extremely cheap - and, besides, look at all those pretty flashing lights!

I suppose I'm going to have to use the same defence for my new tape library, as in spite of having to import it from the US it was still a bargain - only recently retired by Dell, its list price then was well over two thousand pounds. This is actually the second model I've bought, as the first one arrived in pieces thanks to the carelessness of the couriers and thoroughly inadequate packaging - the supplier refunded my money without a quibble, but anyone who thinks that is it appropriate to pack a 15kg tape library in only bubble wrap is not someone I'll buy from again.

The second one was safe in its original packaging, though, and survived the journey from Texas completely intact. Actually an Adic FastStor, this one has been rebranded by Dell as a PowerVault 120T. With a DLT 7000 drive and seven tape slots, it has a native capacity of 245Gb, or around half a terabyte with compression - exactly what I need for the admittedly rather excessive quantity of data currently living on the server it supports: it took around 5 hours to back up 80gb of test data, even before tweaking and tuning, which is quite adequate to my needs.

For various reasons the new addition has meant that my server, DATAVAULT, now has four Adaptec SCSI adaptors - the 1130 zero channel RAID controller for the internal disk array, a pair of 2940 series for the external array and the CD library, and a new 2944UW for the high voltage differential tape library. Somewhat to my surprise they all co-exist very well, and while even I admit that it is a touch excessive in a home server, it certainly makes the Adaptec CI/O SCSI manager screen look impressive...

Elsewhere...

Can you tell a computer geek from a serial killer? Ros can, it seems, but I certainly can't...

Dell launches laptop computer for gamers - complete with skull and crossbones motif!

Cliff Stanford charged with hacking Redbus - the accusations have been simmering since last year, but yesterday the Demon co-founder was formally charged with conspiracy to blackmail and computer crime offences by officers of the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit. Gosh!

Copy-protected CDs continue to cause problems - although the record labels are perfectly happy to blame the manufacturers of the players, instead! Memo to EMI - a standard is a standard, and if you don't comply with it any compatibility issues are your fault.

 

And finally, via Reuters - I wish I lived in New York, where apparently this year's backlash against Valentine's Day is stronger than ever:

They stand by the lake.
His heart makes the sound of fish
on the deck; she throws him back.
He’s not ready; it’s the law
.

- Filthy Dead Kitten

 

13th February

Links. So sue me.

The I Love Lucy Currency Converter - for the next time you're trying to work out why Ricky is so upset about Lucy spending $20 or something... Just choose the episode you were watching, enter the amount in question, and the converter will translate it into 21st century money.

Today's News of the Weird is that Dr. Robert Atkins, inventor of the eponymous diet, was extremely overweight and died after a history of high blood pressure and heart disease. Veronica Atkins, his widow, is trying to play down the significance of this - while his opponents in the medical industry are trying to make the most of it, of course.

Mathematical formula predicts marriage breakdown - "The mathematics we came up with is trivial, but the model is astonishingly accurate" - although maybe only for Americans!

How to Replace Graffiti 2 with original Graffiti on Palm Tungsten series PDAs, something I'm seriously considering as I'm not getting on at all well with the new flavour... Also, Mike Cane's Predictions for the Palm OS in 2004. Interesting stuff.

Vivisimo presents a rather elegant way of searching eBay auctions, with results clustered into groups with similar characteristics - a quick look suggests that it might be very useful, actually, presenting the large bulk of data from a relatively broad search into extremely well-defined categories.

Georgia science teachers to keep evolution - "We're empowering the teachers of Georgia to teach science as it should be taught," said Stephen Pruitt, the state's science curriculum specialist. "No teacher will have to stand in front of the Board of Education or anybody else and have to defend why they are teaching evolution." Well, Amen to that...

Interplanetary International Internet tested - ESA's Mars Express spacecraft relayed instructions between NASA's JPL Mission Control and the Spirit lander, and then relayed the responses back over the same route. It's a small step, but an important one.

 

11th February

Yet more links... And stop looking at me like that - it really has been one of those weeks, OK?

A setback for Microsoft in the Lindows trademark suit - after various European courts found the name to be an infringement of the Windows trademark, a US district court may rule otherwise, claiming that the name is too generic to act as a trademark at all!

Apple are in court, too, facing five class action suits over the infamous iPod battery life problem. The charges include unfair competition, claims of false advertising, fraudulent concealment and breach of warranty. Gosh...

Dan reviews a couple of the current sound-deadening foam sheets for noisy PCs - and, unsurprisingly, comes to exactly the same conclusion that I reached with my previous system... The stuff is just no damn good.

A new software package enables listening to users being routed through automated telephone answering systems - and transferring them to a human operator when they start sounding frustrated and angry!

Imatoy lets you create a comic book superhero based on yourself! Has Ubergeekman been taken yet, I wonder?

ebay pyramid scams use iPods as bait - the problem is especially rife in England, according to tech newsletter NTK.

X Prize award expected to be won by the end of this year - two US teams are on the verge of a private manned space mission.

And finally, something has broken off the International Space Station and floated away - and now NASA are trying to work out what it was.  <stifles a giggle>

 

10th February

More links - it's just one of those weeks...

New MyDoom variant - designed to reprogram systems infected by the earlier variants, and guaranteeing further mutations by containing the source code of the originals! How very helpful!

All about sound and hearing - sound pressure levels, hearing damage, health and safety, practical tips... a very informative article.

And talking of which - from a while ago, nVidia's video spoofing the excessive noise level of their own graphics cards...

The official Rube Goldberg web site - and some Heath Robinson, too, although the best archive of his work is now effectively offline after a legal threat...

Everything you always wanted to know about bootable CDROMs, together with many useful utilities and handy guides. Recommended...

 

9th February

If these are random links, this must be Monday...

Intel sued for exceeding the 120MHz barrier - if you can't compete in the market, launch another bullshit intellectual property suit.

Apple continues to annoy its users - they're losing a lot of friends, it seems to me, which makes that scary over-reaction from the G5 fans last week even less explicable!

IBM is working on switching communication methods on the fly - voice to text to voice again, seamlessly. Not something that had occurred to me before, but it's a fascinating concept.

Dumb moments in the technology arena - including Microsoft's iLoo lavatory PC, surely one of the most misguided computing innovations ever...

 

8th February

So I turned on the television, and an episode of Star Trek Voyager is just starting - and as soon as I heard the words "I'm just going to wire the faulty transceiver into the holodeck's pattern buffer" I could make a fairly shrewd guess at what was going to happen next... The capacity of computer systems in the Star Trek universe to run hostile foreign programs at the drop of a hat is exceeded only by an obsolete version of Outlook Express with all the security features disabled, and while it makes for interesting plot twists it's hardly very plausible... Ho, hum.

Meanwhile -

Mars rover successfully drills hole in rock - Spirit is back online, and doing very nicely indeed!

High-definition porn has arrived - and, unfortunately, shows off every wrinkle, blemish and pimple...

Lots and lots of SF e-books - including a version of Vernor Vinge's wonderful A Fire Upon The Deep, complete with hundreds of annotations added by the author while the book was being written and edited. Mmmmmm!

Elsewhere, check out DanaSoft's site for this really neat customised signature designed for used in chat forums etc. It's just a link to a JPEG, with no HTML component, and uses some cunning server-side code to build the client's IP address etc. into the image it returns in real time. There are a fair few options to customise the appearance of the sign, and altogether I think it's a rather clever idea...

 

7th February

In my few moments of free time over the last few days I've finally managed to give the shell-ejecting assault rifle a good workout. After almost four months I finally have a supply of shell cases, and although there are still significant problems with the gas cooling/charging rig used to fill the gun's tank from my big CO2 cylinder, Area 51 have promised yet another new design and in the meantime it's nothing that a pair of strap wrenches and vigorous blows from a large spanner can't fix... Once the tanks are full, though, and the shell cases have been laboriously equipped with a BB each and loaded into the magazines, what follows is a few seconds of real, genuine, simile-bringing fun. The sound is completely different from any other airsoft weapon I own, a sharp crack much more reminiscent of a small-bore rifle than a replica, and as the ground underfoot is soon littered with spent "brass" it really is the closest thing one can get to a firearm in this country without a comprehensive and annoying set of licenses.

The rate of fire is wonderful, too, and as the magazines only hold an equally realistic twenty-something rounds the full-auto experience tends to be remarkably brief - so to prevent insanity caused by endless loading of BBs into shell cases, in between mags I filed down the mounting clamp on my ex-Soviet Cobra holosight (a wonderful piece of hardware that regrettably seems to be made with a different sort of millimetre than that used in the West) and after some work it now fits nicely onto the top rail in place of the removable carry handle. Unfortunately the camera is in Lincolnshire this evening, so you'll just have to use your imagination - but it looks great.   :-)

Elsewhere -

Further developments in the world of the peer-to-peer file sharing - news of a raid on the offices of Sharman Networks, owner of the much-abused Kazaa software; the Distributed Computing Industry Association has recommended that file-sharers are paid to distribute DRM-enabled media; and the US Appeals Court are considering last year's judgement that the owners of file-sharing software are not responsible for the data exchanged on the networks. Interesting times, indeed!

A bad week for RealNetworks - three security flaws, another bad quarter financially, and a whole bunch of criticism from long-established Real users... As primo geek site Ars.Technica puts it, For RealNetworks, when it rains, it pours.

IBM's WebFountain gathers 250 million new Web pages a week, and analyses the resulting 512,000 gigabytes to see who is saying what about whom...

Researchers at the University of Michigan create a chemical structure that is bigger on the inside than the outside - a lot bigger...

Toronto police have broken up a gang who have stolen millions of dollars worth of airline luggage and fenced most of it on eBay.

And, talking of eBay - the Disturbing Auctions site showcases the really, truly tacky items found for sale on the big auction sites. Not for those of a nervous disposition...

A wolf in sheep's clothing - software which claims to protect users from intrusive programs - but brings it's own adware and spyware along with it! Trust nobody...

And finally - in advance of the upcoming movie I, Robot, creator Fox have put together a rather neat advertising site. It's really quite slick and convincing, and I can see a number of the more gullible being thoroughly taken in. Starring Will Smith, and obviously based on Isaac Asimov's Robot stories, I think the movie will be one to look out for - but it remains to be seen how the real robot company iRobot (creator of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and a strange military device called PackBot) will feel about the similarity of names...

 

5th February

I'm thoroughly demoralised today, as my shiny new tape library arrived in many pieces. The supplier had packaged it far too flimsily for something so heavy and so fragile, and as the courier had obviously given it a good kicking en route I'm afraid it's beyond any practical repair. They're happy to refund my money, but that's not the point - it was a real bargain and I'm not at all hopeful of finding another for such a reasonable price.   :-(

Meanwhile - last week, hardcore modding site Overclockers.com published an article describing how one of their staffers ripped the guts out of a Mac G5 and replaced them with a low-end PC motherboard. It has since emerged that this was a hoax intended as a gentle dig at the Apple evangelist community, involving a surplus G5 case rather than an entire working computer - but before this became common knowledge the article generated a truly unbelievable reaction from the Mac fanboys:

Andy said his e-mail inbox quickly filled to capacity, with more than 1,300 messages, and an unknown number bounced. The mail he did receive was full of nice, kind thoughts like death threats, insults and all kinds of colorful invective.

"I hope your PC blows up and leaves your miserable face disfigured forever," read one. "You will surely burn in hell for an eternity for this one."

Another said Andy should be hung by his testicles and set on fire.

"Turning a perfectly good dual G5 into a crappy PC was the ticket that got you to hell," wrote another, citing the common eternal damnation theme. "And if you were in front of me I'd pop a corn-born Teflon bullet from my Glock in your fucking face."

Woah...

Bog protect us from Mac fans with guns...

I do think there are more important things to get so upset about, these days, than something someone does to a computer... It really is rather sad - and I can't imagine anyone defending PCs in such violent and abusive terms.

Elsewhere, Arnie's Airsoft has published the circular sent to chief police officers recently, concerning the implementation of the new Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 as it relates to firearms and replica weapons. There are no real surprises, but I have to admit that considering we already have the law in place, the recommendations for enforcement are reasonable at present. I wish I could be more confident that future governments or police forces won't re-interpret the wording to ban replicas altogether - unfortunately it's happened before...

And finally, the long-sought after secret of how homing pigeons navigate turns out to be far more prosaic than anyone suspected - apparently they just follow the roads. What a scam!

 

3rd February

In spite of what I said about Real's MP3 player for the Palm, yesterday (so I guess I get to eat my own tongue, yes?) I ended up trying to use it a couple of times after all - and I damn well should have known better, as each time it blue-screened my PC with some kind of USB device driver issue during transfers to the handheld. As that entire subsystem has been completely stable during extensive use by other applications, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to point the finger of blame squarely at the door of Real's own software - again.  <long sigh>  Right, off to find an alternative!

Elsewhere:

Following La Jackson's carefully choreographed boob (video here) during yesterday's Super Bowl half-time show, AOL wants its money back... However, the unprecedented TiVo statistics suggest that maybe all publicity really is good publicity.

Imagine there's no labels - Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno are launching a direct-to-audience music publishing service... watch the RIAA sweat, now...  :-)

Email virus outbreaks caused by 'The clueless users who refuse to upgrade' - Tim Mullen tells it like it is, but I hope he's wearing his asbestos underpants...

MAID - Massive Array of Idle Disks. Now there's an interesting idea... And much as I hate to admit it, I do feel that the days of conventional tape-based backup devices are definitely numbered.

And, finally:

They say that books
Are the way that the dead
Speak to the living

- Laurie Anderson

 

2nd February

Having had a few days to play with it, now, I'm becoming more and more impressed with the Palm Tungsten T3 I picked up last week. Apart from the fact that I can't seem to write the letter "t" in the new Graffiti 2 input language, so far it's proving to be a very powerful, flexible PDA, and a far greater leap forward in all respects than my previous M515 was from the Vx before it.

One of the main selling points is the generous 320 x 480 LCD screen, absolutely vast by the standards of competing PDAs. In use, this really does make a massive difference, and although at present it can take a few clicks to switch in and out of the landscape and full-screen modes, we're promised that future applications will be capable of setting the desired mode automatically on launch, which should make the whole process completely smooth and painless.

Browsing the Web with the bundled WebPro application is actually a rather appealing experience (even if the application itself is technically rather eccentric), and the first time I've ever seen workable web access on a PDA. In full-screen landscape mode the handful of sites I tried are quite readable, and although a lot of up-and-down scrolling is involved the majority of an average web page fits into the width of the screen. I'm rather limited by the paltry 9600bps GSM connection of my antique Timeport T250 phone, but that could be solved simply by throwing money at the problem and buying a GPRS or 3rd Gen handset to replace it - and that would bring the added benefit of a Bluetooth radio connection between the two, as well, instead of the rather limiting line-of-site infra-red link I'm using at present.

Also of note is another bundled application, Documents To Go, which allows synchronisation of Microsoft Office data between the Palm and a desktop PC. Again, this seems to be an extremely workable solution, carrying most of the format and style over to the handheld and displaying it very neatly. One drawback is that for the data transfer process to work the files on the desktop system mustn't be open in Word or Excel, but for my purposes I don't really need two-way synchronisation so I've copied them over once and then disabled the updates until anything significant changes. I'd like to find a way around this if possible, though, and it bears further examination.

Elsewhere, in my occasional free minutes I've always been a fan of the strategy games genre pioneered by the Command & Conquer series, and to my delight the high resolution screen coupled with the powerful 400 MHz ARM processor makes an equivalent on the T3 extremely playable. Handmark's Warfare Incorporated is as faithful a reproduction as could be expected on a handheld platform, and although the sheer scope of the game is of necessity somewhat reduced, it's not half bad... The graphics are smooth and pretty, the maps adequately large and interesting, the number of different unit types reasonable if not generous, and the sound effects (including voices!) surprisingly high-quality. I registered it on the spot, and expect to get a lot of fun from it.

Equally entertaining is the support for the Audible audiobook standard, providing a useful and timely replacement for my Digisette Duo in-car MP3 player - the latter fell victim to a badly thought-out firmware upgrade program which killed it stone dead, and the manufacturer demanded a thoroughly unreasonable 75% of the replacement cost to repair it. When equipped with a 512Mb Secure Digital card, the T3 can hold dozens of hours of spoken word, and the built-in speaker is remarkably clear and loud - easily good enough for listening without headphones under normal circumstances, although for use in the car I'll pick up one of those neat little cassette-shaped adaptors for playback through the car stereo.

As well as Audible support, the T3 also ships with the ability to play MP3s via the RealOne player. I haven't actually tested this yet, partly due to oddities with my PC's card reader (the CF slot works, the MMC/SD slot apparently doesn't!) and partly because I would rather eat my own tongue than use Real's software to play an open format data file. A number of 3rd-party players are available, though, and I'll experiment with them as soon as I can find a way of getting bulk data on and off the Palm.

All in all, I'm extremely pleased with the T3 so far - it's very different from the previous generation Palm PDAs, and the learning curve has been steep in places, but it's also extremely flexible and powerful, and has the brightest, sharpest, and just plain biggest screen I've ever seen on a handheld computer. Money well spent, I think...

 

1st February

I've spent the last two days wrestling with a recalcitrant Dell laptop, and so have no brain left for anything but random links. What it is to be a geek in demand...

User Friendly's take on the  MyDoom worm...

Livening-up a Mac G5 with the innards of an X-Box   :-)

Penguin baseball - brilliant stuff. My current record is 290 metres!

The 101 dumbest moments in business

Georgia school board still trying to prevent teaching of evolution. Ban the word itself, and maybe the theory will follow? Bah!

NASA's mars probes - Opportunity rolls off lander platform, good chance of repairing Spirit.

 

This month's stats were a pleasant surprise, reaching a new record of 6000 page hits just when I thought that I'd found my level... And, very briefly, I was even at the top of the Tweakers Top 50, too, when they reset the stats in an attempt to work out what was happening with the forged votes. That didn't last long, of course (especially not with Elite Guides faking hits at a high rate), but it was nice to see my banner there even if fleetingly!  :-)

As always, though, there's no excuse not to cast your vote to keep me hovering at my usual home around number thirty - but as the ice weasels are on winter vacation I will have to resort to threatening to post a screenshot of my brief stay at the top of the charts. Look out! He's got a bitmap!

 

 

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