This has been a long, cold month, and I'll be glad when
it's over... Although, in fact, the entire year is looking less than
appealing right now.
The MyDoom virus
author was "just doing his job" - but as
have now matched SCO's $250,000 bounty, I hope he feels that his job was
worth whatever happens to a man with a half million dollar price on his
head... Somebody knows who did this, and that kind of money must be
very, very tempting indeed.
Big computer manufacturers slammed for exploiting overseas labour -
Dell's PCs are so cheap, say critics, because they are made by indentured
slaves working in appaling conditions... Oh!
What if your PC knew how you were feeling? Well, mine would probably
be disgusted, and refuse to work for me any longer.
Mike Rowe turns out to be just another leech feeding on Microsoft's
bank balance, then? Damn, but there are
a lot of those,
these days. Bah!
withdraws URL login support from IE - no more
URLs, apparently to avoid phishing and spoofing attacks. How inconvenient!
Booble to cease and desist - Booble is a new adult search engine,
obviously closely modelled on Google - but as far as I can see with very
sparse content, and pretty much a waste of space right now.
German cannibal cleared of murder - and I have to say that I
thoroughly approve! However weird and disgusting it may seem, people
ought to have a right to do whatever they want with their own bodies
-and if that includes having someone kill them and eat them, then so be
HP staff told
not to open email document - a strongly worded internal memo
criticising HP's spin machine is being treated almost as a virus by
the company's management, according to insiders.
flower sensitive to explosives - designed to reveal buried landmines
by changing colour. Now that's a clever idea!
Pre-upgraded X-Box - faster CPU, more RAM, bigger disk... Nifty!
[Update: Apparently it tends to run games too fast to be playable,
and has problems with DVD playback - not so nifty, after all, then!]
'Ctrl-Alt-Delete' inventor restarts career - I'd hardly call it an
X-rays to blame for cancer - an extremely upsetting report,
unfortunately, I have to say...
Workstation CPU shoot-out - and my
HyperThreading Xeons come
out very well, over all. :-)
It snowed, yesterday, which meant that in the evening I
had to go outside to stand on a chair and brush snow off our satellite
disk with a long-handled mop before I could watch television! They don't
mention anything about that in the Sky adverts!
Once I'd done that, though, I was able to watch
which turned out to be a relatively good film. Starring Laurence Fishburne,
"Morpheus" from the Matrix series (including
this little-known item),
and Sam Neil from, well,
everywhere, this was exactly the sort of film that I'd rather not
watch while I'm alone in the house. I've seen a number of SF horror movies
that were obviously trying really hard to be
Sphere and of
course most of the rest of the Aliens series, but although some of them
have been good, none of them are nearly as spooky as Alien itself.
Although Event Horizon was clearly inspired by the spooky spaceship
corridors motif of Alien, there was also a definite air of - how
can I put this? -
Hellraiser In Space. The plot is thoroughly absurd (experimental
spaceship drive accidentally opens a gateway to Hell), which is to say no
worse than most of the competition - but people died in a variety of
interesting and bloody ways, the spaceship itself was wonderfully baroque
and sinister, and all-in-all I ended up thoroughly spooked. Worth keeping
an eye open for, if you like the genre...
these are very nice indeed:
The largest, highest resolution screen of any PDA, at
present, and worth every pixel. As the promotional shot above shows, it
really is practical to display a proper spreadsheet in landscape mode, and
Documents To Go suite does a really nice job of importing and
converting from Microsoft Excel. Battery life is far worse than any of the
predecessors, though - the balls-out Intel XScale 400 MHz ARM processor
coupled with the 320 x 480 LCD is a power real drain, and for the first
time since I started using Palm PDAs I'm going to have to make sure I
carry a power supply with me.
the FBI - apparently an enlightening experience...
$250,000 worm bounty - taking a leaf out of Microsoft's book.
the spammers - BIll promises an end to spam within two years!
"O'Really" T-Shirts - lampooning the covers of the well-known
O'Reilly technical manuals.
Tits Out For Multiple
Sclerosis - raise money, and flatter your ego at the same time.
So, there's a new virus in town...
Mydoom is more
of the same, really, attempting to spread by the tried and tested methods
of SMTP email and Kazaa peer-to-peer sharing, but with one interesting
twist - after February 1st an infected system will launch a denial of
service attack against professionally litigious former operating system
company SCO, mentioned here frequently in recent months. Given that SCO
have managed to enrage the Linux community without anyone else really
noticing, the obvious conclusion is that the half-wit responsible for this
particular little gem is a Linux fanboy.
Whatever, though, it's a virulent worm... The mail
gateways at the office have blocked hundreds (and probably thousands,
by now) of infected messages today, and as the worm uses the much-loved
technique of hijacking an infected system's address book to forge the
'From' addresses, my users have been plagued with misleading bounce
reports from servers all around the world. It's more of a pain in the neck
than an actual risk to security and infrastructure, fortunately, but as
pains in the neck go it's certainly a good one... Hopefully one of the
little weenies who write these things will be caught and nailed to the
wall, soon, and perhaps that will help to
others. A pox on you all!
Elsewhere - oooh, geek jewellery, in
titanium, more titanium,
By then it was clear that matter came in two
varieties: some particles which feel the strong force (protons and
neutrons, and the pions which carry the force) and some which don't (the
electron and, it turns out, the muon). This led to a new way of
classifying particles, both the material particles and the force
carriers. Things which feel the strong force are called hadrons, while
things which don't feel the strong force are called leptons. All leptons
are fermions, and have half-integer spin. The hadrons that are also
fermions are called baryons. Protons and neutrons are baryons. The
bosons that carry the forces between particles are now known
specifically as mesons. The pion is a meson, and comes in three
varieties. There is a neutral pion, which has no charge. When a proton
and a neutron exchange a neutral pion, the are held together but remain
unchanged. Protons also exchange neutral pions with each other, and so
do neutrons. And there are two charged pions, positive and negative,
which are the antiparticles of each other. If a proton gives a
positively charged pion to a neutron, the proton becomes a neutron and
the neutron becomes a proton. This is exactly the same as if the neutron
gave a negative pion to the proton.
- John Gribbin, "The search for Superstrings,
Symmetry, and The Theory Of Everything"
I trust that's all clear, now? Damn, but I love
I've decided to have a thorough spring clean before I
move house, and the massive stack of computer hardware, spares and add-ons
was an obvious target. I find it extremely hard to throw away
computer stuff, and knowing how unsuccessful previous attempts to clear
out had been I enlisted the help of my friend
Graham to act as a sort of external
conscience. He did this remarkably well, as it turned out, and after the
first hour or two he didn't even have to say anything, but instead just
looked at me with one eyebrow raised in silent accusation ...
This resulted in the untimely and unwarranted demise of
such gems as a matched pair of original, genuine
NE1000 8 bit ISA network cards, a
LTE Lite laptop (with built-in 2400bps modem!), and one of the very
first 3D accelerator graphics cards in the shape of the
Apocalypse 3DX... all of these provoked the raised eyebrow from
Graham, and into the metaphorical skip they went. He was equally scathing
about my vast collection of sub-gigabyte hard disks, old SIMM memory, and
dead tape drives (even I had difficulty justifying the latter to
myself!), not to mention the hundreds of feet of coaxial network cable and
I also disposed of the things that I had simply
acquired too many of, somehow, over the years - given that my entire
computer installation is already plugged into the mains, I had to admit
that I probably didn't need around fifty spare power cables, and
under the baleful gaze of that raised eyebrow half of them went into the
skip, as well. Rather harder to dispose of were items such as a sturdy
mid-tower PC chassis, very nice in itself but designed for the obsolete AT
format motherboards and so severely limited in application, and my
multi-disc CD changers - unsupported by any of the
modern versions of Windows, but still an elegant and appealing
I did allow myself to keep some of the more recent
cast-offs, such as my venerable
AIW graphics card, only retired
back in the summer. I can't
foresee an immediate use for it, I must admit, and its minimal resale
value probably wouldn't justify the time required to list it and sell it
on eBay, but all the same... It's an excellent component and, after all, I
have to leave something for next year's spring cleaning!
The upshot of this has been a dozen black bin bags full
of cables, manuals, packaging etc outside the house, and enough larger
hardware to completely fill Ros's Grand
Cherokee on a trip to the local dump. Strangely, though, I actually
seem to be using slightly more storage boxes than before, in spite
of throwing out so much - it's thoroughly inexplicable to me....
Elsewhere, almost equally inexplicable:
Russian girl claims X-ray vision
chief sorry for "rape" gaffe
Army deployed in beer rescue
Rabbi offers prayer for web porn browsers
New fatality from car surfing
"Jackass" stunt ends in teen death
I tend to think of the last two as evolution in action...
Ros has spent most of the afternoon trying to give
money to telecoms provider Orange, and apparently it's been a saga of
considerable aggravation and corporate stupidity. Ever in pursuit of the
ultimate road warrior setup, she's just picked up a
Nokia Card Phone
II - basically a cell phone in a PC card format suitable for use with
a laptop, and compatible with the Orange HSCD "High
Speed Data" service to give 28.8Kbps comms rather than the paltry 9600
bps of regular GSM... To use this service, though, she needed an Orange
SIM card, and this is where the problems arose - although all initial
enquiries were met with "sure, no problem", when it actually came
down to it apparently there were problems after all, and lots of
The official Orange shop she tried first didn't
actually stock the data-ready SIM cards at all, presumably due to the
massive additional storage space required by something the size of a
postage stamp. At the second attempt, a branch of
The Link, it emerged that Orange
wouldn't allow them to sell her a SIM on its own. The Link were quite
happy to give her a free phone to go with the SIM, but the free phones
don't support data and Orange wouldn't allow that either, insisting that
she purchased a data capable phone to go with the airtime!
Reluctant to pay
£70 for a phone handset she didn't want or need, and never shy of a
good argument with corporate idiots, she phoned Orange themselves from The
Link store - a bizarre process in itself, apparently, as they kept asking
for her account numbers and seemed incapable of understanding that she
couldn't provide them because she wasn't yet a customer! After around an
hour on the phone with Orange, though, it emerged that if she placed an
order for the SIM and phone on the Internet, they wouldn't charge her a
penny for the handset - but that the same bundle bought over the counter,
then and there, would absolutely positively cost her £70.
The Internet ordering could ten days or more to fulfil,
unfortunately, which wouldn't meet her deadline of early next week before
she's off on her travels again (and poor long-suffering techies need time
to get this stuff working, too!), so in the end she settled for a
pay-as-you-go SIM that was obtainable without a phone - although it still
needs to be activated for the HSCD data facility as a separate
transaction, so the saga may not yet be over...
I've left out some of the more convoluted problems in
this account, for reasons of brevity, but all-in-all it sounds as if it
was an extremely annoying way to spend an afternoon. It seems thoroughly
bizarre to me that a company should make it so hard to do business with
them - she knew what she wanted, and she wanted to get it from Orange, but
they threw up obstacle after obstacle and even after three hours of
fussing over it she still hasn't obtained the package she needs! It's not
even as if she was hoping for anything very exotic, after all - the
service is clearly advertised on their website, and makes no reference at
all to any of these riders and conditions -
opposite, in fact...
It's so amazingly wrong-headed to do business in this
[Update: The next day, she changed her mind and decided
that a new phone might be useful, anyway, so decided to exchange the
pay-as-you-go SIM for the regular sort. She went back to the same shop,
but spoke to a different salesman - who gave her the phone, free, with no
quibbling at all. How thoroughly bizarre!]
for fun and profit
working PC - redux
Spirit back online - hopefully
iPod furore in
House Of Commons
US public leaps to Hubble's defence
I took a day of holiday, today, and as so often ended
up using it fiddling with recalcitrant computer hardware all the same.
I've had a rash of annoying failures with the
Ecrix VXA-1 tape drives I use on my home network, recently, and one of
today's tasks was to replace the dead unit in Ros's PC. This turned into
rather a chore, as it turned out - the old drive was a LVD SCSI device,
connected via a rather excessive
Adaptec 39160 server adaptor, while the replacement was an older
SCSI-2 model extracted from an external housing and hosted by a
considerably more pedestrian
Adaptec 2940. It should have been straight-forward, but...
It wasn't until I was actually wiring up the new SCSI
bus that I realised that there was a slight problem - as the drive had
been salvaged from an external case, it didn't actually have an on-board
termination facility, relying instead on the sort of
plug-in external terminator that wouldn't even slightly fit
onto the internal configuration of the drive. A quick browse through my
stock of spares and oddments turned up a suitable internal
terminator module as part of an impressive seven-way cable loom salvaged
from a Digital server back in the day, but unfortunately this assembly had
a special SCSI socket
on the end for the terminator. None of my other SCSI cables had an
equivalent connector, but there was no way that I was going to be able to
shoe-horn the bulky seven-way assembly into the already fairly well
stuffed mini tower case.
Fifteen years ago, before computer hardware was a
commodity and before the Internet allowed spares and components to be
obtained easily and speedily, techies had to be a little more adventurous
and resourceful. To this end, one of my IT party tricks was re-designing
SCSI busses by carefully prising the
displacement connectors off the ribbon cable and then carefully
squeezing them back on again in different arrangements. This was a fiddly
job to say the least, but with practice and attention to detail it usually
worked very well, and saved my bacon on a number of occasions during high
pressure server builds.
It seemed worth a try today, too, and after a few tense
moments (IDC connectors are not designed to be removed and reused
and are actually quite fragile) and then some careful application of
extreme force (two blocks of wood and a small hammer) I'd transplanted the
terminator socket onto a more appropriate ribbon cable. Needless to say, I
was quite pleased with this, but the feeling of accomplishment completely
evaporated five minutes later when I powered on the PC and was rewarded
with exactly the same
sequence of error lights as on the original tape drive!
With what now seems to be rather a foolish oversight,
for some reason I'd never tested the external drive when I
bought it from eBay, and as it's been sat on a shelf for the last two
months it seems highly likely that it was dead on arrival. That makes
three failed VXA-1 drives I have, now, and this is definitely at least two
too many - but fortunately I managed to
unearth a company
that specialises in tape drive repairs and I've asked them for a quote. We
I spotted a rather nice mouse mat on a colleague's
desk, yesterday - a smooth black leather surface on a round steel base, it
has a beautiful feel and a very solid, impressive weight.
Available from Ikea, apparently, for the very reasonable sum of £4.90.
The catalogue does make the interesting point that it's not suitable for
wireless mice, though - presumably the metal plate plays havoc with the
|Elsewhere, thanks to a long chain of references culminating at
From The Register - the ins and outs of
Finally, look out for a full write up on
these, soon -
I managed to snatch nine of
on eBay last week, together with
encyclopaedia. All I need now is the free time, although unfortunately
over the next few months that is likely to be scarce to say the least...
It's been a very tiresome day... We've been
trying for months to move our old
SNA mainframe printing gateway from the fragile, sluggish workstation it's
been running on to a rather more suitable server-spec system, and as part
of the migration we're also hoping to move from NT4 to Windows 2000, which
seems to have caused all sorts of problems. This weekend's attempt was the
third, and unfortunately has proved as unsuccessful as the others - the
testing on Saturday appeared to go very well, but as the load increased
this morning the server became more and more flakey. Problems ranged from
the annoying (incorrectly formatted printouts) to the terminal (crashes in
the printing subsystem itself), and I can't tell if the problems come from
Microsoft SNA Server we're using or the equally obsolete
Formscape V2 print processor, or
some combination of the two - but this build of the server was absolutely
as good as I could make it and I don't know what else I can do. It's all
very frustrating. :-(
From The Register -
article on Apple's iTunes online music store and the growing spectre
of digital rights management. Coming soon to a PC near you...
Cutting Windows down to size - losing MSN Chat and Outlook Express,
for example, is certainly an attractive proposition...
ISPs give RIAA
the finger - since a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the subpoenas were
illegal, ISPs have started to withdraw all cooperation. Good for them!
Windows 1.0, circa 1985, from the DigiBarn Computer Museum - 5¼"
floppies, Presentation Manager, and the original Microsoft mouse. Ah, the
Information Week suggests that
40% of email never reaches its intended recipient! Seems very high, to
me, but the statistics are upsettingly plausible.
Truly remarkable windows - and nothing to do with Microsoft, either,
but instead the sort that you look through... or not, as the case may be!
In May 1864 the
American Civil War was at its height, and the Union Fifth Corps and
the Confederate First Corps, moving independently and unknown to each
other, led the marches of their respective armies toward Spotsylvania in
northern Virginia. During the
and bloody engagement that resulted, one of the most memorable phrases
of the entire conflict resulted from one of the most unusual weapons of
In advance of the main engagement
Sedgwick, in command of the Sixth Corps, was directing units of the
Union forces as they arrayed into their battle lines. The Confederate
forces had begun to deploy en masse the night before, and were well dug in
- their snipers were almost a thousand yards away from the line of rifle
pits the general was supervising, but even at this unusually long range
had already picked off several officers. This had been brought to
Sedgwick's attention earlier in the day, but he was dismissive of the risk
and nothing more was said on the matter... As he paused to redirect a
group of soldiers, though, the sharpshooters opened up once again, several
bullets passing right between the general and the troops he was
addressing. Seeing some of them ducking for cover, the general upbraided
"What! What! Men, dodging this way for single
bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am
ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!"
Moments later another bullet passed very close, with a
long shrill whistle, and a soldier who was just passing in front of the
general dodged down to the ground. Sedgwick touched him gently with his
foot, and said, " Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way,"
and then repeated the prophetic remark... "They couldn't hit an
elephant at this distance".
Major Martin T. McMahon, discussing the movement of the
soldiers with General Sedgwick at the time,
remembers the next
"For a third time the shrill whistle came, closing
with a dull, heavy stroke, interrupted our talk; when, as I was about to
resume, the general's face turned slowly to me, the blood spurting from
his left cheek under the eye in a steady stream. He fell in my direction;
I was so close to him that my effort to support him failed, and I fell
The weapon that had so disastrously disproved General
Sedgwick's opinion was an unusual and interesting device. The
Whitworth Sharpshooter Rifle was the invention of British engineering
genius Sir Joseph Whitworth, and had the government of his own country
paid his designs the attention that they undoubtedly deserved, General
Sedgwick would almost certainly have lived through the day...
By the time Whitworth was asked to examine the British
Lee Enfield service rifle in the 1850s he already had an impressive number
of ground-breaking inventions and processes under his belt... Starting
with basic but significant improvements to the cotton spinning and weaving
machines in his home county of Lancashire, during his subsequent
apprenticeship in London he devised ways of creating
more accurate screw
threads and of machining flat surfaces with greater speed and
precision than had previously been possible. By the middle of the 19th
Century he had invented the micrometer, a device capable of measuring to
the then unimaginable accuracy of one millionth of an inch, and so
paved the way for the standardisation of manufactured items that would be
vital for the mass production techniques that were to follow.
In short, then, he was another fine example of the
legion of engineers that invented and perfected so much of the technology
that powered the Industrial Revolution and allowed Britain's expansion
into a world-dominating power - and, like so many of his contemporaries,
he was more than a touch eccentric... Although his technical abilities
and highly regarded, he was an easily irascible man who did not suffer
fools gladly, and this was (and still is!) extremely problematic when
dealing with both the elected and appointed officials of the British
Government of the day.
Nevertheless, his reputation for high-precision
manufacturing ensured that he was the first and foremost engineer asked to
review the aging Lee Enfield service rifle when Britain's expanding empire
brought her forces into increasingly bloody contact with the population of
countries with strong empire-building tendencies of their own - many
of whom had equivalent rifles, and no lack of willingness to use them...
Whitworth quickly determined that the Lee Enfield rifle
was deficient in a number of ways, and he first set out to correct the
original design and manufacturing flaws, before abandoning the entire
concept as worthless and embarking on a brand new design of his own.
utilised a barrel made from a high-tensile steel he invented for the
purpose, the bore drilled by new lathes of unprecedented accuracy - he
invented those, too, and they later made the revolution of the steam age
possible by permitting the accurate drilling of the pressure cylinders for
steam engines of all shapes and sizes.
Something else that was unprecedented was Whitworth's
choice of a hexagonal rifled bore. Although the idea of rifled barrels was
not particularly new in itself, nobody really understood the physics that
gave a spinning bullet greater stability (and so greater range and
accuracy) and the details of all previous designs were simply at the whim
of their creator. This was not Whitworth's style, though, and in the best
tradition of eccentric inventors he embarked on an
exhaustive series of tests, varying the pitch, depth and angle of the
rifling grooves until he formed an understanding of the general physical
laws required to perfect the design. Perfect it he did, though, and in
order to guarantee the exact spin of the bullet, he created the rifle with
hexagonal bore and specified a hexagonal bullet to match it!
Now, oddly-shaped bores were nothing very unusual at
the time (an earlier example was
Gun, capable of firing "round bullets against Christians and square
bullets against Turks" - and missing both with equal ease, it seems,
thanks to a thoroughly unworkable design) but Whitworth's concept was
unique in actually being even slightly worthwhile! And it was
highly worthwhile, too,
all other contemporary weaponry in terms of accuracy, range and
penetration - equipped with suitable telescopic sights and in the hands of
a well-trained marksman, it was effective up to 1500 yards, a far greater
range than the rifles and muskets in use elsewhere.
It must have been something of a surprise and annoyance
to Whitworth, then, that the War Office nevertheless rejected it
completely - by this time his impatience and forthright attitude had made
enough enemies both within the government and the influential Royal
Enfield ordnance works that his design was doomed no matter how effective
it actually was. Interestingly, the modern, popular and successful
pistol actually uses a hexagonal bore remarkably similar to Whitworth's
design, so the idea has by no means had its day.
Whitworth, in disgust, founded his own manufacturing
company and began to solicit orders from any government who seemed to be
in need of rifles, and soon enough this brought him into contact with gun
runners supplying the Confederate army in America. In 1862 the first
batches were delivered into the eager hands of the picked sharpshooters of
the Confederate First Corps, and two years later, by the time one
particular rifle ended the life of the unfortunate General Sedgwick, they
had become a
prized weapon - especially in comparison to the
Springfield and Enfield rifles commonly in use elsewhere in the
armies. Until the sheer raw firepower of the Henry and Spencer repeating
rifles that were developed right at the end of the war (and probably did
as much to win it for the Union as did anything else!), the Whitworth
reigned supreme... In fact, it seems highly likely that, had Whitworth
himself been of a more diplomatic temperament, not only would Queen
Victoria's armies have been equipped with
superior weapon themselves, but in its resulting absence from America
both General Sedgwick and the rest of the Confederacy would have lasted
considerably longer than they did.
Sometimes the little things make a very big difference, don't they...
|A link, a link, my kingdom for a link...
Judge upholds Eolas ruling, and adds interest charges - Microsoft mad
as a fish, will appeal.
Lindows dispute intensifies as refund site declared invalid - and
rightly so, in my opinion!
Mobile phone use may be safe, suggest UK scientists, confirming a
report released three years ago.
return to manned space exploration - as expected, but is it really a
Kodak to stop selling traditional film cameras - sensible, I suppose,
but a surprise nonetheless...
From Wired -
Reliving Spam's Glorious Past
HP's revenue from Linux in excess of $2.5 billion in 2003 - so much
for free software!
Lawrence Berkeley Labs shines a light on small things with their
Advanced Light Source
And finally, more small things - recent advances in
manufacturing nanotubes and nanowires.
When you fail to win an auction at eBay, an
automated search routine casts around to find similar things that
you might like to bid on instead - but I've been watching it over
the last year, and frankly it seems to be getting dumber and dumber
as time goes on! Today's offering seems particularly inappropriate -
I'd lost an auction for a few pounds worth of Dell mouse, so the
system recommended a few hundred pounds worth of brand-new,
high-performance SCSI disk drive instead. Somehow I just can't
imagine one substituting for the other, and it's rather a mystery to
me why the search routines thought that they were related in any
Mars Exploration Rover Mission site has some stunning images of
the desolate surface of Mars, including this
360° panorama - but be warned if
you're still on a dial-up connection, as the full-size image weighs
in at a hefty 12Mb.
And finally - a warning:
Do not order anything from a company going
by the name of Viper Shoes or Viper Footwear. They have an
e-commerce site at
http://www.vipershoes.com, which links to various sub-pages all
Clara.Net's servers and allegedly maintained by Lunefield
Computer Systems. However, in spite of this quite respectable
looking net presence, they don't actually seem to be a real company
- or, if they were at some point in the past, presumably there's
nobody genuine behind the shop front these days. I placed an order
with them almost two weeks ago, but although they debited my credit
card almost immediately I have seen no sign of the goods and have
heard nothing from them at all since then... They've completely
failed to reply to any of my increasingly pointed email
enquiries and, interestingly, so have the afore-mentioned
Lunefield Computer Systems -
who I think are probably equally defunct or imaginary.
Best avoided, I'd say...
[Update: See the full story of my dealings with
this company here]
I've been a fan of the old-school heavy rock group
(if somewhat quietly, these days!) since my older brother weaned me away
from the saccharin of The New Seekers and similar at the tender age of
twelve, and as the group's founder and front-man
always been something of a hero of mine I was especially pleased to be
given a copy of his
recent autobiography for christmas.
Lemmy is one of rock's classic bad-boys, and shares
with another of my heroes, Hunter S.
Thompson, a lust for exotic and illegal behaviour that borders on the
superhuman... Even before he founded Motörhead
in 1975, his reputation for consumption of speed, bourbon and women was
legendary, and over the next quarter century he proceeded to partake of
all three in such regular and massive quantities that, just like Thompson,
by all standard medical indices he should probably be long dead!
Nevertheless, against all odds he's still going
strong... his career in the music industry pre-dates the
Merseybeat, progressing from England's earliest rock'n'roll bands
through a stint with influential space-rockers
Hawkwind, before taking Motörhead right to
the heart of the "New Wave of British
Heavy Metal" (as rock magazine
Kerrang termed it) that stormed through the eighties - and the legacy
of which influences my own musical tastes and mode of dress even today.
Lemmy is a wonderful old reprobate, though, and
needless to say the biography is full of fascinating and bizarre stories:
I remember one gig the Beatles had at the Cavern.
It was just after they got Brian Epstein as their manager. Everyone in
Liverpool knew that Epstein was gay, and some kid in the audience
screamed "John Lennon's a fucking queer!" And John - who never
wore his glasses on stage - put his guitar down and went into the crowd,
shouting "Who said that?" So this kid says, "I fucking did".
John went after him and BAM, gave him the Liverpool kiss, sticking his
nut on him - twice! And the kid went down in a mass of blood, snot and
teeth. Then John got back on the stage. "Anybody else?", he
asked. Silence. "All right then...
Some Other Guy."
I'd never heard anything even slightly like this, as my
image of Lennon is really from the love-and-peace days that came later -
but having talked to two Beatles fans this evening, it seems that although
Epstein cleaned the group up for public consumption, originally they were
tough guys from a tough part of town and anything but the sissies they
later appeared to be!
This certainly makes me think rather differently about
the Beatles (they showed me a marvellous photo of a young Lennon in a bike
jacket and pegged jeans, looking for all the world like James Dean's
Rebel Without A Cause),
but I have to say that although I recognise their massive influence
on everything that came after them, I'm still not a great fan of their
music! I've never lost my taste for Motörhead,
though, and sometimes when nobody is at home I still dig out one of their
classic tracks - something hard, fast and loud - and play along on the
Just don't tell anyone, Ok?
A while ago I
linked to a
criticism of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine documentary,
but recently I came across
rebuttal to that and other
arguments against his positions. It's always interesting to see both
sides of the story, but as usual I suspect that the truth, such as it is,
lies somewhere between the two... "Bowling" has its own web site now, by
the way, including a copy of the wonderful little animation "A
Brief History Of America".
Meanwhile, news comes of a nasty little
vulnerability in the file transfer facility of Yahoo's instant
messenger client - the
second such weakness in a month. Affecting versions 18.104.22.1681 and
below, the flaw is exposed when the user receives a file with a name that
is a specific number of characters in length, and is an unusually high
risk in that the file does not even need to be executed, just saved... An
updated version has already been released, but apparently existing users
can't upgrade, and will need to perform a clean install.
3rd-party server for
Pinnacle's ShowCenter box -
although this one is resolutely German! The Linux-oriented
Open ShowCenter project continues slowly but surely, too, and as the
server for Neuston's
similar MC-500 product works rather better than Pinnacle's own
offering there's a lot of choice while we're waiting for Pinnacle
themselves to pull their fingers out!
SCO turns their licensing searchlight on Google
listen to the radio?
Windows 98 support moves to CD
modem chipsets at Modemsite - a useful resource in general.
Ros has just told me that I've been writing here for
two years, today, so I guess that's something to be quietly proud of...
Unfortunately I have to announce that all is far from well at Château
Epicycle, and Ros and I are in the process of separating.
Irreconcilable differences, as the saying has it, so just call me
"pond slime" - apparently her friends already are. We've been together for
twelve years, though, and obviously it's going to take a while to
disentangle our lives and go our separate ways, but at least so far we're
managing to stay civil with each other - it's bad enough already, but it
could be much, much worse.
Life goes on, though, or at least a pale imitation of
it - so elsewhere...
Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie site and shop
Mirko Zorz reflects on
year for Linux security
- what happens when nerds go to the cinema...
Online gamer wins
back "stolen" virtual property
Search for leak on space station continues - notice how they checked
the Russian components first...
conducting SWAT-like raids in Los Angeles
From Wired -
The Click Heard Round The World - it's 1968, welcome to the world of
police ordered to quit smoking - Gosh!
I'm so very exasperated with
Area51 Airsoft, erstwhile
suppliers of my shell-ejecting M4 replica, but for some reason I just
can't stay mad at them... The replica
itself arrived a while before christmas, but has been nothing more
than a paperweight without the CO2 charging/cooling
unit - and although that arrived today, the replica is still
useless without the shell cases which hold the BBs, currently promised for
the end of the week! However, in spite of the fact that we're now looking
at around a three month delay on my original order, that delivery date
after delivery date has come and gone with no result, and that so far
fifty-five email messages have been exchanged trying to sort everything
out... In spite of all that they are obviously trying their best in the
face of very awkward circumstances - it's just that their best is still
rather ineffectual! However, although I've been making my displeasure
known again today, we've all managed to keep polite and
non-confrontational and as they've added freebie after freebie to my
order, once it all finally arrives (I'm estimating sometime in February,
realistically!) I'll probably be more than happy with all the hardware. I
should damn well hope so...
Springer - The Opera... Words really do fail me.
Windows vs. Linux - The Facts... well, the facts according to
Microsoft, at least.
exploding suitcase... Possibly not as silly as it sounds?
Novell pulls the rug out from under SCO... What a wonderful
rollercoaster this is turning out to be!
And, gosh, look at this -
models of the props and equipment from the Aliens movie! Most
of them are a "work in progress" at present, but a few plans are available
to download, including a full-size replica of the infamous M41A Pulse
Rifle which looks rather spectacular. There are a handful of other SF kits
bonus page, too, and also a
fascinating explanation of how he constructs the templates. If you
like the Aliens
genre, and are at all keen on crafts, this site is a must-see...
So Dan of Dan's Data
is back from what is probably a well-deserved break with the usual roundup
of letters and a power supply review, together with a useful link to a net
Starbase has images of
Aliens dropship and
APC models, built up by
the man responsible for creating the moulds - cast in resin rather than
polystyrene, at 22" and 7" respectively these are extremely impressive
pieces. I covet them both....
Something I don't covet quite so much is the apparently
endless succession of daft attachments to plug into a USB port...
January's offerings include a
coffee heating pad,
another vibrator - although the site is quick to point out that the
USB port only supplies power to the unit, which is not computer
controlled. For that one has to
afield - although not
so far (completely beyond the boundaries of good taste) as one would have
to go for what is apparently the latest from the burgeoning Japanese sex
toy market - the Super
Onanism Machine. Hmmmm.
Another "hmmmm" comes from this idea for DIY "infra
red goggles". By completely blocking all visible light, the inventor
reckons, anything left over will have to be IR. Well, yes, I guess...
Mitnick calls for
hackers for his new book, Google are
about to IPO, and Beyond 3D has an interview with
Microsoft's Lead Evangelist, Chris Donahue.
And now I'm off to play with a
docking station I've just acquired for my old Dell Latitude laptop.
These are really neat little devices, and for some unknown reason they're
available on eBay in copious quantities for around £30 or less - a
I heard a report on the breakfast news this morning
that started my day with a slow burn of irritation... Troubled
communications company NTL has just awarded huge bonuses to its two top
dogs - £20 million to chairman
James Mooney and £8 million to CEO
Simon Duffy - apparently for throwing away just as much money as their
predecessors managed. NTL's financial state is actually
far from rosy,
and presumably the company's habit of awarding huge bonuses to directors
who create huge losses has not helped with that... Under Mooney's inspired
leadership the company made losses of around £230 million over the last
six months, almost as bad as the £159 million loss masterminded by the
over the three months before that - although Knapp only managed to snag a
£5.4 million pay-off when he jumped ship, if admittedly on top of a $6,000
a day consulting deal...
News of bloated pay awards to greedy
corporate fat cats has always outraged me, but not, I suspect, as much
as the news of these particular awards will outrage the 2000
employees that NTL is
downsize over the next few years. The bonuses handed out to those two
less than competent directors this week are equivalent to £14,000 each for
every one of those staff - most of whom are probably harder working and
better at their jobs than Messrs. Mooney and Duffy could ever hope to be.
Unfortunately, I've found it very hard checking these
figures tonight, as with the exception of the BBC Breakfast report I
heard, once the day started and additional news items began to emerge,
none of the other media seems to have paid it any attention at all...
presumably even the fattest of
pay awards are no longer deemed to be particularly interesting. How
The Eight Biggest Tech Flops Ever
Dutch consumer group sues over CD copy protection
Windows XP SP2 now in beta - and looks interesting, too.
What to do if
the RIAA comes calling...
New microdrive announced - small, simple, and high capacity. Hmmm...
I was shopping online for sweatshirts, today, and
discovered an interesting new gadget - "My
Virtual Model" allows you to create and customise a mannequin of
yourself and then dress it in the virtual clothes you're browsing through,
mixing and matching outfits and then rotating the result 360°
to see how it all looks. It seems quite effective, too - although my sim
doesn't really look that much like me, it's considerably more
like me than any of the buff, toned fashion models that clothes stores
usually employ to showcase their clothes, and actually the end result is
really rather useful!
Having created the mannequin, it is automatically
enabled when you enter the site of a participating clothes company -
although unfortunately the Lands' End
company I found it at seems to be the only UK retailer using the system at
present. I've seen this kind of idea before, of course, and they all
turned out to be remarkably short-lived - but I do have a gut feeling
about this one...
Elsewhere - and fortunately quite a long way elsewhere,
at that - a fascinating document
from US government nuclear laboratory
Sandia, entitled "Expert
Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste
Isolation Pilot Plant". Intended as the first attempt to develop
warning and identification systems to protect humans from Sandia's
nuclear waste dump for
periods of up to 10,000 years, part of the design is a set of wonderfully
This place is a message... and part of a system of
messages... pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us. We
considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honour... no highly
esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.
What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us.
This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is still present, in your time, as it
was in ours
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially
disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left
10,000 years is a very long time in terms of
human civilization, and the project team have had to consider a wide range
of eventualities - including the possibilities that language may have
changed to the point where any textual messages will be meaningless, and
that a technical collapse could lead to the concept of radioactivity
itself being lost! It's a fascinating
problem, and one which our society will to have to to perfect
if we want to avoid leaving a radioactive minefield for our distant
However, in the short term - if you like the
nihilistic, Generation-X tones of the warning but don't happen to have
your own nuclear waste dump to use it with,
geek mailing list NTK comes fortuitously to the rescue with
a T-shirt. Ah,
what would us geeks do without our T-shirts...?
Food for thought...
The law that entropy always increases - the
second law of
thermodynamics - holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws
of nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the
universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations, then so much the
worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by
observation, well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes.
But if your theory is found to be against the second law of
thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to
collapse in deepest humiliation.
Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944)
A new year already? But I hadn't finished with the old
By chance, I've just come across a rather elegant
panorama of London, taken from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Apparently it doesn't work too well with non-Microsoft Java virtual
machines, at present, but hopefully this will be corrected soon. The
resolution isn't great (it was taken a few years ago, when digicam
pictures weren't nearly so sharp), but if you know London the landmarks
are easy to spot and it's well worth a look.
Elsewhere - it's kinda neat that
hotfix has been released for a problem that I discovered myself, but I
would much rather that this particular issue had never arisen, as it was a
real pain in the neck! The current version of Veritas's BackupExec product
has been a complete lemon so far, actually - it's only been on the market
for around nine months, and in that time the original 9.0 required at
least twenty three individual bugfixes, while the brand new 9.1, less than
a month old, has already needed three! In spite of the media hype,
there isn't really that much more functionality compared to version 8.x,
and so unfortunately one is forced to conclude that the overall quality of
their programming has decreased somewhat... Backup is critical to a
techie's existence these days, though, and I really hope they can get
their act together in the coming year.
It's been another year of growth for Epicycle,
with the last quarter bringing over 2000 visitors per month - trivial in
comparison to the better known
weblogs, but enough to give a quiet glow of satisfaction. :-)
Most of my visitors continue to come via the Google search engine, it seems,
and the majority are in search of information about
airsoft replicas. However, a
startling number are still looking for help with the screaming fans on the
Dell PowerEdge 2650 servers, which were causing sysadmins so many headaches
(literally!) in the second
quarter of 2002. It was a real issue
at the time, but as Dell released an
updated BIOS in July of that year, and as the current releases of this
server are significantly more quiet, I'm amazed that people are still in
need of information on the problem!
As well as the chance visitors from the search engines,
though, I'm always pleased to see that my small group of hardcore readers
continues undeterred. A poke through
the stats suggests that some of you visit nearly every day, and that's
really nice to know - obviously I'm doing something right, here, as by no
means all of you are techies! Thanks, again, for your support.
As always, you can
this site at the
Tweakers Austrialia Top 50 - but although it doesn't affect my humble
ranking somewhere down in the twenties, unfortunately the stats have been
rather devalued by some blatant cheating during the previous quarter... An
online IT training company named Elite Guides has been in one of the top two
positions for the last few months, and is obviously using automation of some
kind to fake votes for themselves and get their advertising banner onto the
page - apart from the fact that they're really not the sort of organisation
that would attract over 3000 votes a month from the hardcore PC modding
community, their web site doesn't actually have the voting button anywhere
to be seen! Presumably they have created a script that enters the web page
with the correct parameters to vote for them, and at the start of each month
just run it for long enough to hit the top of the list.
This kind of behaviour is a subtle and insidious form of
spam, and completely devalues what used to be an interesting community
resource - in order to regain their usual number one slot, the previously
legitimate entry Cyberwizard Pit has obviously resorted to a similar tactic,
as I really don't believe that over 32000 votes have been cast for their
site when the previous high point was less than a tenth of that.
I've mailed the
Tweakers Australia admins to suggest that they tidy their stats, but
unfortunately they don't seem to be that interested. I'm bugged about this,
though, so to Elite Guides, who have pioneered a completely new form of
spam, I'd just like to say - are you absolutely sure that all
publicity is good publicity...?