guided tour of the exclusion zone surrounding the ill-fated Chernobyl
nuclear power plant. Elena, a young Ukrainian girl, has the unusual and
decidedly risky hobby of riding her motorcycle through the decaying
ghost towns evacuated after the
disaster in 1986, and has taken many photographs to show her travels
through this strange area. The images, together with her descriptions in
slightly broken English, are extremely poignant...
Self-cleaning carbon nanotubes - although as anyone who knows me will
testify, I wouldn't accept any other sort. Imagine having dirty nanotubes
- oh, the horror of it all!
study from Harvard and UNC reveals that music sharing has no real
affect on music sales - even high levels of file-swapping seemed to
translate into an effect on sales that was "statistically
indistinguishable from zero," says the study... although I doubt that
the RIAA will ever agree with that, as they're enjoying abusing their new
powers far too much to give up the witch hunt now.
A student project has spawned a 3D scanner that may be a significant
breakthrough in treating breast cancer - estimating the size of a tumour
more accurately will permit a more precise treatment with less risk of
overall health damage.
Another dumb marketing idea? the LidRock company is putting tiny
promotional CDs in the lids of plastic drinks cups, but seem to have
missed the point completely in that they're charging extra for the special
distinctive white headphones of Apple iPods are a magnet to muggers -
"But Apple, which has sold two million of the devices, refused to
recolour its headphones, saying its customers would prefer to be robbed
than be seen wearing something less trendy." After
the Wired expose I linked to earlier this month, I can't say I'm
Via Ros -
MTV's dancing Members of Parliament, by far the best dancing
political figures animation I've seen to date, with many options and lots
of control over the wild flailing limbs. You have to see this one...
I've been asked about Saturday's
reference to the 230Mb of security updates required for my Red Hat
Linux-based RaQ server, so for completeness here's the list. I've just
applied a further six updates that have been released since my last
patching frenzy in December 2003, and all together this represents an
increase to 95 separate patches totalling 242Mb. Just to make life
Sun web site only documents the updates back as far as October 2000,
so the forty earlier patches
their FTP server don't even have a description and were rather a case
of install and hope!
And don't forget - this is not a full-blown desktop PC,
capable of doing anything from playing games to editing digital video or
processing heavyweight statistics, but a slimmed-down appliance intended
to perform a single basic role: it's a web, FTP and email server, and
that's about it... It must also be noted that the
RaQ4 is a mature system no longer in active development, and this
means that all these updates are for vulnerabilities and exploits that
have been buried in the operating system for years - and if the six
updates released so far this year are any guide there are still plenty of
unknown weaknesses lurking in there!
They are the standard security issues that Linux
evangelists love to criticise Microsoft for, as well - buffer overflows,
cross-site scripting vulnerabilities, directory traversal vulnerabilities,
weaknesses that allow arbitrary code to be executed with root permissions,
security issues with mail readers... all of the old favourites. The
overall pattern revealed is equally familiar, too - patches that introduce
additional vulnerabilities, patches that are re-issued two weeks later
because they didn't work the first time, patches that are withdrawn
because they break other system components... all the flaws that the
anti-Windows lobby is so venomously vocal about.
So, don't let anyone tell you that a Linux operating
system is inherently more secure than a Windows one - the facts
really do speak for themselves, and list above rather gives the game away.
To quote Three Dead Trolls,
every OS sucks... But apparently some of them have a fan club that
lies like a rug.
The Register discussing the problems facing modem users who need to
patch their operating systems with security updates. Apparently a fresh
install of Windows 2000 (although why would anyone choose this OS unless
they needed to avoid Windows XP's Product Activation licensing process, I
wonder?) needs over 100Mb of downloads from the Windows Update service
before it can be thought of as relatively
secure, and for non-broadband users this is just too awkward to
contemplate. As if this wasn't bad enough, though, the author reveals that
his favourite Libranet Linux distribution actually requires 550Mb
of updates after installation, over five times as much! Given that I've
already applied over 230Mb of patches
to my Linux-based RaQ server appliance, a far simpler affair than a
full-blown desktop operating system, I'm not at all surprised to hear
startling claims by a previously unknown company that their
ChatNannies software is capable of detecting the semi-mythical
"paedophile grooming" behaviour on the Internet. The programmer,
Jim Wightman, is standing by his
claims that he has developed the "most technologically advanced AI
construct ever conceived and built", and has offered to set up test
sessions with researchers to prove that his software can pass for a real
human in chat room situations. Like many of the other commentators,
though, I am extremely sceptical of such a huge technological leap -
especially given that he claims a single server can support 25,000 chat
sessions simultaneously! I shall believe that when I see it...
Elsewhere, pressure group Mothers Against Guns
appear to be sinking to new depths. Their
latest publicity drive
contains some wonderfully misguided sound bites, including the following
"Replica guns can be even worse than real ones as
bullets can shatter on impact causing multiple injuries"
"Criminals are converting replica guns to take
live ammunition. They then become weapons of mass destruction"
Weapons of mass destruction? Really?
Their latest promotional video would be a hoot, too, if
their whole campaign wasn't so scarily offensive and devoid from reality.
The film, "Toys That Kill", shows children playing with replica
guns - which [Dramatic Chord] turn out to be real! Well, I mean -
exactly how often does that happen? Even the most rabid amongst the
police force don't seem to think that particular issue is a problem.
I recognise that the founder and mainstay of the group
has lost her own child to a shooting incident, and so can be forgiven for
any subsequent deranged foaming at the mouth, but just like their partners
in lies the Gun Control Network, to anyone with any knowledge of
firearms their claims are easily identified as 100% bullshit. I have no
basic objection to campaigners and pressure groups, even when they are
opposing my own interests, but I have zero tolerance for organisations
that can't support their cause with a foundation of truth and factual
information. "Weapons of mass destruction", indeed...
Just to be bloody-minded, therefore, here's a picture
of my newly revamped
SV Infinity Xcelerator Hybrid replica - I've added an aluminium slide
from Shooters Design, a ported steel outer barrel, steel chamber
and aluminium bolt from Guarder, and a stronger recoil spring. I
have a little more work to do bedding the components in, but it's already
shooting well and the action cycles at least twice as fast even on the
low-powered HFC134a gas. I'd expected the installation process to be
awkward, but although it was not without its brow-furrowing moments, on
the whole everything went very smoothly indeed - and the feel and heft of
the replica is dramatically and pleasingly changed. MAG would
definitely not approve... :-)
So, I've just realised that this month is the
10th anniversary of spam - early in March 1994 the US law firm Canter
and Siegel sent
a message to many unrelated Usenet newsgroups advertising their
services in connection to the Green Card employment lottery. Although this
seems thoroughly trivial by today's standards, I can clearly remember the
shock and outrage that resulted at the time - we were simply amazed
that anyone would breach the protocols of Internet use like that, and it
seemed certain that the net.gods would reach down from the server rooms of
Mt. Olympus and intervene somehow to ensure that it could never happen
again. Ah, if only...
Meanwhile, ten years later, a small group of moronic
adolescents are close to bringing the global email network to its knees.
The continuing war between the authors of the
Netsky, MyDoom and Bagel
worms produces a new variant every couple of days, and although the
email gateway on my office network is just about keeping up with the
latest threats it is close to being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of
incoming mail (so far this month we've blocked 6000+ spam messages and
8000+ virus messages) and with a new virus definitions file to install
three or four times a week the anti-virus defences on the less well
connected client PCs are falling further and further behind.
To make matters worse, this last week seems to have
brought a significant increase in the general levels of spam email - I'm
seeing far more junk mail both at home and at the office, and
friends and colleagues report the same symptoms so it appears to be
universal. My gut feeling is that, following
brought by major Internet companies in the US last week, the major
spammers are targeting non-American domains in the knowledge that they're
currently safe from prosecution. All in all, it's a real worry for working
techies and end-users alike... :-(
a history of Graphical User Interfaces, and although it has some way to go
before it is complete (What? No GEM?) it's still an entertaining walk down
Call for Congressional hearing on RFID - and not before time, too, as
far as I'm concerned. I would welcome a similar enquiry in this country,
but previous experience suggests that, just like the proliferation of
urban CCTV cameras, over here the technology will be mostly ignored until
it is far too late.
"Naturally, the common people don't want war;
neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in
Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of
the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to
drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist
dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. Voice or no
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,
and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger. It works the same in any country."
VIA's new nano-ITX motherboard - at 12cm square, it's a touch smaller
than a CD, but still manages to include a PCI slot, integrated AGP
graphics with TV-out, IDE and SATA interfaces, Ethernet, audio, USB, you
name it... Impressive stuff! The original article is in German, but it can
seen in translation here.
Miniguns - a site devoted to the ultra-firepower Gatling-type machine
guns in all their varieties - real ones, airsoft replicas, Hollywood movie
props, the works.
Check out the video of the
PPP airsoft monster
slowly destroying a large-screen television with 3000 high-velocity steel
New "Witty" worm
exploits a vulnerability in the BlackIce software firewall. Smug behind a
significantly less vulnerable hardware firewall appliance, I hate to say
"I told you so", but... :-)
Wired exposes the lengths to which New York's hip young things will go
to get their hands on an iPod... Whatever you think of Apple as a company,
nobody can deny the power of the bizarre cult following that has grown up
around their products.
Apparently, over the last few months AOL has been
blocking access to web sites
used by known spammers, preventing unwitting recipients from following
up on the spam links and so confirming their addresses. Some analysts are
dubious, but AOL claims
a significant reduction in the amount of spam entering their network
since they instituted this policy - although of course this will have a
considerable impact on users who actually want to buy prescription
medicines online, clean their credit rating, or sign up for sex sites!
And, talking of AOL, an interesting follow-up to the
articles about their financial doldrums has emerged with the news that
Microsoft may be considering
buying the company.
Considering that the anti-Microsoft witch hunt was originally started by
AOL's allegations of monopolistic behaviour in the Netscape vs. Internet
Explorer war, that would be irony indeed!
So I read yesterday that the 2004 US presidential race
is going to involve a total of
almost half a billion dollars in campaign funding, and I'm horrified
by this... Whilst I would gladly contribute myself if it would help get
Dubya and the Republicans out of power, and I realise that in the face of
the GOP's vast campaign funding Democrat candidate John Kerry has little
choice but to try to match it - but, well, it's half a billion dollars.
Half a billion dollars! Sheesh!
Although it's obvious that some of the money, and
probably the majority of the smaller contributions, is given in the
genuine (if perhaps misguided) hope that a particular president will be
good for America and for the American people, it is just as obvious that
the larger contributions from corporations and lobbying groups are made in
the hope that a particular candidate will be good for the corporations and
groups themselves - and in the full expectation that they will
receive an equal or greater amount back in concessions, benefits and
contracts if their favoured candidate wins the presidency.
The idea that "What's
good for GM is good for America" is long obsolete, if indeed it
was ever true, and these days big business is driven almost
universally by the lure of short-term profits for the shareholders and
directors - and when these shareholders and directors authorise the
donation of significant sums of money
to a political campaign, you can bet that they're not doing it out of any
sense of what is right, but instead what is profitable.
Now, I do realise that the purpose of a business is to
make a profit, and there's nothing wrong with that in itself - but too
many of the multinationals now seem determined to make their profits
whatever the cost to lives, communities and society, and these days the
ease with which they are capable of
is just plain scary.
It is traditional that a Republican presidency is
biased towards big business and against the rights of the individual, and
for this reason (among many others!) I'd really like to see Kerry kick
Dubya out of the White House for good - so I have to grit my teeth over
the fact that he is intending to essentially throw away $180 million,
which would be far better spent elsewhere, in the attempt. I wish him
luck, and I really hope he wins - but I still don't have to like it.
The Russian space program is to be revitalised with a
replacement for the aging Soyuz system - if government funding permits,
the new spacecraft, Clipper, will have a six man crew, be reusable for
up to twenty five launches, and have a launch weight twice that of its
predecessor. The Russian space engineering group,
Energia, are also reported to
be working on designs for a huge 600 ton vehicle for a manned Mars mission
- although it seems unlikely that funding will be available for this at
On a rather smaller scale, the SpaceShipOne private
space plane has successfully completed a manned but unpowered test flight,
the sixth flight overall in the test series and with a second powered
flight expected soon. Designed and built by Burt Rutan's
Scaled Composites company, and funded
by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, SpaceShipOne is a strong competitor
for the $10 million X Prize for the
first privately-built reusable space vehicle.
Closer to home,
Intel are about to abandon any measurements of performance in the
names of their CPUs, instead referring to the various flavours of Pentium
4 as the 300, 500 and 700 series. I can't help but think that this has
been brought about by AMD's misleading "equivalent clock speed" branding,
where their 1.9GHz chip, for example, is named "2600" because it is
allegedly equal in performance to an Intel CPU running at that speed.
Intel have always been really ticked off about this, I gather, and the new
naming will remove in a stroke AMD's ability to make this kind of
GPS navigation based around the Palm Tungsten T3 PDA - I've been
pleased with our
Navman iCN 630, but this is certainly an elegant solution at a
fraction of the cost. TomTom's new
self-contained Go unit looks leant too, and is obviously aimed
directly at the Navman and Garmin products. I'm going to need to buy
another GPS solution soon, and right now it's a tough choice indeed!
The latest of Home Secretary David Blunkett's
manoeuvres - charging victims of miscarriages of justice £3000 per
year for "food and lodgings" while in prison... If this was April 1st, I'd
have written it off as a joke, if a sick one, but in the middle of March
unfortunately it seems to be true.
Rodent inside? Half hamster cage, half PC - and some people have
wholly too much time on their hands.
I do love tape backup, and I'm not ashamed to
I know that in these days of removable disks and
writeable DVDs, traditional tape has become rather unfashionable, and I'm
perfectly willing to admit that in another few years it may no longer be
the best bet for most backup applications - but right now the flexibility
and sheer bulk of a good multi-slot tape library simply can't be
So I bought myself another one.
Hard on the heels of last
month's DLT 7000 library for the server comes this extremely slick
VXA-1 AutoPak. With a pair of 33/66Gb VXA-1 tape drives and a fifteen
slot robotic autoloader complete with barcode scanner, it offers half a
terabyte of native capacity and up to a terabyte with the mostly
hypothetical 2:1 compression. [FX: Homer Simpson] Mmmmm,
The library comes complete with a high-speed LVD Ultra
SCSI interface, so to match it I've filled the last free slot in my PC
29160 host adaptor. With 80Mbit/sec bandwidth across the SCSI bus and
a 100MHz 64bit PCI-X connection on the motherboard, I should be able to
read and write at maximum speed to both drives simultaneously - and
although I can't for the life of me imagine why I'd want to do that, it's
nice knowing that I could! : -)
I spotted the library
on eBay, and was lucky enough to get it for the reserve price of £200,
an absolute steal - especially as it came with a SCSI cable and twenty VXA
tapes, which are worth rather more than £200 on their own! Buying this
sort of hardware second hand is always something of a gamble, but I was
confident that I could repair or rebuild it if required and in the event
it seems to be working perfectly - although I had a nasty moment until I
details of a
registry tweak that has to be applied before BackupExec will address
the loader mechanism correctly. Oh, and the
documented settings for the emulation mode switch are incorrect, too -
when set to the default of 0, rather than announcing itself as a "Spectra
215" as claimed, it actually returns an ID string of "Ecrix AutoPak"
- which is unrecognised by Backup Exec. Switching the mode setting to 3
corrects this, but it took a thoroughly frustrating time of installing and
removing device drivers before I thought to try ignoring the manual
completely and checking the ID string myself... Tsk!
Best of all, though, it has a black case with a smoked
Perspex front panel, and matches my PC perfectly. Happiness is a techy
with a new toy... :-)
U.S. privacy protection programs killed - with government surveillance
technology advancing in leaps and bounds, the lack of any kind of privacy
legislation to curb the excesses is really, really bad...
Kodak's new 3D gaming display - although I always find these press
releases very frustrating as, for obvious reasons, they can't show us any
Welcome to the Mexican PC modding scene - where if you can't think of
anything neat to do with your computer, you take an old hard disk out into
a suburban back yard and shoot it with a silenced 9mm pistol. Sheesh!
What a day! A few more random links, then, in lieu of
dollar challenge for robotic vehicles proves
daunting... In spite of grand boasts and high hopes, none of the
contestants managed more than seven miles of the 142 mile course - and
most failed to go more than a few hundred yards. Never mind - try again
NetSky versions - probably not from the original author, but as the
source code seems
to be in the wild by now there's no shortage of dumb-ass wannabe
imitators. Well, one of them is bound to run up against Microsoft's bounty
sooner or later...
BT's DSL lines may incorporate
bandwidth on demand facilities - in spite of their near-monopoly, for
some incomprehensible reason BT's broadband division is still running at a
loss, and is desperate to attract custom with new bolt-on extras.
And, finally, from the "don't try this at home"
collection - protect your data from annoying government and police
mounting solid rocket motors on your hard disk drives. When The Man
comes knocking at your door, just press the button, and woooooosh!
My parcel of oddments from US airsoft supplier
RAP4 arrived yesterday, and with one
exception I'm very pleased with it all. The exception is the CO2
station", a pipe and valve assembly used for filling the little gun
tanks from my big gas bottle, and unfortunately it doesn't fit!
has revealed the annoying fact that the outlets on American and European
gas bottles have a subtly different screw thread, and although the
difference is only a measly .035", when you're dealing with high-pressure
gas a miss is definitely as good as a mile! I'm not sure what I'm
going to do about this as yet - it may be possible to obtain the correct
fitting and substitute, or I may have to bite the bullet and buy another
one from a UK supplier. <mutters> I'd assumed that in these days of ISO
standards something like a gas valve would be universal, but it just goes
However, the other acquisitions have been rather more
successful. A Mosquito Molds
RIS unit and an
style flash-hider have transformed the look of the front end, and a
solid SR-16 style stock will provide some cosmetic variation to the rear.
The RIS unit fitted relatively well in place of the existing handguard,
with only a tiny amount of filing necessary to slim down one edge of the
frame enough to slip under the delta ring. Rather to my surprise, it feels
extremely solid and stable in use, and I do very much prefer the modern
Meanwhile, although my own dealings with Area51 Airsoft
are finally drawing to a close, it's quite obvious that they're still
having problems with other unhappy customers. A couple of days ago a
rather irate posting complaining of long delays and broken promises
appeared in their
forum at Arnie's Airsoft, and although it was deleted within a
few hours, as I write this there is still
more restrained version on the UK Airsoft Network forum as
well. I do wonder how much longer it will stay there, though - the A51
forum at Arnie's is now completely locked, and it's rarely a good sign
when a company prefers censorship to openness in its relationship with
unhappy customers. With Dee Sheldrake writing as if his involvement with
the company has ended, and a bunch of unfamiliar names posting on the
company's own front page,
obviously some extensive changes are under way. Hopefully they will be
changes for the better.
an article appeared
at tech news site The Enquirer,
offering a recipe for gaining additional storage space on a hard disk by
manipulating the partitions in a rather unorthodox procedure involving the
Symantec Ghost imaging software. The article claims that the available
storage space can often be doubled, at least, bringing to mind the old
DriveSpace and Stacker utilities of yesteryear...
Various unlikely explanations have been offered, and some which are
just plain wrong, but as several of the more informed contributors
suggest it seems likely that the procedure simply creates two or more
overlapping partitions. This could certainly appear to
significantly increase the available space, but would have disastrous
effects on the data held on all the partitions sooner rather than later...
I won't be trying it here, believe me!
Now, what would be interesting, and what I
originally thought might have happened, would be to find a way of enabling
the sections of a drive that have been artificially locked away. Last year
a number of models came onto the market that had been "short stroked",
with a portion of the surface effectively disabled to reduce the capacity
to a particular marketing point. In the same way that CPUs are often
capable of one clock speed but sold at a lower one, these drives were
artificially reduced from, say, 200Gb to 160Gb. The additional disk
surface was still present, however, and given this it might conceivably be
possible to overcome the limitation and re-enable the full surface area of
the drive. I have no idea if this will ever be possible, but it certainly
sounds like a far more plausible idea than that raised by The Enquirer!
In a move that many think should have happened long
ago, a group of major American ISPs have announced that they are
filing lawsuits against six of the most prolific sources of spam
email. The providers, Microsoft, America Online, EarthLink and Yahoo, will
use the provisions of the CAN-Spam act to "find, track, sue and put
spammers out of business." Randy Bowe, general counsel of America
Online, says "This is not a great day for spammers; we are putting you
on notice that we will sift through the bogus identities, the compromised
servers, the hijacked accounts, and we will find you and we will sue you.
This is only the beginning". Strong words indeed...
marvellously retro PC case, styled after the robots from vintage SF
movies... The article isn't in English (I'm not sure what language it
is in, to be honest!) but you can certainly get the gist from the
A review of the
Sapphire AIW 9800 Pro graphics card I use in my PC, dubbed "The
Beast"... The article confirms what I already knew, that its very, very
fast indeed - although to my lasting shame it still isn't quick
enough to run
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 at anything like the maximum levels of
detail. <mutters under breath> Thanks, Mike...
Even after twenty years in the IT industry the
incredible butt-headedness of computer users still manages to amaze me. We
don't have our
wake-on-LAN facility up and running as yet, so to allow SMS to send
out upgrades to Office 2003 yesterday evening we asked the users to leave
their PCs switched on rather than shutting them down when they left for
Now, when I say "asked", I actually mean that over the
last three weeks I sent out a succession of emails explaining what was
going to happen, and what they would have to do; I posted full schedules
and instructions on our company intranet, and called everyone's attention
to it every week; I briefed the team leaders and had them walking back and
forth through the department for several hours yesterday evening before
the upgrades were due to start; and finally sent out a pop-up message to
everyone who was still logged in just before I left myself - in short, I
held their helpless little hands in every way I could possibly imagine...
...And in spite of all that, out of eighty-something in
the department in question, fifteen didn't seem able to follow this simple
request and switched off their computers when they left! Would any court
in the land convict if I slaughtered them all in cold blood and left their
mutilated bodies hanging in the car park as a lesson to the others?
I'm sitting here chewing my fingernails tonight, as at
work my SMS server is
busy handing out the first unattended installations of
In the course of the next month we'll be upgrading the entire company,
department by department, and SMS is a key part of this process - all
previous installations have been performed by the desktop support team
personally visiting each computer with a CD, and this is our first use of
a fully-automated delivery mechanism. SMS 2003 is a very new system, and
the journey to this point has not been
as smooth as I would have liked in places, but it looks like we've
worked the final bugs out of the system just in time... I've just
connected to the server to check the status of the package deployment and,
as I write this, a mere quarter of an hour after the advertisement went
live across the network 39 PCs out of a total of 74 have already
successfully completed the upgrade. So far, so good - and only another six
hundred to go!
It's been a nervous process, though, and so today I was
quite glad to have had the delivery of a giant battery for our
UPS system to distract me. About the size of two large filing cabinets
and weighing almost 1000Kg, this will take our run-time in the event of a
mains failure to about an hour, which is not bad considering that the
computer room currently holds at least thirty servers as well as all the
associated switches, routers, appliances, etc etc. The delivery guys were
less than impressed to find that the cabinet had been mounted onto its
palette in such a way that it needed a forklift to lift it off vertically,
though, as all they had were a pair of pump trucks and several crowbars...
But watching them working around this limitation was an extremely
entertaining way of spending the last hour of the afternoon, and it's now
safely installed in our UPS room waiting for the electricians to finish
wiring it in tomorrow.
One hidden screw later, and voila! The
short-range holo sight is rather incongruous on a sniper-style weapon, of
course, but the overall look is quite appealing nevertheless. The silver
barrel and flash-hider has grown on me somewhat since yesterday, but I'm
still not convinced about the high-gloss finish on the handguard - the
real Alexander Arms weapon has
a matt, Parkerized look which is far more appealing. Swapping between the
M4 and Overwatch barrels is a bit of a chore at present, as the M4 front
end needs to be disassembled completely to provide a locking piece and
screws required to mount the Overwatch barrel. Area51 have promised
additional parts next week, though, and (assuming they ever arrive!)
exchanging one for the other should then be only a few minutes work.
Microsoft MVPs treated to sneak preview of Office 12 - something I
find a touch unsettling, as tomorrow we start the scheduled roll-out of
Office 11, and hearing that it's almost obsolete already is not calculated
to settle a techie's frazzled nerves. I wouldn't mind being one of those
MVPs, though, and I'm currently wondering if I can capitalise on my
contributions to the Exchange and SMS beta programmes last year... Hmmm.
Local sheriff's department web site operator charged with extortion -
having supplied his services and skills without charge for around three
years, the site's designer, a former reserve deputy, started negotiations
with the police authorities for some kind of income for his work. However,
when the negotiations broke down, he disabled the highly regarded site to
avoid incurring even greater expenses - and was promptly arrested on
charges that could bring up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That
seems extremely harsh, to me, as matters of this kind are normally treated
as civil disputes rather than criminal acts - but evidently the sheriff's
department felt sufficiently aggrieved to throw their weight around.
slithers away from allegations of funding SCO's anti-Linux crusade -
the recent claims that MS has bankrolled SCO to the tune of $100 million
seem to have been a combination of poor arithmetic, excessive paranoia,
and an extreme willingness to believe anything about the company as long
as it's bad... It's true that Microsoft have funded SCO to one
degree or another, but the figures presented by committed Microsoft-hater
Eric Raymond seem to have been significantly exaggerated, and as the
leaked email shows that the company has declined a proposed deal that
would have funded SCO for at least a year, it's clear that they're not the
puppet masters that the open source community would like to think they
So, for what must be the first time in my dealings with
them, Area51 actually made good on a promised delivery date and shipped
the remainder of my order - a mere twenty weeks after I paid for it! I've
completely given up on the various freebies I was promised, though, as at
this stage just getting the items I actually paid for seems like a major
victory. What a saga!
What they've sent is the new version of their
Bushmaster-style front end in 11mm calibre, shown here offered up to the
standard M4 (check out that sexy
sight!) to demonstrate the admittedly impressive sniper look. The
styling is modelled on the
Alexander Arms "Overwatch"
cal Beowulf long-range rifle, and it certainly is distinctive. I have
to admit that I'm not as fond of it as the all-black version that was
originally offered, and the handguard is now in a shiny gloss finish
rather than the original textured surface, but by now I'm resigned to
taking what I can get...
It's not immediately clear how to install the
replacement barrel at this stage, but I'll work on it when I have the time
and energy - as always, watch this space. [Update: Oooh, a hidden screw in
the bipod mounting hole - how clever!]
The flash hider is rather slick, I have to admit
- but silver? Hmmm... I'm really not convinced, as yet, but I guess it can
be sprayed if it continues to bug me. The 11mm version fires solid, hard
rubber balls (from rather elegant copper coloured shell cases) rather than
traditional airsoft BBs, and it will be interesting to see what sort of
mess they make of my target box! With luck they'll be reusable if trapped
safely in something soft, though, as they won't be nearly as easy to
source without going back to Area51 - something I am rather keen to avoid
if at all possible.
web patent nullified - Yay! The US Patent Office has cancelled the
controversial "embedding" patent that netted Microsoft a $521 million fine
last year. Eolas has 60 days to appeal -and then, presumably, they'll have
to give all the money back. Hah!
ISP sues Bob Vila home improvement site for spam - the suit claims
that spam mail was sent with forged headers and without a valid physical
address, directed to randomly generated and harvested addresses, and even
to addresses that had been submitted through the "opt-out" links of other
spam messages. Let's see if CAN-SPAM actually has any teeth, then!
operative caught by phone SIM - there has already been some discussion
that the so-called "anonymous" pay-as-you-go SIMs issued by European
provider Swisscom might have been used by terrorists, but
money seemed to think that any modern, clued-up fundamentalist would
have recognised them for the obvious CIA-magnet that they are... This
seems not to have been the case, however, as it turns out that a number of
Al Qaeda leaders bought them in bulk under the misapprehension that they
somehow anonymised their phones: "They'd switch phones but use the same
cards. The people were stupid enough to use the same cards all of the
time. It was a very good thing for us."
Memo to Area51 Airsoft:
When you have an irate customer on your hands, arguing with him is not
a tactic that is profitable to adopt - especially when said customer has a
weblog, and isn't afraid to use it. They claim to have sent a package out
today, though, so hopefully I won't have to...
fascinating remote control application, allowing you to
drive a Mac
from a Bluetooth-enabled phone or PDA... And smart enough to use the
proximity awareness of Bluetooth to, for example, increase the volume of
music playback when you leave the room the Mac is in! The author has no
particular plans for a Windows version, but I expect we'll see one from
somebody else soon enough.
Worldwide levels of
women are terrifyingly high, says Amnesty International: "In the
United States, a woman was beaten by her husband or partner on average
every 15 seconds, and one was raped every 90 seconds". It's saddening,
and sickening, and it's happening right here, right now...
In a speech today, Tony Blair referred to "terrorists prepared to
bring about Armageddon" - but it seems to me that, actually, the only
organisations able to cause a literal, end of the world Armageddon are the
governments of the Western nuclear powers... Blair is long on emotive
words, it seems, but still appears to be very short on facts, truth and
On a lighter note - a resolution to
save the Hubble Space Telescope has been brought before the US House
Of Representatives. Nobody can deny that Hubble achieved a significant
quantity of serious scientific research, but I have to say that the
unprecedented levels of public interest and support are probably due more
to all the
pretty pictures it returned...
And talking of lawsuits, the bizarre behaviour of SCO,
the UNIX vendor everybody loves to hate, continues unabated. Making good
on their recent threats to sue a major Linux end user, they have just
pair of lawsuits targeting automotive industry giant DaimlerChrysler
and car parts manufacturer AutoZone. Meanwhile, closer to home, they have
ordered to produce hard evidence of their case within forty five days
- something which, according to experts, may actually be next to
impossible. This bizarre legal dispute has just been made even more
fascinating, though, with the news that Microsoft may be
financially to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars. Is the
leaked email genuine? At this stage, who the hell knows! [Update: It
Elsewhere, fourteen year old hacker wannabes are
trading insults with each other in their nuisance virus code, as the
NetSky vs. MyDoom war
escalates. I just wish they'd learn to spell...
Cannibalising an MP3 player for its hard disk - Hitachi's 4gb
microdrive costs around $500 when bought for a digital camera, but the
Creative MuVo2, which incorporates just such a microdrive, is available
for only $200. Guess what people are doing now...
Colonel Kurtz - "And are my methods unsound?"
Captain Willard - "I don't see... any method... at all."
I've just been watched all 3¼ hours of Francis Ford
Coppola's "Apocalypse Now Redux", and it truly is a remarkable film. Even
more remarkable, though, is the life of the CIA operative who inspired
Brando's character of Colonel Kurtz. Antony Poshepny,
Colonel Tony Poe, was a CIA station chief in Laos, and operating
almost completely independently he
recruited an army
of between 10,000 and 30,000 back-country tribesmen to fight a secret war
against the communists, married a Laotian
princess before disappearing into the jungle for many years, collected
pickled heads and offered a bounty of $1 for every severed enemy ear...
Once again, truth really is
stranger than fiction.
I've finally given up on
Area51 Airsoft, the supplier
of my shell-ejecting M4 replica... After almost five months of broken
promises, missed delivery dates, evasions, excuses and even a handful of
just downright lies, I've had enough, and I've finally admitted to myself
that the chance of getting everything I'd originally ordered, let alone
the additional items they promised, is minimal. Each time they've let me
down they've offered some new freebie - additional front ends, large-bore
barrels, CO2 tanks, extra shell cases, you name
it... but just like some of the hardware I originally ordered and paid
for, none of the freebies have ever actually arrived!
In summary - the gun itself is basically functional in
the form supplied. The modification to convert it from .43 calibre
paintballs to 6mm BBs seem to have been carried out competently, and I
have no major complaints in that area. There is a nasty design quirk where
an almost empty gas tank can cause a delay of several seconds between
pulling the trigger and firing the final round, but disconcerting and
worrying though this is I suspect it to be a problem with the gas
mechanism itself and nothing to do with Area51's modifications. I'm a also
a touch concerned about the overall longevity of the gas tanks, as I've
already experienced two failures in the seals even during very limited
use, and these are obviously a weak area.
On top of these issues, though, everything else about
Area51's overall package is less than satisfactory and shows clear signs
of being pre-production prototypes rushed to market with grossly
inadequate design and testing. Firstly, the CO2
charge/cooling rig, even after several redesigns, is at present a
thoroughly unworkable device - both models supplied to date leak like
sieves, fall apart at the drop of a hat, and seize solid with depressing
regularity. However, in spite of this I finally evolved a technique of
filling the gun tanks that worked most of the time (if with much wasted
gas and chilled fingers!) and I could have coped in the short term -
except that I was asked to send both units back to Area51 almost a
fortnight ago to exchange for a 3rd generation unit which, of course,
still hasn't arrived in spite of promises of being sent out "tomorrow"!
Secondly, the shell cases themselves, heavily modified
from the original paintball cases with the addition of a soft, rubbery
plastic sleeve to reduce the calibre to 6mm. Unfortunately they are wildly
inconsistent in manufacture, and seem to showcase Area51's quality control
shortcomings in the worst way. A significant number of them failed right
out of the box, as the plastic insert protruded several millimetres
outside the aluminium case and so jammed solid in the gun when chambered.
More worryingly, an increasing number are starting to exhibit this problem
after only light use, as the insert creeps forward inside the case - and
this is even more serious, because as well as tending to jam, when this
happens they also become too loose to retain the BB while in the chamber,
and it tends to roll out of the barrel when the muzzle of the gun is
Now, although these are extremely irritating factors
given the timescale involved, and have lead to me only being able to use
the replica for around three weeks in the five months since I paid, it is
after all only a toy gun and I've been reluctant to let the matter get out
of proportion. However, what really annoys me is the way that Area51 has
treated me and, from what I read, a significant number of other customers.
We have been made to wait many months for deliveries promised in days or
weeks, given Parcelforce tracking numbers that don't exist, told that
packages have been sent on particular dates when they clearly haven't,
offered additional items which never arrive presumably just to shut us up
temporarily, have had the forums which were the only source of information
and feedback sneakily closed down on us, told to our faces (as it were!)
that we were less important than the big government contracts that are
apparently the company's bread and butter, and generally screwed over and
messed around from start to finish!
It's an old and familiar story, I'm afraid - a small
company dealing in a specialised market becomes unexpectedly successful,
outgrows its own ability to cope with demand, and subsequently abandons
the very customers who made it successful in the first place in favour of
the quick buck... Experience has shown that the quick buck is often
surprisingly ephemeral, though, and a company that has alienated all its
original customers may find itself in serious difficulty when the big
contracts suddenly move elsewhere.
So, enough is enough, at least where I'm concerned.
Although the original manufacturer of the replicas,
Asia Paintball, supply
some accessories for the unmodified paintball markers, I found a US
company called Real Action Paintball
with a far more extensive range. They seem to be well thought of in the
paintball market, and I've just ordered a number of the things that were
promised by Area51 but never delivered, including a charge/cooler rig of a
standard design that has proved its worth for many years in paintball. I'm
going to take something of a financial hit on the whole deal, of course,
and it's a shame to miss out on the large-bore barrels that Area51 have
promised, but a bird in the hand is worth any number in an imaginary bush
and I'm so frustrated with it all that I'm more than call it quits.
I've exchanged more than ninety email messages with
Area51 over the last five months, trying to get it all sorted out, and I
still don't have everything that I ordered and paid for - let alone have
it all working satisfactorily! Here's a timeline of the whole, sorry
affair, which I'll keep updated to the bitter end:
A51 announces launch of shell-ejecting range
Paid for the gun, an additional front end, and
a compressed air charging rig
Told that the air charger was being withdrawn,
and replaced by a CO2 system
Told that the gun would ship - it didn't...
After advice from A51, obtained CO2
tank from BOC
Informed that my gun will have added extras as
a bonus - this is not the case
After some background reading, determined that
I had the wrong sort of CO2 tank
Acquired replacement CO2
tank from BOC
Promised instructions on how to fill the CO2
gun tanks - still waiting...
Promised additional Bushmaster-type front end
as a bonus - still waiting
Told that the gun had shipped - it
hadn't, and the tracking number was invalid
Told again that the gun would ship - and again
A51 announce that they will no longer supply
direct to the public
Told yet again that the gun had shipped
Gun finally arrives on its own, without front
end, shell cases or gas charge/cooler
Told that shells and charge/cooler had been
sent out - they hadn't
A51 forum at Arnie's Airsoft locked "for four
days over christmas"
A51 forum at Arnie's Airsoft completely
locked, apparently permanently...
Promised CO2 caplet
adapter as a bonus - still waiting...
Gas charge/cooler finally arrives - and fails
immediately in use
Replacement charge/cooler arrives - and also
fails immediately in use
Promised additional 11mm barrels as a bonus -
Most recent order status update on A51's
Shell cases finally arrive - and a number of
them fail immediately in use
From this point I can
actually use the gun for the first time!
Promised 3rd generation charge/cooler - still
Returned both faulty charge/coolers, together
with faulty shells and gas tank
Until now, when it's back to
being a paperweight once more!
A51 announce their intention to supply direct
to the public again
A51 announce that the shell-ejecting Glock
pistol range will be withdrawn
A51 remove references to authorised dealers
from their web page
I finally run out of patience...
Email sent to A51 telling them what I think of
them, and putting my foot down
They reply with more promises, and claims that
my problems are unique among over 31,000 guns supplied... Needless to say,
I don't believe that for a moment!
I've given them until the middle of next week
to deliver what I am owed, but I'm getting more annoyed with every email
message exchanged. Let's see what happens...
The additional front end arrives - more that
twenty weeks after I ordered and paid for it. I've completely given up
hope on the many freebies I was offered, as by this time just getting the
items I'd actually paid for feels like a major achievement!
In the vain hope that buying from the company
via an eBay auction might somehow bring better results, I tried to obtain
an extra barrel... Full details here.
One final note - it might interest the manager of
Area51, DeeDee Sheldrake, that
a search for their company name at Google currently shows my
complaints here as the fourth and fifth hits on the first page - and
this posting will probably move that even higher when Google catches up.
In these days of weblogs and widespread web connectivity, even a single
disgruntled customer is enough to make a major difference to your
I've seen portable DVD players before without paying
them much attention, but I spotted this neat little gadget today and it
really caught my eye. Branded as both the Coby TFTDVD-7700 and the
NextBase SDV17-A, it comprises a 7" diagonal TFT 16:9 wide screen display,
backed by a slim-line DVD drive (also capable of reading disks in all the
other major formats, including audio CD, Video and SuperVideo CD, MP3, WMA,
and JPG and Kodak PhotoCD format images). It runs from a mains adapter, a
car cigarette lighter socket, or a clip-on Li-Ion battery pack available
separately, and has a small selection of input and output sockets to
connect to other hardware. Not bad at all, on paper!
What makes it especially appealing right now, though,
is the price - although it's widely available at around £300 or more, UK
electronic components warehouse CPC is currently offering the
Coby branded model at £231, plus an additional
£20 for the battery pack. My gut feeling is that the model is at the
end of its lifespan, hence the reductions, and at that price I'd say it's
quite a bargain - provided, of course, that it lives up to its paper
This may be where the problem lies, however, as
although two of the more comprehensive reviews are really rather
favourable about the unit, both are posted on sites that are actually
selling the product themselves - and so must be taken with a considerable
pinch of salt. Some of the user written reviews are considerably less
impressive, and raise serious concerns with the unit's overall
reliability... several of them seem to have died after only a few hours of
use, which is far from ideal, especially if it really is an end-of-line
I'm tempted, I have to admit, but I'm a touch too
concerned about the reliability issue, and as I can't remember the last
time I wanted to watch a DVD while travelling I think I'll save my money
this time... Get the full skinny here, though, and make up your own mind:
there are editorial and user reviews at
Portable DVD Player, user reviews at
a couple of
Amazon eShops and
Global Online and, finally, an extensive and unbiased review at
Gadgeteer, complete with some
Meanwhile... Not quite such a record-breaking month as
January (all the techies are hard at work again after the go-slow at the
start of the year, I guess, and so don't have time for recreational
browsing!) but as I topped three thousand visitors I'm quite content. I
never expected to attract even this relatively low level of
attention, and it still surprises me a little. :-)
This is normally the spot where I would exhort everyone
to vote for Epicycle at the Tweakers
Australia Top 50 list, but having just checked that domain now
forwards straight to the discussion forums, with no sign of the main web
site itself at all! I'm not sure what has happened there... Still, at
I'm not alone in my annoyance at the crude
spamming tactics employed by Elite Guides to keep themselves at the
top of the list over the last six months. I didn't get any meaningful
response from the site admins when I raised the issue, and I have to admit
that surprised and bugged me rather - if I was running that sort of list,
I would be incensed if somebody hacked it, and would take the
strongest possible measures to prevent it happening again! Ho hum.