For various embarrassing reasons I found myself in need
of a Windows 98 Startup Disk today, and as a lot of my computing archive
is in storage at the moment waiting on a house move, at first everything
seemed stalled. However, a quick search of the web turned up
DrD's Windows 95 Page,
which has an extremely comprehensive selection of
disk images for boot
floppies and setup disks for all flavours of Windows, together with handy
compilations of command line repair utilities. An invaluable resource for
working on legacy PCs...
Something else I came across on the web is
a fan page for that most
eccentric and unusual of musicians, The Momus. He also has
a home page of his own, it seems
LiveJournal), and between them the pair seem to offer as much
information as one could possibly want, need or understand. Approach with
a degree of caution.
Elsewhere - a while ago I heard rumours of plans to
make a movie of the marvellous
Orson Scott Card short
Ender's Game. The project is still very in it's early days, it
seems, but progress sis being made - Card himself wrote the first draft
a few months ago the scriptwriters responsible for the second X-Men
movie were brought in to create the second version. It looks as if the
final film will include elements of both Ender's Game and the
Ender's Shadow, which is certainly an extremely ambitious concept.
It will be very interesting to see what emerges from the idea.
And, finally - quite
a while ago I linked to a report at Yahoo news that wearing a necktie
can be damaging to your health. Unfortunately the article itself has
evaporated (why does that happen? It's very annoying!), but the
gist was that the pressure on the back of the neck could cause a variety
of health issues ranging from blindness to high blood pressure in the
brain. However, news has now reached me via
that a report from researchers at the Queens Hospital Medical Centre in
New York has added another nail in the coffin of these wretched items:
Doctors who wear ties during their hospital rounds
in efforts to look professional for their patients could unwittingly
spread disease-causing bacteria, says new research. Researchers found
that nearly half of the ties worn by medical workers harboured bacteria
which could cause disease. "Studies such as this remind us about what we
may bring to our patients' bedside," Dr Nurkin said. "By increasing our
awareness and making simple behavioural changes we may be able to
provide a better quality of healthcare." The researcher said their study
questioned whether wearing a tie was in the best interests of patients.
So there you are... Personally, I've always been
dubious of ties since I got mine caught in a
printer in my first job as a junior mainframe operator. When running
flat out, those printers could feed several feet of paper per second, and
it wouldn't have taken long for me to become intimately acquainted with
the internals, face first, if it had actually been printing spool jobs
rather than just a single form to check the line-up. That was definitely a
case of once bitten, twice shy, though, and ever since then I've
worn a tie pin... I don't spend much time with printers these days (and
who could blame me after such a traumatic experience at such a formative
age!), but the pin tends to prevent my ties being chewed up in server
cooling fans or fed into cable runs - and stops them curling up at the end
like Dilbert's ties,
too, which is probably even more important for my self respect!
After posting yesterday's excerpt from the classic
Tao of Programming, I started wondering if there were any more... I
didn't find as many direct equivalents as I was expecting (although it's
certainly an widely-used phrase, comparatively few writers seem to
understand what the word actually implies), but the search certainly
turned up some fascinating pages.
The Tao of Backup
- excellent stuff, even if it is designed to help sell a data integrity
The Tao of Windows
Buffer Overflow - how to hack Windows, courtesy of The Cult of the
The Tao of Quantum Interrogation - heavyweight physics, on detecting
things without looking at them...
The Tao of Goth - [nods approvingly] Now, that's more like it,
Tao of Homer - why The Simpsons is still the best of all the
pop culture cartoons.
Mao of Pooh - yes, I did say "Mao". I'm not convinced this is
supposed to be funny - but it is.
The Tao of Bada
Bing! - Words of wisdom from The Sopranos. I'm guessing this is
a short book...
And, finally, The
Tao of Comms - I was expecting more of this sort of thing, so in its
absence I'm forced to blow my own trumpet.
Oh, and by the way... It's pronounced "Dao".
Hardware met Software on the road to Changtse.
Software said: "You are the Yin and I am the Yang.
If we travel together we will become famous and earn vast sums of money."
And so the pair set forth together, thinking to conquer the world.
Presently, they met Firmware, who was dressed in
tattered rags, and hobbled along propped on a thorny stick. Firmware said
to them: "The Tao lies beyond Yin and Yang. It is silent and still as a
pool of water. It does not seek fame, therefore nobody knows its presence.
It does not seek fortune, for it is complete within itself. It exists
beyond space and time."
Software and Hardware, ashamed, returned to their
- Geoffrey James, "The
Tao of Programming"
Somebody managed to find their way into my wireless
LAN, yesterday, conclusively removing the last remaining vestiges of faith
in the security via obscurity technique. In order to allow visiting
friends to connect easily, I've never bothered with even the most basic
security on the wireless router, instead relying on the strong
Kerberos-based security of my Windows domain to protect the data itself,
together with the fact that in a residential area of East London I
probably wasn't at any great risk of
Evidently a neighbour has just installed some kind of
wireless hardware, though, and whether by mistake or by design it
connected to my LAN, happily grabbed a DHCP lease from my server, and
started piggybacking on my broadband Internet connection. Whoever it was
obviously didn't count on the ingrained awareness that a
professional sysadmin has for his network, though, and I realised that
there was an intruder within a few minutes of noticing some odd symptoms -
I chopped him off right away, and after some fiddling
the WLAN is
now protected with both access control and tolerably strong
encryption. So, no more Mr Nice Guy, and unfortunately the next time
Graham visits with his iBook he's going to have to do more than just
switch it on and start browsing. Ah, well - the end of another golden era
in home IT...
I was installing for a friend went in relatively smoothly. There were some
initial problems, as apparently all the phone lines hanging off the master
socket are actually bits of damp string rather than twisted pair copper,
but once I connected the router directly to that socket it all burst into
life readily enough. Even entry level broadband is genuinely ten
times faster to use than a dial-up connection, and it was nice to see the
broad grins and wide eyes as pages that sometimes used to take so long to
load that they timed out, instead appeared in only a few seconds. There's
still some tweaking to be done on the firewall to allow incoming requests
from AIM's file
transfer and IRC
direct connections, but the basics are in place and seem to be working
very nicely indeed. Job done!
Ah, the end of the working week... Now all I have to do
is configure a DSL router together with its associated wired and wireless
local networks, then install Windows 2000 and Office 2000 on an old
Pentium II, and then eventually I might be able to take some time off! No
rest for the wicked, they say - and presumably I must be really, really
More fun and
games with Microsoft and Lindows/Linspire. Even though MS won their
suite to prevent Lindows selling their operating system under that name
back in January, resulting in a change of name to Linspire, the same Dutch
court has just ruled that the company itself can keep trading under the
Lindows name. Given that it is blindingly obvious that both the company
and product name really was chosen specifically to resemble Microsoft's
Windows trademark, I find this ruling nonsensical. Either both uses of the
name should be permitted, or neither - but half-and-half is just silly...
Meanwhile, it seems that the new 64 bit version of
Windows will bring a performance boost even to legacy apps. An interview
with one of Microsoft's veeps at the Windows Super Site reveals the
Microsoft: One thing we've found is that 32-bit
applications run better on the 64-bit OS than they do on 32-bits. Just
adding a 64-bit processor and the 64-bit OS changes everything.
WSS: Now what are you comparing there? Are these
machines running the same clock speed...
Microsoft: Same everything. Same chips, same
everything. We run apps on 32-bit Windows, and then take those same apps
and run them on 64-bit Windows, and you'll get about an 8 percent
performance improvement on average.
Interesting stuff. On the other hand,
the first 64 bit virus has emerged, even if only in a proof-of-concept
version at present. The example code only infects 64 bit systems, but
given time I can't see any reason not to expect a hybrid worm that will
run on 32 bit OS versions as well.
Elsewhere, Howard Carmack, the so-called "Buffalo
Spammer" has been
sentenced to between three-and-a-half and seven years in prison
following his conviction for forgery and identity theft last month.
Although Carmack has sent out more then 800 hundred million spam email
messages during his career, at the time of his arrest New York state had
no anti-spam laws and the CAN-SPAM bill had not yet been enacted. As well
as receiving the maximum possible sentence, last year Carmack was also
fined $16 million in a civil suit brought by the ISP Earthlink - I'd like
to think that together these measures will start to get the message across
to the major league spammers, but they seem to be
an unusually single-minded bunch and actually I do wonder whether it
will make any difference overall...
It's really shaping up to be one of those weeks
at the office - and I'd be looking forward to the long bank holiday
weekend if it wasn't for the fact that I'm likely to spend half of it
configuring a broadband connection for one friend and the other half
configuring an old PC to donate to another. Talk about a busman's
excellent feature at Ars.Technica on the new ClearPlay film
censoring technology. The system utilises a special DVD player that is
programmed with details of the questionable segments of mainstream movies,
and so can "edit out" the sex, violence or bad language on the fly. The
movie companies are scandalised by this, of course, claiming that the
system alters their films away from what the directors and writers
originally envisioned, instead steering them towards what ClearPlay's
editors consider to be acceptable. This isn't really something that a
lawsuit can be built around, though, so instead the studios are objecting
on the grounds that the technology falls foul of copyright laws by
creating derivative works of the originals. I don't really approve of the
ClearPlay system I have to admit, as I really do find the idea of such
censorship quite disturbing, but on the other hand I'm finding it very
hard to feel any sympathy for the MPAA and its minions either. It's a
Also at Ars,
an article on
the Pirate Act, a new set of legislation aimed at criminalizing
various acts of online piracy. Although the media and the RIAA always
refer to file sharing as "theft" or "stealing," in the majority of cases
copyright infringement is actually a civil issue and not a criminal one.
The Pirate Act would change this, though, and in fact would mean that the
government (and therefore the taxpayer!) would foot the bill for copyright
prosecutions - as well as bringing the increased fines and longer prison
sentences that the RIAA et al so fervently wish for. All in all, it
sounds like an extremely dangerous development for civil liberties.
are mounting a campaign against the proposed legislation, fortunately,
and as usual they are well worth supporting.
Elsewhere, Microsoft have surprised me by suddenly
releasing a whole raft of addons and updates for Exchange 2003 -
a full toolkit, and the
long-awaited spam filter. It's certainly enough to keep me busy!
Meanwhile, Microsoft Watch reports that MS is
planning more frequent upgrades to the big server applications - which
probably explains the above...
Closer to home, apparently it's that cactus flowering
time of year again. I think this one is an Echinopsis Kermesina,
but I have to admit that I don't find identifying cacti very easy, so if
anyone knows better please feel free to write in and tell me. The flowers
are certainly pretty, though, whatever it is - I do love cacti!
SharePoint Portal Server.
Live Communications Server.
Pain. Can't talk. Coming down.
shooting computer generated movies using the graphics engines from
mainstream 3D games. The genre is being hailed as the next big thing,
and I have to admit that some of the early offerings are extremely
And, talking of rendered graphics -
a neat little demo illustrating the differences between regular
texture mapping, bump mapping, offset mapping and the combination of
offset and bump mapping. Just the thing, if you're a graphics nerd...
Microsoft MVP defects to Linux - but "Add to this the trouble
Hentzen was having with crashes and blue screens on the Windows NT 4.0
servers running his publishing business" suggests that maybe he
doesn't know as much about systems management as he apparently does about
MS vs. Lindows still going strong in the US - after a decade of
lawsuits against the company, I suspect that the American legal system is
inherently biased against Microsoft. I really can't remember the last time
I heard anyone (other than myself) speaking up for the company...
More RFID scare stories -
zombie tags that come back from the dead, and
personally targeted adverts that leap out at you in shops. I know that
we're going to have these wretched RFID things soon enough, but I can't
say I'm looking forward to all the horrendous ways they'll be used...
A pink plastic dinosaur (a model of "Dino" from The
Flintstones) has been sneaked in front of
a webcam run by
the New Zealand geological survey group, and which monitors volcanic
activity in the remote White Island Crater. I've said it before, and
I'll say it again - some people have far too much time on their hands...
The GNS has no plans to remove the
dinosaur, but will instead let the corrosive atmosphere of the crater
degrade it naturally.
Also with too much free time...
Destructive Acts via Focused Solar Radiation, otherwise known as
Fun with Fresnels - the culmination of many years dedicated research into
melting stuff with giant lenses. Cool!
When is a wall not a wall?
When it turns out to be a river. The
European Space Agency has admitted that a photograph showing the Great
Wall of China from space is actually a river running into the Miyun
Reservoir near Beijing. Oops!
Consumer to pay
MS legal bills? - Microsoft is protesting against the $258m
legal bill submitted by the lawyers who mounted the Californian anti-trust
case. "Somebody ends up paying for this", says Microsoft attorney
Robert Rosenfeld. "These large fee awards get passed on to consumers".
The charges in question range from over $3,000 an hour for the lead
attorney in the case, to $2,000 an hour for other lawyers on his team. I
find that deeply ironic, considering that the anti-trust case was based on
accusations that Microsoft over-charged for their products...
An interesting idea -
the Xkey secure Exchange client.
It's a USB device combining a chunk of flash memory, a CPU, a full
Microsoft Exchange email reader, a mail database, a synchronisation engine
and a VPN security application. When plugged into any Windows PC, it
temporarily converts the computer into a secure terminal with
full access to a
corporate email system. I can't immediately see how we can use this at
work, but it's too clever not to find it a niche somewhere!
And, talking of email - US ISP Comcast has admitted
that it is currently
the world's biggest spammer - only about 100 million of the 800
million messages that leave Comcast's network every day actually pass
through flow through the company's official servers, with almost all of
the remaining 700 million messages representing spam sent from zombie
computers infected by viruses or other malware. Comcast now has plans to
identify and block these systems, but I have to say that it's about bloody
time - they really could have done this at any point in the last
Oh, and there's a
new letter, too, concerning hard to find replica pistols...
Tonight's Epicycle is brought to you by
singing "You broke my heart in 17 places". (Upton Park was only
So, major-league spammer Ron Scelson has
testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that although he has
changed his practices to comply with the CAN-SPAM law, he will revert to
illegal tactics if his messages continue to be blocked by ISPs. Elsewhere,
one of the worst spammers in the world, Scott Richter of OptInRealBig.com,
will meet SpamCop founder and
arch-nemesis Julian Haight in a public debate in advance of their upcoming
legal battle. Richter insists that spamming is reasonable freedom of
speech, which is not a defence that either Haight or myself have much time
for. Meanwhile. the
FBI are planning a crackdown - now that, I approve of...
Sasser legal defence fund abandoned - the group trying to raise money
for Sven Jaschan, author of the Sasser worm, has given up after failing to
collect even $100. Presumably their claims that the worm was a
"harmless wake-up call" have failed to find much sympathy elsewhere...
Cisco plays down IOS source code leak - "the improper publication
of this information does not create increased risk to customers' Cisco
equipment", according to a statement on their web site. Well, we're
all going to have to wait and see, there, but as I've said before I really
doubt it is that trivial.
The Register exposes
slipperiness in the US Government's smart card passport proposal -
fitted with an RFID chip that can be scanned from a distance by almost
anyone, this makes even the UK's current ID card scheme seem relatively
safe and secure...
project is a PowerPC emulator for Intel X86 platforms, allowing Mac OS
X to run within Windows! It is not without its
bugs and glitches
at this early stage, but even so it already seems to be a remarkable piece
DIY hard disk cooling at The Modfathers - a neat design for
water cooling a pair of disk drives. It's very nice to see projects aimed
at slightly more grown up computers - the standard fare of even hardcore
modders is a single CPU with a single hard drive, it seems, and water
cooling systems that can cope with dual CPUs and multiple drives are rare
And, finally, more letters at
Dan's Data -
including an identification of a
improbable device that turns out to be a silencer for artillery. As
Dan comments, though, the resemblance to the
I've just finished a remarkable SF story, "Spares"
by Michael Marshall Smith.
Apparently his second novel, it reads rather like a Clive Barker horror
novel that has collided at high speed with Oliver Stone's movie
"Platoon" and Cordwainer
Smith's classic short story "Game Of Rat And Dragon". Yes, I
know how that sounds, but take it from me... In parts gruesome,
thought-provoking, emotional and even inspiring, Smith manages to find a
new twist on a number of old themes, and I was definitely impressed.
And while I'm writing about books, I thought I'd kick
in my ten cents worth about one of my favourite writers, the remarkable
(and possibly under-rated) British author
Brunner. Although he wrote around one hundred novels in a career that
started in the early fifties at the age of seventeen, his early stories
were competent but mostly nothing outstanding. They were very much stories
of their era, though, generally space opera and adventure novels - some
read like early Jack Vance, if
perhaps without the sparkle of Vance at his best, others remind me
of Chip Delaney in their
treatment of serious ethical issues that weren't usually addressed by the
genre at that time.
Somewhere around the time of the 1965 novel "The
Squares Of The City" though, Brunner really came into his own.
"Squares" has all of the elements that made the later novels so
remarkable, and if perhaps with hindsight it seems a touch unpolished in
comparison to the visionary works that were to come, it is clearly the
first real step towards them. Although he wrote dozens more novels before
his untimely death in 1995, four in particular stand out as some of the
best science fiction stories ever written - their common thread is that
they are all logical and plausible extrapolations of the real world of the
sixties and seventies in which Brunner was writing.
Logical, plausible, and frightening, that is -
the issues that Brunner deals with are the difficult, scary ones, which
are no closer to understanding or resolution even three or four decades
later: "Stand On Zanzibar" involves population pressure and
eugenics, and exploitation of underdeveloped countries by the capitalist
western economies; "The Jagged Orbit" covers racial tension in the
inner cities, fuelled by massive private ownership of guns extended to its
obvious and frightening conclusion; and "The Sheep Look Up"
describes a total environmental collapse that unfortunately seems more
plausible every time I read the novel.
Most of all, though, 1975's "The Shockwave Rider"
must surely be one of the more visionary science fiction novels ever
written. Among the concepts that Brunner virtually invented for this novel
are computer hacking and self-replicating worms, digital identify theft,
and something remarkably like the Internet... among the
all-too-contemporary issues his characters face are the lack of privacy in
an information age, the
that can come from the rapid pace of technological change, and a
heavy-handed government that demands control of every aspect of its'
citizens lives. It isn't just a deep, thought-provoking, clever book,
though - it's an exciting thriller, with a fascinating central character
(strong, intelligent and highly competent, and yet still very human and
almost fatally flawed) and a pace that really pulls you from one page
to another. When I first encountered the story I read it in one sitting,
breathless to find out how it ended - these days I've slowed down, and
savour every twist and turn, but either way it's still a hell of a
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I have to go and read
I've spent the entire day trying to avoid saying "I
told you so", and rather to my surprise I mostly succeeded. Last year, as
their final parting gesture before
they were disbanded, the bone-headed programmers in our R&D department
applied a number of horrible kludges
and hacks to the cash-cow Oracle servers that are the company's main
source of reliable short-term revenue.
Back then I spent weeks telling everyone who would
listen that their solution to the problem of a hanging modem-handler
service, which was to terminate the process forcibly via a KILL utility
every time it appeared to have stalled, was a sure-fire recipe for
disaster... I explained that killing a process in that way doesn't always
work, and that it can leave all sorts of orphaned resources floating
around the system, and that it should only be performed as a last resort
just before a server is restarted... I explained that the real problem
was that the modem handler service was hanging in the first place, and
that we should apply pressure to the R&D programmers to fix the
problem, rather than allowing them to metaphorically wallpaper over the
cracks in their software and pretend that they weren't there.
I talked about this calmly, I talked about it firmly, I
talked about it heatedly, and at one point I even shouted a little and
then stalked out of the room - but however I presented my argument, the
common theme was a prediction that in a year's time, after the R&D
department had evaporated and there was nobody left who understood the
system even slightly, we'd suddenly start getting a whole bunch of weird,
counter-intuitive bugs and problems, and that nobody would know how to
even start fixing them.
Well, here we are a year later, and the R&D department
has evaporated except for the most clueless, useless remnants, and last
week we suddenly started getting a whole bunch of weird, counter-intuitive
problems... And guess what - nobody knows how to even start fixing
I have to admit to being considerably irked by this. I
am NOT a programmer, and never will be - but after twenty years experience
with a fairly wide range of IT systems I can recognise completely
wrong-headed practices when I see them, and in that particular system I'm
staring them right in the face. As it happens,
my friend Mike, who has more
programming talent in his dandruff than the entire R&D team on
their best day, has also cast his eye over the system and is equally
horrified at such bizarre and sloppy work in such a mission-critical
process. Of course, he doesn't have to support the wretched thing on a
daily basis, as I do, and when he's working on site with me his sniggers
as he watches the monitoring program detect the service failure and
forcibly terminate it (potentially mutilating the internal system state as
it does so) never fail to rub it in. <mutters darkly>
The last laugh may be on me, though, as we're short on
options and I'm tempted to suggest to my management that we ask Mike to
submit a proposal to write the replacement system - and that would indeed
be a can of worms labelled "Extra Wriggly". Hah!
A rather cunning USB server - it allows up to four USB devices to be
shared across a LAN by multiple users. I'm sure that I can think of
something to do with that...
race shows media's obsession with storage - after
mistake suggested that Google had extended their already generous
gigabyte email storage to a terabyte, the world's IT media went
wild. Meanwhile, Lycos are bucking the trend by offering
Apple applies for patent on translucent windows -
"Information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a
predetermined period of time become translucent. The translucency can be
graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged,
the window becomes more translucent. Upon reaching a certain level of
visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted
as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the
overlaying window." It's an interesting idea, certainly, and I have to
admit that I haven't come across anything quite like it before.
joins in Cisco code theft investigation - they seek him here, they
seek him there, they seek that source code everywhere! Eric Bangeman,
Ars.Technica, doesn't seem to think that the theft will cause any
significant long-term problems. I disagree, though - Cisco's security to
date has been heavily based on the fact that the code is completely
unavailable for general scrutiny, and given the extremely high probability
of significant weaknesses, and the likelihood that considerable portions
of the V12.3 code are in use in the earlier versions of IOS, I really do
foresee some interesting times ahead. Expect the first router or switch
exploits within the month - the hackers move fast, these days...
The mainstream press coverage of the developing
disaster in Iraq is surely depressing and upsetting enough for anyone, but
the real truth is starting to leak out via the left-wing
independent media, and
unfortunately it is ten times, a hundred times worse than anything that
we're seeing on the television news. In the
Sacramento Bee today, for example, ex-Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy
Massey is talking about the dozens of civilians that his unit shot by
mistake ("we lit him up pretty good"), about the highly toxic
depleted Uranium dust covering the wreckage that used to be the landscape
("they got a big wasteland problem"), and about the left-over
unexploded cluster bombs that are killing US soldiers and Iraqi civilians
alike. Massey was a hard-core professional soldier, but he has now left
the Marines after twelve years of service, having simply lost heart with a
cause of which he had once been a dedicated proponent...
"It was just a personal conviction with me. I've
had an impeccable career. I chose to get out. And you know who I blame?
I blame the president of the U.S. It's not the grunt. I blame the
president because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. It was a
War is hell, of course, and always will be - but
in time this one will surely take its place in the history books as a new
Meanwhile, closer to home... This rather
unprepossessing metal cylinder is a DBD "Signature Series" barrel in 11mm
calibre, and as well as being the cause of all my recent fuss with Area51,
now thankfully resolved, it is apparently rather a nifty piece of
engineering. I gather it is made from aluminium by a giant, expensive
machine, and has a polished bronze liner - whereas the barrel that ships
with the original paintball flavour of the M4 RAM is made of cardboard and
old chewing gum, or something similar. Accuracy and range are
significantly better than the standard barrels, it seems, and this is the
main reason for the
massive fuss about after-market replacements on the RAP4 forums at
I've always had an Area51 barrel on my M4, and so
presumably have benefited from these improvements already - as a target
enthusiast I probably care about accuracy even more than a
paintball gamer, and although I haven't been able to make much use of my
replica until now, the little I've seen does tend to confirm the buzz on
the forums. Where I'm really hoping to gain is in the move to 11mm,
though, as it ought to bring a noticeable improvement in the reliability
of the feed and eject cycle, which really has been the bugbear of
my M4 to date - Dee admits that the 6mm sleeved shell cases just didn't
work out as well as he'd hoped, and the larger calibre do seem a far more
plausible design. All I need now is the time to install the replacement!
Watch this space...
Well, there's a turn-up for the books! Yesterday
evening I received an unexpected visit from Dee Sheldrake, the owner of
Area51 Airsoft. He brought me
all the outstanding items from both my original order and the eBay
auction, together with a generous handful of
freebies by way of an apology for the delay, and we ended up having
quite a long chat. He explained the background to some of the problems
that he and his company have been facing over the last few months, and it
does all sound far more reasonable now that I have some facts to go
along with all the speculation. As Dee freely admitted, it would have been
preferable if the issues with delivery delays etc had never arisen in the
first place, but given that they have I really think that he is now
doing everything possible to correct the problems and make amends to his
customers. I have to admit that having talked to him in person, now, I was
impressed with his sincerity - and that actually I've ended up with a
degree of sympathy for someone who is obviously being run ragged by the
demands of his business. I wish him the best of luck in sorting out the
remaining problems, and I hope that he can resolve the complaints of any
other dissatisfied customers as effectively as he has now resolved mine.
He has also re-affirmed his position on the warranty
for the shell ejectors, and I am considerably re-assured to know that if
there are any problems in future, I will have somewhere to turn for
advice, repairs, and spare parts. I'm very pleased to be back on friendly
terms with the company again, actually - I've never wanted to pursue a
refund for the M4 Shell Ejector as it is basically an extremely
elegant piece of hardware, and shows great potential once the teething
problems have been worked out. Indeed, I'm hoping that the
long-anticipated move from 6mm to 11mm calibre, thus losing the rather
problematic sleeved-down shell cases, will bring a significant
improvement. Watch this space later in the week week for pictures of the
Dee was accompanied by Arnie of
Arnie's Airsoft fame,
and it was especially nice to meet him, too - his site served as an
excellent introduction to the hobby when I discovered it last year, and as
well as being a fascinating source of information when I needed it most, I
was highly impressed by the depth and quality of his reviews - and,
indeed, have bought a number of my own replicas based purely on his
opinions. Meeting Arnie and Dee together also allows me to dismiss a
strange myth that has been circulating in email, recently - a number of
people have suggested that they are actually one and the same person, but
I am now in a position to reassure anyone who is unconvinced that there
were definitely two complete people present, with no sign of any
shared body parts at all.
[Update: I have to admit to being rather less impressed
with Arnie, right now, having just read his contribution to
this thread at the RAP forum. I have decided to grit my teeth
and shrug it off, though, together with the deranged rantings of some of
the regular denizens of the board (one of them, six years younger than me
according to his profile, referred to me as "that Dominic kid"!),
as I have become extremely tired of the whole issue. Now that I finally
have the 11mm calibre barrel, I can abandon the annoying 6mm shell cases
and hopefully that will actually make the replica practical to use at last
- and at this stage it would be preferable to be able to enjoy shooting
it, for a change, instead of just complaining about it! Selah.]
It's been a bitch of a day at the office, and I have no
brain left for anything substantial. So, as we've been a little light on
eye candy here, recently - thanks to my colleague Simon, here's a picture
of the Dell server rack we've just filled up at work. Seventeen PowerEdge
2650 systems, with well over a terabyte of RAID disk storage and 34 CPUs
(at least half of which are HyperThreading P4 Xeons) between them. More
processing power than you can shake a stick at - and believe me, I've
Simon calls it "The Leaning Tower Of Dell", but
I like to think of it more as a giant, incredibly expensive fan heater -
the rush of hot air from the rear of the cabinet is just the thing for
warming chilly fingers on winter mornings... I gather it does some
business-related stuff, too, but that's mostly incidental. Oh, but it does
nostalgic for the days when I was participating in the
Distributed.Net RC5-64 project,
though - a stack of servers like this would have kicked some serious
I've finally completed the rest of the
Online Shopping page. A number of
overseas airsoft suppliers are named and shamed, as well as a few other
firms that have failed to impress - but I'm also listing those companies
that have been a pleasure to deal with, too. I intend to keep the page
updated with experiences both good and bad, now, as they happen.
for Burt Rutan and ScaledComposites - the SpaceCraftOne vehicle
has just flown to a height of 65,000 metres, a record for a private
flight, and only a relatively short distance below the 80,500 meter height
that NASA officially regards as space. Unless one of the 27 other
companies that have announced plans to compete for the X-Prize pulls a
remarkable rabbit out of their hat, Rutan's attempt looks extremely
a report at
Ars.Technica, a Russian computer security site
has claimed that the
source code to Cisco's IOS V12.3 operating system has been stolen! Given
that a major proportion of the Internet runs on Cisco network hardware
using IOS (not to mention the corporates - I have dozens of Cisco switches
and routers myself!), this is potentially a most serious threat. If there
are vulnerabilities (which seems highly likely), and they are also
present in the previous versions of IOS (which seems at least possible),
then we could be facing an "interesting" summer...
And, talking of interesting times - MacCentral
posted details of a flaw in the 802.11b wireless networking standard,
which involves mildly customising a cheap wireless adaptor to gain the
ability to effectively shut down wireless networks in a radius of around a
kilometre. Now, the 11b standard is somewhat obsolete now, and shouldn't
really be in widespread usage these days , but in practice that is
certainly not the case and I suspect that this revelation will trigger a
wave of annoying "pranks" targeted against corporate LANs and public
Further changes to WinXP SP2 - unusually last minute for such
significant modifications, considering that we're at the release candidate
stage! Will the service pack go to a third release candidate, given
these new changes?
A USB to USB
bridge - an interesting device that enables you to connect two devices
without the need for a PC. Suggested applications include automated
transfer of images from a digital camera to a portable hard disk, which
could certainly be handy.
negative feedback I left for Area51 at eBay, Dee has given
his side of the story on the
news page of the company's web site. Read it while you can, though -
things posted there have a habit of not staying for long. [Note: And,
indeed, the entire posting was removed a few hours later] The publicity is
bringing a number of other highly dissatisfied customers out of the
woodwork, though - I am NOT alone.
Meanwhile, a few quick links...
Courtesy of Pork Tornado, the
ten worst album
covers of all time. Whether they're actually the worst is
highly debatable, of course, but there are certainly some baaaad ones
there. Approach with caution.
I think I've linked to this before, at an earlier stage
in its evolution - a
thermoelectric cooler for beer kegs. As the designer says, following
his recent development grant, "It's always easier to move forward with
an idea with $20,000". Indeed.
a feature on how the EU may just manage to avoid the morass of software
intellectual property laws that is currently causing so many problems in
A fascinating article on how the Nielsen company's Soundscan
service, the system which provides much of the data for the Billboard Top
200 Chart, may contradict frequent statements by the RIAA on lost CD
sales. Given the
price fixing widely employed by the music industry before the
anti-trust suit, is it any surprise to hear that they are continuing
to deceive the consumer?
roadmap for their server operating system releases over the next few
years - as widely reported elsewhere, the server edition of Longhorn is
not expected until 2007. I'd say that leaves room for, oh, maybe two
service packs for Server 2003?
And, finally, the
proposed anti-voyeurism statute looks set to pass into law fairly
soon, bringing provision for fines and up to a year in prison... The days
of the "up-skirt shot" are
numbered, it seems, at least in the US.
So, Area51 Airsoft seem determined to add
insult to injury. Even though I'm
still waiting for my replacement M4 barrel after more than two months,
yesterday Dee posted a message on the
news section of
their web site saying that they're giving them away for nothing!
It's that time of year
where I do silly things. After having a good weekend and generally
sorting out stuff like the new workshop and premises I'm in a good mood
:) soooo if anybody who has bought an airsoft or 11mm MP5 shell ejector
from me or has gotten one as part of a trade from me or anybody else
wants to drop me a line I will send them a complete HK94 Barrel and kit
free. (Yes free means free as in costs nothing). No strings and no
catches. All you need to do is drop me a mail to email@example.com
and I'll mail you one out by return of post :) Why? simple. I'm that
impressed with the new kits that I'd like more people to be able to see
them so the easiest way is to give some away. M4 owners?? your not to be
left out and if you also would like to drop me a mail I'll send you one
of the 10mm Paintball DBD signature series barrels for nothing so you
can fire Paint from your M4 series guns. Same applies, all it costs you
is the time to mail me :)
Maybe I'm excessively paranoid, but after everything
that has happened it actually does feel as if he's doing this mostly to
annoy me! <sigh>
"While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut, and pour
lemon juice on it?"
Meanwhile, the UK government has
ruled out a blanket ban on replica firearms. Their justification for
the decision is not ideal, as rather than recognising the pointless nature
of such a proposal they have merely admitted the difficulty of framing the
legislation, but these days I'll take whatever I can get.
A new Mac OS
X trojan has emerged, of the basic click and you're dead
variety that deletes the contents of the user's home folder - as Lance
wrote in PC Magazine after the last major Mac security flaw, "Will
you be stuffing that superior attitude in your crow or eating it
And talking of which,
major flaws in Symantec security software - almost the entire range of
Symantec security software, from Norton Internet Security through to the
Symantec Firewall, require urgent updates after a series of four extremely
critical vulnerabilities were unearthed. Gosh!
is susceptible to being hacked, according to an article at TechWeb
- but after the attention-grabbing headline the gist is just that an
unencrypted IP stream is not inherently secure. Big deal!
More Sasser/NetSky arrests - the German police are following up on
leads to reel more of the little bastards into the net, uncovering "a
loosely connected network of highly skilled teen and 20-something
hackers." Hah! Highly skilled, my ass - if these bozos had a tenth of the
programming abilities of the 90s virus writers, we'd all be in big
Dan on PC
sound - a useful article on making the most of your PC's sound card -
but especially interesting as it reveals the latest in hi-fi fashion -
mains power cables made from precious metals such as jewellery-grade
platinum, and costing up to $3500. Oh! My! God!
And, finally, Tom's Hardware Guide
takes a look at dual Xeon systems, and decides that actually they're
both spiffy and good value for money.
I can't say that I'm surprised!
Keep an eye out for the promised sequel article, too, a head-to-head
review of i7505 dual Xeon motherboards, together with an in-house
optimisation utility to target processes to specific CPUs. Interesting
Every time I install a new Dell server in one of our
racks (and there are six to install this week, bringing the grand total to
fifty-something), I have to cut a section out of the steel cable
management arm to leave space for the
KVM switch interface pods. After a quick trip to the store room to
grab hacksaws and metal files, I was heading down in the lift with a pair
of our managers. They're more used to seeing me with an armful of computer
manuals than an armful of tools, and their quizzical looks allowed me to
use a line I've been saving for ages - "What, you've never seen a data
file before?" I was trying to think of a reference to "hacking", as well,
but unfortunately the lift arrived and they escaped before inspiration
gags university over RIAA's student tax - Ohio University has created
a survey site to see if students are willing to pay $3 per month for the
compulsory music service, but Napster have demanded that
they keep quiet about the entire deal! Their continued arrogance amazes
'Spam King' gets restraining order - Scott Richter's bulk mailing
company, OptinRealBig.com, has won a restraining order against the SpamCop
anti-spam reporting service. SpamCop contacts the abuse desks of ISPs in
response to reports of spam from end-users - but withholds the email
address of the complainants, something that annoys Richter no end...
Microsoft drags Linspire back to court - the case has resumed in
Holland, site of the previous lawsuit, with claims that the disputed word
"Lindows" is still appearing on the web site. Microsoft is asking for a
fine of €100,000 a day - an expensive alternative to a simple global
Phatbot arrest throws open trade in zombie PCs - The arrest of the
probable author of the Phatbot trojan could help to expose the illicit
trade in zombie PCs. Phatbot has an extremely flexible back-door payload,
and to date has been used to send spam, to steal data and to perform DDoS
attacks. Control of networks of these compromised hosts, termed "BotNets",
are commonly traded between virus writers, spammers and middlemen over the
Browser hijackers ruining Llves - some victims of malicious browser
plugins are losing their jobs, their relationships, and their reputations.
Trojan objects such as CWS can change the IE home page, open pop-up ads
for pornography, create dozens of bookmarks to highly dubious websites,
and redirect users to porn sites when they mistype URLs...
And, finally, a quick plug for
the BOFH archive at
The Register. Simon Travaglia
isn't losing his touch, it seems, which is really quite an achievement
after all this time.
of spam? Prepare for Adware - as mentioned in Epicycle passim, the
pundits are predicting a massive upsurge in sneaky spyware. And they're
probably right, too - I was browsing somewhere dubious last week, and
clicked on a button I shouldn't have, and before I knew it I had installed
at least seven different adware and spyware trojans. Now, I've been
in IT for over twenty years, and have the healthy paranoia of a working
sysadmin, and if I fell prey to a trap like this in a rare
unguarded moment then the average user will be at the mercy of the malware
authors pretty much all the time he is online. Oh, and it took three days
to remove the last traces, too - boy, was my face red...
Something else that is on the rise, apparently, are the
phishing scams - and I can believe this, too, as I've seen an
increasing number of those in the last few weeks, too. As well as the
usual "please confirm your account details" messages purporting to come
from banks or eBay, I also had one that was targeted at users of the UK
online battery supplier MDS Battery. This
was better thought out than most cons, as the scammer had registered the
domain "mdsbettery.co.uk" to hold the fake login screens, which
would escape all but the most alert eyes. What interested and concerned
me, however, was how the scam emails seemed to be targeted to genuine MDS
users, and I do have a suspicion that their customer list may have been
stolen or leaked in some way. The company has so far refused to answer my
questions about this, which is another reason why I won't be dealing with
Still on computer security, or the lack of it... The
Sasser virus - your questions answered:
What we know:
The author is named Sven Jaschan. He is just eighteen,
lives with his parents, and acquaintances describe him as "shy, withdrawn
and quiet" - this is pretty much the standard template for a virus writer,
He did write Sasser (to the anti-Microsoft
conspiracy theory bigots - he confessed, Ok?), and at least some of
the NetSky variants.
He is falling back on the old "I didn't know it
would spread so fast and cause so much damage, honest!" defence -
which, in this day and age, has absolutely no credibility at all...
The arrest was made following information submitted by
informers who hoped to claim Microsoft's $250,000 bounty.
The claims that alleged Iraqi "cyber insurgents" are
Armageddon if both Jaschan and the German author of the PhatBot worm
(also arrested at the weekend) are not released, may well be true but are
also completely laughable and irrelevant.
the media hype
surrounding the virus and its effects on global business range from the
unbelievable to the unimaginable, and fuelled by this hype a number of
companies actually shut down their computer networks in a misguided and
almost certainly futile attempt to avoid the worm.
What we don't know - yet:
Whether he really wrote the virus
to drum up trade for his mother's computer repair business.
Whether he actually wrote all the other variants of
NetSky as well.
Whether he really tried to release
a damage-limitation version of the worm identified as Sasser.e
Whether he is actually part of the "gang" allegedly
called "The SkyNet Anti-Virus group" - or, indeed, whether such a
collective actually exists at all!
Whether he will ever receive any kind of realistic
punishment for his crime - as a German citizen he is immune from
extradition, and by some incredible quirk of timing he was actually only
seventeen when he created the virus at the end of April. Even though he
was eighteen a few days later by the time the virus was spreading in the
wild, it seems likely that he will be tried as a minor and may even be at
least partially immune from damages suits as well. Truly, there ain't no
Oh, and one last thing... he is not a "mastermind",
and he did not "outwit the word's best computer experts". He is a
run-of-the-mill script kiddie with some rudimentary programming skills,
who exploited a widely-publicised security flaw and capitalised on the
fact that many network admins are over-worked and under-resourced. I am
insulted by the
German media's suggestion that he is anything else.
Adidas launches digital shoes - complete with a 20MHz
and actuators, push buttons, LEDs, and an instruction manual on
wrong trousers, Gromit, and they've gone wrong!"...
German police have
author of the Sasser worm, in what is surely the most significant
anti-virus bust to date. The 18 year old student, as yet unnamed, lives
with his parents in Rotenburg. He has confessed to creating the original
worm, although it is not yet known if he was responsible for the later
variants as well. However, many anti-virus pundits have speculated that
the author of the worm is at least connected with those of the
NetSky virus - a recent version of NetSky contains internal references to
Sasser, and another variant was programmed to attack a server used by an
education authority in the state of Lower Saxony where the creator lives.
Now, experience has shown that teens charged with major computer misuse
offences typically roll-over and squeal like pigs to the Feds almost
immediately, so there is an excellent chance that this arrest will lead to
others within the virus programming community. If you listen carefully,
you can hear
sysadmins around the world smiling with grim satisfaction. Personally,
I hope they nail the little bastard to the wall and leave him there...
Linux source code could be infiltrated by dubious elements, including
spies, according to a report released by Dan O'Dowd of Green Hills
Software. Now, regular readers of this journal will know that I
really don't agree with the hype surrounding Linux, and believe that
claims that the OS has inherently better security are just hokum. However,
even I raised an eyebrow at some of the statements in the report,
and it wasn't until I discovered that his company produces high-security
operating systems for embedded applications, an area of the market under
growing threat from slimmed-down Linux variants, that his attitude became
rather more explicable. I think I can hear the sound of an axe being
ground... However, some of his opinions are decidedly reasonable,
especially the idea that examining source code is a lousy way to find
"Hundreds of bugs that attackers can exploit to
penetrate Linux security are identified every year. Many of these
critical security bugs have been in the code for years without being
detected by the 'many eyes' looking at the source code," O'Dowd
writes. "How can anyone believe that the open source process can
eradicate all of the cleverly hidden intentional bugs put in by foreign
intelligence agents and terrorists when the process can't find thousands
of unintentional bugs left lying around in the source code?"
As the recent break-ins discovered in the servers
Linux distributions show, it's a fair point...
Crying to beat iris scanners - an article in The Register
reveals that the biometric scanners under test for David Blunkett's ID
card scheme can be prevented from working correctly by watering eyes, long
eyelashes, contact lenses, and eye malformations. Oh, and the predicted
failure rate is between four and seven percent, too - which sounds fine
until you realise that figure represents around three or four million UK
citizens who won't be correctly identified!
And, talking of identity cards -
another article in The Register reveals that not only will the
cost of the scheme be far greater than the £3.1bn figure being bandied
about (with considerable additional expenditure being effectively
"laundered" via other government departments and private sector
organisations) but also that Blunkett is setting himself up for a possible
collision with Brussels, as the justification for forcing EU citizens to
have a card is at least arguably fraudulent. I'm very glad to see that
The Register is giving the proposals so much coverage, though, and not
pulling any punches while it does so.
Meanwhile, it's official -
not assassinate people. The other
misunderstandings" dismissed on
their new website
include illegal wiretapping (no need, when it's all perfectly legal!)
infiltration of political pressure groups (only when they want to) and a
policy not to recruit tall people. I believe them about the last one...
nanobot - a feature at primo geek site Ars.Technica describes
groundbreaking nanotech work at New York University. Researchers there
have created a minute device with two "legs" formed from strands of DNA,
which is capable of walking along a pre-defined pathway of DNA bases. The
next stage of the project will be to give the robot a payload of a metal
atom to carry. At present the device is severely limited, but it
represents another step (pun definitely intended!) on the path to useful
nanotechnology - and, in fact, I think work in this area is actually
moving rather fast.
Doing away with paper cheques - US financial institutions Bank One and
Wells Fargo are preparing to introduce technology into their ATM machines
that will scan deposited cheques and then destroy the paper originals.
This is an idea that has been coming for a long time, obviously, but one
has to wonder about the potential for permanently losing money when the
communications process fails - as it inevitably will on occasion!
Major labels force 70% price hike on Apple - EMI, Bertelsmann, Sony,
Universal and Warner, the five big music labels that form the heart of the
RIAA, have successfully forced Apple to increase the prices it charges for
music on the online iTunes Music Store. The cost of some songs will rise
from 99 cents to $1.25, an increase of over 26%, and some albums are
increasing to $16.99, a rise of 70% over the previous cost of $9.99! As
one music industry source commented, "That will really
ingratiate the public and discourage piracy, won't it?"
Anti-spam laws baffle UK firms - 83% of businesses are ignorant of
legislation aimed at stopping junk emails, a survey by content filtering
firm Clearswift has revealed. The report also claims that although just
16% of businesses were aware of laws against spam, over 90% felt current
rules were not tough enough to stop unwanted emails. Personally, I'm not
getting much spam that is obviously from either UK businesses or
UK-based spammers - although I have to admit that I am decidedly firm
in my response to the occasional ones that do arrive...
And finally, (via
this is the web site of a certain Martin J Powell, and is one of the more
interesting sites I've seen recently. I was lured there by references to
his excellent photographs of the night sky and English prehistoric sites
(and they are good), but soon found myself immersed in his analyses
of some of the more famous UFO photos. Somewhat to my surprise, instead of
being a committed debunker he seems to have an unusually open mind, and
readily claims that some of the phenomena are not easily explained as
conventional objects - but, on the other hand, his analysis of the
Trinidad Island UFO is among the most convincing pieces of work I have
ever come across, and as far as I'm concerned completely explains the
image. Highly recommended.
So, this morning I received a terse and sarcastic email
from Dee at Area 51, as apparently some of the other frustrated customers
that I have been in touch with have rather tactlessly forwarded our email
conversations to him! I can't say I approve of that, but what's done is
done and now I think it's time to "go public". I've been busy pulling all
the Area51 Airsoft weblog snippets together into
one unified page, and I'm about to
leave long overdue negative feedback on that two month old eBay auction
containing a link pointing straight to that page. I can only be pushed so
far, and after six months and more than one hundred emails trying to get
what I'm owed from them, I think this is as far as I go... Dee also said
that the new manager, Arnie of Arnie's Airsoft fame, would deliver
my outstanding components himself this evening - but as it's11pm now, just
as with the last two promises of personal delivery this one has also
completely failed to materialise. What a company!
A new ergonomic mouse - like a soft, spongy joystick handle with a
pressure-sensitive button on top along the lines of a laptop nipple. It's
intended to reduce RSI symptoms, but I have to admit that I'm dubious -
none of the alternative form-factor input devices I've seen over the years
have ever been up to much...
Gates was fined $800k when his accountants failed to file timely
statements when one of his share holdings passed the limits for compulsory
notification to the FTC. Normally a voluntary settlement would be sought,
but of course in this particular case the Justice Department filed a suit
user interface for Longhorn - Microsoft are considering an ultra-slim
media player interface for rapid access to music and video files on laptop
PCs, avoiding the need to wait for the entire OS to boot up. Other
enhancements under consideration include support for "complementary
displays", small external mounted screens displaying system status and
other useful information.
members not fulfilling obligations to artists - a two-year
investigation has found that many artists and writers were not being paid
royalties because record companies had failed to maintain contact with
them and had stopped making required payments. As well as one-hit-wonders,
this affected major stars such as David Bowie, Dolly Parton and Gloria
Beagle 2 was poorly managed, according to a report on the mission
by the European Space Agency - the project was compromised by its short
timescale, inadequate funding and an overstretched project leader. The
latter was responsible for soliciting funding at same time as trying
to build the space craft, which is hardly a practical proposition...
Plane-spotters recruited in War on Terror - a story in The Register
reveals that police and British Airport Authority have recruited
plane-spotters around Heathrow, on the basis that they spend a significant
amount of time in the area, and are well-placed to notice any peculiar
goings on. Aviation enthusiasts are being given ID cards and a code of
conduct as part of the scheme:
"Clearly, there is reason to worry about people
around airports who look like they might be checking out possible
Stinger launch sites. Or indeed people who look like they might be
carrying Stingers, so in that sense it is perfectly legitimate for
security services to take an interest in people who are hanging around
these areas. But in this particular case we have moved from a position
where anyone was perfectly free to while away a couple of hours watching
the planes to one where you must demonstrate a legitimate interest and
ID in order to be able to do so. And the security services have figured
out how to put a positive spin on the change."
And they've figured out how to make you pay for it, too
- the ID cards cost £15 each! One other point of interest, as The
Register notes, is the possible effect on other organisations who
frequent airfields - such as the
groups who campaign
against the nuclear-armed US bombers stationed in Britain, long a source
of annoyance for the government of the day...
And, finally, talking of activists...
Fuck For Forest
is an ecologically friendly porn site, showing pictures of tree-huggers
and duck-squeezers getting it on in the great outdoors, with all profits
going towards the conservation of threatened environments. I wish them
well, but I have to admit that it's hard to stop myself giggling at the
Arnies's Airsoft faked and hacked - as if being defaced by some
pathetic script kiddie wasn't enough, later in the day, in what
appears to be an unrelated and completely pointless exercise, another
know-nothing apparently decided to jerk the site owner's chain a little
more! Someone calling himself "Chikara Chinchin",
apparently hailing from Ohio, sent in
a carefully-crafted and thoroughly believable
release concerning a new replica from Maruzen, one of the big Japanese
manufacturers. When the site owner obligingly posted it in the news
section this idiot then fell upon him with
glee, upbraiding him for publishing stories without checking his
facts, and generally being moronic and abusive... The phrase "get a life"
is sadly over-worked, these days, but sometimes there's just no suitable
alternative. <long, heartfelt sigh>
Giant asteroid scare - for some bizarre reason a rumour is circulating
around the net that we're all going to be destroyed by an asteroid the
size of a city... Apparently it isn't true.
Anti-censorship web service is censoring - US government sponsored
proxy Anonymizer, designed to enable web users in Iran to evade
censorship, is itself massively censoring what they can see. Ok, but is
anyone actually surprised to hear this?
Ars.Technica - apparently the US is losing ground in the science
and technology race:
"The underlying factors for this scientific shift
are many and varied. They range from an increase in the pool of talent
emerging from Asian countries to decreases in basic science funding in
the U.S. At one time, the best and brightest minds of the world came to
the U.S. for education and their talents remained in the U.S. An
increasing number of foreigners are taking their advanced degrees back
overseas for use in improving industries in countries such as China,
India and Taiwan. In addition, the tightening of visas after 9-11 has
lead many bright minds to seek education and jobs elsewhere."
Hotmail to permit carefully screened spam - companies that agree to
abide by the terms of the CAN-SPAM Act, and are willing to post a $20,000
bond to guarantee their good behaviour, will be permitted to send to all
Hotmail users without falling foul of the spam filters. This may
actually be a good thing, in some ways, although only time will tell...
card pods just plain don't work, at present - David Blunkett's
much-hyped ID card scheme has already run into significant problem even on
it's extremely limited pilot implementation. The biometric scanning
systems have apparently experienced hardware, software and
ergonomic problems, which doesn't sound very encouraging:
"Blunkett told the Committee yesterday that "it is
important to get it right rather than quickly." He failed, however, to
explain how this stacked up against reducing the term of the pilot from
three to six months because of the initial technical problems. So maybe
he meant, 'it's important to stick to the rollout schedule, whatever..."
MP3 downloads - Russian online music site offers music downloads at
$14.95 per month for one thousand downloads, and thanks to a loophole in
the country's somewhat antiquated copyright laws, they are probably still
Airsoft are continuing to provide their expected but still thoroughly
disappointing levels of customer service. It's been seven weeks since the
eBay auction for the replacement barrels ended and, as far as I can
tell, it seems that none of the winning bidders have received their
items yet. I'm actually in regular contact with a pair of them in America,
and apparently manager Dee Sheldrake is blaming import problems - but I've
warned them that as my barrel hasn't been delivered within the UK, either,
it probably isn't quite as simple as that...
Having sent yet another email to ask for an
update on Monday afternoon, I received a reply from Dee saying that he
would be in the area that very evening and offering to deliver the barrel
himself. After the last time he suggested this he then
failed to turn up or even to contact me, so
I wasn't at all surprised when he didn't turn up again this time... In
fact, I can't think of a single promise that he or his colleagues have so
far made to me that was actually fulfilled on time - and the vast majority
of them haven't even been fulfilled at
Bizarrely, having stated earlier this year both in
private email and on
various public forums that the shell ejecting rifles for which these
barrels are designed are neither economical to produce or reliable in
operation (and my own experiences certainly support the latter!), and
subsequently playing down the entire shell ejecting range, this week they
announced a major ramping up of production for the US market instead. What
a ridiculous state of affairs!
is back with a special two-part letters column - today he covers bogus
petrol-saving gadgets, dead hard disks with no backups, and that perennial
SASSER worm spawns
more disruptive variants - although after my work on Sunday, the
impact on our network has been minimal so far. Truly, an ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure... I have the definite impression that
the Internet as a whole is
right now, though - that damn thing is creating a lot of excess
remarkable PC case at Bit-Tech - Project "Dark Crystal" is a
hand-built wood and Plexiglas composite, and manages to achieve an overall
look unlike anything else I've seen before.
And, finally -
Krusty: [singing to
the tune of "Folsom Prison Blues"]
I slugged some jerk in Tahoe
They gave me one to three
My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality
I'm just visiting Springfield Prison
I get to sleep at home tonight...
I've just watched a programme on the Discovery Channel
about the huge digging machines used in open-cast mining, and I was quite
amazed by the
walking dragline excavators. Apart from the fact that these monsters
are fascinating pieces of engineering design in their own right, I was
especially interested as I used to work for a company that was the final
UK incarnation of Ruston Bucyrus, the premier manufacturer in this
The largest ever built, the
Bucyrus 4250-W nicknamed "Big
Muskie", weighed 15,000 tonnes, and had a 94m boom supporting a bucket
capable of moving 173 cubic metres at a time! Even
the small ones,
though, weigh several thousand tonnes and are able to handle many tens of
cubic metres of material. Powered by electricity taken directly from the
nation grid (although with a motor-flywheel-generator arrangement to
act as a buffer
against high current surges) these giant machines can actually be moved
when required, walking on equally giant sled-like feet - although they
certainly wouldn't win any prizes for their speed, as it takes weeks
to move them around the quarries to work on a different face and
"shuffling" might be a better word than "walking"...
Catching spammers by following the money - investigators tracked the
source of the junk emails by purchasing a bogus weight-loss product and
waiting to see who actually collected the money.
Turning over a new leaf - infamous hacker Kevin Mitnick has gained
some sorely needed brownie points by helping to catch a fifteen year old
who was phoning in hoax bomb threats to his school.
Tennessee Board of Regents rejects RIAA bullying - the RIAA wanted to
impose a mandatory tax of $9.99 per student per month to compensate for
expected losses due to file sharing. What nerve!
California decertifies faulty voting machines - touch-screen systems
from manufacturer Diebold have been banned after the company's
failure to deal honestly with numerous security issues.
eBay auction provokes threats - frustrated after failing to acquire a
collection of second hand band uniforms, the unsuccessful bidder broke
into his rivals' house and confronted his wife at gunpoint!
X-bit Labs has
an extremely voluminous article on server CPUs, comparing all the
common (and some of the less common!) high-end processors.
beginning of the end? SCO backs off from claims that the GPL is
unconstitutional, leaving them with only the allegations of pirated code -
which have already been widely rubbished...
Meanwhile, I managed to
recalibrate the UPS's microprocessor, and all now appears to be well.
It's actually quite hard producing a 30% load on a 2200VA UPS (that's more
than three Amps of honest-to-goodness current drawn) and in the end I
added a couple of table lamps to the regular load of servers and hardware.
This is not really recommended, as the procedure ends with the UPS
shutting down completely, but I stopped all the active services etc to
minimise the chance of data corruption and crossed my fingers! It took at
least an hour to discharge, and after another few hours to recharge again
the PowerChute status display is predicting a run-time of over seventy
minutes - and I'm certainly happy with that!
It's definitely been a busman's holiday, today... The
morning was spent in the office, putting some infrastructure in place to
cope with the imminent attack of the new
Sasser worm and
its even newer
variant. Like last year's
worm, Sasser is another one that spreads directly from PC to PC, using a
recently announced vulnerability in the Windows LSASS subsystem, and
one of my colleagues has already reported both variants on his laptop
after a few hours spent browsing the web on Saturday. The timing of this
worm is especially unfortunate for us, as the updated DATs were only
released after everyone left for the long the bank holiday weekend, and I
expect the majority of our laptop users will have spent at least some
of that time online, completely unprotected and vulnerable. Then on
Tuesday morning, of course, they'll all come trooping back in, and connect
their infected, purulent cancerous PCs right into the core of my
However, these days we're in an extremely good position
to minimise the damage that ensues... the Network Associates
ePolicy Orchestrator antivirus management system is in place ready to
hand out VirusScan DAT updates and the
Stinger stand-alone removal
Software Update Services is poised to distribute the Microsoft patch
that will prevent the desktop systems from becoming infected in the first
place, and Systems
Management Server is ready to report on the propagation of the patches
and the presence of the worms' files. Given the awkward timing I couldn't
stop this outbreak from happening, but I can certainly make sure that it
doesn't cause us any significant problems. The only missing element is the
patch management system that can be bolted on to SMS 2003, but
unfortunately thanks to unusually sparse documentation that is proving
extremely difficult to implement.
Having spent the morning updating servers and tuning
virus management systems, for some unknown reason (latent masochism, I
suspect) I came home and immediately set about replacing the batteries in
my short-lived UPS. I've already had a rant
about MDS Battery, the company who don't think unhappy
customers are their problem, but I just want to add that the packaging
they shipped the batteries in was woefully inadequate for such heavy units
and had burst completely in transit. I really can't recommend this company
at all, right now...
Now, I have to admit that I am quite scared of
electricity in general, and this makes operations such as replacing UPS
batteries a fairly stressful business at best. The last time I did this,
on a much lower capacity unit, I was rewarded by a fat blue spark at an
unexpected moment that made me levitate about three feet up and three feet
backwards almost instantaneously. Fortunately some cautious prodding
verified that these cells were shipped completely discharged, which
certainly made things less fraught.
I decided to save some money by buying Yuma-branded
batteries rather than the genuine article from the manufacturer, and it
has to be said that the 3rd-party equivalent was considerably more rough
APC's own instructions assume the cells ship ready assembled, but the
offering from MDS Battery required (as the saying has it) some
assembly. I had to prise off the plastic terminal covers from the old
cells and steal the bolts from their connectors, tape the new cells
together back to back and then connect all the wires to their terminals,
before replacing the covers with fresh sticky pads and reattaching the
pull tags for extracting the cells from the UPS in future. Hardly
difficult, I have to admit, and worth the cost saving for most technically
able people - but it would be nice if MDS
mentioned somewhere on their web site that it wasn't just a drop-in
It looks as if I'll have to
recalibrate the UPS completely, though, as at present it still seems
to be sticking with its story of single figure run-time. I always find
this to be an awkward procedure, unfortunately, as it requires a fairly
precise 30% load to be present on the UPS and arranging that usually
causes some considerable head-scratching. I shall have to try it tomorrow,
though, as at present the UPS is periodically bleating that its batteries
are discharged even though all evidence suggests that is not the case.
Sometimes these things are just too smart for their own good...
I've linked to this before, a marvellous translation of
part of the dubious Sir Mix-A-Lot rap
Latin, but since then the canon has expanded a little... Another
"scholar" has translated
remainder of the lyrics, and the concept has even spawned spin-off
merchandise in the form of
mugs, T-shirts, mouse mats etc. And, just for good measure, here's a not
dissimilar homage to
another offering from the original translator, some
lewd Latin, and some
Latin. Has a dead language ever been so entertaining? Not when I was
failing to learn it at school, for sure...
voice and video support - the open source AOL Instant Messenger
equivalent forks temporarily to allow development of additional media
BASIC language 40 years old today - it's a long way from Dartmouth to
Microsoft's Visual Studio, but the principles of the language are still
Gibson launches digital guitars - although they're not quite as new as
the story suggests, as a friend of mine was experimenting with MIDI
stringed instruments back in the early eighties...
Walmart begins first live RFID test - Walmart have always been at the
forefront of the controversial tagging technology, and as they own the
ASDA supermarket chain in England I expect we'll be next.
Personal Server - a Linux-based SOHO web server with a built-in data
backup facility. Reviewed here at
although, strangely, without a single photograph!
New USB device aimed at recording live music - a USB flash memory
drive in the regular thumb-sized form factor, with the added twist of a
microphone and direct-to-MP3 recording facility.
Imaging Diary - the space probe's approach to Saturn has produced some
excellent pictures of the planet and its moons. Today's image is the last
"full field" picture of the whole ring system.
Iraq mobile network scandal - a senior government official is under
investigation after allegations that he attempted to alter a contract to
benefit a consortium that includes friends and colleagues. <sigh>
trade in compromised PCs - the complex relationships between the virus
writers, middlemen and criminal gangs held largely responsible for the
growth of spam in recent months. Gosh!
loyalty to computers - research at Penn State University shows that
people tend to develop strong ties to a specific computer, even if it
means waiting to use their favourite machine.
Laying down the copyright law to children - the MPAA has funded and
developed an education program aimed at presenting a biased and highly
objective version of media copyright law.
Google vital statistics - The Guardian wonders why Google is so
vague and secretive about its computer facility, when most companies would
be bragging about the world's largest Linux cluster!
BMW drivers get
the most sex, according to a survey in a new German car magazine -
although not from where I'm sitting, I have to admit!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch... A new pair of records for
visits and hits, last month, if only slightly higher than the
previous peak. The overall trend is still upwards, though, which is neat.
The Tweakers Australia Top 50 poll seems to be
back online again, these days, even if it is still dominated by the
completely artificial presence of Elite Guides at number one. I've
said it before, and I'll say it again - these
guys are total frauds, as their site doesn't even have the voting button,
and I don't understand why the Tweakers admins allow them to continue
faking the stats in this way. Still, once you move down a few entries the
figures become both more believable and more relevant, so feel free to do
your bit to boost my ego by clicking on the button below, and keep Epicycle
hovering down there in the middle of the list.