I was ranting to a friend, yesterday, about the British
appalling track record of failed IT projects and (perhaps worried by
my increasingly wild gesticulations and the throbbing veins in my temples)
she suggested that I write something about it here, instead.
I have a particular interest in this topic, I suppose,
as back in 1998 I narrowly avoided getting sucked into the disastrous
implementation of the new computer system at the main Passport Office in
London. I was contracted via the IT outsourcing group Sema to build,
install and then support the NT4 servers that were going to host the new
system (itself provided by Siemens Business Services), but repeated
problems in the final stages of the programming led to the roll-out being
delayed indefinitely. After three months spent twiddling my thumbs and
tweaking their tired old Netware servers to within an inch of their lives,
I finally jumped ship to my current employer - just ahead of
Sema themselves being
[Parts of that contract were actually quite
interesting, I have to admit, if only by accident - in an attempt to stave
off the appalling boredom, I pimped myself out to any nearby government
department that needed a spare techie, and ended up doing odd jobs for the
Police IT Organisation in
New Scotland Yard
and for then Home Secretary Jack Straw's office at
The Fortress in Queen Anne's Gate, to name but two.]
Hindsight shows that I had a narrow escape at the
Passport Office itself, though... When the system was finally implemented
in 1999, it immediately became apparent that it just plain didn't work...
Long delays occurred immediately, with queues of angry people stretching
right around the block, and the planned ten day turn-around for postal
applications peaked at fifty days. By the height of the summer there was a
backlog of around 565,000 applications awaiting processing, and many
people had to cancel or postpone their holidays because they couldn't get
their passports in time.
immediate solution in sight, the Passport Office staff mutinied, and
refused to use the new system altogether. In desperation they reverted to
the previous, mostly paper-based system, and optimised and refined it so
that it worked even better than before. Three hundred temporary staff were
taken on to help tackle the backlog, and this bought enough time to allow
the software to be debugged and re-written. By December 2001 (three years
late!) the new system was
finally in place,
but the repeated problems had lost the Passport Service a total of £12.6
million on top of the original cost of the project - and also lost them
Charter Mark for high quality customer service.
It should be noted, at this stage, that this was
actually one of the last decade's better government IT
implementations - at least it worked in the end, and apparently worked
quite well at that! Since 1997, though,
problems with other
major projects have cost the taxpayer an estimated one and a half
billion pounds, and led to years of stress, over-work and misery for
both government employees and the UK citizens who depend on their
services. The long-delayed Swanwick Air Traffic Control centre, the
cancelled Pathways benefits payment system, other cancelled upgrades to
systems belonging to the Prison Service, the Probation Service and the
Immigration Directorate, the massive fraud that occurred in the
controversial Individual Learning Accounts scheme... The list goes on and
on and on.
The overall problem, as I see it (and this is where,
when talking to my friend, I started waving my arms a lot) is that the
government is using the wrong sort of IT company to design and build these
systems: they are fixated on the idea that when you need a large scale IT
project, only a large scale IT company can possibly do the job. This leads
them inexorably to the UK's big name consultancies - the likes of Anderson
(or whatever they are
themselves since the Enron embarrassment), Ernst & Young, Siemens
Business Services, KPMG, Cap Gemini, or indeed my old nemesis Sema.
I'm convinced that this isn't necessarily the case,
though. There are some extremely keen and talented analysts and
programmers working for small IT companies in the UK, and these little
firms are sleek, nimble and hungry... Unlike the big boys they don't
expect £100,000 just to turn up to the first consultancy meeting, and with
a complete lack of giant
glass-walled office buildings and squadrons of overpaid managers in
Mercedes, their idea of an outrageous fee is many orders of
magnitude less than anything their more bloated cousins would ever
contemplate. Furthermore, their staff usually take a far greater pride in
their work than the faceless contract clones who end up employed by the
big consultancies, and really care about delivering what they have
promised, on time and in budget. Contract staff can leave behind their
mistakes when they move to other projects or other companies - but if a
small company is going to survive at all, it simply can't afford to
make those sorts of mistakes in the first place, and this almost always
shows in the overall quality of the systems that they produce.
As my friend put it, the more layers there are between
the people making the decisions and the people who understand the job, the
less likely a system is to work. When a new or upgraded system is being
designed, if the staff that actually carry out the job are encouraged to
explain their roles to an intelligent, capable programmer/analyst, to
describe the problems they face and the solutions they have devised, you
can easily dispense with the many layers of consultants, project managers
and paper-pushers that the big firms always bring to the job - especially
as, under the current (if flawed!) philosophy of business, the more staff
you employ, the more staff you need to employ to manage and direct
I'm not just pontificating, here, though - I have
proof... A small consultancy of my acquaintance, with less than a dozen
staff, has spent a significant part of the last few years working on
various projects for a government department that should probably remain
nameless. These projects have always been completed on time, within
budget, and to the satisfaction of all concerned - until the most recent
one, that is, when it emerged that an extra layer of bureaucracy had
suddenly been created between the end-users and their immediate
management, and the senior staff responsible for approving projects and
signing cheques. This extra layer has caused endless problems for all
concerned, I gather, stemming from a basic lack of understanding of the
work in question combined with a desire to justify their own existence by
making pointless and clueless changes. Having caused numerous difficulties
and delays with these tactics, now that the current phase is over they are
also delaying the sign-off and payment over contractual issues that are
completely imaginary - and as this kind of behaviour really hits a small
company where it hurts, in the bank account, right now several years worth
of built-up goodwill are running out and things are tense all over...
The previous years of highly successful
implementations, though, have clearly shown that it is perfectly plausible
for a fair sized government department to use a tiny IT company for
significant projects. The department in question has had extremely
good value for money from their supplier, which of course has saved money
for the taxpayers, and from all reports has found a little company to be
far easier to deal with and far more responsive to requests and feedback
than a big firm could ever be. And, on the other hand, the small IT
company has been able to charge what is for them a significant
amount of money for their labours (after all, the systems in question have
demanded considerable skill and experience in their creation) and until
now has been assured of timely payment without difficulties. Until the
recent influx of unwanted middle management, everybody was happy - and if
it works there, it can work elsewhere as well.
So this is my suggestion to UK government - you know,
by now, that the way you've been doing it doesn't work... Every time (yes,
you bring in one of the big names, it loses time, it loses money, and you
end up with egg on your
face - and as often as not with nothing to show for it all apart from
that egg! So why not choose a little company, next time? The hardest part
will be finding a good one, as they can't afford full page adverts in the
Financial Times the way IBM or Cap Gemini can - but you could do worse
than talk to your own techies and see who they suggest... Word of mouth
can be a powerful and useful tool, down at the sharp end of IT, as it
tends to cut through a tremendous amount of bullshit and hype.
And, after all - if a project involving a small firm
does go horribly wrong, then it will be ever so much easier to
bury the loss of only a few tens of thousands of pounds and a few
man-months of work than anything you've had to
try to pass the buck on
so far. Go on, give it a try - you really don't have anything to lose!
Everybody wants a piece of me, today! The first task,
this morning, was the next phase of an ongoing project to help my ex with
what has become a rather problematic upgrade to Windows XP... After that
my office called, and in the apparent absence of all my PFYs I ended up
talking the company's IT director through rebooting a stalled email
server. The afternoon was spent debugging disappearing browser toolbars
and flakey keyboard language settings for a friend, and this evening I've
been helping my father with the
wireless modem connection on his laptop. For someone who is supposed
to be on sick leave, I seem to be doing a lot of work - but given that in
another couple of days I'll have to square up to the enormous backlog
waiting for me at the office, I suppose it's a good idea to start blowing
the cobwebs out of my brain again.
Meanwhile... Sun has teamed up with
controversial games hardware
manufacturer Infinium Labs to provide
the network infrastructure for their aptly-named Phantom console.
Personally, I think Sun may come to regret the day they ever crawled into
bed with Infinium.
Another batch of
security flaws in media players - yet more problems with the various
Real players, and some in Apple's Quicktime as well. It
hasn't been a good month for Apple's reputation...
Nintendo have apologised for
over-reacting to a mention of two of their games in a user's profile
on goth porn site Suicide Girls - but not before Penny Arcade had a
air their opinion.
The RIAA have welcomed students back to college by
lawsuits against 750 students at 13 college campuses. Surely they must
realise the negative publicity these tactics are generating?
In an attempt to banish the boredom of this week's
enforced inactivity, yesterday evening I played a quick game of
and Conquer: Generals, the latest in the venerable real-time strategy
series. The terrain of the map I chose was twisty and complicated, ideal
for an infantry campaign, and evidently the masses of tiny soldier figures
running around the countryside had a profound effect on my subconscious
Later on, as I tried to fall asleep I was reading
Chip Delany's autobiography,
The Motion Of Light In Water, and had reached the part where he
hitch-hiked down to the Texas coast to work on the shrimp boats,
documenting his adventures in a style rather reminiscent of an X-rated
Kerouac's On The Road. It was a restless night when I finally
managed to sleep, and in my somewhat feverish dreams I became obsessed
with the idea that Delany had to send his writing back to New York in
individual sentences and paragraphs, each one streaming North under its
own power just like the soldiers in C&C.
For some reason I became very anxious about this,
convinced that the work would be hopelessly mangled - I couldn't see how
all those little ideas would survive the long journey intact, and was
unable to escape the idea of them getting jumbled out of sequence, or
dropping out of the trek and becoming lost forever, or even being killed
by some unknown enemy... Every time I half-woke to take a drink,
dehydrated and feverish, this problem stayed with me, without any kind of
common sense intruding - I didn't make any connection with the game I had
played, and the idea of having to send writing in this way seemed to be
perfectly reasonable and necessary.
Finally, despairing of any significant sleep in the
small hours of the morning, I got up to distract myself in the hope of
banishing the anxiety - and finally, as I did so, my mind cleared and as I
write this I still have the line "he wrote it down in notebooks,
stupid!" echoing in my thoughts.
It's a funny old thing, the brain.
Incidentally, while I was checking a reference on
Delany, I stumbled across a
site for the author Robert Heinlein, one of his early sources of
inspiration. With commentaries, media files, bibliographies and FAQs, it's
certainly a useful resource. I suppose I should link to
The Heinlein Society, as
well, but they take themselves
seriously to do so with a straight face...
And now for something completely different - links!
beats Gollum to Movie Villain of the Year, and
bans non US browsers from accessing his official re-election website.
What appears to be a flying lawnmower - I'm not totally sure how this
flies with so little apparent wing surface area, but it's an impressive
Microsoft battles piracy with
free software, and submits a revised
ID policy to the IETF, this time with considerably looser patent
AOL are offering freebies, too, this time bundling
their licensed version of
McAfee Antivirus together with the upcoming version nine of their
software suite. I think that's a very wise move...
Web service provides
caller ID spoofing to the public. The first attempt at this, a few
months ago, ended in sudden failure, and it will be interesting to see if
Camphone fares any better.
Online exhortation takes a new turn - East European crooks have
threatened to send out emails containing child porn images in the name of
online casino Blue Square unless they pay €7000.
Men Can't Squat - Australian research into the perfect peeing position
has stalled because a third of the women taking part in the study couldn't
squat for even 30 seconds before falling over.
primitive artificial brain formed from rat neurons has proved capable
of controlling a computerised flight simulator after only fifteen minutes
of "training". Gosh, but that's a touch spooky...
Well, that bug I had a week or so ago resurfaced, so
I'm back on the antibiotics and feeling distinctly off-colour - I have a
comprehensive and unusual set of aches and pains, and bags under my eyes
you could use to carry a
Compaq SLT laptop.
Given that I hadn't caught up from the last period away from the office,
yet, the thought of the backlog that will be waiting for me next week is
Meanwhile, elsewhere... Truly a company after my own
heart - the aptly if rather unimaginatively named
everything conceivable to help (do I really have to tell you?) organise
cables: split loom, braid, heat-shrink, raceways, ties, wraps, clips, you
name it. What a wonderful shop for someone who has often been accused of
having a cable fetish! :-)
Slightly further from home (and let's hope it stays
that way), the bulging brains at NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office
have calculated the risk to human population should the Hubble Space
Telescope re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner. As
could easily be predicted, it would be bad news - the estimated 2000Kg
that would survive re-entry would create a debris footprint stretching
over 755 miles, so one has to assume that whatever the ultimate fate of
the HST, that won't be one of the options under consideration.
Closer to home (in fact, so close that it's all around
us, somewhere down around the
Length), Einstein's prediction that
space-time is warped by a spinning mass has been confirmed. After 11
years watching the movements of a pair of Earth-orbiting satellites,
Italian researchers found that each has been moved about 2 meters per year
as the fabric of space is twisted by the Earth's rotation. The phenomenon
is known as Frame Dragging, and was extrapolated from the General Theory
of Relativity by a pair of Austrian physicists in 1918.
I'm not exactly sure what the point of this is, but
having spotted it at
a few days ago I've been dipping into it with mixed results...
Logoogle has a collection of
Google's own logos, as well as fakes, derivatives, jokes, and other
oddments based on them. I rather liked the Dali-pastiche at the top of
Q: Why did Boddidharma come from the west?
A: To get to the other side.
At least, I think that's
what he said.
Last week I mentioned my doubts about
the wisdom of the Guardian newspaper's US election letter-writing
campaign, and sure enough the organisers have been deluged with
increasingly rabid (and badly written) hate mail since then. The situation
has come to a head now, though, with the server that matched letter
writers to target addresses being
hacked and disabled - presumably by US right-wing activists. The story
reported at Ars.Technica, too, and it's interesting to note
that the unusually right-wing slant put on the news by the Ars
staff writer was more than counterbalanced by a predominantly libertarian
response from readers in
the subsequent comments thread. A pleasant surprise, indeed, after the
profusion of "Die Limey scum!" messages...
Closer to home,
stand accused of helping phone scammers - premium rate fraud is a
serious problem, right now, and it's bad enough that BT aren't accepting
as much responsibility as they should. If Ofcom are working against the
interests of consumers, as well, then that's just too bad... :-(
In other security news,
a fake security warning email
is circulating, purporting to be from Linux vendor Red Hat,
a new virus targeted at Mac OS X has been spotted in the wild, a flaw
in the SuSE Linux kernel allows
a denial of
service attack, and a weakness has been identified in Sun's
Java for mobile phones. It's been a busy week for the Black Hats!
concerns have been expressed over the decision to upgrade the onboard
systems of British nuclear submarines to Windows 2000. I think that's
unwise, too, although apparently for different reasons - to me, Server
2003 and Windows XP would seem to be a considerably better bet!
In Australia a retired policeman is in court
facilitating the download of almost 2Tb of MP3 music files between
November 2002 and October 2003. The scale of his file sharing is pretty
much unprecedented, and needless to say the Music Industry Piracy
Investigations, the RIAA's attack dogs Doiwn Under, are keen to make an
example of him. There is a twist, however, in that the accused didn't
actually hold the MP3s in question on his own servers, but instead merely
linked to files hosted elsewhere on the net - and this will be a critical
factor in the defence's case.
Finally, Stanford Wallace of SmartBot.net Inc
and Cyber Promotions, the man known as "The Spam King", has been
ordered by a federal judge to desist using spyware that exploits
security holes in operating systems and browsers, then tracks user's
online activity to bombard them with pop-up ads. Ironically, Wallace is
also accused of trying to sell spyware remedies, "Spy Wiper" and
"Spy Deleter", that the US Federal Trade Commission says don't actually
work. The case continues...
So, the Metropolitan Police deployed one of their brand
mobile weapons scanners in Lewisham, South London, for the first time
on Friday night. Anywhere between 400 and 700 offices were involved,
apparently, but although 14 people were arrested for various minor
offences, no firearms were actually found. None at all. Does anyone
else share my feeling that this was a vastly expensive and spectacularly
unproductive political exercise, triggered by the announcement of
yet another rise in gun crime?
Elsewhere, apropos of nothing much -
Wikipedia's entry on the alleged Apollo moon landings hoax provides a
rich source of links to both the conspiracy theories and some very
well-written, scientific rebuttals. And talking of the moon, I've spent
the last week flipping through a late birthday present,
Full Moon, the most recent book of photographs from the Apollo
programme. Often avoiding the more familiar images, the book has instead
been assembled from some of the more personal moments (such as a
dishevelled, unshaven Wally Schirra, sleeping in free fall during the
Apollo 7 flight) and so brings a fresh look to the subject. The
specially-scanned photos are mostly crisp and clear, and sometimes
wonderfully colourful - it really is a very elegant collection, and is
very reasonably priced, too!
Meanwhile, The Register
discusses a new report that claims to tell the truth about the
relatively security of Linux and Windows. In general this argument will
run and run, of course, but the article certainly bears going through more
thoroughly than I've had time to, as yet. The full report can be found
At Dan's Data, Dan has an interesting idea -
The SnitchCam - which has
quite captured my imagination. It's not a new idea, I guess, but as Dan
explains the technology required to deliver this kind of service is
maturing nicely. He has some
letters, too, and a review of a rather worthwhile pair of RF
hobbies - and their likely affect on your sex life (or lack of it).
Hmmmm... They don't seem to say anything about owning far too many
computers, at least.
It's another slow news day, it seems. Don't make me
shoot that kitten...
There was a young man named Delany
whose verse wasn't overly brainy.
When you start to get with him,
he completely drops the concept of rhythm
and after a while doesn't even bother to rhyme.
Marilyn Hacker, on SF grand master
Samuel Delany's own
That's two poets I've
mentioned, now, in the space of only a month or so! As a hard-core techie,
I shouldn't make a habit of that talking about the arts - I'm in danger of
losing all my geek-cred...
This is an official
Ansari X-Prize launch day T-shirt, all the way from
The Space Store in Houston. I didn't
buy it primarily to make Mike envious, but I have to admit that was
an important factor. That's a very interesting shade of green you've gone,
I guess I probably shouldn't mention the
International Space Station
got at the same time, then? :-)
Sales of music CDs are on the rise again, it seems, and
article at Ars.Technica investigates why this might be
happening. It's becoming increasingly hard for the RIAA to justify their
outrageous demands for sweeping legal powers, now, but if the Republicans
stay in power next month I expect they'll manage somehow in spite of
Ars, speculation on a forthcoming upgrade to Windows XP. It
seems that a new point release is due sometime before Longhorn ships in
2005 or thereabouts. The details of this upgrade are scanty at best, of
course, but with Longhorn itself morphing from an operating system into a
staged wave of technologies, at least some of them may feature in the new
Urban Resolve is
a new military simulation developed by the US Joint Forces Command,
designed to play out wargames in an urban environment. The scale of the
simulation is unprecedented, with the capability to model and track over a
million objects - soldiers, civilians, military vehicles, cars, etc - as
well as the infrastructure and services of the city itself. It's an
impressive project, certainly.
The BackBytes column in this week's Computing
magazine brings news of what sounds like a surprisingly exciting new
computer game from publisher Serif. "The Times Bridge" includes all
the usual features, including bidding systems for beginners and experts,
the facility to save unfinished games to resume later, and, in a departure
from all previous simulations, "real Newtonian physics for realistic
collision, side, swerve and backspin". Presumably this is an attempt
to replicate the ferocious under-the-table assaults which I'm told often
accompany friendly games of bridge, and it certainly sounds as if they're
reproducing all the pain of the real game. I've never enjoyed such
dangerous, aggressive pastimes myself, and in my youth I always preferred
comparatively safe, gentle hobbies such as
racing sailing dinghies,
full-bore target shooting and
Elsewhere, a story in
The Mercury News describes how certain key Republican web sites
suffered a wave of mysterious outages yesterday. Various people are
speculating about hacking, of course, but in actual fact the evidence
simply seems to suggest DNS configuration issues. Given the lies and spin
that are central to the GOP campaign, though, we'll probably never know
A report at CNet suggests that the age of the MP3 has passed, with
various other file formats becoming gradually more popular for storing
digital music. The data comes from a study by NPD MusicWatch Digital,
which apparently surveys the hard-drives of 40,000 different people to
track Internet and software trends. I don't think I'll be signing up for
that programme, I have to say!
Another standard that is likely to last far longer than
the rumours of its demise suggest is the venerable Transmission Control
Protocol, the TCP in TCP/IP.
Internet" is a UDP-based protocol, which apparently maximises
available bandwidth by using
encoding method that is far less sensitive to packet loss than a
conventional connection-oriented protocol such as TCP. It will be
interesting to see how it develops.
It's been one of those days, at the office, and
as it seems to be a slow news day elsewhere I guess we'll just have to
survive on a couple of random links...
Universal Off Switch - the TV-B-Gone
is a remote control with a difference... it only has one button, but will
turn off almost any television in the world - it starts with the common
models, and works its way down an extensive database of IR power-off codes
until it finds the right one. Marvellous!
Calling International Rescue - a Toshiba flat screen television
emitted a rogue signal on the 121.5 MHz international distress frequency,
which was routed by satellite to the Air Force Rescue Center at Langley in
Virginia, and ultimately led to the surprised owner being visited by a
contingent of local police, civil air patrol and search and rescue
personnel. Isn't technology wonderful.
Send me news
or the kitten gets it ...
In an unprecedented and extremely contentious move, UK
newspaper The Guardian has
letter-writing campaign intended to influence the upcoming
presidential election in the key state of Ohio. Apparently they bought a
list of registered voters in the state and extracted those declaring
themselves as undecided, then gave out a single name and address to each
of the 14,000 readers who had pledged to help.
Predictably, the reaction from across the pond has
ranged from the unfavourable to the venomous... Responses from Democrat
organisations both in Britain and America are being tactful but decidedly
disapproving, whereas the right-wingers and neo-cons, especially in the
Southern states, have fallen upon the campaign in their usual xenophobic,
abusive, and confrontational style:
"Hey England, Scotland and Wales, mind your own
business. We don't need weenie-spined Limeys meddling in our
presidential election" was one reaction from Ohio, with
Texas contributing "Real Americans aren't interested in your
pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions. If you want to save the world, begin
with your own worthless corner of it"...
Sheesh! Some people really do get the government they
Redneck bigotry aside, though, I have to say that I
think it was a butt-headed thing for The Guardian and its readers
to do - their hearts were in the right place, I admit, and the fact that
the organisers felt the need to do something like this is a clear
indication that they appreciate the dramatic and far-reaching effects that
US politics can have on Britain. However, anyone who understands even a
little about America and Americans should have expected precisely this
reaction, and unfortunately I suspect that the overall effect will be to
lose votes for Kerry instead of bolstering support for him among
the swing voters as intended.
"As weak as a kitten" #2
Elsewhere - differences between the various versions of
the original three Star Wars movies
minute detail, with pictures. I can't say I approve of all those
changes and re-writes, actually.
The CEO of games company ID Software is
offering a prize for the best tattoo inspired by logos or artwork from
his company's products. Hmmmmm...
Dell claim that
90% of PCs are infected by spyware. It's not clear exactly which PCs
they're referring to, but in any case I think that figure is
Microsoft promises to treat multi-core processors as single CPUs for
purposes of licensing. This is really only an extension to their existing
attitude towards HyperThreading CPUs, but as an ardent SMP devotee, I am
really glad to hear it anyway.
New head of e-government makes
career-limiting announcement - earlier this week Ian Watmore described
the Home Office's beloved ID card scheme as "technologically impossible
and not today's big worry". That really is a very strange thing for
him to say, isn't it?
Today's space image, courtesy of the
Telescope, is the planetary nebula MyCn18. The eyeball effect is
uncanny, and I can't help but think of Niven and Pournelle's classic SF
Mote In God's Eye".
Meanwhile, slightly closer to home...
Via Mike -
Chinese satellite plummets out of orbit. One of the advantages of
running a totalitarian regime is that nobody dares to complain: "The
satellite landed in our home. Maybe this means we'll have good luck this
year," the tenant of the wrecked apartment, Huo Jiyu, was quoted as
Virus writers in
incoherent ranting shock - "Also we will attack f-secure,symantec,trendmicro,mcafee,
etc. The 11th of march is the skynet day lol. When the beagle and mydoom
loose, we wanna stop our activity <== so Where is the Skynet now? lol."
Well, excuse me while I tremble in my boots...
analysis of the state of e-voting - "annoying interface,
inexperienced staff, shaken confidence, destroying votes, crying foul,
conflict of interest"... And those are just the topic headings! The
Republicans are out to steal the election again, and e-voting is one of
And, finally, as it's been running through my head for
several days, now...
Give me a head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here, baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair
I let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the
Give a home to the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas (yeah!)
A hive for bees (yeah!)
A nest for birds
There ain't no words for the beauty, the splendour
The wonder of my
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair
I watched the movie of
"The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen", yesterday, and I have to say that I
enjoyed it a lot. The plot was
different from the Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill comics that inspired
it, but it was exciting and extremely fast-paced all the same, and
the Victorian steampunk technology was beautifully realised. I know that
the movie was not well reviewed when it came out last year, but I do think
that much of the
criticism was rather harsh - however, I'm certainly not an aficionado
of comic books and so maybe I missed the
nuances that made the original so respected and popular. Taken alone,
though, it was a fun, light-hearted movie with neat special effects and a
fresh twist - just the thing for a quiet Saturday night at home.
Meanwhile, at Arnie's Airsoft, a new review of
Youth Engineering H&K MP5 gas blow-back replica. I'm lucky enough to
own one of these rare and highly sought-after classics, having stumbled
across a shop selling it as clearance stock at a bargain price, and
although it's a somewhat quirky piece of hardware, it really is as much
fun as the review suggests. I'll do my own write-up, one of these days...
"Frankenfish" caught in Great Lakes - the Northern Snakehead fish
grows to 18" long and eats other fish, frogs and even birds and mammals -
and it's ugly, too... The article also mentions the Asian Carp, a huge
fish that seems to make a habit of leaping out of the water and knocking
Register offers their own, non-proprietary product in the
burgeoning in-car satellite navigation market. Their BioNav™ solution
sounds suspiciously familiar, though, on close examination, and experience
has shown that this approach has a number of significant disadvantages..
Old-school virus spreading - Bacros replicates in a wonderfully
traditional way, infecting the boot systems of floppy and CD discs. It has
an old-fashioned payload, too - on Christmas Day, it attempts to delete
all the files on an infected PC's hard disk. Bah, Humbug!
I'd somehow forgotten about
Dan's Data, recently, but he
hasn't been idle in the meantime - there are two pages of letters, reviews
of assorted tech oddments, and one of a wonderful
roll-up piano. The latter
reminds me strongly of Laurie Anderson's keyboard tie from the Home Of
The Brave video.
I spent an annoying few hours in the office, today,
powering down forty-something fileservers and their associated switches,
routers, firewalls and other infrastructure - then waiting a few hours and
powering them all up again after the electricians had done whatever it is
that electricians do. As usual, 98% of the systems cycled back up again
perfectly, but (again, as usual) that last two percent was a real pain in
the neck. Today's choice annoyance was a little subnet of high-security
systems locked safely away behind their own little firewall appliance.
Although the servers themselves came up perfectly, they didn't seem to
have any connectivity to the rest of the network, and all attempts to
tweak, tune, and twiddle with the firewall's configuration and rule-base
proved completely fruitless.
My PFY is feeling extremely smug, however, as he turned
up when I'd already finished the rest of the work and was scratching my
head over the firewall. He looked at it for a moment, and then diagnosed a
routing issue - which did indeed turn out to be the case, as the default
gateway had lost its static routes table again, meaning that the packets
leaving the firewall had no idea where to go next. Data was flowing
into the firewalled subnet, but without a route back out again for the
replies, it might as well have been falling into a black hole.
I'm kicking myself, this evening, as I really should
have spotted that - not only because the router in question did the same
trick of eating its configuration only a couple of months ago, but mostly
because having spent ten years driving TCP/IP-based networks I should have
learned by now that any really odd problem, that doesn't seem to make
sense, that can't be solved or even diagnosed by any other means...
anything like that is bound to be a routing issue!
"As weak as a kitten"
So, controversial PC manufacturer Liebermann Inc. has
gone into receivership today. Trading online as
L, the company
offered desktop and laptop PCs with unusually high performance, but has
frequently been the target of
allegations of false advertising, especially concerning their
"Hollywood" range of laptops. Grave doubts were cast on the benchmark
speeds published, and on a number of occasions the hardware specification
described would apparently have been completely impossible to achieve!
Liebermann were always excessively hostile towards their critics, though,
with responses from their PR department that could be interpreted as
physical violence, and as far as I'm concerned their departure is no
loss to the industry.
Walmart was one of the companies that benefited from
the anti-trust suite over
RIAA's illegal CD price-fixing, last year, and now they're flexing
their muscles again. They are insisting that wholesale CD prices are
lowered right across the board, and according to
industry experts they may actually have the economic influence to
force it through. And talking of the RIAA, they've had
setback in the courts, this time over their demand that they should be
able to subpoena ISPs for the personal details of suspected file sharers
without actually having to obtain any kind of court order. The smart money
seems to think that this one will re-surface if the Republicans stay in
power next month, though...
The ill-fated Canadian company Corel has made another in its long
series of inexplicable corporate acquisitions, this time buying the small
graphics software manufacturer JASC. Creator of the venerable PaintShop
Pro image editor and its various spin-offs, JASC are one of the bigger
names in the perpetually ailing shareware industry. Corel is obviously
hoping to gain market share from Adobe's flagship Photoshop package and,
indeed, recent versions of PaintShop have had definite delusions of
PhotoShop grandeur... Which is another way of saying that they have become
bloated, sluggish and over-complicated in comparison to the lean,
responsive application it used to be. As with so many of Corel's previous
purchases, though, this one is a touch perplexing - they already own the
rights to the comparable PhotoPaint application (once an independent
application but now bundled with CorelDraw) and which is a mature,
fully-featured application in its own right. Corel has the dubious ability
to break the products they acquire, though (where is WordPerfect, now, or
Designer, or Ventura Publisher?) and it would be a shame if they managed
the same trick with the old favourite PSP...
I'm out from under the blanket, now, but as usual the
antibiotics are making me a touch short on both energy and enthusiasm - so
you'll just have to survive on a handful of random links:
Everything for the conspiracy
theorist - Alex Jones'
Infowars site has all the classics: Illuminati, Freemasons, 9/11
plots... Unfortunately, however, all the stuff about the illegal, immoral
behaviour of Republican politicians is probably true.
Memories of the Space Age - the forgotten space projects of the
seventies, post-Apollo, pre-shuttle: NERVA, the space tug, moon bases and
the manned Mars mission. All cancelled, thanks to Senator Proxmire and his
Intel roadmap gets confusing at the crease - Intel have abandoned the
jump to a 4GHz Pentium 4, originally intended for the end of this year,
and instead will divert resources to what appears to be the next big thing
- dual core processors.
More problems with electronic voting machines - in Florida the
back-end server that tabulates results died, delaying a test run for three
days. How many more of these frauds, glitches and lies will it take before
the American public wakes up and realises that electronic voting just
isn't safe and honest yet?
Hair-trigger ISPs - Dutch civil liberties group
Bits Of Freedom
created ten web sites with perfectly legal content, then sent fake
complaints (from a free Hotmail address, no less!) to the ISPs and hosting
companies claiming copyright violation. Unfortunately seven of the ten
companies pulled the sites in question immediately without even examining
them - including big names Demon, Wannadoo and Tiscali, who really
ought to know better. One other, iFast, even forwarded confidential
personal details of the site's creators to the "complainant", in spite of
not actually having been asked to do so!
More on the Indymedia seizure -
the servers have been returned to host RackSpace, it seems,
possibly after a mysterious court order. The reason for the seizure now
seems to be that the Italian authorities wanted to examine confidential
lawsuits against the Genoa police over their behaviour during the 2001
G8 summit - accusations of grievous bodily harm, falsifying evidence,
slander and abuse of police powers. This is an ugly business, certainly,
but it does look as if the truth is starting to leak out (and surprisingly
quickly, too) and it's just possible that for a change the appropriate
heads might actually roll.
I'm reading a very odd book, at the moment, from a
science fiction author I wasn't previously aware of. Set in the now
familiar dystopian future America, Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas And Electric
is obviously and heavily influenced by both Shea and Wilson's classic
Illuminatus! series, and by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (and
there's an unholy duo if ever I saw one!), with a touch of Fred Pohl's
The Space Merchants thrown in for good measure.
It is surreal in just the same way as Illuminatus!,
if not nearly to the same extent, and one of the central characters is a
pirate submarine captain who could pinch-hit for Hagbard Celine. It's by
no means slavishly derivative, though, in spite of that - it would be safe
to assume that Ruff is a fan of Illuminatus!, but he firmly
stamps his own style onto the story, and instead of annoying me, the
echoes are just making me smile and nod in recognition.
The influence of Atlas Shrugged is more
ideological than stylistic, perhaps fortunately, but Rand herself appears
as an AI-driven holographic genie-of-the-lamp and the book contains
frequent (and highly informative) digressions on her life and works. Like
one of Ruff's characters, the incredibly long, dense reputation of
Atlas Shrugged has always dissuaded me from approaching it - but
thanks to Ruff's excellent summary of the work I now feel excused from the
I'm still only half-way through the story, and right
now I have no idea how it will end - the first half seems to be a
collection of almost unconnected vignettes laying out the lives of the
central characters, but according to other reviews everything will start
to come together imminently... And if the second half is anything as
compelling as the first, it will be a very enjoyable read.
[Update: It was!]
your hard disk - at the perhaps aptly-named Mad Shrimps,
instructions for improving the finish of a drive's outer casing. I do
think that this is a somewhat dubious procedure in terms of the risks from
static electricity, but it has to be said that the result is certainly
impressive... And talking of modding, just when you thought you'd seen
everything - a
review of Molex power splitters, would you believe? Also, rather less
trivial, SystemCooling has an article on an unusual (and rather
Peltier-based "air conditioner" for PC cases.
Was Bush wearing a wire? A number of factors strongly suggest that he
was, and if it wasn't for the significant risk of being found out, and the
serious loss of stature that would cause, I would consider it an open and
shut case - but, as The Register comments, when it comes to his own
political career he tends to play very safe indeed. Hmmmm.
At around £1200 per litre, inkjet printer ink is more
expensive than perfume, according to
a new report from
Gartner. The manufacturers claim that this is merely an attempt to
recoup their massive R&D costs, but as far as I'm concerned it's
outrageous and indefensible. Having discounted the printers themselves
down to the level of petrol station freebies in the ongoing price war,
they have to make their money somehow - and maximising the mostly hidden
cost of the consumables is a classic
sneaky, corporate manoeuvre. Oops! There's Ayn Rand, again...
Well, I thought I had some trivial
little macro virus, but it turns out that my boot sector is infected with
something distinctly hostile. The doctor has prescribed antibiotics and
some downtime for extended maintenance, so I'm going to be away from the
office for the rest of the week... This will be a touch difficult for both
me and my colleagues - there's a lot of work that will still need to be
done in my absence, and I'm likely to go stir crazy after another week at
home without being able to get on with doing any of it! Ah, well.
Meanwhile, the first glitch since I installed XP's SP2
has surfaced - Veritas Backup Exec V9.1 now seems to crash every time a
scheduled backup job actually starts to think about writing to the media.
The failing module is PVLSVR.EXE, the Device And Media service, which
seems to be clashing with the (presumably updated in SP2) MSVCRT.DLL. This
doesn't seem to be documented on the Veritas knowledgebase, yet, but it's
100% consistent on this system and I guess I'll have to open a support
call as soon as I'm feeling a bit better.
Now I'm off back under a blanket, again...
Servers belonging to left-wing independent news agency
Indymedia have been
seized from their location at
RackSpace Managed Hosting
in London's Docklands, apparently following instructions from the FBI. It
is not clear at this stage whether the legal action was taken under the
extra-territorial provisions of American legislation, or under the UK's
own Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, but it is known that
the first step in the process was the subpoena issued to the US head
office of RackSpace - although it seems that this was actually in response
to a complaint raised by the Swiss police! This is obviously a complex
international issue, and as could be expected
speculation is rife...
Stay tuned to
Register and to Indymedia themselves for details... Although, of
course, under the terms of the UK's appalling RIPA legislation the parties
involved may well be severely limited as to what they can actually say,
not only in public but also to their lawyers!
About a week ago the web site of respected Japanese
airsoft supplier Endoshoji
disappeared completely, and as I write this it's still conspicuous by its
absence. I'm sure they would be pleased to see how much interest this
created, though - there are at least three threads on the Arnie's
Airsoft forums, let alone ASCUK and UKAN, so there must be a lot of
people regularly checking their product range.
As Arnie himself pointed out, the site disappeared exactly one month
after the renewal date of their domain name, so it's probably nothing more
than an administrative error or a dispute with their domain hosting
company - but that didn't prevent
one particular fool-head from announcing that they had closed the site
down purely in order to defraud him! Apparently he noticed somebody on a
forum elsewhere mentioning that they'd just taken delivery of exactly the
same gun that he'd ordered but had not yet received, and so decided
that they'd deliberately sent it to the second guy instead, then taken the
entire company web site offline in order to cover their tracks!
<sigh> That's the thing I hate most about the hobby of airsoft - so
many of it's enthusiasts are the most obnoxious, objectionable, annoying,
egotistical and arrogant, teenage boys that you could ever imagine... I
favour Robert Heinlein's solution of raising them in a barrel, myself.
[Update: Endoshoji Airsoft are now up and running again
at a new domain, endoshoji.com]
From the marvellous
Annals of Improbable Research
- everything you never realised you wanted to know about the
sexual behaviour of porcupines. As always, the entire AIR site is well
worth dipping into. Start at the
Ig Nobel Prize
winners or the
Just as predicted, the UK record industry has
sued 28 file-sharers. The opening salvo in the war has been fired, and
experience in the US has shown that unfortunately it is a short step from
cracking down on serious copyright violators to fighting against the
entire concept of "fair use".
I don't know quite what to say about
Vibe-Rider - it has
always been well known that the vibrations from motorcycle engines can
have a... well, shall we say a "stimulating" effect on female passengers,
but now there is an accessory designed to maximise that phenomenon. It
isn't very subtle, though, is it...
Oh, and finally - I've just had my statement of account
from the broker who processes my single "putting my money where my
mouth is" share in
Microsoft US, and it looks as if it earned me slightly
over $3 this year. Thanks, Bill! :-)
I took the plunge today and installed the infamous
Service Pack 2 on my main home PC, together with an upgrade from
Office XP to Office 2003 while I was at it. I've been running SP2 on the
laptop for a couple of weeks without any obvious difficulties, and
apparently this morning the upgrade fever took hold. I'm avoiding
many of the potential problems, of course, by disabling the new Windows
Firewall - with the entire LAN protected by my trusty SonicWall SOHO2
appliance, there's no real need for a software firewall as well. The new
DCOM security enhancements may still cause a quirk or two at some future
date, but I'll worry about that when I come to it. With both client PCs
upgraded to SP2, and the server running on Windows Server 2003, I'm right
back at the bleeding edge of operating systems again - just where I'm most
To give a sense of perspective, though, I've just
article at AnandTech, written by Anand himself, who selflessly
abandoned his principles and used a Mac for a month in order to find out
just what all the fuss was about. As could be expected, even an old-school
Wintel user like Anand was favourably impressed with both the G5 hardware
and the OS X operating system. Apple's current models are mature and
polished, and like all modern computers they are extremely fast - and even
if they're not quite as powerful as an equivalent Intel system when it
comes down to the raw benchmarks, with all those MIPS on tap it's not
actually that important.
When he comes to the operating system, though, I was
rather puzzled to see praise for some GUI fundamentals, such as resizing
desktop icons, or closing a window without giving it the focus, or some of
the more exotic drag-and-drop operations, that Anand doesn't seem to have
realised are actually included in Windows XP (and probably even Windows
2000) as well... There are a number of such references in the review, and
it is rather curious!
His final conclusion is that both Mac and Wintel
systems have their pros and cons, and that neither has a clear edge for
the majority of applications - an eminently reasonable viewpoint that I
can thoroughly endorse myself. The G5 is undoubtedly a sleek and elegant
creature, and I would be proud to have one on my desk, but it has to be
said that I'm extremely fond of moody case lighting and smoked Perspex
Out of academic interest, though, I've just priced up a
dual CPU Mac G5 system that would give something close to the performance
and features of the current incarnation of my Infinity
desktop PC - and the cost comes to an eyebrow-raising £3912.
I spent at least a grand less than that on Infinity, I'd say, and
that expense includes a number of significant options that simply aren't
offered by Apple - accelerated hardware RAID, for example, and the
All-In-Wonder multimedia graphics card, and the internal VXA tape backup
drive... Still, as Anand says, buying and using a Mac isn't about the
money - I guess it's more of a religious thing.
Some nasty little bug has sneaked through my body's own
anti-virus defences, but I have just enough energy left to crawl out from
under a blanket for long enough to post some quick links. The things I do
New fuel cell technology close - Hitachi and Toshiba have both
unveiled prototypes of methanol fuel cells for a range of applications,
including PDAs, cell phones and laptops, that could start to replace
conventional Lithium Ion batteries as early as 2005. Hitachi's laptop cell
is designed to provide at least five hours of continuous operation for for
high-end laptops running multiple applications.
Induce Act shelved - The Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed a
final review of the Act after negotiations among the parties involved in
crafting the bill failed. Under the current wording, the technology
companies would be held liable for copyright violations using their
products and systems, and understandably they are not too happy
about this... Discussion will resume in the next session.
A new cartoon from
JibJab - their last political animation resulted in the
threat of a lawsuit from the estate of Woody Guthrie over use of his
song "This land is your land", which fortunately turned out to be
as unsuccessful as it was misguided. The site is impossibly overloaded at
present, but it will be worth a look when the fuss calms down a little.
hands on the keyboard - an article at UK site Bit-Tech has a
cautionary tale of an inappropriate use for an office PC, a corrupted
Windows installation, and a shed-load of lost data. Bit-Tech is going from
strength to strength these days, actually, evolving from a small-scale
hardware modding site, a few years ago, to something more like a pocket
version of Ars.Technica.
talking of Bit-Tech - here's an article they're hosting on a very
impressive homebrew computer... Designed as a render farm for a digital
graphics hobbyist, it has five relatively low-end AMD Duron motherboards
giving a total of 9GHz. It's an extremely proficient piece of work,
especially given that its creator is only in his teens, and has reduced
his render times by 70%.
Recall for faulty Dell laptop power supplies - Dell has announced that
many of their recent laptop power supplies have a potential risk of
serious overheating, including those shipped with the Latitude and
Inspiron models. I have a large handful to check at home, but we have
hundreds of the damn things at the office and examining them all is going
to be a real drain on resources... Gah!
Finally, for the PC modder who has already illuminated
everything else - Akasa has introduced
Power Eyes, little PCBs with LEDs that slip inside a Molex power
connector and make the white plastic glow brightly in a variety of
colours. I have to admit that this is rather a neat little idea, and as
around £5 for a pack of five, I think I may be forced to invest in a
handful of the red ones.
Right, I'm off back under that blanket, now.
new-look Ars.Technica - as mentioned here last week, the
British Phonographic Industry is gearing up to launch lawsuits against UK
music sharers. Their justifications of falling sales and lost profits are
just the same as those given by their US counterpart the RIAA, but
grave doubts have already been cast on the American figures and given
the similar behaviour of copyright owners worldwide, frankly I don't trust
the BPI as far as I could throw them. Which, in case you're wondering, is
not very far at all...
new system - once legendary supercomputer manufacturer Cray has been
mostly eclipsed by other companies since their slump of the late nineties
and subsequent acquisition by SGI and, unfortunately, it doesn't look as
if the new XD1 system is going to help restore their former glories. Based
around AMD Opteron CPUs, it's certainly a rapid lump of hardware, but it's
being marketing against Linux clusters hosted on off-the-shelf PCs, which
is quite a come-down for a company that used to set its own benchmarks.
Disappointing revenues this year have led to speculation of another
takeover, this time by Sun, and given the latter's interest in AMD-based
systems that doesn't sound out of the question.
Bill owns three million EU techies - an IDC study commissioned by
Microsoft suggests that, of the nine million people employed in the
European IT industry, just over one third are working in some kind of
Microsoft-related job. IT jobs in the nineteen countries surveyed
generated $200 billion in tax revenue, which is expected to rise by an
additional $160 billion over the next four years - the survey estimates
that by 2008 there will be 5.2 million software-related jobs in Western
Europe, which is a major slice of the workforce. Gosh!
"second chance" scams spreading - yet another reason to be
increasingly suspicious, paranoid and sceptical when shopping and trading
online... If the winner of an eBay auction drops out of the deal,
for some reason, the second highest bidder may be offered the option to
purchase the goods at his losing price. However, a growing number of these
offers are now being sent by unrelated third parties after an auction has
completed normally, hoping to extract payment for non-existent goods from
disappointed unsuccessful bidders. It's worth checking names and email
addresses very carefully, these days, I'd say...
Today's email brought a pleasant surprise in the form
of a note from writer and journalist
Peter Hyman, author of "The Reluctant Metrosexual", a
collection of witty and amusing essays on hip urban life in the 21st
Century. He'd obviously been ego-scanning and found himself on
my reading list, and as the book
apparently hasn't yet been published in the UK he was curious as to how I
acquired it. In fact I ound the digital version almost by chance at
Audible, purveyor of the
audiobooks that I play in the car while commuting and, as I told Peter, I
found it a very enjoyable read... uh, listen... whatever... Keep an
eye out for it when it finally reaches the UK, import it from Amazon US,
or grab it now as an e-book of some sort - it's recommended.
Meanwhile, I stumbled upon a wonderful site,
Bikini Science, which is
devoted to the history, design and sociology of, you guessed it, bikinis.
The heavily-hyperlinked text is informative and extremely comprehensive,
obviously the result of a long-time interest (some might say obsession!)
on the part of the creator, old-school computer graphics wizard Judson
Rosebush - and of course the site is stuffed with pictures of women in
bikinis ranging from modest to minute, which always gets my vote.
has died at the ripe old age (for a test pilot) of 77. "Gordo" was one
of the original Mercury Seven, flying in both the Mercury and Gemini
programmes, and training for the Apollo programme (although never flying -
he blamed internal politics) and the cancelled manned nuclear Mars
mission. After leaving NASA he became somewhat notorious for his outspoken
belief in aliens and
UFOs, claiming widespread government cover-ups since the 1950s. The
jury is still out on that one but, regardless, there's no doubt that
Cooper was one of the true heroes of the space age. Safe landings, Gordo...
Links! Get your links here!
Viral movies possible with RealPlayer flaw - exploits involving buffer
overflows, allowing files ostensibly containing harmless data to hide
arbitrary hostile executable code instead, are coming thick and fast.
Although a handful have been found
in Windows itself,
this year, a far greater number have been found in third party
applications. The latest affects the Real music and video player in all
its various incarnations - RealPlayer 10 for Windows and Mac OS X, RealOne
Player for Windows and Mac OS X and Real Helix Player for Linux.
MS announces plans for spyware tools - as a follow up to their
recently revealed plans to offer anti-virus software (exact details and
pricing yet to be confirmed), Microsoft supremo Bill Gates has revealed
that anti-spyware software is also to be developed. Gates also predicted
that he is expecting conventional passwords to be gradually replaced by
biometric technologies over the next five or six years.
Ars.Technica - the fourth "cybersecurity czar" in a year has quit
the Department of Homeland Security in frustration, complaining that the
US government simply does not take electronic security seriously. Amit
Yoran joins disaffected predecessors Richard Clarke (author of the
controversial expose on the Bush administration's misguided and inadequate
policies on terrorism), Howard Schmidt, who resigned after just three
months, and Rand Beers, who actually quit after just one month and
joined the Kerry election campaign! Something is obviously badly wrong...
Sound advice for the media industry - at The Register, a
transcript of a speech given by staffer Andrew Orlowski explains how, if
the music industry can only reign in their natural greed and change their
antiquated licensing model to something less restrictive, they can avoid
all the current unpleasantness with widespread piracy and annoying
lawsuits, regain the respect of their marketplace, and still make a
shed-load of money. Will they listen? Unfortunately, my gut says "no"...
beats Sun in Java lawsuit - Kodak have won their claim that Sun's Java
environment infringes on some of their basic patents (a mechanism for one
program to "ask another for help", bought from Wang Laboratories in the
late nineties) and later this week the court will award the settlement.
Kodak are claiming $1 billion in damages, as well as unpaid royalties past
and present, representing at least half of Sun's operating profit from
it's server and storage hardware between 1998 and 2001. I'm still annoyed
spiteful lawsuit against Microsoft, which has had terrible effects on
the reliability and stability of Java applications for the end user, so
I'm quietly amused by this latest development - he who lives by the sword,
dies by the sword. Or actually, in this day and age, by the lawsuit...
Buying a Linux PC to save money, then putting Windows on it? -
following the various anti-trust suits of the late nineties, Microsoft was
prohibited from obliging hardware manufacturers to bundle a copy of
Windows with every PC sold, and these PCs are generally a little cheaper
to reflect the lack of the Windows license. In fact, they are usually
bundled with a copy of one of the Linux builds instead, but a report from
Gartner suggests that (Shock! Horror!) 40% of these buyers actually
throw away the Linux and install a pirated copy of Windows instead.
:-) Talk about voting with your wallets...
And, finally, just to show that the traditions of
craftsmanship are not completely lost,
a PC modder with the
skills of a
cabinetmaker. It's beautiful and innovative work.
My newly-arrived Navman GPS unit (together with the
borrowed Mercedes!) has just taken me safely
to and from deepest, darkest Kent, where I was staying overnight with my
parents during their holiday near Tunbridge Wells. It was all very green,
and full of wildlife, and made a very pleasant change - you don't see many
squirrels in East London, as a rule...
Right now seems to be a good time to buy
Navman GPS hardware, actually -
their new range is about to be launched, which has led some dealers to
heavily discount the existing models to clear out the stock. However,
aside from the colour scheme the only significant differences between the
and the new iCN650
are a software upgrade to SmartST V3 and the addition of an infrared
remote control. The former can be purchased separately, and I can do
without the latter, which makes an upgraded iCN630 a very reasonably
priced option until pricing settles on the new models.
I mentioned a few days ago
that I'd been having problems with a couple of online hardware suppliers,
and I'm glad to be able to report that at least some progress has been
made. Although NavCity called me on Thursday morning to say that they
finally had stocks of the iCN 630 I wanted, by that time I had found a
different supplier, the unimaginatively-named
Systems, who not only offered guaranteed next day delivery from a
specified stock level (the web site showed four, then I placed my order,
and it went down to three!), but were also asking around £70 less for the
same hardware! They delivered it exactly when they said, with no fuss or
bother, and I drove home with it nestled on the dashboard of the Mercedes
only 48 hours after placing the order. Nice one!
I'm still not having much joy from Zion Media,
though... Although Mark Whalley, the Managing Director, and Jon Emmett,
the Sales Manager, have both been helpful in the extreme, every contact
I've had with the front-line sales staff has been very disappointing. I
have no idea if it's all the same person, as no names are provided, but
their communications are terse, unhelpful, and badly spelled to the point
of farce. Indeed, the most recent experience was almost the last
straw - in spite of the fact that I had been promised my router would be
delivered today, I received another brief, anonymous email saying
that there were problems with my credit card and could I fax them a
utility bill to prove my address!
Apart from the fact that they had already debited my
credit card back when I placed the order (which certainly caused a raised
eyebrow at the thought of being billed twice for something I hadn't
actually had, yet), I had specifically asked them to change the delivery
address to my office two weeks ago when the initial delay meant that
nobody would be at home to receive the parcel in the daytime - this was
agreed without a quibble, at the time, and suddenly expecting me to be
able to produce a utility bill in the middle of the working day, on top of
all the other fuss, was more than I was prepared to accept.
Having had direct contact with both of the two
aforementioned managers over the delays, I fell back on the old favourite
of CCing them both with my distinctly abrupt reply, something that
conveyed "If you don't stop jerking me around, I am simply going to
cancel the order, so please talk to your bosses and then SEND ME MY
ROUTER!" As expected, this had the desired effect, and I received
further helpful and apologetic messages from both managers informing me
that it had been sent. It seems probable that it will arrive at the start
of next week, now, as promised - but it is very disappointing to have had
to wait well over a month for something that I had every reason to expect
within a few days, and, worse, that this simple order has generated at
least twenty four email messages (as of this evening) trying to sort it
all out! I really can't recommend Zion, at this stage, in spite of their
Meanwhile, back at the stats... Wooooooh! After a
lacklustre few months over the summer, September brought a gradient of
almost unprecedented steepness, as for some reason the site just became
slightly more popular right across the board. Neat, indeed! I am
sufficiently encouraged by this, in fact, that I have become all
enthusiastic about the
Tweakers Australia Top 50 again - so get that mouse finger clicking on
the vote button below, or I will make you all wait patiently while I breed,
train, and finally unleash a fresh batch of ice weasels to perform
unspeakable acts of violence upon your persons. Hah!