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30th September

An unobservant bozo ran into the side of my beloved BMW on a roundabout, last weekend, but fortunately my ruinously expensive fully comprehensive insurance policy has provided a rather opulent Mercedes C270 while repairs are being made. Of course, this has resulted in everybody who has seen me getting in or out of it in the company car park informing me that I'm obviously being paid too much, and even after I've explained that it isn't actually mine they still seem sceptical. It seems odd that they're happy to accept a twenty-something wide-boy salesman in the same sort of car (and, believe me, as a sysadmin I know exactly how little time most of our salesmen actually spend working, as opposed to sending animated pictures of bouncing boobies to each other via email) but apparently can't adjust to a hard-working senior techy possessing the same sort of luxury. We are not a highly-valued breed, on the whole, are we!

The real irony, though, is that apart from the colour, the courtesy car is almost exactly the same model that ran into my BMW! It's probably some sort of karma thing...

Meanwhile, elsewhere - at the excellent Unconventional Airsoft, useful information on various versions of the wonderful SVD Dragunov sniper rifle, and on KSC's replica of the M11 machine pistol. The site is a comprehensive and interesting resource, indeed.

Cube cases make a revival - reviewed at Tom's Hardware, an impressive set of cases from Mountain Mods. It almost makes me want to re-build Infinity again.  <sigh>  Maybe next year!

Via The Register, last week - Music boss can't wait to sue British file sharers. I was warning a teen acquaintance that he couldn't count on downloading free music for much longer (at least not with the current technology) and this seems to bear that out. Well, it was only a matter of time...

 

29th September

A very long, very busy day, so just a handful of quick links tonight...

Goddamn Martians! - A classic Penny Arcade strip... but I think I bought one of those filters, actually!

JPEGs of Death - coming soon to a porn newsgroup near you.

Microsoft releases open source Wiki creator - something so trendy, from a company so hated...

Viperlair reviews an internal flash card reader than can be undocked and used on the road.

Rounded IDE cables - not completely boring, yet, then?

IBM back as king of the supercomputer hill - "Blue Gene/L"? Are they running out of blue names?

Ars platform and browser report - Windows still well on top, but use of IE seems to have slumped.

Canon's new 16.7 megapixel camera - complete with wired and wireless networking!

 

28th September

I'm going to have to update the griping pages as soon as I have a moment, as over the last couple of weeks I've encountered another pair of companies for whom customer service is merely something they once heard a rumour about.

Over a month ago, now, I ordered an ADSL router from Zion Media to use when I finally move house and abandon the old BT-managed box. I received a flurry of automated status messages over the next two days, and then... nothing. After a while I sent an email asking for a status update - and then another, and then another, and then another... All were completely ignored, until finally I fell back on the old favourite angry e-customer technique of CCing every address given on the web site. This eventually produced a reply from the managing director himself, apologising and promising action.

The action arrived the next day, in the shape of a single line of text (which nevertheless managed to contain two spelling mistakes) from an unknown author, explaining that the router I had ordered had been discontinued by the manufacturer, and that they would provide a replacement. Now, call me fussy if you must, but actually I really wanted to know exactly what they proposed to replace it with - I had chosen the particular model I ordered after long and comprehensive research and, besides, well, I admit it - I am fussy about my network hardware! Needless to say, no further information has been forthcoming from the company, so this evening I emailed the MD again (along with everyone else I'd ever been in contact with there, just to make my point) and we will see what transpires over the next few days.

The second disappointment has been the GPS hardware specialist NavCity, the online trading name of Tottenham Court Road electronics supplier R.I.A Technologies Ltd. I placed the order for a Navman GPS unit on the 11th of September, at the weekend, and when my credit card was debited promptly on Monday morning I naively assumed that it was a promising sign for a speedy delivery. Hah! In fact, I heard nothing at all from them for more than two weeks, with seven email messages (the last few also CCed to hell and back) and two faxes completely ignored. Today I finally got a response to yet another fax (although presumably only because this one mentioned the small claims court) when a very polite man phoned to explain that they'd had a faulty batch of hardware and were waiting for replacement stock. They may be able to get me my Navman before I actually need it for the journey planned for this weekend, but frankly I'm not especially confident.

Now, in both of these cases I don't really care whether the excuses given are true (problems do arise in the supply chain, I know, and the reasons given may well be 100% accurate) but actually that is completely irrelevant to me. In this day and age it takes only a few seconds to send an email message, and a company who doesn't even have the basic standards of courtesy to reply to a customer's enquiry until threats of legal action are made does not know how to run a business. To me, an explanation for the delay makes all the difference between a disappointment and a major annoyance - I can and will forgive a late delivery, but what I will not forgive is having to drag order status information out of a company using chains and hooks!

I do not expect to have to send email after email, fax after fax, without any response at all - and making me do so is the best way of ensuring that your company ends up featuring in my griping pages along with the others. NavCity and Zion Media - I will not be shopping from you again.

Meanwhile, my space-head friend Mike has reminded me that tomorrow SpaceShipOne is scheduled for the first flight in the pair required for the Ansari X Prize. Rutan's team, apparently now referred to as Mojave Aerospace Ventures instead of being named after the manufacturing company Scaled Composites, is the clear leader at present and I think it's likely that that they will win the prize by a considerable margin. However, nothing is certain in space flight (just ask NASA!) and we will all have to wait and see...

Elsewhere, another of those tests - this time to see if you can tell the difference between dog toys and sex toys. For reasons that escape me, the two actually tend to bear a remarkable resemblance to each other, but fortunately I had an almost perfect recognition rate and so apparently I'm deemed safe to be left in charge of a dog. Oh, goody!

 

27th September

Anyone who somehow still isn't sure of the direction that the US government is taking, these days, will be enlightened and informed by this link from yesterday's Sideshow:

At Eccentricity: Because Cat Stevens is back in the news, one of my colleagues at work was reminded that she had not yet replaced one of her old Cat Stevens record albums (which she'd had since she was 10 years old) with the CD version. She went to Hastings here in town last night about 7 p.m. and bought a copy on her credit card. At 9:15 last night, she received a phone call from the "Regional Homeland Security Office" asking why she bought that CD.

George Orwell's 1984 is twenty years late, but it's sure as hell here today. Chilling...

Meanwhile, on a lighter note... Anyone who followed up the link to John Cleese's web site, last month, will probably have received email today announcing the official launch on the 17th October. Curiously, one thing missing from the announcement was the address of the site itself, and as I couldn't remember the URL off-hand, a wild stab in the dark took me to johncleese.co.uk - where I discovered instead the home page of someone who purports to be a professional Cleese look-alike and impersonator, but who doesn't actually seem look very much like him at all! I think it's quite restrained of the real Cleese to have resisted the temptation to snatch the domain from him, actually - it's a blatant case of "passing off", and I'm sure the UK registrar Nominet wouldn't hesitate to reassign the name if requested...

Elsewhere... GMail Notifier - lives in your system tray, and makes a fuss when new messages arrive in your GMail box. Probably a very useful thing if you're using GMail as a primary account. And, talking of email, a Spanish company is offering a kind of parting shots service, allowing you send final email messages (complete with video clip or photo attachments) to loved ones, friends or even enemies, after your death. Hmmm.

Middle Earth martial arts - an interview at sword geeks site Sword Forum (who knew!), explains how considerable pains were taken to give the different races in the LotR movies a fundamentally different fighting style. I've only seen the first two films once each, as yet, so these nuances have completely escaped me, but that's exactly the sort of attention to detail that makes a great film from a good one...

Powering computers with spinach? Oh, come on... A team at MIT are using proteins from spinach in a composite sandwich of glass, gold and an organic semiconductor, to make a kind of photosynthetic fuel cell. This kind of technology is a long way from being anything even slightly useful, at this stage, but will certainly be big in years to come.

And, finally, modding site PimpRig has a guide to covering your PC in fabric - for that Martha Stewart Living look, presumably, and whilst it's an interesting idea I don't think I'll be rushing to cover my tinted Perspex windows any time soon. Well, not until they're completely unfashionable, anyway!

 

25th September

One of the unquestioned benefits of the recent boom in weblogging and live journals is that, when one is wallowing in misery/nostalgia/teen angst/unrequited love/whatever, and playing sad songs to maximise the self-inflicted pain, at least one can do one's damnedest to spread the gloom to everyone else as well. If my web server was online, rather than safely packed away in a box full of bubble-wrap ready for the move, I could even provide a soundbite - but as it is we'll just have to survive on a fragment of lyrics alone...

And I said, "What about
'Breakfast at Tiffany's'?"
She said, "I think I
remember the film,
and as I recall, I think
we both kind of liked it"
And I said, "Well that's
the one thing we've got"

 - Deep Blue Something, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Indeed.

Elsewhere, via the Odd Toys feature in the current Fortean Times, what else but odd toys: Teddy Scares has a collection of the most unpleasant teddies I've ever seen, including a sack-clad axe-murderer and one made from spare parts; Toxic Teddies has mutants, suicides, druggies and perverts; Toy Vault has the soft, cuddly Lovecraftian horrors mentioned here before and, finally, RealShrunkenHeads.Com has, well, real shrunken heads. Who would have thought it!

Microsoft launches new anti-spammer suit - this time they are targeting a web host describing itself as a "bullet proof" home for junk mailer, if but presumably not for long! It should be noted that Microsoft are currently fighting more than 100 lawsuits against spammers, worldwide - is any other private organisation doing so much?

Unix nerds facing off - Red Hat's VP Michael Tiemann and Sun's President Jonathan Schwartz are bitch-slapping each other online over the costs of ownership and management of each other's respective operating systems. It's fascinating to watch, really...  :-)

Today's modding project - mounting a small LCD into a 3" external drive bay.  Rather a clever idea, actually, and surprisingly not one I've actually seen before. I still have a Matrix Orbital unit that I need to do something useful with, when my life settles down a little again...

Urk! The first hotfix for WinXP Service Pack 2 has been released already - it's the fix for a performance problem and a connectivity issue in the VPN service, and, for the first time, is only available to users with a properly licensed and validated copy of the operating system.

Now, this is a game I want - Evil Genius, due out next month, casts the player in the role of a Bond-style super-villain... Build your secret lair, recruit and train henchmen, construct a doomsday device, and fight off the secret agents and government troops when they come calling. I'll be keeping an eye out for this one...

Via The Sideshow - a neatly done, hard-hitting political animation, Lie.

And, finally - a mobile phone ring tone that makes one's boobies bigger? Hmm. I don't think so, Tim...

 

23rd September

Today's email brought an invitation from Microsoft to attend a gala shindig organised by Computing magazine:

Great news! Exchange Server 2003 has been short-listed for a top award at the forthcoming Computing Awards for Excellence - and it's all thanks to Xxxxxxx!

We used the Xxxxxxx case study as evidence of the productivity and efficiency benefits that Exchange Server 2003 can bring and the judges have put us through to as one of three finalists for the Network &Communications Product of the Year Award.

We have reserved a table at the awards and would like to invite you (or a colleague if you cannot make it) to join us for a night of celebration.

Well, what do you know! Just when I thought that all the fuss had died down, here we go again... I don't think I'll actually attend (unless I can persuade them to make room for a friend, too, in which case it might be fun) but I have to admit that I'm rather pleased at the invitation. Being a high profile beta tester for Microsoft has been a fascinating experience, all in all!

Elsewhere, out of the limelight and safely back in the shadows again - the quickest of quick links:

Laptop skins - regular and designer. The latter are actually being given away free in very small numbers, but you'll have to track down the correct URL yourself!

Interesting and unusual holsters - shotgun scabbards, and shoulder rigs for SMGs and machine pistols. Marvellous stuff...   :-)

After last month's Mexican webcam, an absurd mouse - filled with water and complete with a free-floating plastic fish, but you'll have to take my word for it as for some unknown reason the URL that went to a review, this morning, now goes straight to the FBI's web site instead!

Hybrid airsoft prototypes - Arnie's Airsoft has news of some very unusual replicas, with a trigger-operated electric solenoid controlling the gas delivery valve. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

 

22nd September

And I thought last week at the office was busy... Aaaaaaaaaarghhh!

Janet Jackson's boobie costs CBS $550,000 in fines - approximately $1 for each of the 542,000  complaints received  by the FCC. It really does seem to me that there are more important things to make a fuss about, though - if half a million people had written to the Supreme Court complaining about the way they allowed Dubya to steal the 2000 election, for example...

Courtesy of PC Stats, a guide to understanding and avoiding the Windows Blue Screen Of Death. I wasn't expecting much, I have to admit, but actually this is rather a useful guide, with common sense explanations of some of the more frequent BSOD messages.

Pongmechanik - a wonderful idea, the classic Pong computer game reincarnated as an electro-mechanical device. It's completely pointless, beautifully executed, and is probably even more fun to watch in action than to actually play. I thoroughly approve!

eBay under fire for fakes and forgeries - the auction site has always claimed that it can't be held liable for items sold via its service, but this "common carrier" status could be questioned a lawsuit from fine arts house Tiffany comes to fruition. It's another sign of a disturbing trend, I'm afraid...

Quick links from Ars.Technica:

Sony to release slimmed-down Playstation 2 - the imaginatively named PStwo.

New spam opt-out exploit - as if confirming your email address wasn't bad enough...

Ask Jeeves goes up against Google - one of a growing number of re-vamped search engines.

Chicago to get mass surveillance cameras - but will it beat Newham, my local London borough?

 

20th September

Links! Git yer links here! Luverly links! Get 'em while they're fresh!

Sasser author given job in IT security - Sven Jaschan, author of the NetSky and Sasser worms, has been employed by German security company Securepoint as a trainee software developer working on security products such as firewalls. I can't believe how irresponsible this is - we need to be sending a clear message to virus writers that the IT industry has no place for them, and not encouraging the next generation of script kiddies looking for a fast-track to a job in security. I'm sending mail to Securepoint expressing my concerns, and I don't imagine that I'll be alone...

A million monkeys? - A company called eProvisia is offering a unique spam-filtering solution: they detect spam not by using clever algorithms, but instead an army of human beings! The special introductory offer is only $20 per year, which is certainly extremely reasonable - but the confidentiality implications would need careful thought...  [Update: This now appears to be a well executed hoax]

I Found Some Of Your Life - after finding the memory card from a digital camera in the back of a New York taxi, this charming blogger has decided to post the images one by one, every day, together with commentary of his own devising. However, although there were actually 227 pictures, he seems to have stopped after only a few months - did he come to realise that it was in very poor taste, I wonder, or did somebody point out the potential legal problems... ?

Bush versus Kerry on science and technology - an article in Nature magazine poses 15 key questions, ranging from climate change to stem cell research via the political manipulation of science, and then gives each candidate's response. It has to be said that both sets of statements are long on political rhetoric, but to my mind Kerry comes across as a clear winner.

SCO to sue IBM for fraud - Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the server room, now it's really getting complex... SCO seems to be about to claim that back at the end of the ill-fated Monterey Unix project, IBM deliberately initiated and then abandoned a secondary Unix development just to acquire licensing rights from SCO to use in their war against Sun. Oh, boy! As I've said before, this one is going to run and run...

Cisco source code thief caught? - a 20 year old English man has been arrested in possession of what is believed to be 800Mb of source code for Cisco's IOS router and switching systems, stolen from Cisco's internal development servers earlier this year and briefly made available on a Russian cracking site back in May. The UK's Computer Misuse Act under which he has been charged is a relatively toothless law, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

 

19th September

Arrr, Matey! Avast!    :-)

I upgraded to the latest version of Winamp, yesterday, and while I was looking for a replacement to the analogue VU meters I used to enjoy on the old version 2 (I didn't find one half as good, by the way) I stumbled across the excellent R4 visualisation package. I've been fond of this sort of sound-to-light eye candy since the days of the BBC Micro, and used to spend many happy hours in front of Cthugha until its development stalled and a series of video card upgrades gradually left it behind. R4 is definitely a worthy successor, though, with an impressively wide range of smooth, complex and pretty animations. Something that really sets it apart from its predecessors, though, is the ability to be controlled remotely - when running it acts as a web server, publishing a list of thumbnails representing all the available modules, and also provides basic control of Winamp - play and pause, volume up and down, etc. This is a very nice touch for someone with a wireless enabled laptop, and once I've moved house and have re-installed the S-Video cabling between the PC and the television it's going to make a very neat toy for unwinding in front of at the end of a busy day at the silicon face.

Elsewhere...

The Wing Kong Exchange - Everything you ever wanted to know about the most excellent movie Big trouble In Little China, including all the usual FAQs, trivia, downloads, and merchandise. Indeed!

UserLinux releases beta CD - this really made me laugh...  "The project, which is led by open-source advocate Bruce Perens, aims to give businesses a high quality Linux operating system that is accompanied by certifications and support options, but without the price and licensing policies associated with Linux distributions from commercial vendors". Does anyone else find this deeply, deeply ironic?

Microsoft implicated in air traffic shutdown - A three-hour system outage affecting South California's airports was apparently caused by a techy who failed to reboot a server when scheduled - the report claims that the Windows-based replacement for a previous Unix system needed to be reset every thirty days "to prevent data overload"! Presumably this is some kind of egregious resource leak in the application, though, and I really don't think that it's fair or accurate to blame Microsoft for what sounds like a low-quality, amateurish, unfinished development project. Bah!

Virus writers ask AV industry for job - the authors of the current MyDoom U and V flavours have embedded a message in the code that states "We searching 4 work in AV industry". If they're serious, then they're deluding themselves - I think I can state with a fair degree of certainty that no reputable company would touch the little shits with a bargepole. Or with somebody else's bargepole, for that matter...

Children in Nicaragua give birth to new language - in the absence of any formal instruction, deaf children have invented their own language, a sophisticated and flexible system of signing that has matured and grown over the twenty five years since their school was founded. Opportunities to study the evolution of a new language are so rare as to be almost non-existent, and language theorists everywhere are probably foaming at the mouth with excitement.

LA porn industry stung by first condom fines - two production companies, Evasive Angles and TTB Productions, have been fined more than $30,000 for allowing their actors to perform without condoms. The legislation under which they are being charged was implemented earlier this year, after five actors were discovered to be HIV+, and the Californian OSHA says that porn actors have the same legal right to a safe workplace as employees in more conventional businesses.

 

18th September

First, a reminder - tomorrow, Sunday, is the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day. I usually forget about this until after it's been and gone, so I'm pleased that this year I spotted a reminder at The Sideshow in plenty of time.

In the meantime, though...

Symantec are to acquire security firm @Stake - Ok, now, let's get this straight, people: this is not a "security consultancy firm" in any conventional sense: until their rebranding exercise a couple of years ago, it was the hacking group L0pht, creators of the infamous L0phtCrack password decrypting and capturing tool designed for breaking into NT-based networks! Since donning their veneer of respectability, however, @Stake have applied a matching veneer to their software products, repositioning them as auditing utilities rather than the hacking tools they were originally designed to be, and in doing so the company has somehow managed to achieve an element of respectability in the security community.

The acquisition is another sign of Symantec's voracious desire to own every software house that hasn't already been bought by Microsoft, and in this case specifically to acquire appropriate products with which to fight the perpetual war against long-time rival McAfee/Network Associates. Everybody fusses about Microsoft's acquisitions (although actually they have been few and far between in recent years) but for some reason Symantec has been allowed to gobble up any number of once independent software houses without a single eyebrow being raised. Applications that are now their flagship products, but which were acquired as part of a corporate takeover rather than being developed in-house, include WinFax, Brightmail, ProComm, Partition Magic, pcAnywhere, and, of course, the Norton range that originally started the trend so many years ago. It is traditional that once a product has been re-branded into the company stable, though, development slows down, support dries up, and the end-user's experience is normally the worse for it...

Elsewhere, a Microsoft employee has preserved every single spam message and virus mail received since mid-1997, and has now presented the results graphically for our edification and delight. I guess, even at Microsoft, some people have far too much time on their hands...

Pretty pictures notwithstanding, though, the whole spam thing is really starting to get me down. Our filters at the office are still something of a work in progress, and this means that unfortunately I have to manually process a large quantity of spam looking for false positives. Norbert Wiener suggested that if one competes with slaves one eventually becomes a slave, and there is something similarly degrading about competing with spammers. To spot spam quickly and reliably I have to understand all the little tricks and twists they use to disguise their content, and in best hunting serial killers fashion this seems to involve trying to get into the mind of the spammer himself - and, frankly, I want to spend as little time inside the minds of spammers as possible. So I am really, really looking forward to the time when I can leave the entire email filtering process to the automation, rather than a long, tedious chore to be ploughed through every morning. If I see one more advert for "V1agra", I think I'm going to scream!

 

17th September

Evidently I've been feeling all literary, today, as I've had had a few lines from a poem running endlessly through my head. It's the start of "Impossible To Tell", written by US poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and is a haunting and fascinating piece of writing - complete with two jokes...

Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bash and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,
The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing.

If you have Real Player, you can listen to Pinsky introducing the poem and then reading it, together with several other poems, during a 1997 presentation at UNC Chapel Hill. It's not an especially good quality recording, but literature is often best when read by its own author and I think its worth it anyway.

Note that I would make a definite exception to that rule for science fiction grand master Isaac Asimov, who reads his own works (and presumably anyone else's, too) so badly that there just isn't a term to describe it. The strong Brooklyn accent doesn't help, of course, but there's something about his delivery that kills even the best of his short stories stone dead...

Meanwhile, back in the more mundane world of hardware and software:

Oooh, look at this! A virtual window cunningly made from eight LCD panels. Another great science fiction idea come to life, and I love it! It gives a better effect than a single large panel, from the look of the pictures, and probably at a fraction of the price. Clever stuff.

More crappy locks - after the recent expose that many Kensington and Targus laptop security locks can be defeated with ease, now it seems that expensive Kryptonite cycle locks are just as bad - and another headline at Security.Org claims that suitcase locks are equally flawed. Oh dear, oh dear...

DIY laptop - start with a barebones "white box" system from Asus, and add your own CPU, memory, hard disk and peripherals. I'd be interested to see information prices, though, which seems to be missing from the article...

AOL spurns Microsoft's Sender ID - they blame "lacklustre industry support", which is rather a self-fulfilling prophecy, unfortunately. As I said the other week, it's becoming apparent that the anti-MS bigots would rather drown in spam than have any dealings with the company - a case of cutting off their noses to spite their Gates...  [Ba-boom!]

Large zombie network shut down - Scandinavian ISP Telenor has helped trace an illicit network of 10,000 "zombie" PCs... But these things are extremely tenacious, and unfortunately the network is probably already back up and running from a new central node.

Wikipedia's shortcomings trumpeted - far from "making universities obsolete", say critics, it is nothing more than a poorly indexed collection of random and somewhat dubious trivia - and, as if to prove the point, a Slashdot poster exposes the lack of reviewing by inserting false data... Indeed.

Geeky Google adverts - if you know the value of e, the base of natural logarithms, you can start to apply for a job at the ultra-trendy search engine company... although first you must solve a series of puzzles, each more challenging that the last!  <sigh>

War Of The Morons continues - following the formal charging of Sven Jaschan, author of the Sasser and NetSky worms, the authors of the "competing" MyDoom virus are using their latest creation to poke fun at him. Damn, but I wish these idiots would get girlfriends, or something - it might take their mind off these destructive, stupid, immature little games for ten minutes or so.

Microsoft throwing its weight around again - they are attempting to force a last-minute agreement with record labels over the future of copy-protected CDs, apparently, and whiles it's not yet clear exactly how stringent the measures will be, I'm afraid that it doesn't look promising...

Chip And PIN causes small-scale crime wave - the sudden flurry of replacement credit and ATM cards being sent out in the post has caused something of a boom for the criminals who are intercepting them and using them to empty out the bank accounts of their victims, many of whom weren't actually expecting a new card and so remain blissfully ignorant until the next statement arrives!

"UK workers are apathetic and unskilled", says a survey commissioned by Hewlett Packard. My reply to the executives who feel this way is thoroughly unprintable, but fortunately the letters page at The Register is full of more coherent arguments - and, indeed, full of criticism of HP and their fellow corporates, who by mistreating their employees for so long and in so many ways, have ensured that the blame for any apathy that does exist can be laid firmly at the door of management itself. The utter, utter bastards...

And finally, today's best quote, on the OFT's investigation of the iTunes online music service: "Apple may not quite be in bed with the RIAA/BPI or whoever 'they' are, but Jobs is certainly perched on the edge of the stained mattress of DRM taking his shoes and socks off".

Brilliant...   :-)

 

16th September

Phew! What a day! It started the moment I arrived in the office, and discovered that the main server that holds the bulk of the company's documents and databases had frozen during the small hours of the morning. This server has been misbehaving all through this year, unfortunately, with months and months of flawless operation followed by a couple of days where it dies at the slightest provocation, and so far nothing has helped. With nothing helpful in the system logs and no real clues to how it started, it's a bit of a puzzle... However, the day went pretty much straight downhill from there on in, so tonight I have no brain for anything except some random links.

Talking of links, the UK Airsoft Community site has a new set of reference pages online, including comprehensive contact details for both domestic and foreign airsoft suppliers. Very useful.

From Mike, who already knows far too much of the language for the good of his throat lining - a German TV station is now offering news reports and audio clips in Klingon. Ghuy'cha'...

It turns out that most of the popular security locks for PCs and laptops are inherently flawed, and can be opened with no particular skill or specialised tools. Oops! Full details are apparently at TwinCities.com - once you've registered, that is - or at Security.Org - if you're prepared to pay. There doesn't seem to be anything at all on the manufacturers' own web sites, though, as yet!

Microsoft have released a patch (or, more accurately, a large set of patches) to fix a nasty flaw in the GLIB image library. A major component of both Windows and all the MS Office applications, the buggy GLIB will allow the usual arbitrary hostile code to be run from a specially crafted image file. Given the number of programs and modules affected by the bug, unfortunately I think it's going to be an awkward one to fix in a corporate environment...

I find the bug itself fascinating, though, as it comes only a few days after an apparently very similar vulnerability was announced in the Linux IMLIB graphics library! Does this mean that the Windows and Linux image viewing modules are compiled from the same (or at least similar) open source code? It seems very likely - and if so that has to be the funniest thing I've heard in ages...  :-)

Dan pontificates on stupidity - and in passing points to a wonderful story of greed and betrayal in an online space trading game. It's a long read, but fascinating - some people take this stuff very, very seriously indeed!

A new release of the voluminous graphics card comparison guide at Adrian's Rojak Pot - and my Radeon 9800 Pro, the quickest card on the market when I bought it a year or so ago, is now looking decidedly antiquated. Fortunately, however, to my surprise and delight it still seems to be performing very nicely in the real world, thank you very much!

And, finally, it looks as if genuine 3D computer displays are almost here at last. I've been reading reports on some impressive technology demonstrations over the last few years, and now an article at Tom's Hardware Guide describes yet another prototype seen at the Siggraph show. Any time now, I'd say - although I hate to think what the price tag will be for the first commercial examples...

 

15th September

Ok, enough of that... Normal service will now be resumed.

Anyone who remembers my protracted difficulties with Area51 Airsoft earlier this year will probably be surprised at the latest developments... This week has seen threads discussing the company started on the forums at both Arnie's Airsoft and the UK Airsoft Network, and the general attitude there is unexpected to say the least.

Six months ago, when I chose to criticise A51's customer service on this web site, I was insulted, threatened and generally flamed lightly all over by supporters of the company - but now it seems that almost overnight their former fan club has changed into their worst enemies! The level of venom directed at Dee Sheldrake, the original manager of the company, and at new manager Arnie (he of Arnie's Airsoft) is actually rather disturbing, with their personalities, motives and qualifications criticised and called into question - together with a re-emergence of the bizarre allegation that Arnie and Dee are actually one and the same person!

I can refute the latter, of course, having met the pair of them when they came to personally deliver my M4 SE hardware, and although I can't speak with any authority on Dee's ballistics qualifications, I like to think that I know quite a lot about firearms and it was clear to me that he knew considerably more. It's also clear that nobody should under-estimate the value of Arnie's contributions to the airsoft scene in England: his website is one of the best airsoft sites in the world, and in the two years since I discovered the hobby I have always found it to be the most informative, helpful and accessible of resources. Unfortunately it has has been suffering from considerable technical difficulties in the last few months, but I've been very pleased that the problems now seem to be over and following a complete re-vamp the site is back online and better than ever.

The same cannot be said about Area 51 itself, though - although neither Dee or Arnie has been involved in the vicious thread at UKAN (a very wise move, in my opinion, as there's no chance of winning in a discussion that is already that hostile), earlier today an announcement appeared on their web site stating that the company was being wound up. The reasons given involve the UK's highly restrictive and convoluted forearms legislation, and given the complexity of the laws and the horrendous penalties for even innocent transgressions, they are good reasons indeed... But one has to assume, however, that the sudden turning of the tide of public opinion has at least precipitated that decision.

It might come as a surprise to some to see me defending A51 here, after having written many thousands of words criticising the company... But I have to say that I found both Arnie and Dee to be very friendly, pleasant and knowledgeable people, when I met them, and whatever the problems I've had with their company in the past, I do not like to see them under such fierce personal attack from people who obviously don't know them even to the small extent that I do - especially when so much of it seems completely ill-informed and unwarranted. I'm afraid that, when the mood of such an easily-excitable online community shifts, it tends to shift from one extreme to another.

Strange times, indeed...

 

14th September

Tonight's Epicycle is brought to you courtesy of Bobby Vee, singing "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes".

Because, you know, it really does.

Ros left today, after a relationship that (somehow!) lasted for twelve years. She's going to build herself a house on the west coast of Scotland, approximately as far from me as it's possible to be without leaving the country. It's a big, scary thing for her, though, and I wish her the very best of luck with it all...

We've been splitting up for almost exactly nine months, untangling our affairs and selling the house, so it isn't really a surprise - but somehow that doesn't make it any easier to cope with now that the day has finally arrived. It's only been a few hours since she left, but the house feels empty in a way it never has before, and already I miss her like crazy.

So tonight Epicycle and I are both blue...

If you know me, send me a happy thought - I need them, right now.

 

12th September

Something that has continued to surprise me over the last few years is the apparently endless series of Hollywood science fiction movies based on the novels and short stories of the late Philip K. Dick. On the face of it, Dick's stories don't seem a natural choice for a mass-market movie - the plots are often bizarre and complex, the heroes are rarely particularly comfortable characters, and the issues addressed are not typical of mainstream films: loss of identity, drug use and abuse, mental illness - in fact, many of the problems that Dick himself struggled with during his most productive years as an author.

Nevertheless, more of his stories have been filmed than any other science fiction author, living or dead... Aside from the seminal Blade Runner, inspired by Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (nobody really understands quite how Ridley Scott ever came up with the new name), over the last fifteen years we've also seen the little-known Screamers, based on the short story Second Variety, the Schwarzenegger blockbuster Total Recall, inspired by We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, and the recent Impostor, Minority Report and Paycheck based on the stories of the same names.

In fact, when I was checking the list for this segment, I discovered that yet another film is being made - shooting has just finished on A Scanner Darkly, starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson. Oddly, I was discussing Dick's stories with a friend only a few weeks ago, and opined that Scanner would never be filmed - the drugs-centric plot would just be too controversial, and the interactions between the characters too bizarre and complex. Well, I'm sure that the story will be thoroughly sanitised and emasculated by the time it reaches the cinemas, but of course that doesn't actually mean that it won't be a good movie. Time will tell...

Furthermore, the film rights to five more of his stories have already been sold, together with a further four under option - including the short story The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford, and I have absolutely no idea how anyone could film that strange, whimsical little fable... There's just no accounting for Hollywood, it seems, especially given the huge body of work from SF authors who on the face if it seem far more approachable - any of the early Robert Heinlein "juveniles" would make a marvellous film, I think, especially given the current revival in child heroes prompted by the Harry Potter obsession.

 

10th September

The end of the week, at last... and for once I managed to get out of this weekend's scheduled work, the annoying, sweaty and thankless process of relocating an entire department to a different floor as the first part of the building refurbishment. My manager will be taking care of wiring the switches into the backbones in my place, and although he's an ex-techie, he's spent the last few years shackled to his desk pushing papers and I'm not going to be surprised if I get an anguished phone call at some point over the weekend: "What's this grey bit? Oh, it fell off! And it won't go back on again... Hey, now there's smoke coming out from underneath!"...

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Isn't it always the way - no sooner had I come across references to a marvellous 1/10th scale flying model of a B52 bomber, than I also discovered that it had just crashed horribly...  Ah, well.

Two new security flaws in Linux - buffer overflows in the IMLIB and LHA components could be exploited by specially-crafted image or archive files to compromise the entire system. So much for the peer-review of open source removing the chance of security issues... And talking of which, Apple have released a patch for fifteen (count 'em, fifteen) flaws in OS X - "including many originating in the software's open-source components". Please excuse the smug, self-righteous expression on my face, right now...

Mixed results from the House Judiciary Committee - moves to establish criminal penalties for installing illicit spyware are good, but provisions to allow more government involvement in the entertainment industry's fight against alleged copyright violations are very definitely not...  :-(

The boot on the other foot - legitimate P2P distribution company Altnet, part of the Brilliant Digital media group, has sued the RIAA over alleged patent infringement.  I'm not convinced that they have much of a case, but I approve of their general tactics 100%.

Ars.Technica on the growing trade in zombie computers - I pay a lot of attention to spam headers, these days, in my role as a submitter to Spamcop.net, and it's quite obvious that a significant quantity is coming from individual home PCs. We really need the ISPs to act now, and to act in concert.

Queuing up to sue Infinium Labs - a small document production company is taking the beleaguered games console manufacturer to small claims court after they allegedly failed to pay for a print job.

And finally, Penny Arcade at their most cutting, on the downfall of games company Acclaim.

 

9th September

Well, phase one of the various house moves is now complete, with 95% of Ros's possessions packed into a forty foot shipping container ready to travel to Scotland, and all my own brought back from our annoyingly expensive storage facility and ready to move - as soon as my own house purchase finally completes, that is, as it has been progressing at a positively glacial speed over the summer holiday period and at this stage I still don't have any dates at all. I could kick a cardboard box in frustration, really I could!

Meanwhile, elsewhere... Although the media was full of Epson's tiny robotic helicopter, last week, Dan at Dan's Data very firmly reminds us that the Epson model is neither the smallest or the lightest. The real record breaker is the remarkable Pixelito, which weighs only 6.9 grams including the battery, compared to the Epson's relatively elephantine 8.6 grams without. In flight, the Pixelito looks elegant and effortless, although in actual fact I suspect that it's a real bitch to control...  It's extremely Impressive work, though, definitely.

Via Ars Technica, a (very) small victory in the war against spam, as ISP Savvis, owner of Cable & Wireless and home of a significant number of major commercial spammers, has finally given them the boot. The management of Savvis have shown their true colours, though, as leaked documents show that they were hoping to be able to simply hide the spammers from view by changing their assigned names and IP addresses! Some reports suggest that the 148 spammers were paying Savvis a total of $2 million per month, though, so unfortunately it's certain that they will soon find a home elsewhere - in fact, most of the have probably done so already.   :-(

Meanwhile, back on the High Frontier... The spirit of sixties space colonisation pioneer Gerard O'Neill is alive and well, it seems, in a group by the name of Permanent. I can't bear to expand the annoyingly tortuous acronym that forms their name, but their lofty ambitions are a direct descendent of O'Neill's L5 Society - although it remains to be seen whether any of them ever come to fruition... However, check out the site of the Ansari X Prize for the latest news on the second race into space: as expected, most of the teams have fallen behind in one way or another, leaving only two plausible competitors - Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, with an equivalent manned flight already under their belt, and the as-yet untested Da Vinci Project, recently re-named "The GoldenPalace.com Space Project" after their new sponsor, an online casino. Rutan's SpaceShipOne is due for its first competition launch on September 9th, with Da Vinci's a few days later on October 2nd. It's a tense time for all concerned, I'm sure - but also wonderfully exciting!

 

8th September

No entry yesterday, as the entire evening was taken up with decommissioning Ros's part of the network and packing it all safely into boxes ready for its voyage to Scotland. Not the best way to spend one's 38th birthday (especially after a hard day at the office filling in for two absent team members!) but these are strange times, indeed...

Last month I mentioned the obsolete DEC Alpha hardware that I was being forced to accommodate, and to add insult to injury it all arrived this week.  I know that back in the '90s they used to be extremely cool, powerful computer systems, but in 2004 they're just a pile of old junk - and I have the feeling that I'm going to be apologising to every contractor and engineer who visits the computer room: "Hi, come in... Mind the step... Sorry about the Alphas..."  As my director commented, they really lower the tone of the room.

And talking of obsolete hardware, the wonderful Blinkenlights Archaeological Institute poses the question: "What was the first personal computer?". As usual, they travel waaaay back into the mists of time, and although I'd heard of the model that they actually identify as the first, the majority of the early systems they pass en route are completely unknown to me! Elsewhere, here's an interesting Chronology of Personal Computers - although, annoyingly, the final chapter (covering my own salad days from 1977 onwards) is only available for a fee!

Meanwhile, I can't help being suspicious about the recently publicised WinZip security flaw... Given that the software is probably one of the most heavily-pirated utilities in existence, it does seem very convenient for the company that nearly all of the old versions are vulnerable to the flaw - and as (quite reasonably!) WinZip are only releasing a patch for the current version 9, anyone who actually wants a safe version of the tool is going to have to upgrade to that version and so might actually consider paying for it at last! One does wonder...

Apparently the render-farm that produced the digital graphics in The Lord Of The Rings is for hire - the system comprises 504 IBM blade servers, each of which contains two 2.8 Gigahertz Intel Xeon processors, 6 Gigabytes of memory and 40 Gigabytes of storage. That's a lot of horsepower, by anyone's standards...

And, finally, a Vespa scooter with an onboard PC? Re-arrange these words to make a sentence - much on time have some their hands too people far... You have to admire the sheer effrontery of the idea, though!

 

6th September

Quote for the day:

"To tell if George Bush is lying, check to see if his lips are moving" - Xan, Corrente 'Blog

The office is full of builders, today, gutting the fifth floor in readiness to move the the various departments up there one at a time while their own floors are being refurbished over the next year, and half-way through the morning I was approached by a large man with a crowbar, asking whether I was "the computer guy"... I usually put my hands up to that description, as in spite of the fact that the entire IT department could reasonably be stereotyped in that way, I'm geekier than the rest of them put together and so I'm nearly always the one people mean when they use the term...

Having confirmed that I was, indeed, the droid he was looking for, he invited me up to the fifth floor to look at "a cupboard full of green lights" that he'd found - and as you can imagine there was no way I could resist that sort of lure. It turned out to be a niche stuffed to the gills with half a dozen Netgear switches, completely overlooked when our now-defunct R&D department vacated the floor during their move to France or redundancy, and still whirring away happily for almost a year in spite of having nothing connected at either end. I have no idea why their techie didn't mention them when he was handing over the rest of the network systems, but he didn't, and thanks to my acquaintance with the crowbar I was able to spirit them away from the encroaching destruction in the nick of time. That sort of hardware is nothing special, especially as I have more Cisco Catalyst hardware that you can shake a CAT-5 o' nine tails at, but it's nothing that I want to see thrown in a skip either and I'm sure that I can find them a good home...

Elsewhere, the Large Hadron Collider project that I mentioned a few days ago has spawned another computing system designed to process the thoroughly excessive quantity of data that will be produced. The Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid is a network of over 6,000 computers at 78 sites worldwide, managed by a team at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory - but by the time the LHC experiment comes online in 2007 it is hoped that the grid will contain 10,000 computers in the UK alone. Not too shabby!

Oh, I've just noticed that the person who hi-jacked eBay Germany last week has been arrested. In what seems to have been one of the few genuine innocent pranks amongst this kind of hack, he re-registered the DNS record to himself and redirected it to ISP Intergenia. Obviously, he should never have been allowed to transfer the domain without the consent of the existing holder, so somebody really slipped up and I imagine heads will probably roll - but I have to admit that it doesn't really look as if the perpetrator himself had any actual malicious intent!

Interestingly, though, he is from the small German town of Niedersachsen, also home to Sven Jaschan, the teenage author of the Sasser and Netsky worms. Jaschan is being blamed for 70% of virus activity in the first half if this year, but as he was (just!) under eighteen when the worms were released he may well get away with a relatively light sentence. Bah!

 

4th September

The diesel generator tests ran through smoothly enough, this morning, to my great relief...  The UPS effortlessly took up the load of the entire computer room for the few moments until the generator cut in (although its control panel lit up very prettily in red and green when we actually cut off the site's electrical supply) and then we ran the generator for three hours to make sure that it would keep ticking over that long. Apparently it was only delivering about 40 amps of its 180 amp capacity, so there's plenty  of room for future expansion.

The only excitement came when the test was complete and we tried to switch back to the electrical supply again... Apparently part of the main switch panel started to smoke and spark, and although it turned out to be just a build-up of grease in the relay contacts, it certainly seemed to cause some excitement amongst the site services people.

The next phase of the tests, scheduled for later this year, will actually involve extended run-time from the UPS itself - and that is likely to be a little more stressful for my team, so there's plenty of time for that move to plumbing, yet...

Elsewhere:

Microsoft... damned if they do, damned if they don't - after years of complaints that the ActiveX browser plugin technology is inherently insecure, the considerable improvements brought by the recent WinXP SP2 are now attracting criticism from developers. The whole service pack is being treated this way, really, and I imagine such a critical reception is proving to be rather a depressing experience for the Microsoft techies concerned... They have my sympathy.

And just to prove (again!) that it's not just Microsoft  - security flaws have now been discovered in the immensely popular WinZip utility. And they go back a long way, too, as issues are present in versions 3.x, 6.x, 7.x, 8.x and the current version 9.x... The main bug is a buffer overflow accessible from the command line, which as usual with this kind of flaw could run arbitrary hostile code with elevated privileges.

Music industry swine post record profits - performing rights giant BMI has returned a profit of $673 million for the last fiscal year, an increase of nearly $43 million or 6.8% over the previous year. This is truly miraculous, considering the music industry's constant ranting and raving about piracy and file sharing - and it's a sure bet that none of the artists they represent are seeing anything like that kind of pay rise... This is not a one-off, though - BMI has seen a 9% average growth every year for the last 10 years, which surely must cast real doubt on the claims that are being used to justify the legal destruction of the consumers' fair use rights. It's a damn shame.

And talking of the destruction of fair use... The US Copyright Office have presented a new draft of the villainous Induce Act, which was intended to serve as a compromise between the excessive demands from the law's architects, Senators Hatch and Hollings, and the rights of hardware manufacturers to actually manufacture hardware. However, there seem to be a number of problems with the new proposal, too, and most consumer associations agree that the basic idea is just too flawed to be considered. I do have a bad feeling about all this, though...

New comms speed record to aid particle physics - the high speed Internet 2 backbone has been used to set a new record for bulk data transfer, moving 859 gigabytes of data between CERN facility in Switzerland, and Caltech in California 9,800 miles away. The transfer took less than 17 minutes, giving a rate of a rate of 6.63 gigabits per second. This colossal data pipe will be vital for distributing and analysing the output from the next generation of particle physics experiments, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which will produce around 15 petabytes of data per year once it is commissioned in 2007. Gosh!

And finally, thanks to a link at The Sideshow, a gallery of this year's best crop circles. They're getting better and better, it seems, and many of the recent ones are absolutely stunning. Some people definitely have too much time on their hands - but the results are well worth it.

 

3rd September

What a day! It started out pear-shaped, then went through through prune-shaped, pomegranate-shaped, and finally persimmon-shaped before I managed to recover a little in the last half hour - by the time I left at four o'clock I'd repaired the static route entries on our central router (earlier in the week it lost them all, for no readily apparent reason), re-registered the main firewall (the license code mysteriously expired, also for no readily apparent reason), and succeeded in installing the first Office 2003 Service Pack 1 update via SMS after all the previous attempts had failed, for (you guessed it) no readily apparent reason. I was beginning to feel that I might have Lost The Knack...

Still, tomorrow morning we're running a live test of the UPS and standby diesel generator, so there's plenty of opportunity for everything to go all fruit-shaped once more... And if it does, I guarantee that I'll finally make good on my traditional threat to cross-train into plumbing. It's just been one of those weeks.

Meanwhile, elsewhere... thanks to my friend Mike, the oft-mentioned space enthusiast, here's a link to a rather more technically informative article on the SETI signal that is currently stirring so much interest. As could easily be predicted, the scientific community has divided into two neatly polarised camps, and even though the signal has been observed for less than a minute in total, it seems likely that the arguments over its source will run for years or even decades.

Science oddities revealed - the Science Museum in London has begun special tours of its extensive store rooms, never before seen by the public. Although only a small part of the 170,000-odd items held in storage, the collection nevertheless fills six floors, and comprises exhibits ranging from a series of dentists' chairs through the ages, through an array of telescopes used by famous scientists and explorers, to part of the Comet passenger jet in which metal fatigue was first discovered. This has to be worth a look...

Unix fanboys whining about Microsoft again - it looks as if the lawn dwarves would rather drown under spam than work together with the Redmond Devils, to the detriment of us all... The pointed complaints about Microsoft's attempts to protect itself from future lawsuit opportunities particularly annoyed me, though - now that taking Microsoft to court has become the IT industry's number one business model, it seemed quite reasonable to me...

 

2nd September

I watched a documentary on this year's 50th Sidmouth Folk Festival, the other night, and it seems that I'm definitely mellowing in my middle years. I grew up in Plymouth, just around the corner, but even as an ardent folk music enthusiast (as well as a die-hard heavy rocker!) I was very careful not to go to Sidmouth - to my contemporaries and I, that particular festival embodied everything that we didn't like about English folk music. It all seemed so antiquated, trite and boring: the big hats, the finger firmly in the ear, and songs along the lines of "Hurrah for the life of a country boy, to ramble in the new-mown hay"...

Instead we liked the more adventurous electric folk-rock groups, particularly the 1980s incarnations of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Their style was more heavily amplified electric fiddles than a cappella, and if any country boys did feature in their songs, they were most probably being slaughtered by elves or drowned in shipwrecks, with almost no rambling going on at all.

Twenty years later, though, I found myself watching a collection of people with excruciatingly big hats and fingers firmly in ears, and thinking how much I would like to be there to watch them in person. To be fair, there were a number of badass fiddle players too, and I was greatly encouraged by how young some of the musicians were, but when I found myself nodding along to a song by The Watersons themselves, famed for country boys and rambling of all types, I knew that I was lost. The long-time organisers of the Sidmouth festival are retiring, this year, so apparently there will be a hiatus - but a new team is taking over for 2006, and I expect I'll probably be there. In the meantime, I'm off to listen to The Kipper Family - think of it as an inoculation against hats and fingers...

Elsewhere, some science - well, pseudo-science, at least:

An interesting SETI signal - coming from a point between the Pisces and Aries constellations, it has been picked up three times by the giant Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. Tellingly, the signal is on the 21cm Hydrogen wavelength, long considered to be the frequency on which to send out an interstellar signal. Fascinating...

Blade Runner is scientists' favourite movie - and their favourite SF authors are the likes of Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Ursula Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert and Stanislaw Lem. I was interested that they were nearly all more speculative, whimsical authors, rather than the significant number of writers who also work as scientists - Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford, Charles Sheffield, et al.

"Black Triangle" sightings on the rise - saucers are pass, it seems, and these days everybody is seeing large, slow, low-flying triangular UFOs instead. A recent analysis of the reported sightings by aerial phenomenon specialist NIDS (a privately funded organisation of unknown provenance) seems to suggest some unexpected patterns, though...

Betting on gravity waves - British gamblers are so sure that scientists will discover gravity waves by 2010 that bookmakers Ladbrokes have slashed the odds it is prepared to offer from 500-1 to 6-1. However, I think this may say more about the scientific ignorance of the British public than anything about science itself.

 

1st September

Well, if I thought last week at the office was busy, this one makes it look like a holiday... The last time I was this stressed, a couple of years ago before I got my second PFY, all my grey hairs fell out.

Just links, then - and quick ones, at that...

Maxtor offering longer warranties - having dropped to a one year warranty back in 2003, now they're following the trend back up to three.

New iMac - looks neat, I must admit, but costs a fortune. You could buy three cheap Dell desktops for the price of the entry-level iMac...

Verisign never says die - after the recent ruling went against them, Verisign are suing ICANN over their wretched Site Finder service again. Sheesh!

XM Radio still playing hardball - online digital radio firm strikes another blow against the consumer's fair use rights.

96 CPU desktop system - when only massive overkill is good enough, choose $100,000 worth of Fedora-hosting Transmeta-powered workstation goodness ...

Spoofing for caller ID - a new service will allow carefully only selected organisations to hide their telephone numbers - at least until less scrupulous equivalents start to emerge...

Plastic magnets - not the first, but certainly the first to work above 10 degrees Kelvin. Researchers at Durham University admit that practical applications are still far away, though...

Silicon snake oil - a new polyester-based lubricant will help hard disk manufacturers to protect the data-bearing surfaces from damage, promising higher density storage and fewer failures.

Steep fines for cellphone use - using a phone in a library in California's Huntington Beach could cost up to $1000 for a repeat offence. Seems excessive, to me, I have to say...

And, finally... anyone who mounts a jet engine to a wheel chair and then proceeds to ride it to a terminal velocity of 60mph deserves everything he gets. Oh, and this brave lunatic seems to have acquired one of the absurd experimental Bell jet packs that the US military rightly abandoned in the 1950s - and he probably deserves everything he gets, too.

 

Not a bad month in the stats, approximately equalling my previous high points - and at some time in the last week I passed the 50,000 visitor mark, too. I still seem to have my handful of regular readers, as well as the countless hordes who come via Google, so I guess I must be doing something right.

Feel free to vote - or not... As I said here last month, the Tweakers Australia stats are forged to the point of uselessness, these days, and as the sysadmins still don't seem to care, neither do I... I wonder if there's anywhere else I can use to massage my ego?

 

 

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