I'm still waiting for Koolance to release the
larger version of their new water cooled case series,
hopefully sometime next month, and until then I'm reading and absorbing
everything I can about the technology. This morning I noticed a new review
of the Exos 2 (the external add-on version of the cooling subsystem
integrated into the ready-made cases) at über
geek site [H]ard|OCP,
and popped over for a quick look - only to be greeted by a line right at
the very top of the article crediting the "Grammatical & Spelling Editor".
Now, long experience with reviews written by geeks (especially the younger
ones!) has shown that many of these tech sites are badly in need of an
editor with basic English skills, but it's a sad state of affairs indeed
when they apparently feel the need to publish the fact so shamelessly. I
expect correct grammar and spelling as a matter of course rather
than something worthy of specific mention (Ok, so I'm often disappointed)
and this morning I'm having difficulty in pulling my left eyebrow down
into its usual place. <sigh>
[H]ard/OCP - now with added correctness...
Meanwhile, another annoyance. A friend was at the
funeral of SF trufan
yesterday, which made me think of a funny quote from him in Gaiman &
Newman's wonderful opus Ghastly Beyond Belief, an extensive
collection of the worst that science fiction had to offer. I used to have
two copies of this book, but thanks to friends with extremely short
memories where book loans are concerned I don't have either of them now,
so I decided to take a quick look on Amazon and eBay to see if I could
track down another. The book is long out of print now, though, and to my
horror it's changing hands for over £100 on
Amazon UK, with
Amazon US not far behind. I'm never going to pay that much for a
twenty year old paperback, and barring a fortuitous discovery in a second
hand shop (becoming less likely now that all the book sellers are online
and can fix prices between them) I'm not going to own a copy again. Ah,
well, maybe I can track down a copy of Dave Langford's loose equivalent,
The Silence Of
The Langford, instead...
New admin tools - Microsoft has released a new version of the Server
2003 Administration Tools, although it's not especially clear what has
changed and the upgrade process looks as if it could be tricky under some
configurations. I shall test it at home before taking the plunge at the
office, I think.
new clothes - venerable tech site NT Compatible (you can tell
how old it is from the name!) changed its layout a week or two ago, and I
think it's a great improvement. News items are now split into categories -
compatibility, reviews, how-to guides, Microsoft news, etc - and it's all
very clear and well laid-out. The site has always been one of my staples,
and is thoroughly recommended.
Now I'm off to install a new power supply
in Infinity, and so hopefully by the end of the day I'll be able to play
games again without the PC dying with a sad little meeep noise. If
I have a PC instead of a random pile of components, this evening, I'll
post some pictures...
What with all the fuss and everything, I though I ought
to take a look at the Firefox
open source browser, and I've been running it on my laptop for the last
week or so. I have to say that I'm not terribly impressed... It's a
perfectly respectable, feature-rich application, but after all the hype
I'd expected something an order of magnitude faster, slicker and more
exotic than I'm used to from Microsoft's allegedly bloated, buggy and
sluggish offering, and I'm really not seeing any of that. It scores
heavily over Internet Explorer in being multi-tabbed, of course, but I've
been using Crazy Browser, a
tabbed browser based on the IE engine, for a year or so now and that seems
to serve my needs quite adequately. There's certainly nothing wrong with
Firefox, but for my purposes there's nothing especially right with
it either and I doubt that I'll keep it installed.
fuss, what with all the hype about biometrics and fingerprint
recognition, it only seems fair to post links to instructions for creating
your own fingerprints. Old-time hacking group
Chaos Computer Club prefers using cyanoacrylate to transfer a print to
wood glue, but mathematician
Tsutomu Matsumoto and IT guru
Dan Rutter both prefer
gelatine. Be warned.
And talking of fuss, again... It seems that erstwhile
high-end PC company Libermann
was not a hoax in just the same way that Richard Nixon was
not a crook. The two founders of the company, which went belly-up in
October last year, seem strangely unrepentant and, in fact, almost
proud of the colossal scam they perpetrated on their customers. Their
web site advertised dozens of impressively specified systems, often
including hardware components that
didn't actually exist on the open market, and although few of these
were ever shipped the company nevertheless managed to put in place
"multi-million dollar domestic and international distribution agreements
for all its product line". It was a sorry state of affairs, to be
sure, and their departure is certainly no loss to the IT industry.
For the fan who has everything - well, everything except for a
full-sized Star Wars X-Wing fighter, that is... One of only eight, it's up
for auction on eBay (where else?) at a starting price of $40,000. Bidding
is slow to the point of being non-existent right now, though, and there's
only a day or so left to run... Come on, people - they're even offering
free shipping within the continental United States!
Register went to the movies, and wasn't especially impressed with
the new Hitchhiker's Guide offering. I'm expecting to feel the same,
actually, when it finally crawls out onto DVD - for me, the original radio
series was pretty much the pinnacle of the canon, and it's been all down
hill since then.
virus writer with taste - the Antiman-A virus is spreading
rapidly throughout Eastern Europe, and it carries an unusual payload...
Designed to delete "manele" (the increasingly popular electronic version
of Romanian gypsy music) from infected systems, the worm poses as an
online survey about withdrawing troops from Iraq - an especially
contentious issue given the recent kidnapping of three Romanian
And finally, to nobody's great surprise,
NASA has delayed the Shuttle launch until July at the earliest. There
are still serious potential issues with the falling ice and debris that
caused the Columbia disaster, and although various remedies are under
discussion the perceived level of safety is still inadequate. This leaves
a possible repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope as uncertain as
ever, but at least planning work has started at the
Space Flight Center, even if the first likely window for the mission
is still a long time away.
To round off one of those weeks, one of those days.
I'm not going to say anything, but the especially attentive will hear me
muttering darkly under my breath: Cisco IOS, buggrit,
Formscape, bastard, SNA, sonofabitch...
Meanwhile (and I know you're way ahead of me, here),
some quick links:
at twice the price - Dan reviews 1U rack servers from motherboard
manufacturer Tyan, and is pleasantly surprised. I don't think I'll be
trading in my Dell PowerEdge systems any time
Apple keeps fighting - an unauthorised biography of Steve Jobs has
enraged the company, it seems, to the point where they've withdrawn other
books by publisher Wiley & Sons from all 104 of its stores!
box for your beige box - the next version of Windows will include an
extension to the Dr Watson utility that Microsoft have likened to a flight
data recorder, and it's ruffling feathers already.
fuss continues - Microsoft's U-turn on the Washington state
anti-discrimination law continues to provoke comment from all sides, and
by now of course
even Bill is involved.
Standardising the standards - The International standard weights and
measures used to be physical objects, but these days they're being
redefined as a fraction of some physical constant.
Web attacks soar - web site attacks rose by 36% to almost 400,000,
last year, many of which were apparently mass defacements as part of
organized cracking contests.
RFID kills - in response to fears
about plans to embed broadcasting RFID chips in US passports, the
government is changing the design slightly to reduce the risk, but
persisting with the basic strategy..
Wireless hacking - as the use of public Wi-Fi hotspots grows, the
range and number of the security risks faced by their users are increasing
to match - but is anyone actually surprised to hear this...?
And finally, a follow up to the classic "how
fast would Santa have to travel" thought experiment, a calculation of
the size of Jesus
based on his gradual consumption in the Catholic ritual of Eucharist. The
answer, it seems, is around 1.2 million tons - it's always useful to know
It's been one of those weeks, so far... Work has
settled down to the usual low-level frenzy since the office move (although
with the computer room due to be expanded and refurbished next month it's
just a lull before the storm) so in order to compensate I've had a set of
minor crises at home, instead. Yesterday one of the shelves above my desk
decided to hurl itself to its doom, narrowly missing squishing my PC and
monitor, and this morning I discovered that the water pipe feeding the
washing machine and dishwasher had sprung a leak. I've spent the day on
DIY, then, re-attaching the shelf with giant 7cm wall bolts (let's see it
come out now! Hah!) and bailing an inch of water out the kitchen. These
things always happen in the spring, for some reason...
Meanwhile, some snippets of news:
Going after the big guys - Californian ISP
Hypertouch is suing Gevalia Kaffee,
a division of food giant Kraft, under CAN-SPAM and
the Computer Fraud and Abuse act. In
spite of its blue-chip background, Gevalia's electronic advertising ethics
have always been dubious, and the suit alleges that among other
questionable practices the company used forged header data and inserted
ABC news text to fool spam filters.
Two dead pianists - music software company Zenph Studios has developed
a technique of re-processing an audio recording into an extended
variant of MIDI, enabling a high-end Disklavier Pro electronic piano to
produce a completely faithful rendition of the original pianists' work.
Next month classical music enthusiasts will be treated to Bach's
as played by Glenn Gould in 1955, and a Chopin prelude played by Alfred
Cortot in 1928.
Be careful what
you wish for - Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner announced last week that he
would swim from Norway to the US if the newly released Opera 8 was
downloaded a million times in its first four days, and now he has to keep
his promise - although I think he's going to need something more
substantial than a rubber dinghy to
support him in mid-Atlantic. There is definitely a tongue inserted firmly
in a Norwegian cheek, there, I think...
There's gold in them there hills - the adware industry is worth well
in excess of $2 billion annually, it seems, according to the a report from
computer security company Webroot. The top revenue-producer is the
annoying Cool Web Search, which Webroot reckons may be installed on on
around half of the computers on the Internet, but old favourites Gator and
AUpdate aren't far behind. With that kind of money to be made, it's no
wonder that the companies involved are completely unrepentant.
Happy birthday, Hubble! - as the Space Telescope reaches its fifteenth
year of operation, two stunning new pictures have been released to mark
the occasion. The first is a new view of the star-birth clouds in the
Eagle Nebula M16, well-known from previous Hubble images, and the
second is the
Whirlpool Galaxy M51, a classic spiral galaxy seen at an unprecedented
sharpness and clarity. Hubble's original image of M16 is the first of
Space.com's list of
top ten space photos.
JPEG lawsuit not dead - I'd completely forgotten the lawsuit by the
previously unknown company Forgent over the technology behind the JPEG
image compression standard, but now they've resurfaced and added Microsoft
to the long list of companies they're suing for patent infringement. So
far there have been around 35 lawsuits, directed at such heavyweights as
Sony, Adobe, Macromedia, Apple, Dell, Kodak, HP, IBM and Xerox - and as
far as I can tell all so far have settled, netting Forgent
somewhere in the order of $100 million in licensing revenue . It will be
interesting to see if Microsoft makes a stand, as from what I can remember
Forgent's basic claim seemed to be decidedly dubious.
Finally - and thanks to The Sideshow for the pointer -
post at left-win 'blog Bounded Rationality proves conclusively
that not only does the author have an emoticon library, but that he isn't
afraid to use it. Rather the opposite, in fact - but it's funny anyway.
Notice the first comment, though: "Sometimes even ‘liberals’ have a
sense of humor" - exactly who was it that said we didn't...?
I knocked up a banner for my friend Avedon Carol's
weblog, The Sideshow,
yesterday, and thought I'd post it here by way of a quick plug for the
You often hear the term "a musician's musician", used
to describe someone who the big names listen to when they get home from a
gig, and in that case I think Avedon is a blogger's blogger... Even though
The Sideshow gets about as many hits in a day as I get in a week,
it's still relatively quiet by the standards of high-profile political
weblogs such as Liberal Oasis,
Washington Monthly -
but Scher, Atrios and Drum read The Sideshow to find out what
everyone else is saying, and when Avedon has the time to post her own work
as well as summarising the blogosphere, it's always hard-hitting, relevant
thought-provoking. If you're at all interested in the left wing of
American politics, or just want to keep an eye on the worst excesses of
the Bush regime, it's well worth dipping into The Sideshow every
few days to find out what's new.
Meanwhile, some links...
USB guitar - LEDs embedded in the frets light up to show where to
finger, just the thing for beginners. I really think they could have found
a better name than "FretLight", though...
state of AI - is pretty damn poor, according to an article in New
Scientist... There's very little risk of super-intelligent computers
taking over the world and enslaving humanity, it seems.
Multi-core madness - IBM has announced that, in common with most other
major players, their software will be licensed per processor rather than
per core. This leaves
standing alone, now.
curtains - a home theatre system in every sense of the word. It really
is a fantastic piece of work, and obviously a labour of love - but, uh,
some people have far too much time on their hands...
naturel - photographed artistically in natural light rather than
the usual giant spotlights, these images of insects are remarkable. I wish
my etymologist friend Colin was alive to see them.
And finally, more on Microsoft's on-again/off-again
anti-discrimination stance... Big-name MS blogger Robert Scoble has posted
the memo that CEO
Steve Ballmer sent to all MS employees, together with
thoughts in reply.
Various other Microsofties are speaking their piece, too, including
Scoble's boss Vic
Gundotra. Whatever happens with the anti-discrimination legislation
itself, it's certainly causing a stir - so much for aide DeLee Shoemaker's
justification that "no one will know"...!
I went out and made a start on my little garden, today,
cutting the grass, pruning things that looked like they needed pruning and
tying back everything else, and generally tidying up a little. It was hard
work, and used a whole bunch of muscles that I'd forgotten I had over the
winter, but it was really nice to spend a Saturday surrounded by green
things instead of by computers - the first time in a month or so. There's
some more to do tomorrow, weather permitting, and actually I'm rather
looking forward to it.
Yes, that is a palm tree, even in the wilds of
Dagenham. Global warming, I expect...
Meanwhile, some random snippets of news and stuff:
Watching the watchers - wearable computing guru Steve Mann is fighting
back against the ever-increasing culture of surveillance by taking his own
cameras into areas monitored by CCTV. Needless to say, the reactions from
the powers that be are not, on the whole, enthusiastic - but their
justifications for their own monitoring practices were tenuous to say the
Unsafe at any speed - a new book by four Wired editors suggests that
US citizens are no more safe than they were before the WTC attacks, in
spite of the millions spent on hi-tech security measures. Have the
dreadful encroachments into civil liberties that have come along with this
monitoring and surveillance been worth it? I really think not...
Tridgell drops Bitkeeper bombshell - in the wake of last
week's fracas over the Linux kernel version control software, Andrew
Tridgell has actually released open source code for retrieving data from
proprietary BitKeeper databases. What with that and Torvalds' own version
control tool, if he ever writes it, it looks like BitMover itself has been
well and truly sidelined.
MGM throwing their weight around - yet another case of a big media
corporate bullying fans of their intellectual property. This time the
victims are a group of Stargate enthusiasts, who were planning to create a
mod for the Half-Life 2 game based around the look and feel of the TV
series. MGM objected, and as I write this their web site,
StarGateSource.com, is completely unavailable... Shame.
Case-modding at its best - at Bit Tech, a new
offering in the shape of the ordnance-inspired
WMD, and a reprise on
the classic Orac3
case. The latter, especially, is a stunning piece of work, with meticulous
attention to detail - look at the way he
sleeved the thin wires
in transparent tubing, for example, or the
silver shower hose
that carries the larger cables... True craftsmanship.
in spaaaaaaace! - also at Bit Tech, an entertaining but
informative overview of the sort of computer hardware used in current
space vehicles, including the Shuttle (big, clunky circuit boards,
pre-dating surface-mount components), the Cassini probe (classic ferrite
core store) and the Mars rovers (a version of IBM's PowerPC CPU).
of hoarding - last week Intel offered a significant cash reward for
the prehistoric issue of Electronics magazine where Gordon Moore's law of
computer growth was first laid out. In best geek tradition, the issue
(along with the rest of his collection) was stashed under the floorboards
in the attic, and the owner's wife had been pressuring him to get rid of
them. Presumably he is now insufferable...
Puffed-up professor - the theft of a laptop containing all sorts of
allegedly top-secret data from a professor at UC Berkeley has been
attracting much attention around the web, presumably because of the lurid,
overblown and bombastic threats levelled at the thief by the laptop's
owner. I find the whole thing ridiculous, personally, and
this little cartoon strip
sums up my own take on the issue very neatly.
scandal down under - it has emerged that New Zealand police officers
have acquired a taste for Internet porn at work, to such a degree that
their downloaded images apparently took up around 20% of the capacity of
the police IT systems! The material, which came to light during an
unrelated internal investigation, is likely to be grounds for a
significant number of dismissals at all levels of the force.
And, finally, I mentioned
Multiplicity utility a few days ago, and since then I've been testing
it on my three desktop systems at the office. It acts as a sort of
software KVM switch, as although you retain one VDU for each PC you are
controlling, all of them are driven from a single keyboard and mouse -
simply move the mouse pointer horizontally from one monitor to the next,
and any subsequent mouse and keyboard actions will be processed by the
particular PC that currently has the focus. In use it is extremely
slick, virtually bug free even in this early incarnation (it seems to
freeze animated cursors, for me, but I imagine that will be fixed RSN) and
well worth the relatively small expense - as an
subscriber I could sign up for the entire ThinkDesk suite (of which
Multiplicity is the first member) for a discount, and jumped at the
chance. Multiplicty, and indeed all of Stardock's other GUI and useability
enhancements, are thoroughly recommended.
It's taken a week of hot, dusty labour, but my team has
finally settled into our new home. It's been business as usual for the
rest of the IT department from a day or so after the move, but the network
and desktop support teams were responsible for moving a huge
quantity of hardware and infrastructure from our old store room (sometimes
only moments ahead of the area being gutted ready for refurbishment!) then
sorting it into our new workroom-cum-storeroom. Of course, we had to
design, furnish and equip the room itself, pretty much concurrently with
moving into it, and so it's been a fairly frenzied time. The results are
definitely worth all the hard work, however, and I'm very pleased with how
it turned out - many thanks to everyone who contributed.
I've wanted a store room lavishly equipped with
brightly-coloured storage bins for almost as long as I've wanted
a huge fire safe full of data tapes, and as
my management gave me a free hand in equipping the room I really went to
town. I think my colleagues were rather nonplussed when I started showing
them pictures from the RS catalogue, last week, but now that it's all in
place, neatly labelled, and filled with large quantities of cables,
adaptors, components and oddments, they seem to have embraced the idea
with considerable enthusiasm. Whether we will be able to maintain such a
degree of order and neatness in the height of the next crisis will remain
to be seen, but I plan to impose on-the-spot fines for anyone caught
dumping cardboard boxes full of random hardware and trying to sidle away
This is seriously heavy-duty workshop shelving - each
inch thick chipboard shelf can hold up to 300Kg, and as it's wood there's
none of that tooth-loosening screeeech that you get when you pull a
PC or whatever towards you across conventional metal racking. The shelves
are almost a metre deep, too, and swallow hardware without complaining -
you can only see the front rows, but there are around forty monitors in
the picture above! It's also the shelving that was badly delayed when, to
our considerable annoyance, RS were able to supply the flat bits but not
the upright bits - although I have to admit that, in the end, the missing
parts were delivered a lot earlier than the two weeks we were originally
quoted. One beneficial side-effect of this shelving is that the rubber
mallet used to bash the keyhole joints together will
come in very handy
the next time the users start acting up.
Wonderfully solid static-safe workbenches salvaged from
our R&D department when they closed down last year, and jealously horded
in the knowledge that one day we would have space for them... The
observant will notice that we didn't have quite enough space, when
it came down to it, so I had to cut a pair of slots in the edge of the
work surface to accommodate the supports at the end of the racking... I
measured it all carefully before I placed the order, and as there only
seemed to be about 5cm leeway I asked my PFY to double-check. When he
independently came up with the same 5cm I was happy, but a dry run after
receiving the horizontal elements of the shelving showed that actually
they were about 5cm too long, instead! The only sensible conclusion is
that RS doesn't know how big their shelving is, and this must have caused
a number of raised eyebrows for other customers without my freedom to
attack things with a hacksaw. Try doing the same thing to a brick wall,
The blue bins have a year's supply of CAT5 cables in
all our standard colours, neatly coiled and sorted by length - and if the
system is going to break down, that's where it will happen first... The
usual state of our stock of cables is more like a snake pit than anything
else (you can see an excellent example spilling out of the cardboard box
on the trolley, a late-comer awaiting sorting), and it will be
interesting to see how long we can stave off the chaos.
Tidying... blah, blah... store room... yadda yadda...
orange crates... etc etc...
It's almost finished now, so I'll probably get
around to posting some pictures tomorrow. Until then, though - did you
guess yet? - a few random links:
I've linked to the comprehensive notes and episode
guides for The Simpsons,
Dilbert and others at TV
Tome before, and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that they have
equally comprehensive information about
of my all-time favourite cartoon series.
- Dan has been a bit quiet, recently, but he's back today with a review of
an illuminated keyboard that is significantly better than any of its
predecessors. He also links to what is surely destined to become one of
the classic hacker icons,
range of keyboards with blank keycaps. Nice...
out of proportion - sharing a movie prior to its release can now
result in up to three years in prison, thanks to a new law approved by
Congress this week, or six years for a second offence. It should be noted
that in the US involuntary manslaughter usually receives a lighter
Experts solve mystery of unpopped popcorn - ah, the miracles of modern
science... It's down to an unusually permeable husk, it seems, that allows
water vapour to escape during heating and so reduce the moisture level of
the kernel below the critical threshold of around 15%. So there you are.
Shuttle pics - as part of a test of the new Nikon D2X digital camera,
some wonderful images of the refurbished Discovery shuttle during its
roll-out from the VAB to the pad. The first flight is expected on May 22nd
at the earliest, but the launch window has been put back once already.
And finally, via
some extremely disappointing news. For well over a decade Microsoft has
been one of the most tolerant and supportive of multinationals with
respect to homosexual and transgender employees, offering regular benefits
to same-sex domestic partners and including sexual orientation in its
corporate non-discrimination policy. Their attitudes have been so liberal
in comparison to other corporates, in fact, that a few years ago
they received a "Corporate Vision" award from the influential Los Angeles
Gay and Lesbian Center - something
proudly documented on their own web site.
All this seems to have
changed quite suddenly now. however, with the company about to
withdraw its support for proposed legislation that would match the
company's own equal rights policy, outlawing discrimination in employment,
housing, banking, insurance, and other areas by adding sexual orientation
to a state law which already bars discrimination on traditional grounds of
race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or
Without Microsoft's support, however, the bill is
apparently hanging in the balance, and although a Microsoft representative
accepted that the change was a severe blow to the legislation's chance of
being passed, the attitude was that "no one will know"...
According to the article at
that broke the news, this unwelcome corporate U-turn was provoked by the
actions of one man, a right wing Christian bigot with the usual blind
prejudice against homosexuals:
"The pastor, Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible
Church in Redmond, met with a senior Microsoft executive in February and
threatened to organize a national boycott of the company's products if
it did not change its stance on the legislation."
It's bizarre to think that a company that has stood
firm against the US Federal Government, several coalitions of US state
government, the rest of the IT industry, and the entire European Union
without showing any signs of weakening, should be influenced so
dramatically by such a trivial, mean-spirited threat. It's a damn shame,
and I've mailed Bill et al to tell them so. If you feel like doing
the same, the highly informative
AmericaBlog has all the appropriate contact details at the end of
The last of the racking for our new store room arrived
today, so it was all hands to the pumps to move dozens of spare monitors
out into the main office, assemble the racking in the newly created space,
then move the monitors back onto it again. Oh, and we had to cut a pair of
slots out of the edge of an adjacent workbench, too, as somewhat to our
surprise the racking turned out to be five centimetres larger than the
catalogue suggested... It all makes for an interesting day. Tomorrow we'll
finish off loading the various shelves and storage bins with all the many
and varied cables, oddments, gadgets and gizmos of a working IT
department, and then we can breath a sigh of relief and get back to our
"real" job of managing the network, again. Hopefully nobody has
noticed that in our absence it's been managing itself perfectly well over
the last week or so...
Meanwhile - and I'm sure you're way ahead of me here -
a few quick links:
Why Google scares Bill Gates - at Fortune Magazine, more on the
continued growth of the mighty Google... although somehow I doubt that
Bill is actually scared by anything in the corporate world...
like a robot and walks like a man - I've seen one that hopped, but the
bipedal "Rabbit", from a joint French-US development team, manages to walk
without the benefit of feet.
- at a Norwegian "overklokking" site, a PC case shaped like Bender the
robot from the wonderful animated series
Vroom! - firmly in the "don't try this at home" category, a DIY
dragster powered by a pair of pulsejet engines capable of up to 440lbs of
thrust... In such a lightweight chassis, that is just plain scary.
Holy domain squatting - in a remarkable display of foresight, several
weeks ago a Florida-based technical writer bought the
BenedictXVI.com domain, along with five other likely pontifical names.
Midweek... Still trying to make order out of the chaos
that the weekend's department move left... The racking and storage bins
for our work room are still arriving, gradually, as is a huge mountain of
hardware from our old, temporary store. Some is obsolete, some is still
useful - but it all has to be identified, sorted and found a home for.
Busy busy, so just some quick links.
DSL - with many providers promising 8Mbit connections by the summer,
and ADSL2's 20Mbit due "real soon now", ISP Vaioni is offering bonded DSL
to maximise the existing technology.
scores 100 millionth customer - Internet telephony is not new, by any
means, but Skype has made themselves the one to beat. Their business
model is something of a mystery to me, though...
trouble in paradise - at gaming comic Penny Arcade, a bitter rift is
developing between creators Gabe and Tycho. I assume it's a jape,
Piracy can be a
positive thing - the desktop Linux vendor Linspire is echoing
the favourite line of confirmed pirates, saying that illegal copying of
software can help establish a user base for a product.
Now this is just getting silly - US airport luggage screeners seems to
have lost all touch with reality, according to an article at Boing
Boing. Now they're banning books - yes, that's right, books.
Reductio ad absurdum
- the classic gangsta rap album Straight Outta Compton, cropped
down to just the profanity - complete with an "explicit content ratio" for
each track. Great stuff...
And, finally, at Something Awful -
realistic, punchlines for old, tasteless, jokes: Q: What do
you get when you cross a chicken with a centipede? A: A media
circus about the debate over the morals and ethics of genetic engineering.
There's trouble in open source paradise, it seems, as
the gods are bickering amongst themselves... Last week Linux founder Linus
harsh criticism of Andrew Tridgell, the respected author of RSYNC and
SAMBA, for his apparent attempts to reverse engineer the proprietary
BitKeeper source code management system used for version control of the
Linux kernel. The CEO of BitMover, the company that owns BitKeeper,
offended at what he interpreted as a deliberate attempt to steal the
information required to develop a competing product, has revoked the
license and forced Torvalds to look elsewhere for an alternative. For this
state of affairs Linus blames Tridgell, in no uncertain terms, claiming
that he "screwed people over", and that he deliberately
destabilised the product "just because he could".
Strangely, Torvalds also came out with some
unexpected viewpoints about the open source development ethos itself,
including the statement that the development method is useful but not
"a moral imperative" - exactly the opposite of the usual viewpoint of
the open source fanboys... He also announced that he will be developing
his own version control system for future use with the Linux kernel, which
rather leaves BitKeeper out in the cold in spite of their action to
protect their own proprietary structures!
The plot thickened the next day, too, with fellow open
Bruce Perens wading in on the side of Tridgell, telling Linus to "cool
it", and defending the entire concept of reverse engineering a system by
examining the data that it puts onto the network. After all, he pointed
out, this is exactly what Tridgell did with the Microsoft Networking
protocols in order to create SAMBA, and nobody seems to have had any
ethical problems there - although, of course, to the open source community
all is fair and equitable if the victim is Microsoft... "There are
times when Linus Torvalds can be a real idiot", said Perens, "and
this is one of these times".
Indeed. With Apple apparently shooting itself in the
foot by threatening (and even suing!) some of it's staunchest supporters
and enthusiasts, and Linus himself
falling out with his fellow lawn dwarves and apparently even embracing
the dark side of proprietary software, who knows what the future will hold
for the non-Microsoft way!
writers have girlfriends - not the spotty, socially inept adolescents
we have been lead to believe, according to Symantec's Sarah Gordon, who
apparently hangs out with enough of them to know...
wars loom - the new generation of cell phones require far more
masts than their GSM predecessors, it seems, and given the current fears
about the effects of ambient radio frequency on health, the telcos are
likely to have a fight on their hands when they try to obtain the needed
planning permissions from councils.
wailing and gnashing of teeth - now that Microsoft has deactivated the
setting that prevents the automatic installation of Win XP SP2, everybody
is in a complete tizzy about it... As usual, Microsoft can't win - they're
criticised up and down for releasing insecure operating systems, but when
they finally manage to do something about it (and SP2 really does
help, a lot) they're criticised again for doing so! The article claims
that corporates are having fits about the SP2 upgrade, but the writer
seems to have forgotten Microsoft's
Software Update Services, a local server that synchronises with
Windows Update online, but then allows administrators to control exactly
which updates are rolled out to their network. If you don't want to
install SP2 quite yet, just don't approve it for distribution. Sheesh!
I am so fed up with
orange plastic moving crates,
right now... I seem to have spent most of the last year packing them,
moving them, unpacking them again, and trying to find one particular crate
in a stack of half a dozen (it's always at the bottom) to retrieve
something that is suddenly indispensable... My department's new office is
currently orange from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, with more
expected after I left for the day, and I'm very glad that there's only one
more department move after this one. <long groan>
Meanwhile, a few more quick links...
The evils of overclocking - a post at Raymond Chen's MSDN blog
suggests that a surprising number of Windows crashes may be caused by
overclocked CPUs, even if the PC's owner doesn't know that his system is
actually overclocked at all!
Flavour of the month
- I hadn't heard the word "rootkit" before today,
everywhere... It seems to be a generic term for malware that attempts
to hide its presence from spyware blockers, antivirus software, and system
SCO vs. The World - two years after SCO's first lawsuit, against IBM,
the waters seem muddier than ever... They have yet to adequately
substantiate claims of pirated code in Linux, and their bullying tactics
against major users of the OS actually seem to have the opposite of
the desired effect.
Goodbye to KVM
switches - Multiplicity, a new utility from desktop gurus Stardock,
lets you move the mouse off one monitor and onto another, switching
control between the PCs as you do so. I've noticed this functionality in a
few exotic OSes before now, but I think this is the first bolt-on for
The future of advertising - some remarkable images in a recent contest
at the Worth1000 image manipulation site. As an occasional
digital image fiddler myself, I'm
not sure how I've managed to miss these daily contests for so long, but
the quality of the graphics is often extremely high.
I've been a touch short of time for writing here over
the last few days, as in between the stresses and strains of the
weekend's office move (most of today, and doubtless most of tomorrow too),
for a change I'm actually managing to have something of a social life as
I'm sure it won't last, but while it does you'll have
to be content with some even quicker quick links:
Video game stars to strike? To quote Deep Thought - "There is
no terror in your threat".
MPAA vs ESS suit settled - it looks as if the DVD chip manufacturer
has caved, as expected.
French ISP laughs at court ruling - guilty of a major overcharging
scam, but thoroughly unrepentant.
Moon base site chosen - near a tube station, not too far from the
shops, plenty of ice...
New Mac specs
leaked - another web site risks the wrath of Apple by speculating
about new products.
Smart alarm clock - monitors your sleep patterns, and wakes you up
when it will be least jarring!
Laser-controlled headless zombie flies - you heard me... You
can't make this stuff up!
Airport screeners still do poorly - in spite of training, and
hardware, and new laws, things are no better.
It was a very long, hard, dirty day at the silicon
face, clearing out a store room full of old computer junk ready for the
office move at the weekend - and then an hour after I got home and was
just looking forward to a long, hot bath to sooth the aches and pains, a
phone call summoned me back into the office to restore a file that turned
out not to exist. It's been another of those days.
I feel thoroughly wrung out now, so you'll have to
survive with a handful of quick links:
Exoskeleton - still not quite the powered fighting suit from
Heinlein's Starship Troopers, but the Hybrid Assistive Limb project
at the University of Tsukuba is one of the more impressive in a growing
list of prototypes that stretches back at least thirty years.
What price confidentiality? - apparently unsuspecting users of the
Intuit Turbotax and H&R Block financial software are heavily monitored via
3rd party web bugs that track their online behaviour during the tax
preparation and filing process.
Labour vague on ID cards - they will be completely voluntary,
according to the election manifesto, unless you actually want to do
something like applying for a passport, in which case they seem to be
Bending plastic with light - a new flavour of memory plastic can be
bent and stretched into a specific shape, and then "fixed" by a specific
wavelength of UV light - and then exposure to a different frequency will
cause the polymer to return to its original shape.
Open Office not quite bug-free - in spite of the frequent
assertion that the peer review process of open source development removes
the chance of bugs, a "moderately critical" weakness has been exposed in
both release and beta versions of the movement's flagship application.
Strong response to zombies - Telstra BigPond, Australia's largest ISP,
is taking action to detect customer PCs infected with spyware, viruses and
trojans, and, if the owner can't be contacted, the systems in question are
being disconnected from the network. More ISPs need to do this.
coming closer - the launch date isn't until May 12th, but we already
know that the colour scheme is departing from the moody black in favour of
an iPod-like ivory white. Vague, blurry
images of the
controllers are circulating, too.
Creative Archive - it looks as if the Beeb's plans to make huge
amounts of radio and television programming available free of charge are
moving forwards well, although under the terms of the corporation's
license fee only UK users will legitimately be allowed access.
Radioactive watch - looking more like an electronic dosimeter than a
device to tell the time, this Japanese (do I really have to tell you
that?) gadget looks likely to be as confusing to the user as to the casual
"Now, a few more details about this year's company
picnic. It's at the plant; no food will be served; the only activity will
be work; and the picnic is cancelled."
- C. Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons
A few days ago I suddenly remembered an old favourite
movie, the "rock'n'roll fable"
Streets Of Fire,
and as my tape copy has probably aged past being worth watching, by now, I
treated myself to a new one on DVD. It must have been around ten years
since I last watched it, and after some recent disappointments I was
delighted to find that I enjoyed it as much as ever. As soon as I'd
finished it, in fact, I went right back to watch the opening sequence
The story is set in an alternative, slightly-twisted
New York, clearly based in the1950s but shot through with frequent
eighties touches, as well as some highly anachronistic fetishwear sported
by the wonderfully sinister bikers who serve as antagonists - it gives an
unusual feel to the movie, but is extremely effective in this case.
The leading actors, Michael Paré, Diane Lane and Willem
Dafoe, may not be huge names by Hollywood standards, but the
soundtrack certainly has an impressive pedigree - music composed by Ry
Cooder, and lyrics by Jim Steinman, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty. As you
would expect from that list, some of the songs are dynamite, and
fortunately they're set as key segments of the movie rather than just as
I'm not going to describe the plot, partly because the
outlines in the various
IMDB user reviews
prove that it's very hard to capture the rapid pace of the movie in words,
and partly because if you're at all interested after reading this then you
should just go and buy a copy for yourself - in the UK they're available
second hand on eBay or Amazon marketplace for less than £5, and at that
price you really can't go wrong. Recommended.
Meanwhile, back at the office... As one of the last
stages of the building refurbishment we're about to move the IT department
from a temporary home stuffed into a corner of the back of the Service
department, to our new office space right at the top of the building. The
move is scheduled for the coming weekend, but yesterday my manager and I
both realised that we had assumed the other would be sorting out racking
for the hardware store room. In the end I volunteered for the job, as it's
exactly the sort of thing I enjoy fussing over, if not normally in such a
hurry, and this afternoon I managed to draw up a plan for an appropriate
selection of shelving, arranged for a PFY to double-check the measurements
(there was only 5cm leeway, which is a little too close for complacency)
and had it approved by the powers that be - all in a couple of hours...
And then we discovered that although the bulk of it can be delivered
tomorrow morning, the uprights for part of the shelving will actually take
a couple of weeks instead! How can a supplier have all the shelves,
brackets, supports, and you name it for a particular range of shelves in
stock, but not the bit that turns them from a pile of components on the
floor to a structure that can actually hold things! <shakes head
It's been another one of those days at the
office (there are a lot of them about right now, it seems) so just some
random news links for now...
Amazing contraptions - entrants in Perdue University's annual Rube
Goldberg Machine Contest design a device that uses the most complex
process possible to complete a simple task. This year's challenge was to
change a pair of torch batteries, and the winning machine involved 125
wonderfully unnecessary steps. There's
Ice on the
move - back at the start of the year it looked as if a huge iceberg
was about to smash into an equally-massive floating ice shelf in McMurdo
Sound, Antarctica. In the event, it
appeared to have run aground in shallow waters a few kilometres short
of the shelf, stalling there until early March, but it's on the move again
now and is edging its way past the ice and on out into the Ross Sea.
Desperately seeking Gordon - Intel is advertising on eBay for the
April 1965 issue of Electronics Magazine containing the original article
"Moore's Law" by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. They're offering a
generous $10,000 for a mint copy, and although there can't be many around
in that condition I expect that the price will lure any that do still
exist out of the woodwork in fairly short order.
enemies - the court case brought by Apple Computer to unmask online
journalists' confidential sources for articles about upcoming products is
causing a real stir around the blogosphere, with a number of high-profile
emerging media writers and groups signing an amicus curae brief in
support of the persecuted journalists.
Hall of Shame - At ZD Net, the six dumbest ways to secure a wireless
LAN. I have to take exception to the overall tone of the article, though -
MAC address filtering and hiding the SSID may not be the ultimate in
security, but when combined with proper use of WEP or WPA on a home
network they certainly help to deter the casual hacker.
And, finally, a PC case that definitely hasn't
made my short list... Dan
reviews the iCute 0408 SL, an unremarkable steel mid-tower - with one
I've been immersing myself in water-cooling over the
last few days (no pun intended) and after several hours of obsessive
poring over pumps, radiators and water blocks, I started wondering if one
of the off-the-shelf systems from manufacturers like Koolance would fit
the bill. I've been keeping an eye on the development of their Exos
self-contained external cooling system over the last couple of years, and
while browsing their web site for details of the updated
Exos II model I noticed that they're also offering
an integrated version built into the Lian Li PC-V1000 case. Now,
although this is certainly an impressive case (even
Dan thinks so!), it's a little small for my taste - as standard
it only has five external drive bays, and as the Koolance version uses the
top bay to hold the pump and reservoir that doesn't leave nearly enough.
The PC-V1000 has a bigger brother, though, in the shape
of the seven bay
PC-V2000, and this would be a far more practical proposition. The two
cases are functionally identical except for the height, and it occurred to
me that maybe Koolance were contemplating an über-geek
version of their
ready-made system in the larger case. Sure enough, a quick email
enquiry brought the reply that they are indeed planning a PC-V2000 based
system, probably due for release sometime in May, and right now that is
definitely at the top of my list. I've already changed my mind three
times in the last week, though, so it's anyone's guess what I'll actually
end up implementing!
One thing I'm relatively sure of, though, is that I'll
be using a rectilinear layout for the coolant tubes instead of the
conventional tangle of loops and curves. I saw this for the first time a
few days ago, and it caught my eye immediately - the technique uses short,
straight lengths of tubing with right-angled connectors at the corners,
and it looks really elegant. [I hope that description is enough,
though, as apparently I've completely lost track of where I saw it - it
was somebody's project log, on some cooling geek forum, but I've seen so
many of those recently that I have no idea which one it was. I'll update
if I ever manage to find it again!] I expect that the
connectors reduce the flow rate somewhat compared to a seamless length of
tubing, but the Koolance hardware seems to have adequate overhead and I
wouldn't expect serious problems as long as I don't over-do it.
Wind - an impressive application that allows you to zoom into imagery
of the Earth's surface, gained from several satellites combined with data
from the shuttle missions, and updated daily with details of natural
events. The 171Mb download is not for dialup users, though...
Linux vs. Windows, don't get emotional - at The Register, the
results of a reader survey on migrating to Linux. It seems to be one of
the most balanced of its type that I've yet seen, and admits that Linux is
certainly not the be-all and end-all of operating systems.
World's Easiest Explanation of Anamorphic Widescreen Enhancement in DVDs
- with a title like that, you wouldn't think that a geek would have to
read it more than once before understanding it, but unfortunately that
wasn't the case. It's a confusing topic, and at this stage I'm still not
DVD of "Bugsy Malone" I actually want to buy. Is a larger
picture better than a sharper picture? It's a case of a little knowledge
being a dangerous thing - if there was only one DVD, I would have bought
it straight away, but now I'm terminally undecided.
Some links for the weekend:
EarthCore - a science fiction serial distributed as "a podcast novel"
- or in other words, for those who remember life before Apple's iPod
obsessed the industry, an MP3 audiobook.
Robert Heinlein's greatest hits - a new edition of the SF grand
master's collected works is imminent, including all the novels and short
stories, all the non-fiction books, and much of his other writing.
Lectures 2005 - The BBC is making this year's lecture series, The
Triumph Of Technology, available online as streaming or downloadable
A green U-turn - hard-line environmental icon Stewart Brand, founder
of The Whole Earth Catalog and The Well, now thinks that nuclear power may
be the only feasible way forward.
the GPL - Sun's president has reaffirmed his companys's support for
open source code, but criticised the GPL itself, saying that it amounted
to "economic imperialism".
Gordon Moore interviewed - forty years after formulating his infamous
"law", the Intel old-timer (one of the few computer industry founders
still alive) looks at the ramifications of his prediction.
slams Linux extremists - following another hostile reaction to a
report that favourably compared Windows to Linux, the analyst has
criticised the religious fervour of the fanboys.
IBM, Nokia and Oracle sharks circling - the EU's lawsuits against
Microsoft are still in full flow, and the competition is staying close in
case it can make things harder for the Seattle giant in some way.
saucers - MSSMP was a prototype for a six foot flying saucer using a
50hp motor driving a ducted fan, and designed for highly flexible infantry
support roles on the battlefield.
Shuttle flights still dangerous - the redesign may make the new
shuttle "the safest vehicle ever flown" but experts acknowledge that
manned space flight is still an inherently risky business.
Nukes in spaaaaace! - NASA's Prometheus program is developing nuclear
reactors for use as propulsion systems for interplanetary probes, but
they're struggling against bad PR and budget cuts.
Tools - a new weblog devoted to (did you guess?) cool tools... "any
book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is
tried and true", and it's an interesting selection.
Skulls Direct sells skulls of all types - vampires, dragons, goblins,
paperweights, bookends, you name it. They look gorgeous, and they're
really quite reasonably priced.
And finally, at Boing Boing,
pranks - guerrilla marketing, classic college pranks, anti-gravity
interior design, stressing the US Postal Service, and a particularly
involved and sadistic hoax at the expense of a hapless Starbucks HR droid.
spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of rebuilding his
damn PC again, it seems. I hadn't intended to do this quite yet,
but the imminent demise of my Antec
TruePower has brought my plan forward somewhat - replacing the power
supply in Infinity3
is sufficiently traumatic and fiddly that replacing the case as well is
almost just an afterthought...
The problems with the TruePower seem quite common,
actually - I've seen a fair number of users on the forums describing the
same kind of gradual slippage in the 5v line, and with exactly the same
symptoms of disappearing disk drives and random lockups under load. It's
annoying, of course, as it always seems to take a year or two for this
stuff to emerge - when you're looking for recommendations everybody is
saying "oh, yes, you can't go wrong with Enermax/Antec/PCP&C", and
then later on when everything has gone horribly wrong the forums are full
of "oh, no, you don't want to use one of those"... We're a fickle
bunch, I'm afraid.
Anyway, I've already ordered a replacement power supply
in the form of the current flavour of the month, PC Power & Cooling's
Turbo Cool 510 XE. I need an EPS12V supply for my dual Xeons and so
the choice is decidedly limited, but (at least for the moment!) the PCP&C
hardware seems well regarded for high-end systems. They're quite rare,
though, and although I couldn't find a single UK supplier I was delighted
to come across a US company, Performance-PCs,
who are offering this particular model with
braided sleeving already fitted to the wiring loom - which will save a
whole raft of fuss! The 510 XE has multiple 12v rails, easily accessible
voltage trimming pots, active power factor correction (although hardly
anyone seems to know what that means!) and unusually fine output
tolerances - and in spite of the name, it actually has a peak output of
650W, so should provide some leeway when I finally decide to make the move
to water cooling.
The latter is coming sooner rather than later, now, I
think. I'm sizing up new cases with a large radiator in mind, and having
spotted the ThermoChill
HE120 series last autumn I seem to have my heart set on the biggest
one that will fit. [ThermoChill turns out to be a UK-based
manufacturer, by the way, and as they have their own online shop there
doesn't seem to be much point in buying elsewhere.] I haven't really
made any progress towards choosing pumps, reservoirs and water blocks
(again, with the latter, choice is limited to the relatively few suitable
for the Xeon's Socket 603 form factor) but I'm sure that will sort itself
out in the fullness of time.
The first step is the case, however, and at this stage
I'll probably just transplant most of the existing air-cooling subsystem
Although I've been lusting after the extremely impressive
Mountain Mods cube
cases for a while, in actual fact they're not very well suited to my
requirements and having ruled out
Lian Li's PC-V series as
well, the current favourite is the new
CoolerMaster Stacker. It's an interesting design, with the entire
front panel of the fairly tall case being made up of 5¼" drive bays - the
case comes equipped with a mounting bracket that holds four hard disks,
cooled by a front-mounted 120mm fan, and fitting neatly into three drive
bays. The chassis will support up to four of these, with the whatever
slots remain being available for optical drives etc - I'd only need one of
the brackets to support my pair of SATA mirrors, which would leave ample
space for everything else. This is just as well, as (in common with the
Mountain Mods cases) there are no conventional 3½" bays at all. This is a
touch inconvenient given determination to retain a conventional floppy
drive (how do people upgrade device firmware and system BIOS without one?)
and a few other smaller devices, but these can be mounted with adaptor
rails and shouldn't present a significant problem.
Other notable features include a long, rotor-type cross-flow fan to
blow air directly across the motherboard, and the facility to hold two
power supplies - one in the conventional ATX location at the top of the
chassis, the second down at the bottom rear. Either of these locations
could be used for water cooling hardware instead, and although there are
pros and cons to both, the layout certainly seems flexible enough to
provide a good solution if
given some thought. I'm also going to have to give some thought to
windows, lighting, my Matrix Orbital LCD, and all the little tweaks that
I've already thought of even before I've actually seen the case.in the
flesh. I'm going to have to immerse myself in the whole ethos of
water cooling before I make any decisions, too - I've caught enough
snippets in passing to keep up with the current technology, but I don't
have any specific brands or models in mind, and that means some serious
time at 2CPU.com,
and Ars.Technica - to name but a
few. There's a lot of work ahead!
So we're recruiting for a new helpdesk bod, right now,
and yesterday my director was looking through CVs... He read one out to
me, listing the guy's expertise in Red Hat Linux, Lotus Notes and Novell
Netware, and given that we don't use any of those systems, and that he
knows I'm a confirmed Microsoft evangelist, the only conclusion I could
draw was that he was hoping to set me up for a fight to the death along
the lines of Max Max Beyond
Thunderdome - two men enter the computer room, one man leaves. Still,
as the candidate in question seems to have backed the number two
technologies right across his career, it's no wonder he's looking for a
Meanwhile, some quick links. So quick, in fact, you if
you blink you'll miss them.
You want them again, but slower? Oh, very well, seeing
as it's you...
robotics-building system - manufactured by Radio Shack, it seems
rather reminiscent of high-tech Meccano. Details are extremely
sparse at present, with the web site long on animation and short on
content, but it's certainly worth
keeping an eye on.
black holes? - according to a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, they're actually "dark energy stars" instead, formed either by
stellar collapse or by fluctuations of space-time itself.
FermiLab data processing hardware - a look behind the scenes at the
server farms and network infrastructure of the Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory. Lots of geek-porn images... :-)
<cough> Bullshit! - from a review of a PC power supply at
HardwareZoom: "The special coating on the casing not only gives you a
dark reflective surface, it actually reduce radiation to ensure electro
magnetical compatibility". Uh, Orion, don't give up your day job.
- "Everyone knows that Russians are good at maths", says an
official of the police cybercrime division. "Our software writers are
the best in the world, that's why our hackers are the best in the world".
a hoax - Boing Boing reveals that the recent craze of UK commuters
hooking up for random sexual encounters via Bluetooth cellphones never
really happened... Strangely enough, though, the practice actually seems
to be quite routine in Kuwait, instead!
eBay's policy on surcharges - I hadn't realised this, but a while ago
eBay banned sellers from charging extra for payments via PayPal, Nochex
and other electronic money services. The advice on the community forums
seems to be to pay the winning bid without the surcharge, and see what
McGuire for pope - Some US bookies are offering 1000-to-1 odds,
apparently without realising that he is a fictional character from Channel
4's comedy series "Father Ted"...
Alcohol-fuelled election - the UK supermarket chain ASDA is cashing in
with a themed beer for each of the major political parties, and they're
intending to use the sales figures as a form of opinion poll!
HST's Funeral - as eccentric in death as he was in life, the ashes of
the great counterculture author are to be fired from a cannon mounted
inside a 53-foot-high sculpture of the "gonzo fist" emblem. Gosh!
I don't normally re-post the "funny pictures" that
float around the Internet, perhaps because as the sysadmin of a company
with seven hundred mail-crazy employees I've seen so many of them over the
years that my sense of humour has withered and died. This one tickled me,
though, so just this once...
My first thought was a Photoshop hoax, especially given
the proximity to April 1st - but no, a little research reveals that the
Titan Uranus does indeed exist, an oil tanker registered as HK-1325 and
owned by the Titan Petrochemicals Group, a Malaysian company that seems to
like to naming its vessels after stars and planets. Perhaps this
particular name serves as a reminder to its operators of the danger of
Meanwhile, I've spent half the day sitting with one of
our Human Resources department's payroll team, trying to puzzle our way
through the Inland Revenue's new FBI ("Filing By Internet") processes for
submitting P15 and P45 tax data electronically. The manufacturer of our HR
system (once Peterborough Software, then Rebus HR, and now
apparently rebranded to
Northgate) has released a nice little utility to convert data from
the antiquated PS2000 for DOS that we're still using to a modern XML-based
EDI format, and that bit went smoothly enough. Having created the EDI
file, however, the next step was to submit it to the Inland Revenue via
the Government Gateway, and
that's where everything started to become tedious.
Today was the starting date for submission of this
data, and we had been told that the secure gateway site would be available
from eight o'clock. We tried at around 8:30, first, only to be greeted
with an obscure error message suggesting that our password was wrong. Now,
I've had experience with UK Government IT before (hell,
I ran part of it for a while!) so I
didn't actually take this at face value. With this in mind we tried again
at nine-ish, and this time the entire site was unavailable. At midday we
could make a connection, but the transfer stalled forever "waiting for a
response" - and it stayed that way for the rest of the afternoon. When I
gave up on it for the day my HR colleague was about to phone the Inland
Revenue and complain, but of course that won't achieve anything - like
every other public-facing IT project that the department has been involved
they've screwed it up. We'll try again tomorrow, I guess, but
experience suggests that the situation will get worse before it gets
better and we might not have much luck until the initial rush dies down
Ok, after further testing it's quite clear that
the new version of RealVNC is
significantly more responsive than the previous V4.0 release, so if you've
been having performance problems with Windows XP or Server 2003 hosts (it
seems to have been an issue with the built-in Remote Desktop service) then
you should definitely upgrade. I make extensive use of VNC at home to
drive my desktop PC with the laptop from the comfort of my settee, for
example while I'm writing this weblog in the evenings, and the
improvements are dramatic.
Meanwhile, all the news that's fit to 'blog.
Well, Ok, maybe not all the news...
But some of it, at least.
And who could ask for more?
Father of the Playstation dissed - outspoken Sony director Ken
Kutaragi has fallen from favour in the company, it seems, not only having
been passed over for the recent CEO vacancy, but then losing his seat on
the board as well. Kutaragi has been unpopular with users of the new
Playstation Portable, too, having described a
sticking button on the first release as "a feature" rather than a
fault, and suggesting that owners just put up with the
pixels that are currently plaguing the displays.
and his one minute rant - an animated ant, ranting for (do I really
have to tell you?) sixty seconds... Recent topics include Valentines Day,
Camilla, April Fool's and Hunter Thompson. It's an unusual and eclectic
mix, for sure, and the animation is rudimentary but also kinda neat.
Thanks to The
Sideshow for the link.
Rise in commercial virus writing - a story in Information Week
suggests that 70% of virus writers are now writing spyware for personal
profit, under contract from organised crime groups. I'm taking this and
similar reports with a large pinch of salt, of course, as it seems to be
the current flavour-of-the-month in anti-virus marketing
hysteria, but there
may wll be an element of truth to the story and if so it's certainly a
frowns at 'Ceefax Google' service - after the BBC inexplicably
discontinued broadcasting their Ceefax service to the Dutch cable channels
two years ago, an enterprising viewer arranged for a UK colleague to make
a feed available to him and then created a real-time search engine to
interrogate it via the Web. Now, though, the Beeb has become aware of the
facility and is regarding it with a raised eyebrow - even though they
don't actually seem to have any legal or even moral grounds for
Them, Watching Us - the UK civil liberties group is worried about the
disproportionate number of CCTV cameras that are sprouting in streets and
public places, together with the poorly regulated and enforced legislation
on exactly who can view, store and process the data they capture. I
thoroughly agree with them, too, having only just moved away from the
London Borough of Newham, which apparently has more cameras per square
mile and per capita (and more intrusive ones, too, from a civil liberties
standpoint!) than anywhere else in the world.
NTP conspiracy theory - someone (who should probably remain nameless)
noticed that "a US government timeserver has a bizarre service running
on a non-standard port" that returns rather unusual and opaque
messages. Speculation was rife about secret encryption keys for spies,
until a more level-headed old-timer pointed out that the "non-standard
port" was actually the venerable Finger service, and an NIST employee
explained that the odd numbers are actually rather prosaic.
Well, I've just seen a TV advert for the long-awaited
Hitch-Hiker's Guide movie,
and my initial reaction was five seconds of stunned silence followed by a
loud, involuntary exclamation of "What...?". I've been a fan of the
entire HHG canon since the
radio show first aired in 1987, so I'm sure that I'll watch the movie when
it comes out on DVD - but I'm equally sure that I'll have to cram my fist
into my mouth periodically to avoid shrieking in outrage.
doesn't want you to know - at Accelenation, an extremely
comprehensive and well-written guide to cleaning, maintaining and
refilling inkjet printer cartridges. Great stuff.
Everything but the kitchen sink - just when you thought you'd seen
everything a PC multi-function panel can offer, the Sunbeamtech 20-in-1
proves that there are still more pointless features that can be added -
and then you come across Aerocool's bloated 2-bay
Gatewatch and realise that you ain't seen nothing yet...
Somewhat more cool (pun definitely intended!) are
fans from Ultra Products, and less pretty but rather more elegant
aluminium fans from Cooler Master. The latter do look rather
appealing, I have to admit, and they'll go on the short-list for the new
Meanwhile, UK modding site Bit-tech has been at
the CeBIT technology expo
in Hannover, and found all sorts of interesting PC cases - of particular
interest are the impressive wooden ones on the first page, and the new
Cooler Master "Stacker" (odd name for a case that obviously doesn't
stack!) on page three.
Bit-Tech, news of the new
display from Canadian LCD gurus Matrix Orbital. It uses the new
Organic LED technology rather than the usual LCD, giving significantly
improved viewing angle and contrast, together with the sort of low
response times usually associated with VFD hardware. And, just as an
aside, it turns out that MO's hardware diva Henry Jakl
runs a tea house in his spare
Ren Höek: "Welcome to our
Stimpson J. Cat: "Thousands of miles below the Earth's crust"
Ren Höek: "Shut up, you fool!"
Ren & Stimpy
tonight, at Epicycle, with a wonderfully politically incorrect
compilation video of Apache attack helicopters reducing various targets to
flaming shreds with their Vulcan miniguns, complete with rock music
accompaniment... Meanwhile, just to put things in perspective, another
video at Classic Airsoft shows the home equivalent,
a Piper airsoft
minigun fitted with multiple TM tracer adaptors. It's almost as scary,
in its own little way!
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a hint of good news in the fight
against spam, with
Scott 'Spam King' Richter filing for bankruptcy with liabilities of
over $50 million following lawsuits from Microsoft. The Register
suggests that this might be the beginning of the end for large-scale
commercial spamming, but I have to admit that I'm not that optimistic -
the rise of virus-distributed spam originating from Eastern Europe and
China will be harder to counter in the courts, and harder to pin down to a
particular individual in the first place.
Another hint of good news comes as the communication
watchdog ICSTIS managed to
down and fine sixteen telephone scammers to the tune of £1.3
million, following their persistent use of illegal automated calling
equipment to offer dubious prizes of cash and holidays. I'm glad that
ICSTIS are on the ball, but once again the real fault lies with BT for
allowing these swine to rent premium rate numbers in the first place.
And talking of swine, media giant MGM has egg on its
face following the accidental discovery of
some internal PowerPoint slides revealing the fat 60% profit margin
they make on movie DVDs. The slides came to light following the equally
surprising discovery of
browseable collection of box art from MGM's DVD catalogue - one
enterprising visitor worked his way back up the tree to find a whole raft
of internal briefing documents and management presentations. The web
site's sloppy security seems to have been fixed as I write this, but of
course the cat is well and truly out of the bag now...
- a collection of MP3s and PDFs of
Richard Feynman's Lectures On
Physics, from Atoms In Motion to Superconductivity.
Microwave your iPod - a Glasgow University student is handing out
provocative flyers to iPod posers, inviting them to do the right thing...
I agree with his sentiment, but suspect that he might be, as the saying
has it, cruising for a bruising.
is doing the letters thing again, this time with grave misgivings
about Toshiba's new ultra-rapid batteries, the skinny on discharging
firearms into the air, and the reason that modern televisions are
decidedly sluggish compared to their predecessors.
Oh, and I've just noticed that a new version of
RealVNC has been released. I have to
admit that I haven't been terribly impressed with any of the V4
builds, as performance seems decidedly lacklustre compared to the final V3
releases, and I'm really hoping that the new V4.1.1 might bring some
improvement. [Update: I've only had time for a quick look, but it
does seem that the previously sluggish response-times are back to what I
remember from V3. Good news indeed!]
No rest for the wicked - I was back in the office again
this morning with one of my PFYs replacing the power distribution units
that feed our cabinets of PowerEdge 2650 servers, and although it went
well, all our hard work is hidden behind the side panels and there's very
little to show for seven hours of hard manual labour crawling around under
the raised floor. Such is the lot of the hapless techy...
How soon they forget - en route to the Supreme Court Grokster
hearing, former MPAA chief Jack Valenti stopped to sign a Betamax video
tape for an EFF activist, without apparently realising the irony of what
he was being asked to do. Back in 1982 Valenti testified before Congress
that home video recorders would lay waste to the entire Hollywood movie
industry, a prediction that has been followed by decades of continuous
growth and ever-increasing profits for both the studios and the actors.
Twenty-odd years later, he was about to make the same claims of financial
doom and gloom about file sharing and the music industry, but apparently
the court was fully mindful of the "Betamax decision" that kept home VCR
technology legal, and has applied the same common sense and fairness to
the concept of P2P software. The RIAA and MPAA certainly won't take this
lying down, of course, and the EFF et al still have a very long,
hard struggle ahead.
And talking of hypocrisy and DRM (well, we were, weren't we?)
the head of Norway's IFPI has revealed that he is quite happy with "DVD"
Jon Johansen's recent attempts to separate Apple's iTunes service from the
iTunes application itself. It's all Apple's fault for using "proprietary
DRM", he says (is there any other kind of DRM, one wonders?), and
evidently they deserve everything they get. What a bizarre viewpoint from
a European music industry association!
Google strikes back - in the wake of the
recent Guardian article describing the feature war between
Yahoo and Google, the latter has fired another salvo by doubling the
already generous gigabyte email allowance. I doubt that most people really
want or need the ability to archive two gigabytes of email, though,
and this is more of a marketing exercise made possible by the
ever-decreasing cost of raw storage than anything else. Yahoo, over to
Bob Marley is not available - You'd think that a BBC3 TV production
team who were hoping to do a documentary on the reggae icon would have
known that he died 23 years ago, but evidently not... A member of the team
sent an e-mail to the Bob Marley Foundation concerning a programme on his
classic song "No Woman No Cry", requesting that Marley spent "one or
two days with us" and insisting that the project "would only work
with some participation from Bob Marley himself". Indeed.
Bay Wolf's support site for Dell's
Latitude and Inspiron laptop ranges has a whole raft of useful FAQs,
resources, and tips - and I wish I'd come across it a few weeks ago when I
was trying to understand how a second-hand laptop sold to me as a Latitude
C840 was evidently firmly convinced that it was actually the lower-end Inspiron 8200. The difference between them is slight, however, and can
mostly be corrected by a forced BIOS upgrade, but it still rates as a
piece of decidedly sharp dealing in my books...
And, finally - I can't tell if this is an April Fool or
not, but the idea is fascinating enough that I'm going to risk it.
BreakAway Games is about to release a strategy/simulation game based
around a non-violent political pressure group.
Apparently the game, called “A Force More Powerful”, resembles a
cross between a sociological modelling program and the common city-builder
games, with the player giving orders to characters within the movement,
who then attempt to carry out actions such as making speeches and
organizing demonstrations. I really hope it's not a joke, as it sounds
April Fool's Day again, and as always I've been too
busy to carry out my dastardly plan... For years and years I've dreamed of
having every PC on the company network go Ding! at exactly the same
moment, and although in this era of Active Directory's millisecond
timesync and SMS 2003's automated software distribution the idea has
become ever-easier to implement, as the years roll on I'm getting busier
and busier and somehow I never seem to have the free couple of hours
required a week earlier to set the joke up. Maybe it's just as well - I
always think of the
Simpsons episode where Bart stacks a dozen megaphones one in front
of the other. Could five hundred PC speakers acting in concert burst
eardrums and blow out the office windows? Maybe it's best not to find
Meanwhile, as it is April Fool's Day, everybody
has grown a sense of humour. Best of all, I think, (and thank you to
The Sideshow for
the link), is the normally staid Astronomy Picture Of The Day's
contribution of clear demonstration of the existence of
liquid water on
Mars. You really can't argue with evidence like that.
The hilarity continues at Boing Boing, as well - or
near it, anyway, with a pair of neatly-done parody sites,
Boring Boring. The latter,
especially, is beautifully done, with even the regular adverts cleverly
parodied. Cory proves that he's not the only one who can make a joke,
though, with a witty and amusing
DRM takedown notice aimed at the latter site. Um, well, I think
it's a joke - these days, who can be sure... :-)
Elsewhere, Think Geek is offering a new iPod
iCopulate comes complete with a tube of contact lubricant and a ribbed
sleeve to protect the mating surfaces, and allows you to connect a pair of
iPods back-to-back to transfer music between them at high speed. If it
wasn't for the pink latex, it would be very hard to tell that it
was a joke... Their front page has
a wonderful collection of other April Fool's gadgets, too, so check it out
while it lasts.
Guerrilla-comedy site Zug has been getting in on
the act, too, with an article on how easy it has become to feed fake news
stories into the mass media - ably illustrated by
an account of how they did just
that, not once but several times. I've been enjoying Zug,
recently, ever since I came across their adventures on the
last month. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Oh, dear oh dear.
Not a good month in the stats, for sure.
I just don't want to talk about it, Ok?
Except to mention the ice weasels.
Still, to make up for the disappointment, today I got a
very nice email message from someone who had just stumbled across
Epicycle and wanted to tell me how much he liked it - so that mostly
offsets the crushing pain and despair of such a poor month's traffic. It
could be worse. :-)