31st August

Just some very quick links tonight, as it was a long day...

Getting away with murder - philosopher and scientist Daniel Dennett on how the Intelligent Design loons are perpetrating their hoax.

Damn lies and statistics - an article in New Scientist suggests that as many as half of all scientific research papers may have flaws that invalidate their basic conclusions.

Apple beaten again - still reeling from the loss of on iPod patent to Microsoft, Apple have now had a second application rejected in favour of a competing claim from Creative.

Don't eat the worm - all is not completely rosy for Creative, though, as some of their latest Zen Neeon MP3 players have apparently shipped complete with a copy of the Wullik.B worm.

Fighting back - most of the RIAA's victims have had no choice but to settle, but this time the worm is turning - and her lawyers thinks she has a very good chance of winning in court.

Dell servers too hot - a start-up manufacturing blade systems has slammed Dell's 1U servers for their low processor density and excessive heat output, but they're not really comparing like-for-like...

Where does the juice go - Silent PC Review has an interesting article on the consumption of power inside a PC, and once again confirms the low overall demands of modern systems.

Universal connectivity - this neat little IDE to USB adapter will accept 5¼" optical devices as well as both desktop and laptop hard disks, just the thing for a quick disk-to-disk copy.

Silent but powerful - an exotic new hybrid PSU from MGE relies mostly on a giant heatsink for passive cooling, and at 600W is currently the most powerful of its type.


30th August

When geeks go bad, part three:

President Kennedy was shown a model of Orion that had 500 Minuteman-style warheads on it, and the means for propelling them out with directional explosives. We were looking at the scale model ... just simply discussing how powerful it could be, and I said "Well, it would take out every Russian city over a population of 200,000 ... we'd have enough weapons to do that".

He was absolutely appalled that that was going on, had no use for it. So not everybody greeted the project with enthusiasm. They did when it was presented as a way of exploring space and mostly were very disapproving when it was presented as a space battleship or anything like that.

 - Dave Weiss, quoted in George Dyson's excellent book "Project Orion",.

It is interesting to note that even at the height of the cold war, at least in this case, the politicians and military men were acting as a brake on the destructive imagination of the geeks. Scientists and engineers working in these areas are often depicted as rather naive, un-worldly people engaged in purely theoretical research that is then hijacked and corrupted by the military-industrial combine and turned into weapons - but I wonder if often the researchers willingly lead the way, fully aware of the horrendous practical applications of their work but caught up in the sheer elegance of their designs. For all Freeman Dyson and his colleagues dreamed of visiting the moons of Saturn in Orion, they evidently had no problem visualising it orbiting the Earth with an arsenal of hydrogen bombs as well...

The Orion team thought that they would have to sell the concept of a giant atomic spacecraft by proposing military applications that would justify the enormous expense and the politically dubious propulsion method, but it seems that the majority of the people they were trying to convince were actually somewhat shocked by the raw destructive power that was being proposed. A number of factors caused the project's eventual cancellation in 1965, but that was probably one of the unspoken ones.

Meanwhile, back at the links...

Fuel cell for laptops - about the size of a paperback book and weighing 1kg, the methanol-based fuel cell delivers 25 watts of power and can drive a typical laptop for around a day. The only drawback is its price, currently in the tens of thousands of dollars...

Painted PSU - this enterprising Italian modder has stripped down his PSU and sprayed the PCB, components and all, in a beautiful shade of orange. I wouldn't do this myself, but I have to admit that the effect is marvellous.

Dell speaks out - it takes the company a mere four minutes to assemble a standard desktop PC, but apparently up to thirty seconds of that time is taken up in attaching the little stickers that Intel, Microsoft, AMD and others insist on - and for obvious reasons Dell isn't very happy about this.

A very unusual PC  - Lian Li's PC-777 "Memorial Model" (apparently the company is celebrating its 20th anniversary) is shaped like a giant nautilus shell stood on end. It's impressive, and unique, and could be a wonderful talking point - but you wouldn't see me buying one, for sure!


29th August

So it looks as if Executive Software, recently renamed and re-launched as the Diskeeper Corporation after their flagship product, has joined the other big names of the software industry in charging for updates and bugfixes. I went to their site this morning for the first time since the changes, in case a patch existed to fix the woefully sluggish file restoration I was experiencing with their Undelete product on my home server. However, even after a good five minutes of searching around the site, and then searching the Diskeeper support pages for confirmation as well, the only available downloads are demo versions and most of the rest of the once voluminous tech support area has been replaced with a lot of marketing fluff about how their new two year support contract will save me money. It's hard to see how.

I am strongly opposed to this policy, as (along with products from every other major software manufacturer) Executive Software's applications have been far from perfect at the time of release. I've been using Diskeeper and Undelete from the very start, and I can't remember a major version that didn't need at least a couple of updates within the first six months of use, and then what they euphemistically tended to describe as a "Second Edition" build (most people would call it a service pack...) half way through the version's life-span. Without these fixes the products were not only fragile and buggy, but in some cases downright dangerous to use - and one should not take chances with an application that has control over the physical location of every file on a disk volume!

Being obliged to pay a support fee (and from what I can see a not inconsiderable one, at that!) just to receive bug fixes that make the product safe and suitable for use is a scam, in my opinion, and it's a real shame to see what used to be one of the great third-tier software houses succumbing to the greed-head corporate bastardry that is unfortunately becoming endemic throughout the industry.

It is interesting to note that, for all their reputation as the spawn of Satan, this is something that Microsoft have never done - patches and service packs for Microsoft operating systems and applications have always been both free and easy to obtain, and I haven't heard any suggestion that this is due to change. Food for thought, isn't it...

Meanwhile, elsewhere - a little early for the reminder, perhaps, but better than too late - don't forget that next month sees the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day rolling round again. Somewhat to my surprise, the meme has expanded considerably since it was first publicised in Dave Barry's legendary column in the Miami Herald, and has now spawned a number of competing home pages.

Trademarks don't matter - free software evangelist Richard Stallman has waded into the Linux trademark furore, and as usual his contribution is not likely to smooth the turbulent waters of the open source movement. Actually, referring to it is a "movement" is becoming increasingly inappropriate, as in the last year or two the previously fairly close-knit community has factioned into so many splinter sects that I'm inevitably reminded of the scene in Life Of Brian where nobody can remember which revolutionary group they're a member of...

Martian dust devils - stills taken from NASA's wonderfully successful Spirit rover over a period of several hours have been bound into an animated GIF which shows the progression of a cluster of little whirlwinds over the Martian surface. The potential exists for much larger phenomena, however, and vortices have been photographed from orbit that measure 2km across at the base and up to 10km tall - a whole different kettle of fish, given the current plans for a manned mission.

Skylab van - once more proving that a surprisingly number of people have far too much free time in their hands, what looks like an Econoline van kitted out with a number of circuit boards and control panels apparently "recycled" from one of the simulators used to train the Skylab crews back in the seventies. I can actually hear my space-head friend Mike gritting his teeth from three counties away...

Einstein scans - the pages of a 1925 manuscript entitled "Quantum theory of the monatomic ideal gas" have been unearthed at the Lorentz Institute for Theoretical Physics, apparently a working copy used to correct the paper before publication and inadvertently left behind at Leiden University. The work contained the final scientific discovery of Einstein's career, the prediction of the new state of matter now called the Bose-Einstein condensate, which was not verified experimentally until 1995.


27th August

In spite of the neat slide-out design of the hard disk mounting frames in my Lian Li PC-V2000 case, the water cooling hardware ensures that the drives are far from hot-swappable. I really didn't want to have to disconnect and drain the coolers, though, and an additional hand or two would have very been useful when I was trying to slide the entire cluster out of the frame together. I managed in the end, however, and the new drive is in place and busily mirroring back into the array as I write this.

Meanwhile, some links...

Bender lives - my friends know that I am a fan of the TV show Futurama almost to the point of evangelism, but the idea of a PC case in the shape of a life-sized model of the robot character Bender is probably a little too much - even if it does say "Bite my shiny metal ass" on demand...

Kick-ass torches - regular readers of Dan's Data already know that he is an aficionado of torches and other illuminating gadgets, and his recent review has not only not biggest flashlight I've ever seen, but also an upgrade that replaces the incandescent bulb with a phenomenally powerful LED unit.

Friend of Tuva - another one for my wish list, Genghis Blues is the highly acclaimed story of the American blues singer Paul Pena's visit to Tuva to learn more about their unique style of throat singing, culminating in his participation in the annual music contest, the first American ever to do so.

Atomic art - in 1946 a pair of nuclear weapons were tested at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and unlike the later bomb tests Operation Crossroads was extensively covered by the international media. As part of this, the explosions and their effects were recorded in a series of remarkable paintings.

Scientist trading cards - for some odd reason the original baseball players on these cards have been replaced with great scientists, complete with a miniature summary of their life and work. There's a fair selection, from James Clerk Maxwell to Stephen Jay Gould, via (of course!) Richard Feynman.

Turing trainer - this neat little applet teaches the basics of a Turning Machine in a form reminiscent of a puzzle-solving game, writing simple rules to navigate a little bird-like character around a field of coloured blocks, reacting to them by changing the colours and moving in different directions.

Many flavours of Windows - DVDs containing multiple versions of Windows XP are starting to spread on the P2P networks, ranging from cut-down "Lite" editions to specialist diagnostics toolkits. It's just like a set of pre-compiled Linux distributions, in fact, except that it's not actually very legal...


26th August

Over the last week I've been trying to register a neat little shareware MP3 editing tool, eMusic Tag Editor from Abyss Audio, and unfortunately it just isn't working out. Registrations are handled on their behalf by Share-It, part of the increasingly ubiquitous Element 5 company that seems to be quietly taking over the entire online software purchase market, but although they were happy to accept my money the delivery of the registration code was to be handled by the software manufacturer itself.

No code has been forthcoming in the week since I registered, however, and there has been no response to either my own email enquiries or those sent on my behalf by Share-It. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be a recent development - some searching has turned up another customer with an identical experience back in February, although the middleman in this case was RegNow instead of Share-IT, and if they weren't delivering codes back in February, and they're not delivering codes now in August, I think it's safe to assume that they're not delivering codes full stop.

For some butt-headed reason the weblog's author wants people to register before they can leave comments, so I didn't bother adding to his post, but I thoroughly endorse his suggestion that any potential customers of Abyss Audio would be well advised to contact the company before attempting to register their software, just to confirm that they do still actually exist. Definitely not recommended at this stage...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Spam doesn't pay - another of the world's most prolific spammers has been arrested following the closure of his illegal online prescription drugs service Xpress Pharmacy Direct. Charges include conspiracy to dispense controlled substances, wire fraud, money laundering, distributing controlled substances and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, and with a list like that I suspect he's going down for a looooong time.   :-)

Movie studios seeing the light - after years of claming that P2P file sharing was to blame for falling cinema attendances, the studios are finally beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the films themselves are actually too poor to attract viewers. Even massive hype won't turn a bad movie into a good one, they're realising, and neither will low-life tactics such as Sony's recent campaign of falsified reviews. About time they stopped passing the buck and started facing reality, it seems to me...

Wired on fashionable theft - a new socio-artistic movement is blossoming in Europe, apparently, with trendy teens promoting anti-consumerism and the ideals of brand-free living by "liberating" goods from shops. "Yomangtistas" also rage against consumer culture by stealing supermarket food for park picnics or riding on public transport without paying", says Wired, but teens did that when I was young in the seventies, too, and nobody claimed they were raging against anything - they just thought they were juvenile delinquents...

Hot hardware - Bit-Tech compares the latest dual core Pentium with the previous flagship, and asks whether dual execution units are a match for higher clock speed and Hyperthreading. As usual, though, their actual recommendation for bang-per-buck is AMD's Athlon 64 X2. Meanwhile, SystemCooling reviews Sytek's rather spiffy new illuminated keyboard. A full-length EL sheet provides a strong blue glow not only up between the keys, but also through the laser-etched symbols on the keycaps. It's certainly an elegant piece of kit...

Elsewhere, the power supply stress tests at Tom's Hardware Guide are over, and the winners and losers are quite obvious... The Seasonic S12 that has been on my short list is one of the former, winning praise both for its performance under load and its quiet operation. However, with a number of other PSUs not meeting the standards for stability under load, or even suffering catastrophic hardware failure, it was really nice to see a message from the CEO of PC Power & Cooling (manufacturer of the most powerful ATX PSU currently available) suggesting that the battery of tests devised by THG were actually quite undemanding by their own QA standards. It's nice to see someone putting his mouth where his money is!


25th August

I came across a new wrinkle to an old technique, today, when what appeared to be gibberish in my mailer's flat text window resolved itself into classic ASCII banner lettering when viewed in HTML. At the moment this trick will sneak right through most Bayesian-type spam filters (as, indeed, it sneaked through mine) and until the software is tuned to cope it's going to be a very worthwhile spamming strategy. You have to admire the sheer cunning of some of the geeks who have gone over to the dark side...

I mentioned last week that I'd had some problems with Paragon Software's Partition Manager utility, when an attempt to merge two partitions on a Server 2003 system resulted in the second partition disappearing permanently and without trace. This was bad enough, but the responses from the company's technical support were just downright peculiar!

The first message said that I had performed an unsupported operation and that it was the fault of their software for having permitted it in the first place. The second, arriving less than an hour later, asked me to disregard the first message, and admitted that what I had done was indeed a perfectly valid operation. It also told me that the company had run the same operation I did, as a test, and in the process had lost the data on both partitions - but that I should probably ignore that as the disk in question was old and had bad blocks!

Next they asked whether I was looking at the screen when the process failed, and if so whether I could tell them any error messages that appeared, as in spite of having already sent them three different log files apparently the actual error was not recorded in any of them! Unfortunately, I am both too easily bored to spend four hours watching a progress bar crawl across a screen, and also rather too busy to act as a substitute for adequate logging!

The next message reported that they had replicated the operation again, presumably on a computer without a faulty disk drive, and that everything worked correctly. It went on to ask me exactly why I had carried out the operation in the specific way I did, which I thought was an extremely odd question as all I'd done was follow the automated "wizard" provided in the software specifically for that particular merge process!

By this time I was starting to realise that I wasn't actually going to get anything useful in the way of advice from them, and as deadlines were looming I gave up on the idea of restoring the missing partition itself, instead using a different utility to expand the existing partition into the free space and then restoring the rest of the data from tape.

In many years of using the PowerQuest partition editors, Partition Magic and the server equivalents Server Magic and Volume Manager, I never lost any data. There were plenty of problems, of course, and much teeth-grinding frustration, but every single time the fail state rolled back automatically to the previous configuration and the data remained completely intact. However, since their acquisition by Symantec (along with almost every other utility software company, it seems!) development of these products has stalled completely and there isn't currently anything in their catalogue that will safely edit partitions on a Server 2003 system. This is a great loss, and is the only reason why I have had to turn to alternatives.

I have to say that I am not at all impressed with either Paragon or their software. To have such a serious error on my first attempt to use the product, and during a thoroughly routine partition merge operation at that, is not very reassuring - and then to receive such a disorganised and, frankly, bizarre response from their technical support department does not help that one little bit. I expect I'll be using the product again, as there really isn't much choice, but I will never have the same air of confidence that I enjoyed from the PowerQuest products and I doubt my fingernails will survive the experience intact.


24th August

With a phone cradle by the gearshift and a mount for my Navman GPS system up on the windscreen, some people would say that my car's interior already has space for as many gadgets as Batman's utility belt, but evidently that wasn't enough for me. The latest addition (and actually I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get around to it) is a Brodit ProClip and passive cradle to hold my Palm Tungsten T3 PDA, absolutely vital for playing audiobooks during my daily commute.

Brodit's range of mounting hardware is available for pretty much any vehicle under the sun, and differs widely from car to car and even from location to location within that car - in fact, so far I've never seen two that are attached in quite the same way. The model for Ros's Jeep Grand Cherokee clipped under a fascia panel at one end and used double-sided tape at the other, for example, and the one for my old Ford Grenada snapped neatly onto one of the the dashboard air vents. Installing the clip in my BMW 5 series involved removing a small plastic trim panel and attaching the clip's back plate with the two screws that were then revealed. It fits exactly in place of the trim panel, and apart from the two exposed screw heads (I shall try to find little caps for those, I think) it gives a very neat finish. The ball joint is then attached to the clip with four more screws, the cradle attaches to the ball joint, and the Palm slips snugly into the cradle.

Installation took just a few minutes and required nothing more exotic than a screwdriver, and the end result is reassuringly solid and stable. A little electronic microsurgery shortened the cable on my cassette adaptor (almost too short, in fact, thanks to a small miscalculation somewhere!) to avoid several feet of slack floating around, and I'm very pleased with the way it all worked out. I can also recommend the company who supplied both clip and cradle, Handnav Technology, who seem to sell pretty much everything in the way of in-car gadgetry, as well as the hardware required to mount it, and managed to ship my order in just a couple of days.


23rd August

Yesterday may well have felt more like a Friday than a Monday, but unfortunately today does not feel like a Saturday. More links...

Variations on a theme - at the excellent SystemCooling site, a review of the Koolance CPU-300-V10 water blocks in my Infinity4 system, going into far more detail than I had the time or inclination to. They have reviews of the GPU-180-L06 video card cooler and the smaller, PC-V1000-based version of my PC3 series case, too, and a useful guide to replacing the power button of this range of cases with the popular Bulgin illuminated switch.

By any other name - a fuss is brewing over letters sent out by Linus Torvalds' attorney asking companies to pay a licensing fee of between $200 - $5000 for using the Linux name. Linus himself is back-pedalling massively, of course, claiming that nobody is out to make a profit from the OS and that the license enforcement is simply a legal requirement of maintaining control over the trademark.

Awful, awful rumours - via Boing Boing, one for my Trekkie friend Mike... A list of titles for Klingon fairy tales, including "Goldilocks Dies With Honor at the Hands of the Three Bears", and "The Hare Foolishly Lowers His Guard and Is Devastated by the Tortoise, Whose Prowess in Battle Attracts Many Desirable Mates". Indeed.

Who knew? - apparently Cliff Stoll, some-time astronomer, old-time sysadmin and author of the wonderful book "The Cuckoo's Egg", owns a glass works in Oakland specialising in Klein Bottles and related objects. His latest showpiece is a metre tall, but the less ambitious items are somewhat more affordable - and being Cliff, he even sells the shards of ones that broke! The Klein Stein is especially neat, but beware of the puns...

Small, but perfectly formed - the Butterfly is a tiny remote controlled model plane, with a 15cm wingspan and weighing only 3.6gms, but which nevertheless has a proper four channel digital proportional control system, a minute rechargeable battery, and the most exquisite little motor, gearbox and actuator. it can be flown indoors in any reasonably sized room, and even comes with a PC-based flight simulator with which to learn the controls. Gorgeous...


22nd August

It's only Monday, but it feels more like Friday so you'll just have to survive with another handful of links.

Enermax to ship 1kW power supply - yes, that's 1000 Watts. This has got a little out of hand, I think, as the general consensus is that even the 800W units on the market are vastly over-specced for any current hardware. The only advantage, I suppose, is that in most PCs it would be running so far below its peak capacity that at least the fan would be quiet.

Jobs for Governor - I'm still reading "The Second Coming Of Steve Jobs", and it's still making me shake my head in disbelief, so the news that he may be running for Governor of California on the Democrat ticket fills me with unease. The appalling way that he behaved towards his staff at Apple, NeXT and Pixar does not inspire confidence over what he would do to an entire state...

Squeezing the last few drops out - the new V5.7 release of ATI's Catalyst video driver suite includes wider support for their HyperMemory technology, a memory management system that can bring noticeable performance improvements to older, lower-spec hardware such as my increasingly obsolete Radeon 9800Pro All-In-Wonder.

Authentic marketing drivel - Symantec's acquisition of security company Sygate was announced with the following statement:

"Sygate's technology will complement Symantec's presence on the endpoint to create a holistic solution to address the security, compliance, and remediation requirements of today's large enterprises".

It's always nice to know that my remediation requirements will be addressed holistically. Hmmm, maybe Symantec can sell me software that will tell me what "remediation" actually means?

A controversial theory - George Ou at ZDNet suggests that the last few years of worms and viruses have actually been beneficial to Windows security, causing network admins to improve their overall levels of security to the point where Windows servers are now being hacked and defaced far less often than equivalent Linux systems.

Smart doors - the latest technology from Japan (where else?) is a door composed of multiple horizontal strips, which slide back to form an aperture of the approximate shape and size of the person approaching. This is designed to minimise the movement of air between the controlled environment inside a building and the uncontrolled environment outside.

Pots and kettles - adware company 180Solutions is suing several of its software distributors, who it claims installed its software on target computers after gaining illegal access to them via malicious worms or similar. Given that the normal way of installing the product is to lie, evade and deceive the system's owner, I can't actually see much distinction...

Apple extends warranties - the warranty period on the troublesome iMac G5 range has been stretched to two years because of the widespread failures of components in the video and power supply subsystems. Given the recent revelations of equally widespread issues with the memory expansion slots of current PowerBook models, it's obvious that there are big problems in their manufacturing process.

And finally, spotted by the eagle-eyed Avedon Carol, classic sysadmin humour. Apparently it was an IBM advert back in the mid-nineties, although if so it's not one I remember... The original host site has some pictures of pretty computer cases, too.


21st August

My entire existence seems to have revolved around repairing disk volumes, recently. Friday afternoon brought the disappearing partition on a server at the office, most of Saturday was spent working on the dying drive in Avedon's laptop, and to add insult to injury one of the Maxtor disks in the SATA RAID array in Infinity4 has just turned up its toes as well.

The latter is especially annoying, as I bought it during the period when Maxtor (along with most of the other manufacturers) had shaved the warranty on their desktop hardware down to just a year - I ordered the drives in October 2003 when they were evidently already over a month old, as a check at Maxtor's web site shows that the warranty expired in September 2004 - after only eleven months of actual use! Shortly after that a wave of anxious mutterings in the IT press and elsewhere caused the warranty period for the same models to creep back up to three years, but that doesn't help my drive at all and I have no recourse but to bite the bullet and shell out for another.

The DiamondMax Plus 9 models are no longer in production, and although I could substitute the equivalent Plus 10 I prefer to keep all the drives in a RAID array as similar as possible. Fortunately they still seem to be available cheaply enough on eBay as new, unused stock, and I'm currently watching one that even has nine months of its warranty left. Finding a drive is only half the story, however, as swapping out a unit right in the middle of the water-cooled stack is going to be more than a little challenging - something that I have to admit didn't occur to me when I made those neat little connecting pipes...

So, while I ponder the mysteries of something that resembles one of those annoying 3D metal puzzles, only with added water and electricity, here are some links:

Kustom PCs' new clothes - my favourite UK modding supplier has re-launched its web site on the back of a significant expansion in its product range. As well as the usual components, they're now offering a wide range of ready-made and customised PCs and even <whispers> Mac systems.

Boing Boing issues a challenge  - in response to the anti-evolution claptrap spouted by a brainless religious fundamentalist, contributors to the popular geek weblog are backing their own counter-challenge with a cool $1 million.

RIAA shown as lying bastards again - an article at Wired the recording industry association's frequent assertions that CD piracy is a well-organised multi-million dollar business run by the Mafia have no more truth than anything else that uniquely corrupt organ has claimed.

Infinium promotes Bacchus - with their aptly-named Phantom games console now almost three years late, ex-Microsoft Xbox division founder Kevin Bacchus has been made CEO of the company. After all the hype, lies and lawsuits, does this mean that we might actually live to see them ship a product?

Not with a whimper, but a bang - just as he requested, the ashes of the great counter-culture writer Hunter S. Thompson have been blown into the sky by explosives mounted at the top of a 153' tower modelled on the author's Gonzo logo. That man had style right to the last, and is sadly missed...

Discovery piggybacks home - after the successful return of the shuttle last week, it's clear why NASA really hates landing them anywhere other than Canaveral. The specially modified 747 that is carrying it back from Edwards AFB in California will cost around $1 million and need two refuelling stops.

Extreme geek toys - Dynamism imports the latest computer hardware and gadgets (look at this one!) from the Far East, but unlike the majority of grey market vendors they take responsibility for the warranty and will organise replacement or return in the case of problems. (Thanks to visiting US fan Lise Eisenberg for the pointer. Good luck with the journey home, Lise!)


19th August

Not the best end to the week, when a partition editing tool I was using for the first time this afternoon decided to delete one of the two partitions I was merging. I can pull everything back from tape, of course, but I'd much rather I didn't have to! It's not the best introduction to the software, I have to say, and I am awaiting the manufacturer's response with some interest.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

New hardware from Koolance - the dual hard disk cooler has been expected for a few months now, but didn't make it into production in time to be included in Infinity4. It seems to be a very workable solution, though, and would probably offer less resistance to the water flow than an equivalent pair of single-drive units. Koolance have decided to offer the integrated cooling solution from their current PC3 series cases as a DIY option, too - basically an Exos-2 without the outer casing, it would be easy to build into the top of an appropriate full tower and in my opinion is a very polished and worthwhile product.

Fool me once, shame on you - some organisations are sending phishing emails to their own users in an attempt to educate them on the risks, but Charles Jade at Ars.Technica is dubious about the risk of spoofing your own staff:  "Has anyone considered the ramifications of eroding the trust of individuals within an organization towards the organization and each other?"  It's a good point...

Still need to get a life - following yesterday's link to virtual PIs spying on virtual adulterers, comes an article at New Scientist (which should probably know better) discussing the growing problem of virtual
crime. Apparently gangs of mugger 'bots are stalking the virtual worlds, beating up player characters and stealing their possessions to fence later at an online auction site. Am I alone in thinking that this is all getting a little bit silly...?

The Rest Of The Robots - allegedly inspired by the remnants of the Terminator robot propelling itself by clawing fingers at the end of the first movie, CRAWLER (Cylindrical Robot for Autonomous Walking and Lifting during Emergency Response - talk about a contrived acronym) is a search-and-rescue device designed for manoeuvring in extremely confined spaces.

Peeling back the shell - industrial research firm iSupply apparently makes a living from dissecting electronics hardware, and their investigation into the Mac Mini reveals that, based on the cost of components and manufacture, Apple are making a significant profit on every sale. However, their investigation into one of HP's current photo printers suggests that it is actually being sold considerably below cost, which rather confirms the idea that the ink cartridges are where the company really makes its profits.

Making a sow's ear from a silk purse - Ars.Technica has published the first instalment of a guide to editing and manipulating digital images. It's decidedly tongue-in-cheek, but contains a lot of useful information, and although the screen shots are obviously taken from a Mac of some kind, so far the guide is thoroughly platform-independent. Well worth the read.

More on the Apple iPod patent - although it's undeniably rather amusing that Microsoft beat Apple to patenting of their own user interface, much of the media speculation over royalty payments etc. is still rather premature. There are a number of approaches Apple could take to reclaiming the IP, and with more than a third of their revenues coming from the pesky little MP3 players, as well as the matter of principle, you can bet that they won't give up without a fight.


18th August

Using samples of spoken word in music tracks is nothing new, of course, and if that was all Australian band The Avalanches did then there wouldn't really be much to differentiate them from 1980s sampling pioneers Pop Will Eat Itself. Extracting individual actors from old movies and blending them seamlessly into the accompanying music videos is somewhat different, however, and the video for their current hit "Frontier Psychiatrist" is a wonderful showcase of exactly how accomplished and versatile the state of the art in desktop video mixing has become. The basic techniques were pioneered in Hollywood for movies such as Woody Allen's Zelig and Forrest Gump, of course, but a video from what is something of an unknown niche band can't have had more than a tiny fraction of that money spent on it and it's a tribute to both the software and the artists that the end product is so very smooth.

It's also extremely odd, with a flavour of both PWEI and the Subgenius Arise! movie to name but two. It doesn't make me want to go out and buy their album (although thinking of Arise! made me go out and buy a shiny new DVD to replace my tired old VHS copy) but it's certainly interesting and unusual. Thanks to Boing Boing for the pointer.

Rather less unusual, sadly, is the repeated failure of Scan Computers to sell me the products that they advertise on their web site. The hard disk in Avedon's laptop is heading west at the moment, and I wanted to get the same 5400rpm Seagate Momentus drive that has served well in my Latitude C840 in time to swap drives at the weekend. Scan showed the model as being in stock, and offered next day delivery, so I placed the order on Tuesday - only to have the online status display languish for two days at "Payment Authorised" with no sign at all of moving on to "Picking". Now, this is exactly what happened the last time I placed an order with them, in July, so I wasn't terribly surprised when a terse email enquiry this morning provoked the admission that, in spite of what the web site still showed, the model was actually out of stock! The delay has left me short of time, so I agreed to substitute a similar Fujitsu model that is hopefully on its way to me now, but I have serious misgivings about ordering from them again if there's any degree of urgency involved. Once I could overlook, but twice in a few weeks is too much, and so Scan have earned themselves a place in my Fantasy Stock Control League.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Intelligent Falling - at The Onion, a wonderful parody of that Intelligent Design mumbo-jumbo that the brainless religious nuts are proposing as an alternative to evolution. "Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down".

Taking things a little too far - apparently players of the popular online game Second Life have been known to hire virtual private detectives to follow their virtual spouse's character around the game to make sure that they're not having a virtual affair.  <shakes head sadly>  Rarely has the suggestion to "get a life!" been more appropriate.

IMSAI 8080 reborn - the vintage computer company has re-released its classic seventies S-100 bus computer, resplendent with a wonderful toggles-and-lights front panel, in a form that houses both a modern ATX motherboard and the Z80 system that originally filled the case. I have no idea why they thought this was a good idea, but it is a marvellously off-the-wall project and I covet one intensely.

It Plays Doom - the number of computing platforms that can run a port of the original Doom I code seems to have skyrocketed these days... PDAs, low-end games consoles, calculators, digital cameras, MP3 players - in fact, pretty much anything with a CPU and some memory. I don't imagine that many of them offer a terribly rewarding experience, but still...  [Update - It Plays Quake, too!]


17th August

A week of intermittent early starts to baby-sit the servers during some work on the building's power supply has left me somewhat discombobulated, so you'll just have to survive with a handful of links again.

Bill And Steve's Excellent Adventure - Pirates Of Silicon Valley is about to be released on DVD, and apparently it's not at all bad. It's a rather fictionalised account of the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the early days of their companies, and although there are apparently some dubious moments, it sounds very tempting and I'll be keeping my eye out for its appearance at Amazon UK.

OSX on your PC - the copy protection in developer kit for Apple's new x86 operating system has been cracked, allowing it to be installed on generic Intel PC hardware. Needless to say, Apple are furious, and their legal department are busy removing links to everything up to and including videos of the operating system booting on unauthorised platforms.

Alternative PSP - and talking of unauthorised operating systems, an enterprising geek has ported the Bochs open-source x86 emulator to Sony's little games system and is using it to host Windows 95 and Linux. I don't think either are particularly useful, but it's a neat hack and further serves to illustrate that the manufacturers really are wasting their time trying to lock down their systems.

More on the crusade against airsoft - The Guardian has one of the more balanced articles on replica guns that I've yet seen, covering the campaign against the restrictions that are proposed as part of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. Unfortunately, the article still talks about deaths caused by real firearms as if there's some kind of connection, an approach that mystifies me somewhat...

Tweaking your tablet - Virtual Click as an addon for Windows XP Tablet Edition which claims to fix a number of glitches with the stylus input subsystem. It sounds interesting, but actually apart from an occasional problem with too-brief, too-gentle clicks sometimes not being accepted, I haven't actually experienced any of the difficulties that the software is designed to cure.

And finally, at Tom's Hardware, one of their more bizarre articles contains instructions on how to convert an old laser printer into a paper shredder - deliberately, that is, rather than the incidental damage that old lasers tend to cause to paper even without special modifications. Most of the procedure involves ripping things out and throwing them away, though, and one does wonder whether just buying a shredder would be a better bet...


16th August

When geeks go bad, part two:

"The simple summary was that something on the scale of the payload that we visualised for the 4,000 ton vehicle could destroy half the earth. That was not viewed with enthusiasm by anybody that I can remember, but it was an interesting outer limit."

- Ted Taylor, quoted in George Dyson's excellent book "Project Orion", discussing the potential military applications of an Orion spacecraft.

Meanwhile, to my amazement and considerable irritation, Pipex/GXN, the ISP-formerly-known-as-Cix, has started pestering me for money again. I severed all connections with the firm back in November of last year, but like an obsessive lover they seem reluctant to accept this and periodically send me bills for services I no longer want, no longer use, and indeed no longer even have access to! I thought this had finally been sorted out back in the spring, but another of their little "Dear Cix user" messages arrived today so it looks like I'm going to have to go through the fuss of explaining that actually they owe me money (they cancelled my DSL line almost a month early) all over again. The trouble is, they are almost impossible to communicate with - email messages are ignored, letters and faxes go unread, and their telephone support lines are so busy and troublesome that I have never once managed to connect through to someone who could help me! It really is so very, very frustrating, and at this stage I am seriously considering having a solicitor write to them to insist that they leave me alone.  <long, heartfelt sigh>

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Changing tack - For more than twenty years Apple bigots have been insisting that mice don't need more than a single button, and it's proving instructive to watch them floundering now that Apple have finally released a multi-button model.

More posturing from the RIAA - Ars Technica speculates that the RIAA's renewed claims of losses due to music piracy are the first stage of a campaign to enact a levy on recordable CD media. After all, they nearly got away with it in Canada...

The novelty wearing off? - for the first time ever, there seems to have been a dip in the number of Firefox browsers in use, with a corresponding gain in the use of Internet Explorer. Given these figures, it's an odd time for the fanboys to be boasting about "taking back the web"...

Brushing failures under the carpet - there is a nasty issue with the memory expansion slots on many of Apple's current PowerBooks, and as the company is having problems devising a permanent solution they have started deleting discussion threads on the topic from their online forums.


15th August

Just a few quick links, as it really has been one of those days...

Cool case contest - don't miss the chance to vote for some of the cream of PC modding in a contest run by Australian computer magazine Atomic. A couple of them, including the spectacular Orac3 case featured at UK modding site Bit-Tech, are truly wonderful examples of the breed.

Selling less for more - at Mad Shrimps, a pair of very unusual case fans, with dimpled blades modelled on the surface of a golf ball. They're impressively quiet, according to the review, but with such low airflow figures they damn well ought to be...

Form over function - a couple of reviews of Hiper's new modular PSU. It certainly is extremely pretty, but it should be noted that the model under stress test at Tom's Hardware Guide suffered from a bad over-volt on the 12V rail...

No need to pay the piper - in spite of persistent rumours to the contrary, Microsoft insists that their Anti-Spyware app will stay as free software after the beta period ends. There will be a version included in the OneCare Live enterprise security suite, however, and that will be chargeable.

The end of an era - the next models of Palm's successful Treo smartphones are likely to be powered by a Windows operating system, it seems, with the venerable PalmOS being relegated to the vanilla PDAs only. I'm not at all convinced that this is a good thing.

Adding insult to injury - Apple may be forced to pay Microsoft a royalty of up to $10 on each iPod sold, thanks to their recent failure to secure a patent on the interface. Excuse me while I go somewhere and giggle...

And finally, adding insult to insult - at The Register, a comprehensive guide to abusing Western capitalist nations, courtesy of a database of the propaganda emitted by North Korea's Central News Agency. Marvellous stuff - but a little disconcerting that they obviously take it so very seriously...


13th August

I'm currently listening to the audiobook of "The Second Coming Of Steve Jobs", a decidedly unauthorised biography covering the NeXT years, between his eviction from Apple by John Scully in 1985 and his triumphant return as the company's saviour in 1996.

It's an interesting and enjoyable book, even if there isn't very much that is especially new. The old favourites are trotted out to reveal Steve's eccentric character and bizarre behaviour: how in his twenties he dated folk music legend Joan Baez, afterwards often spontaneously announcing that he would have married her except she was too old to have his children... The time he found himself on a surprise double-date with Bill Gates, ending with a drunken Gates leaving a prank message on Jobs' answerphone pretending to be Apple vice president Jean-Louis Gassée... The startlingly explicit makeout sessions with his girlfriend in the lobby of the NeXT offices... The obsessive perfectionism that lead to days spent choosing between dozens of shades of matt black during the design of the NeXT Cube's case... Even as the notoriously unusual Silicon Valley business founders go, Jobs is a real character.

The NeXT computers themselves, of course, were a gigantic failure - I don't remember ever actually seeing more than one in the flesh, as they were far too expensive for mere mortals and never found a niche in business - only around 400 of the original Cubes were made, and the system I played with in the early nineties was one of the tiny handful that made it to England. It was an ex-review model that had been passed from journo to journo, and by the time I saw it  the case had acquired a decidedly tatty ambience, but nevertheless the pin-sharp greyscale display was truly a thing of beauty, running under Display PostScript (the only system I'm aware of that used this approach), with huge, detailed icons and lavish GUI animation unlike anything I'd seen.

The hardware may have been rare (a mere 50,000 of the various designs shipped during the five years of production) but, just as at Apple, Jobs forged strong links with the education and science communities and the vast majority of the systems ended up in academia after a heavy discount - probably the most notable example was the platform used by Tim Berners-Lee to design the HTTP standard that formed the heart of the Web, as well as the first ever browser. Surprisingly, the NeXT computers and peripherals are still readily available, for a tiny fraction of their extortionate cost when new, and would probably make a fine platform for undemanding DTP and design - as long as you didn't mind being trapped fifteen years in the past. The spiritual legacy of Jobs' beloved cube design lives on in a way, though, with many industry spectators seeing the revival of the concept in the noticeably more successful Apple G4 Cube - and I have to admit that these days a Mac of some kind would probably be a better bet.

I've read a number of books on Jobs and Apple over the last few decades, and this one is  certainly more balanced than most - the majority of them are either worshipful paeans to his insightfulness, style and business acumen, or highly critical exposes focussing on every one of his (many) mistakes. Ultimately, though, this biography leaves me with the same impression I've formed from all the others - the man is a real jerk to to work for and to do business with. I gather Jobs sued in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent publication, so presumably he has the same impression...


11th August

It's been another of those days -  at one point I was babysitting not one but two consultants, as well as the team of builders extending the computer room, and then there was a fire drill - so just some more quick links...

Bluetooth flirting takes off for Saudis - although the stories about this in the UK turned out to be mostly hype, in rigorously segregated Saudi Arabia it seems to be a genuine and growing phenomenon.

Turning away from the penguin - the Central Scotland police force has signed a major contract with Microsoft to replace open source applications and operating systems with Windows and Office.

Apple iPod patent fails - AppleInsider reports that the three-year-long attempt to patent the iPod's menu interface has met with a final rejection because of competing prior claims by a third party.

Tracking down a porn spammer - in an impressive display of detective work, TV current affairs show Dateline traced the obscure and tenuous links back to the person who actually sent the message.

Google snubs CNet - following an exposé on the quantity of personal information that can be unearthed via the search engine, the company has refused to speak to CNet reporters for a year!

The one true browser - the US Copyright Office is creating a new website where works in progress could be pre-registered, and is considering supporting only the Internet Explorer browser.

Vista Administrator's Preview - some of the features that will be of particular interest to sysadmins, whether in a corporate environment or a parent trying to manage a child's computer use.

MS recycles spam money - following the $7 million settlement with Scott "Spam King" Richter, MS will use the money to assist national and state law enforcement in the fight against computer crime.

And finally, just what it says on the tin - a useful tip from my brother pointed me to a company that sells unusual wire and derivatives thereof... Metals that you don't normally see as wire, such as brass, bronze and brightly-coloured aluminium; and odd woven and knitted fabrics, nets and meshes that are sure to be ideal for something - if I could only think what! Fascinating stuff.


10th August

It's been one of those days, so just a few quick science and technology links.

AI progress slow but steady - last week saw the cream of researchers gathering in Edinburgh, and although there have been impressive advances in several areas, genuine AI is as remote as ever.

New strides forward in walking - a new approach to bipedal robots is proving fruitful, using passive-dynamic hybrids which are significantly less complex in both power and control systems.

The Truth About Everything - Dan is pontificating again, this time on why giant databases aren't all they're cracked up to be, and how quantum computing may come to the rescue.

Why aliens abduct - a new book by Harvard psychologist Susan Clancy is an exhaustive study of why people imagine that they have been abducted by aliens, and also touches on other similar delusions.

No more nodding ducks - a plausible new design of submersed wave-powered generator could produce up to 100kW, and act as the first stage of a desalination plant into the bargain. Interesting...

Apple to repay iPod levy - the courts have overturned the anti-piracy fee demanded by Canada's performing rights organisation, so Apple will now refund around $4 million to its customers.

The Wires! The Wires! - I have the feeling I've already linked to Cableorganizer.com, but an company entirely devoted to cable management solutions (large and small) certainly deserves more publicity.

And, finally, an organisation calling itself "The Committee to Fight Microsoft" is launching a campaign to prevent Vista from being sold without a "general and unconditional warranty to purchasers that the program does not include bad code". Their arguments appear to be spurious, inaccurate and ill-informed, and in fact the entire project is probably designed simply to raise the profile of founder Andy Martin, who is currently campaigning to become Governor of Illinois.  <sigh>  It makes me tired...


9th August

Time for some links...

A cunning printer - the CraftRobo Pro is an inkjet printer with a built-in cutting head, designed for producing papercraft patterns. I think this is a wonderful idea, as I have a large collection of un-made paper models that would really benefit from precision cutting. I shall have to investigate...

Media giant lying again - in the wake of the CD price-fixing, and the ongoing radio payola scandals, Sony have been caught using an imaginary film critic to give good reviews of their movies. A class action suit has resulted in a $5 award if you saw certain movies hyped by this little fraud.

Home Office pursued over LSE rebuttal - and talking of lying bastards, the official rebuttal to the LSE's analysis of the flawed ID card scheme has been widely condemned as misrepresenting the original arguments and making unfounded assertions to support the government's claims.

Britney's guide to Semiconductor Physics - it doesn't actually have much to do with Britney Spears (although full marks for the attention-getting trick!) but nevertheless it really is an excellent guide to semiconductors and optoelectronics, and has some extremely amusing wallpaper as well.

Connected plant - a wonderful piece of hybrid art, the health of a rubber plant is controlled by the stock market performance of Home Depot, the DIY chain that supplied it. The system is connected to the Net via Wi-Fi, and if the stock falls, the plant doesn't get watered.

OS exploits are 'old hat' - the age of attacks against the OS itself is passing, says The Register, and in the future the significant future risks will be in embedded systems such as routers and even printers. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Cisco filk inspired by a classic Warren Zevon song...

Ice on Mars - and not just a few crystals hiding under a rock, either, but a bloody great sheet of the stuff covering a significant part of the floor of a 35km crater in the north polar region. The photos were taken by ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, and are apparently unequivocal. Gosh!

Elevator hack - courtesy of ThisDamnBlog, something to try the next time you're in a lift. In certain systems, pressing the "Door Close" and "Floor" buttons at the same time puts the lift into an express mode which prevents it from stopping at intermediate floors en route to your destination. Fiendish...

Dan on VoIP Phones - Dan applies his usual mix of wit and technical rigor to a couple of dedicated voice-over-OP handsets, including one that acts as both a DECT cordless landline phone and a Skype-based internet phone. Very clever - and very tempting, too!

Finally, organised resistance against the ban on replica guns proposed in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill is growing, and there has been some unexpected coverage recently in the media. I just spotted a segment on Sky News, discussing the problems that UK military re-enactment societies would face, and airsoft itself has had unusually favourable coverage on the BBC web site and also in Frontline, the internal journal of the Hampshire police force. Unfortunately, I have a growing feeling that none of this will make any difference at all - it's quite clear that some kind of ban has been on the cards for years, and given the government's deeply ingrained refusal to listen to common sense (just look at their desperate floundering over ID cards, for example, or the furore about relaxing the licensing laws!) it doesn't seem likely that even the most cogent and plausible arguments will carry any weight. I shall go on doing what I can, but I have to admit that I feel a touch cynical about it all at this stage.


8th August

I'm safely back from the wilds of Devon, but it's going to take me a while to catch up with myself so in the meantime here's the family tortoise, crashing through the undergrowth in the back garden of my parents' house like a little armoured bulldozer.

There was some confusion several decades ago, and it's not clear which of the original two tortoises survived a particularly harsh winter - this is either Ariel, taken from the graceful, ethereal spirit in Shakespeare's play The Tempest, or Pheidippides, named after the man who carried the news of the Athenian victory at the battle of Marathon and so established the tradition of running absurd distances for pleasure. Both names clearly display the side-effects of a classical education combined with a skewed sense of humour, but depending on which of the two he actually is the beastie is somewhere between forty and fifty years old, a very respectable age for a domestic tortoise. He got off to a bit of a slow start this year, but a trip to the vet and a vitamin injection (where does one inject a tortoise?) seems to have done the job and he's just as sprightly and determined in his explorations as I remember from my childhood - and hopefully there are a few more years in him yet.


3rd August

I'm taking a few days of holiday away from the silicon face, and apart from the laptop, the tablet and the Palm (and the three PCs at my parents' house, which I shall doubtless encounter at some point during the stay) I shall be completely free from computers. Normal service will resume next week, and in the meantime:

I stole this idea shamelessly from a friend of Avedon's, who actually has a real rubber stamp for applying a similar message onto envelopes. That is way more cool and original, but I've had the phrase rattling around in my head all day and couldn't resist plagiarising it in Photoshop...


2nd August

I had a small moment of excitement today when I managed to drop the support bracket from a Dell server cabinet onto my foot. These are solid right-angled steel plates weighing about 20lbs, and the bevelled edges that help to prevent tripping over it when it's installed come together to form a decidedly unpleasant corner when it's falling from waist height - it punched through the thick leather of my shoe as if it was cardboard, missing my toes by the slightest margin... The shoes were only a few weeks old, and my management are being very good about letting me claim for a replacement pair, but it was a narrow escape and I shall be looking around to see if I can find something both smart and steel-toed. Next time I might not be so lucky...

Meanwhile, as I do still have all the appendages necessary for blogging, a few quick links:

Bluetooth hacking - hot from DEFCON and Black Hat, the latest in being nasty to unsuspecting users. The Car Whisperer hijacks the integrated hands-free systems in modern cars to allow audio to be recorded from the car interior and, more amusingly, injected into the stereo. "Hey, you! Yes, you in the Audi!"

Out of control - blog monitoring service Technorati has released its latest stats, and the figures are amazing... There are more than 14 million weblogs in the blogosphere, around half of which are active, and a new blog is created approximately every second. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the internet groaning under the weight of mindless, circular trivia.

Fascinating but useless - if you've ever found yourself lying awake ay night fretting over how many punched cards it would take to hold an MP3 track, the answer is here at last. For a 128kbps CBR recording, 40,960 cards would be required, forming a stack 5' 9" tall. So there you are.

And finally, Microsoft is under fire yet again - a pair of non-profit groups who supply and manage software for American veterans hospitals are up in arms about the Vista name, already in use for their patient database systems.:

"The confusion created by Microsoft and its choice of the word 'Vista' is an affront to the people who take care of our nation's veterans" ...  "Microsoft is demeaning their passion and dedication to our veterans by expropriating the name Vista."

Oh, come on... It's only software, and in any case nobody is likely to get confused between what will probably be the most common OS in the world and a free software package for a very particular market. Nobody is "demeaning" anything, unless perhaps it's the people who persist in making such a fuss about nothing - one wonders if they are simply angling for a pay-out...?


1st August

I'm feeling a bit under the weather having just come back from yet another dentist's appointment - the fourth in three weeks thanks to a dentist who seems to consider fillings to be a temporary solution only intended to last a few days - so you'll have to survive with a few quick links.

Mac to use DRM - you can actually hear the sound of fanboy teeth grinding together thanks to news that the new Intel-based Macs are likely to use the controversial Trusted Computing platform.

Cisco Black Hat fix - they've released an update for a flaw in the way that IOS processes deliberately malformed IPV6 packets, but not for the generalised remote vulnerability that is causing all the fuss.

Worm mocks Sasser author - talk about kicking them when they're down... The new Lebreat-D virus carries a picture of the recently convicted Sven Jaschan, and disses him most comprehensively.  :-)

Sneak peaks at Vista - at Microsoft's online press room, some screenshots of the first beta of Vista. The Start Menu search feature looks useful for a heavily-loaded system, as do the virtual folders.


It's a long, slow road back to the top. So I guess it's just as well that all I have to reach is the bottom. Last month's stats show a step in the right direction, though, largely thanks to a handful of links from The Sideshow and Arnie's Airsoft. Thanks, both - and feel free to do it again!

In the meantime, why not vote at the Tweakers Top 50 by clicking the icon below - the top of the list may be fatally flawed thanks to persistent ballot box stuffing by Elite Guides and others, but if I can gain five places I'll actually be ahead of Dan's Data, which would be amusing...



Vote for Epicycle!






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