The last entry of 2005, a year which definitely seems
to have flown past on time's winged arrow etc etc. I've spent far too much
money on replica guns and computer hardware, far too much time working at
weekends while we rebuilt the computer room, and far too much time
scouring the web for all the news that's fit to blog.
Regular readers will have noticed that I post graphs of
the site's traffic at the end of each month, and will have correctly
deduced from this that I am obsessed by my stats and have an ego the size
of a 72" server cabinet. It won't come as any surprise, therefore, that
I'm going to join every other site on the web by offering some kind of
"best of 2005" list, in this case presenting for your edification and
delight some of my own favourite posts of the year:
January - unimpressed by
Dylan and the moons of Saturn
February - mourning Hunter
Thompson and kitchen computing
March - bored by viruses
and the prehistory of computing
April - building a store room
May - reviewing "Bio",
remembering Feynman and
June - creating a new PC,
bitching about the law, and
musing on Guantanamo
July - paying too much for
DSL, enjoying Futurama, and
daring to argue with Dan
August - pontificating on
NeXT, and when geeks
September - a very unusual
gun, and rebuilding the
October - strange search
terms, having a go at [H]ard|OCP
and very old
November - suing O2 and
Zombie Night at Epicycle
December - picking locks and
mixed feelings about furniture
Happy New Year!
The weekend again at last, and a nice long one too -
although next Tuesday, after the courier companies start work again, my
long-awaited tape library is due to be delivered so I'm also keen for the
end of the weekend to come! It's a conflict that I shall just have to live
with, but while I struggle with myself here are a few small news items:
I shot a bullet in the air - courtesy of the Notes from the
Technology Underground blog (see Epicycle passim), the official
verdict that discharging firearms into the air to celebrate the holiday
season is indeed a bad idea. Given the proverbial nature of "what goes up,
must come down", it's not clear to me why anyone ever thought that this
might not be the case...? [Update: more at
Technology lowlights - courtesy of tech-babe Xeni, those events of the
year that should make the industry hang its head in shame: Yahoo finking
out a Chinese journalist, Apple suing its most ardent fans, and of course
Sony opening a back door into PCs just to stop customers from fully using
something they've already legally purchased.
settles DRM class-action suit - It's a great pity that it didn't occur
to them to make this kind of offer before the legal action, rather than
maintaining the attitude personified by their President of Global Digital
Business, Thomas Hesse - "Most people, I think, don't even know what a
rootkit is, so why should they care about it?".
Hardly a secret - I'm somewhat amazed to see an extensive article at
the rather inappropriately named "Hardware Secrets" site, devoted to the
process of connecting speakers to a PC. You wouldn't think that six pages
needed to be devoted to saying "connect the coloured plugs to the same
coloured sockets at each end", but apparently it does...
A very quiet leap forward - rather than using two separate ICs in
devices such as cellphones and PDAs (one to handle the radio
communication, and one to run the operating system), the technology is now
available to build the entire device around a single chip. Strangely,
though, the manufacturers don't seem very keen to capitalise on this
advance, or even to publicise it.
I have my car back again, thanks to a
very nice man from Essex auto security specialist
Aveley Alarms, who
braved the freezing temperatures to thoroughly test the alarm system, then
resynchronise my keyfob and program a spare to match. The fitter, Martin
French, was helpful and informative, and obviously extremely
knowledgeable, and I'd have no hesitation in recommending the company.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, the dregs of the year's news:
The year in review - it's that time of the year again, and The
Register has summarised the last twelve months. As expected, computer
security looms large, with Sony's DRM scandal ending the list.
The best of
the robots - Wired has compiled a list of the fifty best
robots: some from movies and television, and some from the real world...
and some of them have guns.
Backyard ballistics - DIY ordnance guru and author William Gurstelle
has started a weblog, recent topics including things scientific, things
explosive, and Laurie Anderson.
The shape of
things to come - what to expect from Microsoft in 2006, including new
versions of MOM and SMS, betas of Office, Exchange and Longhorn, and of
course the release of Vista.
Spam suits in the UK - a computer consultant has won a landmark case
in the small claims court, receiving compensation for spam email sent to
him by UK marketing company Media Logistics.
the profits - in spite of many rumours to the contrary, Microsoft has
announced that the new Xbox 360 console will become profitable by the
middle of 2006, sooner than expected.
Digital home movies -
Intel sponsored a contest to raise awareness of the concept of the digital home
(something close to their hearts and wallets) and some of the winners are
available at Bit-Tech.
- a little late, perhaps, but this animated musical christmas card is well
worth it. Thanks to
for the link, which I missed at the time in spite of being only a few feet
As usual it's a slow time for news at the moment, but
fortunately I'm a touch backlogged and have a handful of stories lurking
from before the holiday period. I'm back at the silicon face tomorrow (as
soon as my car alarm has been repaired or replaced, that is!) so it will
be business as usual again in another few days.
Pots and kettles #19 - Florida attorney general Charlie Crist has
spearheaded an aggressive campaign against unsolicited spam, including
support for a law under which violators can be fined up to $500 for every
message sent, but a recent report suggests that he has been sending spam
of his own promoting his gubernatorial candidacy and soliciting campaign
Commodore making a comeback? - what remains of the company (only the
name, really, following a long sequence of acquisitions and bankruptcies)
is apparently poised to re-emerge as a manufacturer of multimedia
devices, and although some of their hardware designs are interesting, it
will remain to be seen whether anything comes of this latest foray back
into the industry.
Media giants under fire again - crusading New York Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer has no love for the big names of the music industry, and
given that they appear to be corrupt to the core it's no surprise that he
has issued subpoenas to Warner, Sony BMG, Universal and EMI as part of an
investigation into collusion to fix prices of music downloads at iTunes
and other online music stores.
takes its ball and goes home - the highly dubious maker of highly
dubious electronic voting machines has withdrawn from North Carolina
following the introduction of new election integrity laws which demand
that manufacturers release their source code to the state for review.
Diebold have been fighting the ruling, but the EFF has been lobbying hard
and has achieved a worthwhile victory.
cures don't work - a team from the medical school at Exeter University
has finished exhaustive testing on both commercial remedies and folk
wisdom, and the results are not encouraging: "No compelling evidence
exists to suggest that any complementary or conventional intervention is
effective for treating or preventing alcohol hangover".
called in to police virtual world - the popular online RPG Second
Life has been hit with a denial of service attack, and unusually the
source was the in-game scripting engine. A wave of annoying malicious
activities culminated in a "grid crash" which denied game access to other
players, prompting the company to contact the authorities.
soft on Microsoft - veteran open source developer and evangelist Rafe
Colburn has admitted that he no longer sees Microsoft as the evil entity
he used to, partly because they obviously haven't crushed all the
competition and taken over the world, and partly because the growing
number of MS bloggers are putting a considerably more human face on the
corporates - infamous torrent site Pirate Bay has received a
generous quantity of legal complaints from the owners of the media they
link to, but thanks to Sweden's unusually enlightened copyright laws
they're comparatively untouchable, and are making the most of it by
ruthlessly teasing the companies that have foolishly threatened them with
the infamous DMCA legislation.
I had an extremely pleasant few days over Christmas,
marred only by my car alarm failing to respond to the keyfob when it was
time to leave, leaving me with a shrieking siren and a thoroughly
immobilised engine. It's nice to know that the security system works as it
should, but with all the specialists firmly closed for the holiday period
it could have chosen a better time to demonstrate its prowess, and I had
to enlist the services of my
recovery company to ferry the car home on the back of a flatbed.
It's not yet clear exactly what the problem is, as the
little red LED on the keyfob lights happily when the buttons are pressed,
suggesting that it's neither a flat battery (I replaced it anyway) or the
fact that I dropped the fob onto the pavement shortly before discovering
that it doesn't work... Given my recent experience with
the central heating boiler I'm hoping that someone will turn up and
perform some twenty second miracle cure again, and as I'm relying on the
car to get me to work later this week and the alternative is probably to
replace the security system completely, I would happily swallow my pride
again and admit my abject stupidity concerning alarms if that turned out
to be the case...
Ah, technology... Don't you just
want to hit it
with a bat until it shatters into 37 pieces love it.
A few quick links before I head off to stay with
friends for a couple of days over christmas. Updates will probably resume
on or about Monday:
of bastards - Dan has been ripped off by an eBay vendor overseas, and
is somewhat bitter about it. Having been caught by the same dodge myself
(as well as several other related shipping scams) I have
Prank - and talking of eBay bastards, courtesy of the remarkable Zug
("The World's Only Comedy Site") an excellent attempt to scam a scammer.
They pulled it off, with the aid of a global network of secret operatives,
but it wasn't without its tense moments...
rumours - the browser company has been flooded with anxious phone
calls after widespread gossip suggested that they were about to be bought
out by Microsoft. Given that similar rumours surfaced last week about an
acquisition by Google, I think somebody is playing games.
Ultima V Lazarus
- Origin's 1987 classic fantasy role-playing game Ultima V has been
given a thoroughly modern rework, using a modern 3D engine to render
completely redesigned player characters, monsters, scenery and objects. It
looks very interesting indeed.
Remembering the real Space Cowboys - veteran astronaut Wally Schirra
is on tour to promote his new book, along with Huntsville Public Affairs
Officer Ed Buckbee. Schirra has an ego the size of the Apollo VAB, but
he's also a fascinating character with an armload of classic space race
Dubious advice - an interesting test to see if your email is being
intercepted by the government, using two dummy mail accounts and a
dedicated web page - but it should be noted that spooks generally have no
sense of humour and teasing them rarely works out very well in the long
It's obviously a month for posting
pictures of kittens and people with guns, for which I make no apologies.
You can never have too many photos of people with guns, and if they're
pointing them at something cute and fluffy then so much the better.
Deletion is not an excuse - the Information Tribunal has ruled that
the government must try to recover "lost" records by undeleting, restoring
from backups or reconstructing where possible, rather than just brushing
requests off by saying that the data is no longer available.
closing - a unique collection of Apple's
much-derided PDA is closing after seven years, and is up for auction
on eBay as a single lot (thirteen Newtons (one of every model), plus a
raft of accessories, software and manuals) and the auction is attracting
quite a lot of interest.
The last nail in the coffin - and talking of white elephants, the Bay
Area NeXT Group has disbanded after fifteen years of slavish support to
Steve Jobs' doomed computer company. I think that the Wired article
over-estimates the technologies that NeXT contributed to the current OS X,
Bypassing web filtering - a clever dodge to work around the sort of
commercial filtering software that my team manages at the office, for
example: assuming you have the target URL, simply use Google's online
translation service to convert from English to English. Inspired, but also
Critical Symantec bug - haven't we seen this somewhere
before? Forty products across their range are afflicted by a nasty
flaw in an library component used to scan RAR archives. Unusually, the
vulnerability is cross-platform, affecting Mac and Unix versions as well
as those for Windows.
Christmas lights hoax auction - Last year a Lafayette techie caused
something of a media buzz when he web-enabled thousands of christmas
lights on his house, and then a second buzz when it emerged that actually
it was a clever hoax. Now the entire system is for sale on eBay to raise
money for charity.
The curse of a new PC - [H]ard|OCP has
reviewed Dell's new high-end home system, and was not terribly impressed.
The hardware was fine, but the huge quantity of pre-installed evaluation
software caused all sorts of problems. It's interesting to note that this
is exactly the
sort of situation that the rulings that followed the US and EU
anti-trust suits were designed to encourage...
monitoring in the UK - as if the country isn't under absurd and
threatening levels of surveillance already (one CCTV camera for every 14
people in the UK) the Association of Chief Police Officers is proposing a
scheme to install a nationwide network of roadside cameras equipped with
automatic number plate recognition systems and linked to the proverbial
giant central database. The only saving grace is that given appalling
levels of incompetence demonstrated
by all other government IT schemes, and the laughably rapid timescale
quoted (March? You're intending to have it in place by next March?)
it seems very unlikely that much will come of it any time soon. Thank
heaven for small mercies.
I'm relived to be able to say that I'm making some
progress with the import of my tape library, thanks to an extremely
helpful person at the UK office of shipping company
UTI - but no thanks to the eBay
vendor who sold me the item, who at this stage has pretty much cut me
loose to swing in the wind. Having filled in some marvellously
inappropriate customs declaration forms as best as I could, and having
agreed to sign over an arm, a leg, and several major organs to cover the
VAT and delivery charges, UTI fast-tracked my pallet through customs and
are now ready to ship it out to my home address as soon as the christmas
shutdown is over. I'm not too traumatised by the cost, as all-in-all I'll
have paid a total of £1050 for a 3Tb tape library, which
I think is quite acceptable, but the additional fuss that the seller has
put me too is not something I will forget in a hurry - and, of course, if
it turns out to be in worse condition than the eBay listing claimed I will
be very, very cross indeed. There are serious limits to how much one can
hassle a person in another country in a case like this, but you can bet
your bippy that if it comes to it I will do whatever I can...
Ignorance or greed? - apparently customers who bring digital media to
US branches of Staples for colour printing are being charged an additional
fee of $2.49 per file for virus scanning! The contributor of the item is
surprised that Staples haven't always been doing this as a routine safety
measure, but I'm surprised that nobody has commented on how
unlikely it is for an image file to be able to contain hostile code! The
JPEG vulnerability aside (which was never widely exploited in the real
world) the chances of anything nasty appearing during the printing process
is minimal. What a rip-off... [Update: It looks as if the original
report may have been a little
wide of the mark.]
Condemned by his own blog - a Florida teen who wrote a blog entry
about his part in a fatal road accident pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter
when the prosecution revealed that they intended to produce the
(subsequently deleted) post as evidence. It's a salutary lesson, indeed -
but one that only the terminally stupid need to learn from...
Naughty or nice? - another list from BB Spot (yes, the entire site
is a spoof, OK?) suggests that fortunately I'm only half bad. That
probably means that I'll get christmas presents, but they'll all be lumps
of coal or potatoes...
the rest - and talking of lists, Swedish tech site Fosfor has
presented the ten most unusual PC case mods - and although I wouldn't have
said that the stunning WMD case
featured at Bit-Tech really belongs with the others, their number one
choice certainly is weird indeed...
Not so new as all that - the "path-breaking technology" (come again?)
behind a new anti-virus solution from Indian developer Sanrasoft Software
turns out to be merely an extension of the old checksum approach used and
abandoned by AV products in the nineties. [Yawn]
Linksys ditching Linux - the popular WRT54G wireless/broadband router
used to be based on a Linux kernel, and so was a favourite target for
homebrew firmware tweakers, but current (and future) versions use the
proprietary VxWorks OS as it will run in half the memory footprint and
allow the manufacturing costs to be cut significantly. Initial figures
suggest that sales have started to slump now that the hardware is no
longer hackable, though, so the decision may yet come back to bite them.
Insane in the
mainframe - figures suggest that the worldwide level of spam email is
starting to level out at around 70%, and the FTC has taken this to mean
that the flawed Can-Spam act is a rousing success. As Steve at
[H]ard|OCP puts it, though - "If
70% of your phone calls were solicitations? If 70% of the people coming to
your house were door to door salesmen? If your mailbox was packed with 70%
porno fliers and credit card offers? Would you be happy if you had to pay
$59.99 for anti-phone, anti-door or anti-mail protection?"
Indeed - but when are you going to start using permalinks on your site,
teacups - Microsoft are under fire again following an allegation from
Linotype that the new "Segoe UI" font developed for Vista is a copy of
their "Frutiger Next" design. I'm sure that there are indeed similarities,
but after several hundred years of font design it must be getting harder
and harder to avoid that even with the best of intentions - and as suing
Microsoft has rapidly become a useful source of additional revenue claims
of this sort have to be taken with a big pinch of salt.
ball and going home? - and talking of kicking Microsoft around, the EU
is threatening fines of up to 2 million Euros per day unless it complies
with their earlier penalties - the 497 million Euro fine, the order to
share code with rivals, and the creation of a pointless version of Windows
without the bundled Media Player. One does wonder how much the company can
be pushed before simply closing down its EU-based operations completely
becomes a cheaper and more attractive option. I certainly wouldn't blame
them if they did...
As I write this I'm in the process of wrangling with
the Canadian eBay vendor who sold me
my tape library, and who seems to think that shipping the unit to
London Heathrow airport instead of to the delivery address I gave him is
perfectly acceptable. Needless to say I don't share this opinion, but he
seems to be about to wash his hands of the whole business and as in this
case lack of possession is nine points of the law I'm probably
going to have to find and pay for a local courier myself unless I want the
hardware to languish unclaimed in a warehouse somewhere. Needless to say,
I am not a happy bunny.
While I fume gently, then, and in between increasingly
terse email messages, some links:
Phone clone scam exposed - members of the terrorist organization
Hezbollah have cloned the mobiles of senior executives of Canadian telco
Rogers Communications, including the CEO, and run up many tens of
thousands of dollars worth of calls. Although the frauds were detected in
fairly short order, staff were apparently too frightened of
inconveniencing the execs to do anything about it!
state of affairs - Yahoo has released their list of the most popular
search topics of 2005, and Caesar at Ars.Technica is not at all impressed.
As the connected world's number one obsession is apparently Britney
Spears, I can see his point...
Chilean and Peruvian hackers at war - apparently the two countries are
currently embroiled in a fierce diplomatic dispute over Pacific fishing
rights and ownership of a soft drink, and patriotic hackers on both sides
are defacing the web sites of the opposing governments in order to make
Typo-squatting - the latest sleazy trick being employed by the growing
army of web con-artists is to set up a dummy web site at the a plausible
misspelling of a well-known address, and then to serve Google AdSense ads
to the inadvertent visitors in order to raise money for the squatters.
secret of Pixar - it wasn't the technology itself that made Steve Jobs
and George Lucas look like visionaries (and made them a pile of money into
the bargain), but instead the drive and passion of the company's founders,
Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and John Lasseter.
rights and wrongs of spying - following their analysis of the
technology behind the recent wiretapping scandal, Ars Technica has
published a follow-up on why casting such a wide net is a really
bad idea, and probably increases the likelihood of the real terrorists
Take four GPUs into the shower? - at Tom's Hardware, a preview
of the upcoming twin-GPU Nvidia graphics cards from Asus, two of which can
be installed on the latest PCI Express x32 motherboards. The hardware is
still very much in development, but the raw horsepower is truly excessive.
Seagate are buying Maxtor in a the deal worth $1.9 billion in stock.
In spite of almost continuous growth in the storage market over the last
decade, the number of manufacturers continues to fall - Connor and Seagate
merged back in 1996, Maxtor and Quantum in 2001, and IBM and Hitachi
combined operations in 2002. This latest move leaves only Seagate, Western
Digital and Hitachi dominating a market that had three times as many major
players only ten years ago, and I can't see any way that this is a good
thing for the consumer...
It was one of those days, today - the server I was
working on started to die with memory parity errors, one of my own PCs
suddenly lost the ability to run Internet Explorer (it won't run the
Acrobat Reader, either - I think a full rebuild is called for) and,
although I deny that this was anything to do with me, the MPLS WAN
connection that links us to our regional offices dropped off for an hour
or so in the middle of the afternoon. Some days it's a mistake to get out
Enthusiasm is a touch low, therefore, so you'll have to
settle for some random news links again:
What a rip-off - following the expected but probably groundless
allegations of vote-rigging in the weekend's final of television talent
show The X Factor (I only watch it when my girlfriend is here, honest!) a
story from a few weeks ago reveals the lengths that the production company
has gone to to squeeze every last penny out of the millions of fans.
toned down - the popular scripting language is not quite as dangerous
as some recent reports have suggested, according to damage limitation from
(guess who) the Perl Foundation. If you listen (and you don't have to
listen that carefully, either) you can actually hear the sound of an axe
Touched a nerve? - the name of a cancer-causing gene has been changed
from "Pokemon" to the ever-so catchy "Zbtb7" after trademark-holder
Nintendo threatened legal action to keep scientists from using the name.
The choice of name was not entirely whimsical, however, as the gene is
part of the POK family that is critical in embryonic development, cellular
differentiation and oncogenesis.
Beagle 2 spotted - I woke up this morning to the unexpected site of OU
space scientist Colin Pillinger's whiskers, and the news that the wreckage
of the ill-fated Mars lander had been located, pretty much on target in
the Isidis Planitia. It looks as if the probe was unfortunate enough to
touch down in a crater, bouncing hard from the walls rather than rolling
smoothly as planned.
Windows Server 2003½ -
the R2 intermediary release is available for download now (for Enterprise
customers, at least) and adds some
useful new features - chiefly, from my point of view, the ability to
quarantine client PCs that are missing critical security updates until
they can be brought up to date. It has to be installed onto an SP1 version
of the OS, but in any case that's a worthwhile upgrade in itself.
technology of spying - both left and right-wing blogs are buzzing over
news of the US government wiretapping scandal, and as a change from
politics Ars Technica is reading between the lines to put together
a picture of the technologies that have taken over from the notorious
Carnivore and Echelon systems, likely to be descendants of the
slightly-less classified TIA and CALEA programmes.
Peer-reviewed encyclopaedia - in the wake of all the fuss over
Wikipedia (will it, won't it, should it, shouldn't it?) it has evidently
occurred to somebody that there's room in the market. The new Digital
Universe project will mix user-contributed articles with those checked
and approved by experts in the field - and both will be clearly
identified. Where the money will come from, though, is not so clear...
of retouching - a fascinating interactive demonstration of all the
little tricks used to turn a regular human being into a magazine cover
model. Absolutely everything has been tweaked, from the shape of the eyes
to the size of the breasts, and although the overall effect is clear when
you see the before and after shots, I doubt that most people would realise
how extensive the changes really were.
And finally, the man who invented the Web
finally has a weblog,
and in best tradition his first entry is titled "So I have a blog". I've
always thought that Berners-Lee's contribution was more evolutionary than
revolutionary, building as it did on concepts originated in a number of
long-forgotten systems such as WAIS, Gopher, Archie and the like, and I
was pleased to see that he seems to feel the same.
Just a few quick links, tonight, the first batch
courtesy of the excellent geek site
Ars.Technica - always
one of my staples for news and analysis, and thoroughly recommended:
of market share - from the launch of the Altair in 1977, through the
explosion of different companies and models in the eighties, to the
near-monopoly of the PC-compatible ten years later.
dating under the microscope - commercial dating sites are threatening
to assume the mantle of the music industry, attempting to lay down moral
codes that they themselves will not live up to.
buying into AOL - it looks as if the web giant will be paying $1
billion for a 5 percent stake in the ailing AOL, leading industry pundits
speculate about what this could mean to Microsoft.
through the ages - among the earliest known toys are a set of dancing
ivory figures from Middle Kingdom Egypt 4000 years ago, and things seems
to have gone downhill steadily from there.
restrained christmas decorations - Apparently it uses 16,000 lights,
controlled by a computer - and as you might have guessed, is in Texas...
Atoms - Dan is back, pontificating over the lure of the physical world
experienced by even the most virtually-minded techies. (I still haven't
got used to the rather sterile new decor, though.
Working for Google - Free food and laundry, child care, leisure
activities on tap... I've heard this all before, though, from Microsoft in
the first half of the nineties and Apple in the second half.
classic hack - at the traditional home of hacking,
an enterprising individual or group has redecorated the main building as a
level from the Mario arcade games. Marvellous!
the rescue - following a minor but extremely problematic equipment
failure at the White Sands Missile Range, an unexpectedly flexible remote
handling system from Sandia saved the day.
360 in an Atari 2600 shell - most people are still queuing, searching
and paying over the odds for Microsoft's new console, but this adventurous
modder has gutted his completely in a good cause.
iPod pants -
It's the wrong trousers, Grommit! And they've gone wrong! If you've
been lying awake at nights pining for a pair of boxer shorts with a built
in pocket for your iPod, your wait is over...
a little-known tale from the early days of the space programme in the
late fifties. As part of Project Man High, a series of tests
designed to study the physical and psychological effects on humans
travelling outside of the Earth's atmosphere, a test pilot named Joseph
Kittinger repeatedly jumped out of a high altitude balloon wearing only an
experimental pressure suit. His eventual record was a descent from 102,800
feet, outside 99% of the atmosphere, during which he reached a velocity of
614 miles an hour - almost the speed of sound! After this, and a related
programme that followed, he volunteered for three combat tours in Vietnam,
flying a total of 483 missions before being shot down in May 1972 and
spending 11 months as prisoner of war. It's a fascinating account, and
Kittinger was evidently a remarkable man.
People are always coming up to me and saying "Emo,
do people really come up to you?"
growing fraud problem - the company's director of trust and safety
(what a job title!) has admitted to "extreme growth" in the number of
account hijacking and fraud incidents during 2005, believed to number in
the tens of thousands.
Another Dell battery recall - only eighteen months after the last such
incident, the company has issued a recall on a further 35,000 batteries,
including models used with the popular Latitude and Inspiron range sold
between October 2004 and October 2005.
Futurama to be resurrected? - regular readers will know that I am
extremely fond of Matt Groening's SF cartoon
series, so I've been following the various rumours of its return with
considerable interest. The latest gossip suggests a DVD movie, an approach
that has also been taken for
home for the GDI - rumours are also circulating that for Vista
Microsoft is intending to move at least part of the graphics subsystem up
out of the kernel, reversing the controversial decision
taken back in 1995 during
the development of NT4.
Bill and Melinda honoured - Time magazine has named the couple as
their "Persons of 2005", along with U2's Bono, for their significant
contributions to the fight against poverty and disease in the third world.
Compare this with Bill's arch-rival Larry Ellison of Oracle, who in spite
of repeatedly claiming the moral high-ground during the anti-trust trials
of the late '90s, apparently only gives to charity when he is
forced to by the courts...
I've just acquired another of the marvellous little
Sun StorEdge Multipack disk cabinets I use on my server at home
(twelve ultra/wide SCSI drives in a unit the size of a large shoebox -
neat!) and to my annoyance this one turned out to be locked. Having chased
the eBay vendor to no effect whatsoever ("We don't have a key we had no
idea it was locked! We only power them up and make sure they work!")
and tried a large bunch of spare keys from assorted 19" racks at the
office without success, I decided that desperate measures were called for
and headed off to the infamous
MIT Guide To Lock-picking.
Having digested the basics, it seemed that the most
primitive technique (variously called "scrubbing" or "raking") would be
the best bet - rather than concentrating on lifting each individual pin
one at a time, it uses a rapid outwards motion in an attempt to bounce all
the pins up together, not dissimilar to the way that a mechanical
pick gun would. This technique needs less practice, and is well suited
to cheap, simple locks, but can easily damage the relatively soft brass
pins of the mechanism and so is not advisable for a lock that needs to be
used and relied on after being picked.
In this case, however, I was intending to leave the
cabinet permanently unlocked and so I made myself a simple pick from a
piece of scrap wire and set to work. It was pretty boring, and pretty
frustrating, and as I didn't seem to be making any progress after ten
minutes or so of alternately working my pick through the mechanism and
re-reading the instructions for some additional clue, I was considerably
startled when the lock barrel suddenly turned in my fingers and the catch
sprung back. I think this was was a classic case of beginner's luck, as I
didn't really feel that I'd been engaging with the lock mechanism properly
up until then, but I'm certainly not complaining!
To my delight, the side panel lifted off to reveal
three antique hard disks, the original
Barracuda units that used to be the cutting edge of server storage
back in 1996. They were among the first 7200rpm drives on the market, and
with an access time of around 8ms they're still no slouch today - but at a
meagre 2.1Gb capacity they are useful only as paperweights... It's
sobering to think that the disks that used to run Sun and Netware servers
for entire corporates wouldn't even hold the pagefile for most of my
servers at the office. Oddly, though, they're in the new-style plastic
Spud brackets that have only been around for the last few years, so
presumably this system was in use until recently! Of course, as soon as I
can source some additional Spud brackets it will be pressed back into use
again, but this time with rather more capacious 18Gb drives providing a
RAID-5 array in the order of 200Gb - slightly more useful, I'd say!
Meanwhile, some links...
founded on porn - it has emerged that the popular (if controversial)
web encyclopaedia was initially funded by $500,000 from online porn
company Bomis Inc. As could be expected, critics of the site are having a
field day over this news, which in any case comes at a difficult time... A
recent comparison of
randomly chosen science entries with their equivalent in the
Encyclopaedia Britannica has revealed a worrying number of factual
inaccuracies and a general lack of understanding, and following an equally
high-profile scandal concerning
apparently malicious changes made by a user who claims (rather
unconvincingly, if you ask me!) that he thought it was a "gag site", even
Penny Arcade is
poking fun at
the ease with which highly capricious editing can be performed.... What
will become of one of the showpieces of Web 2.0? [Update:
Here's another excellent example of how easily the database can be
girls - and talking of porn, this gallery of pictures from a Swedish
LAN party is full of girlies fondling network hardware, mostly the
rather elegant purple Summit switches from
I especially liked the blonde
handcuffed to the 19"
rack... Why don't I have one of those?
Sun not - the favoured platform for big iron Unix servers is no longer
Sun, it seems, but instead IBM with HP nipping at their heels. A survey of
sysadmins from big corporates shows the traditional market leader lagging
behind the competitors right across the board.
Mona Lisa decoded - a researcher at the University of Amsterdam has
used prototype emotion-recognition software to analyse the famous smile,
revealing that the model was 83 per cent happy, 9 per cent disgusted, 6
per cent fearful and 2 per cent angry. Indeed.
How to make a DRM CD
- Alex Halderman, one of the researchers who has been analysing the
various nefarious techniques used by Sony's notorious audio CDs, has
released a guide to creating your own equivalent to the disks protected by
systems such as XCP and Macrovision.
Apropos of nothing:
Fry: If I could just learn to play this
Bender: Oh, but you can - though you may
have to metaphorically make a deal with the devil. And by "devil", I
mean "robot devil", and by "metaphorically", I mean "get your coat"...
Episode 5-16: "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings".
Elsewhere, some random links...
to kill a mockingbird - if you listen carefully, you can actually hear
Harper Lee spinning in her grave. Well, to be honest, you don't even have
to listen that carefully...
Self-assembling cubes - yet another small step towards the SF dream
(or nightmare, depending on who you listen to!) of universal nanotech
The evolving alphabet - an extremely clever animation showing how the
modern alphabet has emerged from early European languages over the last
three thousand years.
of Catalyst drivers - a fascinating comparison at AnandTech
reveals that, apart from early on in the development process, performance
gains have been relatively minimal.
Bounty for upgrading PVR - a company that specialises in TiVO tweaks
and addons is offering to pay for techniques to open up one of the latest,
and heavily locked down, entries to the market.
Xbox 360 already halfway cracked - in spite of the fact that it's only
been on the market for about thirty seconds, considerable progress has
been made to defeating the new console's protection.
Dangerous magnets - United Nuclear is selling the largest
Neodymium Magnets I've ever seen, and from what I've seen of their smaller
cousins the safety warnings are not to be taken lightly.
babes - an Italian entrepreneur is hoping to start the first talent
agency for computer generated models, and from the look of the sample
images it's not a totally silly idea...
not quite dead - the popular first-person shooter Halo
has been transformed into a side-scrolling game somewhat reminiscent of
the classic Apogee games from the pre-Doom era.
Java falling from grace - the growing popularity of Microsoft's .Net
lead to some commentators suggesting that Java is fading.
Confessions of an honest cracker - this unrepentant gamer has been
cracking legally-purchased games for more than fifteen years simply to
avoid the annoyance of the copy-protection systems.
Video game myths debunked (again) - courtesy of the director of
comparative studies at MIT, an excellent rebuttal of the absurd claims
made by the lying, self-deluding anti-game campaigners.
All the news that's fit to link... Well, actually, only
some of the news, as I'm pushed for time again.
sanitised history of the web - To commemorate the 15th anniversary of
the World Wide Web, CNN has presented a list of the "Top 10 Moments" in
its development - although as there is no mention of rampant porn, warez
sites, pointless blogs and dead links it doesn't seem to be the same web
that I've been using...
eyeing-up the competition - Following the announcement that Microsoft
and MTV are to develop a new online music service, I can imagine signs of
tension in the boardrooms at Cupertino - the party line is that iTunes is
unstoppable with its current 70% market share, but actually that remains
to be seen.
It walks, it
talks, it pulls a cart - The second version of Honda's
remarkable Asimo robot has had its public debut, and from the look of the
video clips on the official site it's as much of a step forward as the
offering from Silverstone - This fully-modular EPS-12V power supply
would have been just what I wanted, had it been available a few months ago
when I bought my
S12 - although the tests suggest that it's not as whisper-quiet as my
current model, something I have certainly grown to appreciate.
EFF warns off
Warner/Chappell - Following the music giant's cease & desist order
against a small
freeware developer over an application that inserts music lyrics into
iTunes songs, the EFF has responded in no uncertain terms.
Intel processor roadmap revealed - Although the officially announced
CPUs are 65nm, the move to 45nm technology is imminent and it will bring
chips with as many as eight cores and up to 12Mb of shared L2 cache in a
single package. That's a lot of horsepower, certainly, but one wonders
what the thermal load will be...
I have a nasty case of mixed feelings, today, having
received some very poor service from a company that nevertheless
eventually produced an extremely high-quality product. The company is
Luminati Waycon (which
never fails to remind me of
the ruthless military-industrial corporation from the Aliens
movies), manufacturer of display cabinets etc for shops and museums, and
the product is a beautiful acrylic cabinet that they made to my exact
specification, intended to hold all my models, knick-knacks, thingamajigs
and oddments once I finally get around to unpacking them.
The problem is not with their manufacturing prowess,
which is obviously more than competent (if perhaps a touch slower than I
was expecting at around seven weeks from placing the order to shipping),
but with that last and often most problematic step, delivery. I forgave
the first time they postponed at the last moment, although it caused some
considerable inconvenience for the friend who had kindly offered to wait
at home to accept delivery, but that was considerably harder to manage
when the second date they gave me also came and went with an equal lack of
progress. By this time the long-suffering friend had run out of holiday
days, and when the courier company phoned me by surprise this morning to
check that I would be available to sign for the crate I had no option but
to throw myself on the mercy of my manager and slip out for an hour
mid-morning to take delivery.
That ominous word "crate" inspired me to throw myself
on the mercy of one of my PFYs, as well, and I'm very glad I did, as when
all packed up the thing was approximately the size, shape and weight of an
upright piano. We managed to drag it into my front garden to prise it open
(it would have been impossible to manoeuvre through my rather narrow front
door and hallway still packaged) and quicker than one could
translate the Book Of Macabies from
Hebrew into Lithuanian we had the cabinet itself exposed - at which
point it became significantly more manageable. By then work was
calling so we quit while we were ahead and shot back to the office,
leaving me to unwrap several dozen yards of bubble wrap and carefully lift
the cabinet into its intended home when I got back this evening.
So I'm cross, tonight, because according to the freight
company itself the "economy" service that Luminati Waycon had booked
couldn't possibly have got the cabinet to me on the day promised -
in spite of earnest assurances that it would do just that - and so my
friend wasted two whole days waiting and my PFY and I had to leave our
workplace in the middle of the day, something not done lightly given how
busy we are...
On the other hand, the cabinet is beautiful, and
everything I'd hoped for - all the joints and edges are clean and sharp,
the doors fit nicely and open smoothly, and the clusters of white LEDs in
the base light the interior brightly and evenly. It's also very big -
surprisingly so, given that it was made to my exact specifications! - and
has enough room to hold all my space models (even the large
Mir kit, I think) with room left over
for all the ones currently languishing un-made in boxes. I'm hoping that
will inspire me to do something about the backlog, as
some of them are going to
be really interesting and rewarding to make.
I still have to find someone to re-plaster the wall
behind the cabinet, as the bright lights brutally highlight the yawning
void where I removed a fireplace surround to provide sufficient space for
the cabinet to stand (the black background is a sheet draped over the gap
as a temporary measure) and of course I still have to unpack all the
models and ornaments from the boxes in which they've spent the last
eighteen months - but even now, empty, it's certainly a thing of beauty.
A few links for the weekend:
P2P U-turn - Loudeye, one of the companies employed by the RIAA to
pollute the file-sharing networks with fake MP3s in an attempt to make
them unusable, has decided that actually there's more money to be made by
crossing over to the light side of the Force and concentrating on
distribution of digital music instead.
eBay pulls security auction - a bizarre auction for the details of a
vulnerability in Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet has been cancelled before
some spotty little script kiddie could capitalise on it to create an
exploit, and in my opinion the balloon head who decided to try to profit
from the flaw in this way deserves to be charged under as many computer
misuse laws as possible.
Things Lovecraftian - pocket-sized papercraft
to make, the legend of The Great Old Pumpkin as
podcast and, courtesy of the wonderful Cthulhu Lives! site,
sensational musical offerings in the form of
A Very Scary
Solstice and A
Shoggoth on the Roof. Just the thing when you're relaxing in your
plush new slippers.
Meanwhile, I found this marvellous photograph by
accident on a somewhat disreputable German
media 'blog, and finally
managed to track it down to
a photo album at the
TroopCarePackage.com site, which credits it only to "Felicia in
Iraq". Apart from being almost insufferably cute (yes, I admit it, even
I think that little kitten is sweet) take a look at the
assault rifle -
anything modified in such an extensive but businesslike manner
(bipod, ACOG scope and cheek rest, magazines taped back-to-back, extra
padding or heat insulation on the handguard) is designed for the sharp end
of combat and nothing else. It's a far cry from the clean, elegant factory
configurations that my replicas are modelled
on, and serves as a much-needed reminder to stay-at-home enthusiasts such
as myself exactly what these weapons are meant to do. I will be hoping
that both the owner and the kitten manage to stay out of harm's way.
I mentioned a couple of weeks
ago that I'd bought myself a new tape library for the server, but
unfortunately when it arrived it was far from satisfactory: the casing was
horribly scarred, the two removable tape magazines were missing, and three
of the four tape drives appeared faulty! Given that it was described as
being in "A1" condition and full working order, needless to say I was not
at all impressed... The vendor offered a refund, but then admitted that
actually they had another identical library in stock, leaving me wondering
whether they'd sent me the wrong one! I agreed to consider a swap if the
second library tested out Ok, but when I hadn't heard anything from them
after two days I started browsing again. In the event I'm quite pleased
with the way this worked out, as almost right away I came across an
example of a library that looks far more suitable to my requirements, the
Exabyte "Arrowhead" 690D. It's broadly comparable in its capacity to
the ATL library, but rather than a low, cube-ish form factor suitable for
rack mounting, it's a tall, slim, free-standing wheeled unit far more
appropriate to a computer facility located in a domestic kitchen.
This model has four of the six drive bays populated
with DLT7000 drives, and 90 tape slots giving a native capacity of around
3Tb fully loaded, and when it was new in 1998 it would have cost well in
excess of $50,000! What is interesting about the design is that to achieve
the slim form factor, as well as the usual XYZ robotic picker assembly,
the tape magazines are mounted on a series of hexagonal rotating carousels
- an idea that greatly appeals to my love of tape automation. I am very
much looking forward to watching everything moving and turning through the
big window in the front panel, a feature that in my opinion all tape
library manufacturers ought to incorporate - as well as making status
checks and troubleshooting considerably easier, the robotics are so cool
to watch in action!
The downside to this particular purchase is that the
library is currently located in Canada, and I'll end up paying
considerably more for shipping than for the library itself - but this sort
of hardware is very cheap at present (the enterprises who originally
bought mid-range libraries have long since outgrown the DLT7000 tapes they
support) and as obsolete tape systems are traditionally somewhat eccentric
and demanding beasties nobody else wants them except the brave few who
manage a datacenter in the comfort of their own home. Watch this space for
further details (and maybe even some video) - and cross your fingers for
me that it survives the long journey intact!
Meanwhile, at least a little closer to home...
Ballmer speaks - Microsoft's fearsome supremo holds forth on subjects
ranging from the growth of the company and the threat of Google, to the
rumoured lack of Xbox hardware.
Linux - fancy a Linux server the size of a stick of gum? I have to
admit that I don't, particularly, but it's a wonderful achievement and I'm
sure some earnestly-bearded types will want them...
Dual graphics - Tom's Hardware Guide compares the offerings from ATI
and nVidia and concludes that although the latter is ahead at present,
things will even up as soon as ATI's next generation ships
Silicon disks rear their head again - this idea has surfaced every
five years or so, as regular as clockwork, since around 1985... And it
still doesn't seem to be up to much even twenty years later!
chemistry of brewing - a long-running effort intended to analyse the
myriad of chemicals that form the flavour of beers is starting to make
some significant progress at last, but it's still far from over.
bastardry - the take-down notice that Warner Chappell issued against
PearLyrics last week turns out to the the first shot in a war against
online lyrics sites. <sigh> Where will this end?
recent column at The Register was extremely scathing on the
EFF's apparent talent for losing the legal challenges they take on, and
predicted an equal lack of success with their case against Sony's rootkit
DRM. I have to admit that I was surprised, as although one has to admit
that they haven't been the most sucessful of organisations, at least
they're trying (show me anyone else who is!) and they do end
up facing the most daunting and well-resourced of opponents - the Federal
Government, the global recording industry, etc etc. I was even more
next letters column revealed that a significant number of Reg
readers seem to agree with the indictment, and it was only after the story
appeared on Slashdot that any significant opposition to the article
emerged. I think this is a worrying trend, as if the EFF starts to lose
popular support then financial support will tail off as well, leaving them
even more ineffectual and leaving us without any defence against
the tide of corporate bastardry that threatens to overwhelm the Internet,
the media, the copyright and patent laws, and anything else that those
money-grabbing, power-hungry SOBs feel like laying their hands on. It's a
new Ulysses device is the cleverest thing I've seen in ages -
laptop-format SATA hard disks inside a casing the size and shape of an LTO
tape, and a matching "docking bay" the size and shape of an LTO tape
drive... They drop into an existing library and emulate the tape subsystem
exactly, only with the performance of a hard disk instead. Laptop-style
2½" drives have relatively small capacities in comparison to conventional
3½" drives at the moment (I don't remember seeing one greater than 100Gb,
yet, which is broadly equivalent to an LTO-1 tape) but this will change
soon enough, making the system even more interesting. There are no price
details (and not enough technical details at present, either) until the
product ships early next year, but it is certainly worth investigating.
And talking of hot hardware, the latest offering from
water cooling specialist Koolance is a water block that slips over
pair of memory modules. I'm not sure how many systems really need
water-cooled memory DIMMs, but I have to admit that they look fantastic -
all pipes and tubes, and very elegant. Perhaps fortunately, though, it
wouldn't be feasible to add more resistance to the cooling loop in
Infinity 4 and so I
don't need to blindly obey my urges by rushing out to buy some.
Not so hot, but equally cool, are some remarkable
audio electronics designs
from Susan Parker. I spent a while chatting with Susan at a Thanksgiving
party a few weeks ago, and it made a refreshing change to find someone
whose knowledge of physics makes mine look like a schoolboy hobby. I'll
have to take her word for the unusually high fidelity of her audio
amplifiers (although I am more than happy to do just that!) but even my
tyro's eye can appreciate the elegance of the white marble sphere
speakers. Take a look - it's a fascinating site, I'm sure, if you're into
More on the back yard cyclotron - the erstwhile physicist's neighbours
have convinced the city to propose a law specifically banning particle
accelerators in residential areas. Spoilsports!
covers - cycling helmets are not traditionally the most elegant of
headgear, but these add-on foam covers transform them with dinosaurs
heads, brains, spikes and insects. Wonderful stuff.
photos - fed up with queuing for a photo booth then paying through the
nose? The ePassportPhoto service will process an existing picture
into the standard format required, for free.
The ultimate in personalised products - have your DNA sequenced, and
then representations of the base pairs copied onto ties, jewellery,
mirrors, or champagne glasses. The latter are really elegant.
Creative playing hardball - the audio company seems to be about to
take aim at Apple's iPod, having somehow managed to patent the idea of
selecting songs by their metadata. This is getting silly...
I'm still searching for an
Radeon X800 All-In-Wonder multimedia card to allow me to use dual
monitors on my main home PC, so I was excited to see a batch of them being
eBay at a temptingly affordable price. However, I soon realised that
unfortunately these are the so-called Special Edition cards, where
"special" in this case means "artificially crippled". The absence of half
of the sixteen pixel pipelines of the full-bore XT model mean that the SE
noticeably slower, and in fact in some tests it isn't very much faster
than the last generation 9800 XT I'm using now! They're certainly very
reasonably priced at £200 each, even for white box OEM cards, and it is
still tempting, but the meagre performance gains really wouldn't be
sufficient for my tastes and I guess I'll have to keep searching. Even
though it allegedly launched a year or so ago the PAL version of the XT is
incredibly rare, however, and none of the suppliers I've found so
far even have it listed, let alone in stock! <muttering>
Meanwhile, all the news that's fit to link:
from the music industry - a small freeware developer has been hit with
a takedown notice from Warner/Chappell Music because of an application
that searched for music lyrics! Bah!
Supply and demand pricing for music - fancy paying a few cents to
download a song that nobody else likes, and five dollars for a popular
track? No, actually, neither do I...
Gaming gifts for the obscenely rich - CNN chooses christmas presents
for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Queen Elizabeth. Bill gets a quarter of a
million dollars of wall-to-wall computer screen, by the way.
damning analysis of 180solutions - following their lawsuit against
Zone Labs, an enterprising blogger puts their Zango online game service
under the microscope and watches it misbehave.
eBay confused - a phishing email was convincing enough that eBay's own
tech support initially thought it was genuine - but the way the fake site
is hosted on compromised PCs is fiendish.
Running Linux on Windows - it's been possible to install Linux into
Microsoft's Virtual Server before, but that configuration is now fully
supported in the latest version of the product.
IM worm chats with victims - the latest instant messaging malware, the
catchily named IM.Myspace04.AIM, attempts to con its targets by
sending them simple chat phrases.
Aperture fails to live up to hype - Apple's new "professional"
image editing application has failed to impress, it seems, with low
graphics quality, poor performance and basic features missing.
- in an unusual twist, the new Deflexion is the physical board game
of the classic computer games where you shine light beams into a grid to
interact with reflective objects.
A very modern implementation of a very traditional
just the thing to take the place of a mantelpiece clock which I've had
to retire - along with the mantelpiece, which will be replaced with a
custom Perspex display cabinet currently on its way to me from specialist
manufacturer Luminati Waycon.
It's been a small frenzy of interior design here at Château
Epicycle, celebrating one year of being in the house, and if I can find
someone to plaster and paint the yawning void where I prised off the
fireplace surround and mantelpiece, it will all be ready in time for
christmas. It will be good to have all my ornaments,
models and knick-knacks out on show
again, though, and that might even inspire me to start building a few of
the un-made kits that I have tucked away in the back room. Watch this
A make-over for
Dan's Data - the redoubtable Dan has tarted up his equally
redoubtable web site with a new, modern look, one which has totally
traumatised me after many years of the old design.
Comprehensive list of MS-DOS 6 documentation errors - found by
accident while searching the knowledgebase - and nobody can accuse
Microsoft of not supporting their old products...
Xbox 360 - Gamespot has compared the two consoles using a set
of games that are available on both. The differences are certainly
notable, but why so many damn sports simulations?
Top 10 hacks
- an odd selection, including rtm's unintentional Internet worm but
omitting the Chaos Computer Club and the
hack of Prince Philip's Prestel mailbox live on UK television.
Wikipedia under fire - the value of a user-edited encyclopaedia is in
question again, thanks to some deliberate muck-racking and a fine example
of complete idiocy.
Microsoft to modify IE - the way in which ActiveX controls work will
change in response to the controversial Eolas lawsuit, but Microsoft
insists that they are still determined to fight the decision.
Evil, but cosy! - soft, cuddly slippers in the form of Chthulhu, the
Great Old One from the Lovecraft mythos. The wisdom of trusting your
tootsies to The Eater Of Souls has to be questioned, though...
USB-powered air darts - if you can't survive for a moment longer
without a desktop surface-to-air missile battery (and god knows, I
can't!) then help is on hand at a surprisingly reasonable price.
Vista's Restart Manager - an interesting feature of the upcoming
version of the OS, Restart Manager minimises system reboots and, if
they are still necessary, at least minimises their impact.
rye - at Tom's Hardware, another marvellous modding job, a
regular domestic toaster hiding a Linux-based file server configured as a
network attached storage device.
for game content law - controversial legislation passed in Illinois to
restrict sales of "violent" video games has been found unconstitutional in
a federal court, a decision that may well hinder the conservative plans
for equally restrictive legislation, the Family Entertainment
Protection Act, due to come before the US Senate in a couple of weeks.
Random links, and lightning-fast, too... Blink, and
you'll miss 'em.
Cooling your children - a previously unsuspected use for those
discarded CPU heat sinks.
Porno for bibles
- you have to admire their style, but mostly their sheer chutzpah.
Tardis Tapes - speaking off the record, a Dalek shares its thoughts on
Stallman rocks - the Unix guru has been out manning the barricades at
a recent DRM protest.
Unlicensed nuclear accelerator - setting up a cyclotron in your home
may annoy your neighbours.
but perfectly formed - after a long wait, Storage Review's
first laptop disk tests.
the T-shirt years - the history of the company, as illustrated by the
Chest wear -
and talking of T-shirts, some of the offerings from Busted Tees are
Zone Labs sued - spyware manufacturer 180solutions
really hates the term "spyware"...
library - carefully designed threads of images to illustrate the world
Scratch-proof disks - these blank CDs have little bumps around the
edge to keep them safe.
Evading wiretaps -
switch off the recorder remotely using off-the-shelf hardware. Marvellous!
Knitted zombies - cult movie Shaun Of The Dead re-enacted with
woolly dolls. Time. hands, etc.
Giving it all away - Sun are putting their money where their corporate
Adventures in synthetic biology - the hot new topic of artificial life
in comic strip form.
No Xmas for Sony - I don't see this boycott catching on, but it has to
be worth a try...
Government waste - this DVD intended to promote the ID card scheme
costs £290 per disc!
Archaeopteryx had dinosaur feet - even more evidence of the link
between reptiles and birds.
hijacked - the latest cyber-crime, having your RSS feed held to
My central heating has been fixed at last, so as I
write this I'm nicely warm but also feeling somewhat chastened. The
engineer arrived this morning and I pointed him to the boiler in its
little cupboard in the hall - and while I was turning around to close the
front door again he fixed the problem! It seems that an overheat
protection thermostat in the boiler's electronic controller had tripped
for some reason, and all it took was to press a little reset button
underneath the unit for everything to burst into life again. As it happens
I actually have the technical manual for the system, but it's full of
manifold pressures and flow rates and wiring schematics and contains very
little information appropriate to the end user - although the reset button
is shown on the diagrams now I know to look for it there isn't
anything that says "if things go wrong just press this button"...
It was a sobering experience, as after two decades of
fixing computer problems with a few keystrokes or a couple of
mouse-clicks, only to have the user exclaim "well, if I'd known it was
that easy...!", it's rare for me to find myself on the receiving end
of such treatment. I've been without proper heating or hot water for
almost a week because I didn't know enough to press a button, and I think
the £45 he charged me for doing that (I guess he took pity on my abject
ignorance, as he tested the various thermostats quite extensively and gave
the rest of the system a once-over as well while he was there) was worth
the lesson. As a hardware and systems geek this stuff shouldn't be quite
so impenetrable to me as it apparently is, and I'm resolved to learn more.
the baleful gaze of New York's formidable attorney general, Eliot
Spitzer, has fallen on Sony once more following their little adventure in
DRM. Spitzer has already sued the company once over a classic "payola"
scam, which they settled earlier in the year for $10 million, and now it
seems that there's a good chance of his state
joining Texas in filing suit over the rootkit as well.
And while I'm on the subject, thanks to the high number
of people making comments comparing file sharing to car theft in
that thread - in spite of the
the media industry, downloading or sharing copyrighted music and movies is
not "stealing", it is not "theft". Those acts are when you take something
away from the rightful owner, leaving him without it, and that hardly
applies to making a digital copy of a wholly intangible item whilst
leaving the original intact. Depending on the circumstances it may (or may
not!) be illegal, and may (or may not!) be immoral, but it isn't
The correct term, of course, is "copyright
infringement", but the RIAA and the MPAA are deliberately using these
inaccurate but highly emotive terms in an attempt to whip up public
support for their case. Fortunately, it appears that the vestiges of
support they have are being eroded by the fallout from their continued
campaign of litigious bullying against children, grandparents, disabled
people, etc - which, amazingly, shows no sign of slowing down. Also worth
noting is the moral low ground taken by the industry itself -
for all its hectoring words about right and wrong, every month brings
further news of
faked-up movie reviews, and recording artists
royalties. For people throwing so many stones, an unusually large part
of their houses seem to be made of glass...
Good grief, it's December already!
80 - a bunch of right wing loons (connected with the infamous SCO
Group, as it happens) has started a campaign to have Internet pornography
moved away from the standard HTTP port 80. Anyone who understands
computers and porn companies will know immediately how pointless that is
Tesco spamming - Tesco is blitzing the UK with spam e-mails,
dispatching between 16 and 20 million every month to four million
consumers. Last month they sent out 44 separate mail shots, each promoting
a different offer, while their competitors in the marketplace sent out ten
Pentium - it looks as if Intel will be retiring the venerable
"Pentium" trademark, after four (or maybe five, if you count the current
dual core chips)
generations stretching over more than twelve years. [Brushes
away a tear] Ah, but I remember the launch as if it was only
good, three cores bad - Tom's Hardware has created a bizarre three-CPU
monster using a dual-core and a single-core chip on an Athlon SMP
motherboard - and as one might expect the results are mixed: it's fast,
but it's certainly not the most stable of systems...
RIAA lawsuit nears - in spite of the astounding number of lawsuits
brought against alleged file-sharers, the RIAA's bullying tactics have
dissuaded almost everyone from challenging their claims. One courageous
woman is standing up to them, however, and she's about to have her day in
Use of lie detectors to spread - a new walk-through airport lie
detector will ask airline passengers a series of yes/no questions (lasting
around a minute) about their intentions and analyse their replies for
voice stress, and the success rate claimed for the system is high. As
usual, I am extremely dubious.
And finally, at some
3rd rate geek blog I've never heard of (apparently an offshoot of THG),
a brainless article on women and computer pet simulations, in which we're
"Women seem to have an almost mystical bond with
animals. Can science truly account for the affinity that women have with
dogs, horses and cats?"
Oh, please! But the author doesn't stop there,
unfortunately, as in
companion article on horror games, we're assured that:
"Women will go places that men find fearful - such
as exploring their dreams or the occult. Women know how to suspend
disbelief and let things happen, like believing in intuition. Men are
often freaked out by intuitive things that women can do quite naturally.
No one really knows why, but women are drawn to mystery-related
entertainment. Women like surprises."
The author of this twaddle is a woman, it seems,
but it's clear to me that she massively over-estimates her ability to
speak for the majority (or even a significant minority) of her sex.
Of all my female friends I'm only aware of one with any noticeable
fondness for animals (and she wouldn't have any interest at all in
imitation ones), and none at all who like "horror games"... So there you
Meanwhile, back at the stats... As predicted, another
gentle climb over last month's figures, helped along a little by
a link from Avedon when she was guest blogging at Kevin Drum's high
profile Political Animal column at
The Washington Monthly. That
caused a spike in the stats sharp enough to impale myself on, which is
always fun - even if only briefly. :-)
I'm not expecting much of an increase next month, now, as
I have the feeling that I'm approaching my natural level again now, but
there's always the unexpected. We shall have to wait and see...