Memo to Cisco: You can't put the cat back in the
bag. The details of your IOS vulnerability are
in the public domain now, and persecuting the person who released them
is foolish, bloody-minded and counter-productive. Your hardware forms the
backbone of most public and private networks these days, but you do
have competition and it wouldn't take much for techies to start feeling
the urge to abandon products made by a company that would rather punish
security researchers than fix the flaws they find.
Meanwhile, I'm currently re-reading Niven and
Pournelle's SF novel "Oath Of Fealty" (the origin of the popular meme
"think of it as evolution in action"), and have just come across a
curious failure of the imagination. The story is set in a giant arcology,
providing homes and workplaces to a quarter of a million people, the
management of which interacts with the all-pervasive central computer
system via brain implants. And yet -
MacLean Stevens kept his emergency phone on a
fifty-foot cord rooted in the central hall. That way he could move
around the house while tied up on the phone. In particular he could
reach the coffee cup and the liquor cabinet, and when he got calls on
that phone he often needed to.
When the novel was written in the early eighties,
wireless and mobile phone technology was in its infancy but definitely a
coming thing, and for two such seasoned and technical SF authors, who
could write convincingly about direct human-computer communication, to
fail to envision a cordless home phone is just a little peculiar!
Elsewhere, while I was looking for reviews of the book
I came across the rather awkwardly-named
Technovelgy, a site
linking various technologies (both current and future) with the science
fiction stories that first introduced them. The individual entries
themselves are actually rather brief and trivial, but in spite of that
it's a fairly comprehensive collection and acts as a good jumping-off
point for further research elsewhere.
The UK electronics supplier Maplin had cans of spray
stuff on special offer, last week, and as I needed some more air duster I
grabbed a can
of label remover to make up the numbers. I've always been a touch
dubious about stuff like this, as I'm used to using naphtha lighter fluid
for this sort of thing and it didn't seem likely that an expensive spray
can of unknown hydrocarbons would actually be significantly better. This
is not the case, however, as whatever is in there (and research has not
shed any light on this as yet) is actually very good at loosening
label adhesives, and as it doesn't evaporate quite so fast there's less of
a tendency to leave a film of glue behind it as it does. Be warned,
however, that it is actually rather a corrosive substance on some types of
plastic, and should definitely not be sprayed liberally over the general
area as I've just done - it ruined the clear front of the CD jewel case I
was working on, and a couple of splashes seem to have left little marks on
my keyboard as well. Used carefully, though, it really is the business.
I didn't notice at the time, but
they also sell
one with what is described as "a pleasant citrus smell", which might
be worth trying as the brand I've got reminds me strongly of my salad days
working in a chemicals factory... Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to
open a window. The lights, man, the colours...
Meanwhile, I'm listening to the new CD from the
Kerosene Brothers, a group based on the bluegrass covers band
Hayseed Dixie, and it totally
rocks. Tracks vary from some of the old mountain standards (I have never
heard In The Pines played anything like that!) to new songs written
by the band - principally singer, guitarist, organist and violin player
John Wheeler, evidently a very flexible performer! The music is
technically very accomplished, as it should be considering that the other
musicians include two of
the sons of bluegrass diva Don "Duelling Banjos" Reno - with hindsight
this is obvious on the Hayseed Dixie albums too, but the basic concept of
bluegrass AC/DC and Kiss covers is so outrageous, and the music is so much
fun, that actually the quality of their work is easy to overlook.
Hayseed Dixie are actually mid-way through
an extensive tour
of the UK right now, and tonight are playing at Kingsmead School in
Wiveliscombe, Devon - rather an improbable venue, but then I guess they
are rather an improbable band. Their three current albums, together with
the new Kerosene Brothers CD, only cost me £30 to have shipped over from
the US, and at that price I recommend that you buy them all immediately.
Saddam Hussein got into a fistfight with an unidentified man during
his appearance at a court hearing in Baghdad on Thursday. I have to admit
that I find this rather funny, but it's interesting to see how other
events have overshadowed the hearings in the UK media - when he was
arrested eighteen months ago I was expecting a huge build-up to the trials
but actually whatever is going on is doing so behind the scenes and, apart
from those few lines on Yahoo, at the moment I can't see anything else
Iraqi Special Tribunal at all.
Something else that has been missing from the news
until very recently is the truth about the hapless Brazilian electrician
shot by police in London last week. We were told that he was wearing
unusually bulky clothing, we were told that he jumped a ticket barrier to
escape, and we were told that he was only shot five times... However,
turns out that none of these statements were actually true, and I'm
very much in mind of the immediate aftermath of Watergate, where a
cover-up was so completely inevitable that nobody actually had to order
one. In the case of the British government the automatic response is to
try to spin the news (Translation: lie through their teeth) in
order to minimise the political damage, and then let the truth dribble out
a bit at a time later on, once it can no longer be denied. Even now the
Home Office is prevaricating over whether he had a valid visa or not,
dropping all sorts of hints about the stamp "not being recognised" or
some-such but refusing to actually say whether he was in the country
legally or not! Frankly, these days I trust the UK government about as far
as I could spit a rat, and find the overall experience of dealing with
them about as pleasant.
Meanwhile, it turns out that a law
intended to ban protests in the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament
was worded badly enough that it cannot be applied to the main target of
the legislation. Brian Haw has been protesting against the invasion of
Iraq in Parliament Square for four years, and because his permanent vigil
started long before the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was
passed into law the High Court has ruled that he does not have to apply to
the police for permission to demonstrate there - an application that would
certainly be refused on some spurious grounds, I expect, along with every
other similar request.
See? They're not only bastards, they're incompetent
So it was SysAdmin
Appreciation Day again, and as usual I didn't remember until it was
rather too late. I've put a note in my calendar for 2006, though, so with
any luck next time I can browbeat my users into appreciating me. They will
if they like their data,
that is, and want to keep it in the form to which they have become
accustomed... This year, however, it's still not too late to shoot over to
Three Dead Trolls website and grab a copy of their System
Administrator Song video.
Meanwhile, I'm currently watching the movie
Dr Strangelove, and I
always forget how very, very good it actually is. I'm just (barely)
old enough to remember the end of the cold war, and the paranoia and fear
that was endemic throughout the era, and even though the world is very
different forty years later the film has aged surprisingly well. It
certainly bears re-watching, and there are some fascinating
snippets of trivia at
the IMDb, together with all those
marvellous quotes, to
read through as you do.
Elsewhere, some quick links.
More on that Cisco fuss - at Boing Boing, a summary of the latest
developments in the Lynn/Cisco/ISS/DefCon furore. ISS are still seeking
criminal charges, Cisco are trying to put the cat back in the bag (much
too late, guys!), the FBI are investigating Lynn, and the Defcon and Black
Hat convention organisers are under an injunction. This one is going to
run and run and run...
The danger of iPods - use of MP3 players and the increasing exposure
to music in general may cause full-blown musical hallucinations, according
to a new study. For all the fuss about iPods, though, I can't see that
functionally they're any different from the Walkman cassette players of my
youth, and although I can remember similar warnings back then they didn't
seem to do anyone any harm...
Genuine Advantage cracked - a bypass for Microsoft's online product
authentication has surfaced, only a few hours after the system went live
as a mandatory part of the Windows Update process. The work-around is
absolutely trivial, and it would be safe to assume that Microsoft are
Vint Cerf on the birth of the Internet - at The Register, the
first of a three part interview with Cerf himself. It's a familiar story,
of course, but it's nice to hear it from the horse's mouth and there are a
few interesting little snippets in the footnotes.
connection with the IT industry - also at The Register,
although I have absolutely no idea why, is news of a breakthrough in
female undergarments. The backless thong is a cross between panties and a
pair of garters, and I have to say that, along with most of the other
recent innovations in lingerie, it doesn't actually look very comfortable
And finally, a couple of links for UK victims of
telemarketing phone calls - the
Telephone Preference Service now allows online registration to opt out
of the marketing databases, and
Silentguard claims to allow opting out of the automatically-generated
silent calls that are becoming increasingly widespread - although I can't
understand why the latter isn't already included in the former! Obviously
neither of these will help with call centres that don't comply with the
UK's voluntary guidelines (and in spite of what the Direct Marketing
Association claims, there are a lot of those) and neither will it help
with calls originating from America and Europe - and there are a growing
number of those, too, thanks to the crackdown on sales calls in their
native countries and the impossibility of enforcing this kind of law
across international borders. Still, every little helps...
I'm blogging first thing in the morning, today, rather
than my usual evening session, as I'm currently sat at home watching two
HVAC engineers drilling a 5" hole in the wall of my house to fit a vent
for my new air conditioner. The company is more used to large-scale
installations in offices and commercial premises, and a job this small is
obviously not something they're often asked to carry out, but nevertheless
they're adapting well and the end result is very neat. If you're in the
Essex area, and need aircon work, then I can definitely recommend
JJ Engineering of Dagenham.
The air conditioner itself is an
Amcor PLM 15000EH, and if the rating of 12000 BTU/h (on the new
European standard - 15000 on the old enthalpic rating) is to be believed
it's one of the most powerful single-unit air conditioners I've come
across. Its main selling point for me, however, is the elegant silver and
black styling, the remote control, and of course the blue LCD display
panel... much nicer than boring old white. :-)
Meanwhile, all the news that's fit to 'blog:
Hat holes less severe than Windows - following the publication of a
SANS report, Red Hat are trumpeting the obvious advantages of their
Enterprise Linux server distribution over Server 2003, but they're not
actually comparing like-for-like. For example, many of the flaws
identified by SANS are in the Internet Explorer subsystem, allowing
malicious objects on web pages to attack the client OS in some way - but
how many people actually do any web browsing from a corporate server
system, especially browsing to the sort of sites that are likely to
contain malware? As usual, it's mostly hot air.
Storm over Cisco vulnerability - and talking of security, a generic
weakness has been identified in Cisco's IOS router operating system, and
the former employee of security company ISS that discovered the problem is
now under fire from all sides. Having given Cisco what he considered
plenty of time to fix the problems, Michael Lynn announced that he was
going to reveal full details at the DefCon "black hat" security
conference. As you can imagine, this caused a certain stir, and resulted
in a flurry of discussion which ended up in the scheduled talk being
withdrawn. However, two hours before the scheduled time, Lynn announced
both his resignation from ISS and that he would proceed with his
disclosure as planned - which he did indeed proceed to do. This was
followed by a restraining order from both Cisco and ISS against the DefCon
management, preventing the topic from being discussed further, together
with threats of possible legal action from Cisco against all concerned.
The cat is well and truly out of the bag now, however, and it's safe to
assume that various hacking groups are working hard on an exploit even as
I type this. Scary stuff...
corporate bullying - Virgin have joined the growing number of giant
companies who are targeting tiny little companies over some imaginary
trademark violation, this time threatening Virgin Threads, a site
featuring the work of emerging independent fashion designers. A company
that deliberately attempts to imply some connection with an established
brand in order to trade off their success is obviously in the wrong, but
having looked at the site in question there is clearly no intention of
fraudulent behaviour and it seems very unlikely that anyone would make a
connection with Richard Branson's extremely distinctive branding. The site
owner is fighting back, this time, and the trial is scheduled for
December... Good luck to them!
naming of cats - at Tom's Hardware, news of the alternative
names that Microsoft considered for the OS formerly known as Longhorn,
based on the domains that they registered quietly in the run-up to the
official announcement. As well as the obvious "Windows 7" and variations
thereof, other candidates included "Windows Ruby", "Windows Sapphire" and
"Windows Emerald". I'm not especially fond of "Vista", I have to admit,
but all those gemstones don't really inspire me either. Call me a boring
old fuddy-duddy if you will, but actually I think numbers are good for
this kind of thing...
army gets ray gun for Iraq - V-MADS, the "Vehicle-Mounted Active
Denial System", is a Humvee AFV with an enormous, square microwave
reflector on the roof. Anyone caught in the beam of 95GHz energy it emits
experiences "an intense heating sensation" as the microwaves penetrate
1/64" into the skin, but the weapon is alleged not to cause genuine damage
unless the victim stays in the beam for as long as 250 seconds. However,
there are strong suggestions that eye damage may actually occur long
before that, and there are also doubts over the efficacy of the weapon
itself - covering the body with thick clothes, or carrying a metallic
sheet or even a trash can lid as a shield will significantly reduce the
effects, and it's unclear how well the system will work in rainy or foggy
oconditions where the beam's energy would be absorbed by water in the
atmosphere. And what is a "denial system", anyway - active or otherwise?
Shaving Cream - and finally, a reminder of exactly how artificial the
vast majority of product marketing really is - underneath a badly-applied
label on a can of manly, hunky Gillette Series shaving gel (the same brand
I use, as it happens) is another label revealing the product's true
colours - girly, effeminate Satin Care gel for women. I mean, one knows
intellectually that all these brands and products are pretty much of a
muchness, but to see it revealed so blatantly still manages to raise an
eyebrow or two.
- Ok, look, I know the thing with the baby talking is confusing, so here
it is. Brian the dog can understand Stewie perfectly, but although Lois
can't hear his words, she can understand his moods; she is
his mother, after all. The other family members, and all the other
characters in the series, only understand him when, to quote the classic
Roger Rabbit scene,
it's funny. I hope that's clear now.
More Dell hardware arrived at the office, today, and we
now have a generous pile consisting of four heavyweight 6850 quad Xeon
servers for the core of the SAP system, nine mid-range 2850s for
middleware, app servers and management, six slimline 1850s to act as
domain controllers and other oddments, and a PowerVault 136T library with
six LTO3 tape drives. There's still the SAN hardware to come, and a few
other odds and ends, but that's the bulk of it. They're all cool toys, but
with this project there's no margin for error at all and that really takes
most of the fun out of it...
We've also had an annoying problem with the venerable
Bay ASN router that feeds the leased lines connecting our regional
offices, and as we're currently in the process of moving over to DSL and
MPLS connectivity one of my PFYs has bravely volunteered to shoot off to
Leeds tomorrow to migrate our office there ahead of schedule. Good for
Meanwhile, closer to home, a small handful of random
$100-million lunar tour - space systems manufacturer Energia is
proposing two week space excursion, comprising a week aboard the ISS and
then an lunar flyby. Assuming that they manage to find any takers, the
trips could start in around eighteen months. Thanks to Mike for the link.
A lawsuit waiting to
happen - type some text into the "Logogle" Google logo maker and it
comes out looking like (do I really have to tell you?) a Google logo.
Unfortunately the search giant is extremely protective of its branding,
and I predict that they will not be amused. Via
thoroughly crooked industry - in spite of the music industry's endless
preaching about the evils of file sharing, they themselves are very
far from the moral high ground. The latest culprit to be exposed is Sony
BMG, who have been fined $10 million for a traditional radio payola
on scams - hardware guru Dan Rutter has something of a down on
technology frauds and useless gadgets, and his latest three-page letter
column is devoted to little else. More stupidly pointless audio addons,
engine tuning chips, and one of the truly great domain name scammers.
And finally, talking of useless gadgets, how about
pizza oven? Ah, well, I suppose it could be worse - it could be a USB
The first two consignments of £308,000 worth of Dell
server and SAN hardware arrived today, ready for our upcoming SAP and
Siebel implementation. Bizarrely, although we're taking on plenty of new
developers and analysts of one kind or another, apparently there's no
budget for extra techies to manage the twenty-plus additional servers that
are required. Trying to implement SAP on the cheap is no longer the fatal
mistake that it used to be, as these days there is a veritable army of
expensive consultants waiting to pull a company's ass out of the fire -
but it's stilll a significant risk and in the small hours of the morning,
when sleep is elusive, I foresee this all going horribly, horribly
wrong... And unfortunately I foresee myself getting blamed when it
Meanwhile, it's midweek, so it's time for those random
Loves Eric Raymond - an online comic strip, with Richard Stallman,
Eric Raymond and Linus Torvalds living together as a sort of open source
Odd Couple. Bizarre, but funny in a lawn dwarf sort of way...
Sneaky printers - it is alleged that the US government has persuaded
some printer manufacturers to embed a digital fingerprint in their output
in order to trace counterfeiters. I heard a rumour about this a while ago,
and dismissed it as net paranoia - and I'm still not convinced that
there's anything to it.
- ideal for the disaffected employee, DIY firepower from components that
come readily to hand - this particular design is made from bulldog clips,
a laser pointer, and rubber bands, and can shoot a pencil clean through an
empty soft drink can. Cool...
More very small things -
materials only one
atom thick at the University Of Manchester, a tiny tap that controls
the flow of
individual molecules at UCLA, and in Quebec a lens
fifth as thick as a sheet of paper. None of it is really nanotech,
as yet, but you can tell that we're edging closer all the time.
An antidote to saccharin - as a direct response to the
annoying and insulting "We Are
Not Afraid" site, we now have "I
Am Fucking Terrified"... and frankly any Londoner who isn't at
least a little afraid - whether it's of being blown up by mad
bombers or shot by trigger-happy police - is just plain stupid.
TV recording in bulk - the prototype Promise TV digital video recorder
grabs an entire month's worth of broadcast television, on all available
channels, and stores it on an array of high-capacity hard disks. This
makes a TiVo or my Sky+ box look very trivial, and has a lot of potential.
When geeks are downsized - Joel Schachter, who once worked for Grumman
designing components for the Apollo Lunar Modules, is now a building
inspector in rural Pennsylvania - and he claims that he's having just as
much fun with engineering of a very different kind.
Star Wars models - radio controlled replicas of the Millennium
Falcon, X-Wing and TIE fighters, and others, mostly driven by powerful
electric ducted fan motors. They're impressive projects, and the various
threads have enough details to build your own if you have the (not
arrest - this time in England, where a 24 year old man was found
guilty of "dishonestly obtaining an electronic communications service" and
"possessing equipment for fraudulent use of a communications service". He
was fined £500 and his laptop was confiscated. Very dubious...
A rash of Ph-words - at the Washington Post, news of yet more annoying
IT slang to join the classic "phreaking" and the more recent "phishing"
and "pharming" - "phlooding" turns out to be just a fancy term for a DoS
attack, but it has lead to SANS seeking suggestions for other equally
And, finally, it looks as if
Microsoft may end up in court over their Vista trademark - no
sooner had they announced the name of their upcoming desktop OS (the
server OS is still un-named at this stage) than someone decided to sue
them. It's a bogus suit though, in my opinion, as I really don't see how
anyone could become confused between a PC operating system and a company
providing software and services for small businesses in the Seattle area.
Just remember, children - if your company can't compete on the open
market, maybe you can sue Microsoft instead!
I've been using the shareware image viewer
ACDSee for many
years, but it has been becoming more and more frustrating over the last
few months and today I finally gave up in exasperation. Back at the dawn
of time, when Windows 95 roamed the earth, it was the best on the market,
but over the years the company loaded feature upon feature and today it is
a huge, bloated, fragile application that attempts to be all things to all
men. My experiences with the recent versions have been terrible -
it's slow to start up, slow to move from folder to folder, and crashes
with annoying regularity, usually leaving its database in a somewhat
distressed state when it does. It's not just me, either - there are
hundreds of unfavourable reviews at the
FileForum site saying much the same thing, if often rather less
The company still sells a slightly-reworked flavour of
their version 2 code, now dubbed "ACDSee Classic", but but by modern
standards it's just a bit primitive, lacking support for some of the more
recent file formats and generally looking and feeling a little bit
nineties. I've been using it for the last few months, as even though
there are some flaws it's still significantly better than V6 or V7, but
that's really not saying much and today I finally snapped.
My first thought for a replacement was
IrfanView, a freeware utility that
dates back as far as ACDSee itself. Although I've always been aware of the
name I've never actually used it in anger, and unfortunately ten minutes
experimenting was enough to show that that wasn't going to change. It's a
perfectly competent and feature-rich utility, but it uses separate windows
for the browser and the viewer which is an approach that I find
inefficient and needlessly distracting.
Having uninstalled the hapless IrfanView I cast about
for a replacement, and a good number of disgruntled ACDSee users on the
aforementioned thread on FileForum suggested
XnView instead. It's freeware, which
is always a bonus, and as a relatively new application it seems to have
been heavily influenced by both of the other utilities, taking the best
features of each. It can be configured to use a single window for both
browsing and viewing, but by default it uses multiple tabs in an MDI
window more along the lines of IrfanView. I've tweaked mine into something
very reminiscent of the ACDSee interface, however, which is extremely
convenient as I don't have to overcome the basic habits of a decade or so,
but there is unusual flexibility and another installation of the same
software could look and behave completely differently!
In use it's fast, predictable and well behaved, and so
far I'm sufficiently impressed to have uninstalled the venerable ACDSee
V2.42 that I had dug out of the archives as a stop-gap. There are a few
oddities (apparently you can't move or copy a folder from one location to
another, for example!) but if you want something to replace a certain
utility that is driving you bats, XnView is definitely worth a look -
although you should be prepared to spend quite a while tweaking the
interface before you find just the behaviour you like.
Meanwhile, elsewhere... The excellent
Spy Blog has a comprehensive rebuttal of a disappointingly
inaccurate story that appeared in The Sunday Times earlier this month,
allegedly describing the methods that MI5 use to track terrorist suspects
but actually containing a disgraceful number of technical, legal and
And talking of fear and lies, at the equally excellent
PledgeBank a second
pledge has started to encourage people to refuse to sign up for the
increasingly hyped ID cards.
The first pledge for this cause reached its target of 10,000 people
and £100,000 for a legal defence fund - this one is aiming for 50,000
people and £1million, both of which are significant numbers.
Microsoft is in the news again today, firstly for
another stage in their highly dubious campaign
to patent smileys
and other emoticons, and secondly because it seems that the recently
notorious Anti-Spyware application is actually based on the
tired old Visual Basic 6 runtimes - a technology that Microsoft itself
has withdrawn support for and strongly discouraged other developers from
persisting with. Obviously the app wasn't actually written by
Microsoft, but I'm surprised that they haven't recompiled the code since
their acquisition of the original author, Giant, at the end of last year.
And on the subject of blasts from the past - some
purchasers of the new "Electric 80s" compilation album have been
getting a bargain
when shop staff mistakenly scanned the large barcode that forms the iconic
eighties cover art instead of the real barcode on the back of the
packaging. This has caused all sorts of confusion, it seems, and the
record company has already rushed a new version of the album out. I won't
be buying this one myself, though, as from the look of it I actually have
most of the original albums already! I didn't realise I had quite so much
electropop until I started looking just now!
On a rather different note,
an article at Wired suggests that Google's planned e-payments
system could find its niche in the area that market-leader PayPal refuses
to exploit - they spurn porn web sites and other adult services as part of
the overall squeaky-clean moralistic attitude of parent company eBay, but
this represents a huge revenue stream that is just waiting to be
lured away from the expensive credit card companies that service the genre
And finally, a purveyor of exotic bed linen that really
goes that extra mile...
The Sheets doesn't just sell the usual satin and silk sheets and duvet
covers, but also velvet, latex, PVC and leather. Some of it looks
wonderfully luxurious (if a little chilly until it warms up!) but of
course the prices are something of a deterrent.
One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
When she was just small
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your Head
Feed your Head!"
- Grace Slick
You know, that song is forty years old, now!
Isn't that remarkable?
Meanwhile, closer to home:
under pressure - Tom's Hardware Guide is destruction-testing
power supplies, and while some of them are dying in various horrible ways
there are also some real star performers - PCP&C's monster Turbo-Cool 850
SSI managed to survive an astounding 1060 Watts. On a related note, an
complex) thread at [H]ard/OCP gives further guidance on
choosing a PSU with the right capacity for your system.
From the "How Fings Werk" department - one of the most annoying
and flawed descriptions of the components of a computer that I've come
across in ages. I really hope it's supposed to be a joke.
Microsoft back in court again - and this time they're the plaintiff,
suing Google and a former MS executive who has defected to the company to
head their new China R&D center. Microsoft's
official statement is short and sweet, but essentially they're seeking
damages and an injunction upholding various non-disclosure clauses from
And talking of Microsoft, the marketing
name for Longhorn
has been announced, and it turns out to be the rather uninspiring
"Windows Vista". The initial beta schedule has been revealed, too -
Beta 1 will be released on August 3rd, and Beta 2 is scheduled for
sometime early in 2006.
warranties creeping back up - Western Digital have finally joined
Maxtor and Seagate in extending their warranty periods to three years for
desktop and laptop models and five years for enterprise disks. All the
manufacturers cut the warranty length drastically a few years ago, but
this caused a crisis of consumer confidence when people assumed
(correctly) that there was a risk of the designed lifespan being reduced
Top 10 Internet
fads - CNet has published a list of the popular online fads of the
last few years, including the Hampsterdance, All Your Base, Apple's
"Switch" ads, Jib-Jab and the Dancing Baby... but Caesar at
Ars.Technica disagrees with most of their choices.
are lying bastards - the number of legal music downloads has tripled
so far this year, and so the music industry enforcers are claming a
victory for their bullying tactics. However, they make no mention of the
massive popularity of the iPod, for example (when the European iTunes site
opened it sold 800,000 tracks in the first week alone), or the huge growth
in the number of online music vendors - three times as many (where have I
heard that figure before?) as there were this time last year.
over vapour - erstwhile ISP Be has announced rough pricing for their
much-publicised 24MBit unbundled broadband service. Somewhere between £25
and £30 per month will buy you an uncapped ADSL2+ pipe with a free
Thompson wireless router thrown in for good measure. Am I alone in
suspecting that this service will never materialise in anything close to
the form advertised? Just because it
Sweden does NOT mean it will work in the UK... Some of our local loop
telephone cabling is made of aluminium, for Bob's sake!
And, finally, for those who really want to
spread their weblog far and wide - Florida company MindComet is
offering to transmit RSS blog feeds into space in order to attract the
attention of aliens. I've reading Niven and Pournelle's
now, and somehow I don't think I'll be singing up, myself...
I am very good at paying too much for DSL. In fact, I
do it better than anyone else I know.
My first DSL provider was the ISP
formerly known as Cix, now acquired
by GXN and trading under the Pipex banner. They were one of the very first
companies to offer DSL, after British Telecom themselves, and their
pricing structure reflected this - it started at the merely outrageous,
and went up from there. I'm not quite sure why I stuck with them as long
as I did, but inertia played a big part - for the last year or so I was
constantly on the point of moving house, and there didn't see much point
in changing providers until the move was finalised.
Once I finally did move, last autumn, I chose Zen
Internet because of their consistently excellent scores in the
ADSLguide league tables and
their widespread reputation for good customer support - something that
seemed extremely attractive after the years in the wasteland that was
Cix/Nextra/Telenor/GXN/Pipex/whatever. (Just working out who one was
talking to from one week to the next was enough of a problem in itself!)
At the time I signed up Zen were clearly one of the more expensive
providers, but I was aware that the competition was nipping at its ankles
and I didn't expect that to last forever.
Since then, however, things in the UK DSL market have
moved very quickly indeed. To begin with, BT has reduced the wholesale
cost of their lines to the ISPs on a number of occasions, and the ISPs
themselves have been falling over each other to pass the cost cuts on to
the end users - to the point where most providers don't even bother with
the old entry level 512Kbit lines at all, instead offering 2Mbit across
the board, with varying levels of download capping imposed to
differentiate the higher cost options. Existing users on slower
connections have generally been upgraded for free, and for light users
such as my friend Avedon the last few
months have seen her PlusNet line boosted from 512Kbit to a generous 2Mbit
with no real drawbacks at all!
On the whole, Zen have flaunted this trend. They still
offer pipes as low as 256Kbit, and although in May they announced
for their home DSL packages, the "Office" packages with the 20:1
contention ratio have stayed firmly at the cost of an arm and a leg. This
general approach is a little unexpected, perhaps, but they have worked
very hard to differentiate themselves from the great unwashed mass of the
other ISPs as a "business class" provider and presumably they consider
this a valid justification for the high charges.
What is really amazing, however, is the attitude of the
users, which has made me start to suspect some subtle brainwashing
technique being delivered subliminally along with the TCP packets. I know
that sounds far-fetched but it's really the only explanation, as it is
clear from the forums on Zen's own support site, and the
busier Zen forum at ADSLguide, that Zen's customers don't actually
want to pay less for their services. In fact, some of them would even
like to pay more!
I dip in and out of both forums every week or two, just
to keep in touch, and pretty much every time I visit there is
a post from somebody (often a newcomer to the forums) asking whether
Zen have plans to match the other ISPs cutting their prices - even a
little. This brings a storm of outrage from the forum regulars, who
immediately leap to Zen's defence and stomp the hapless complainer into
the ground: If he doesn't like Zen, why doesn't he
just leave? Why did he
sign up in the first place? Isn't he
happy paying extra given the service he gets? How dare he even
raise the subject in the first place? By this time the original
poster has probably left in frustration, recognising a lost cause, but
this doesn't stop the thread running on for dozens of even hundreds of
posts - many of which are, if not directly abusive, at least sarcastic or
acerbic to the point of rudeness.
Now, Zen must absolutely love this - they needn't
defend their high pricing themselves, but merely have to announce that
there will be no changes and leave all the justification to their loyal
users. They should be warned, however - long experience of online
communities has shown that ardent fans such as these will put up with a
great deal from the object of their worship, defending it long past any
common sense... but when they have finally been pushed beyond
endurance they turn into the most bitter of enemies. I'm mindful of my
problems with Area 51 Airsoft back
in 2004, where after a year of being viciously slammed on forums worldwide
for daring to criticise the company, I was amazed to find myself being
thrust to the vanguard of what can only be described as the
digital version of a lynch mob. It
So I have two pieces of advice for Zen. Firstly, drop
your prices - just a little. It won't harm your standing in the market as
a "professional ISP" one little bit, and may even tempt a few more people
to sign up. You're losing both existing and potential customers to Demon,
themselves far from a cheap provider, who are viewed as equally
business-orientated (they are UK's first ISP, after all, and are
backed by telco THUS) but rather more competitive right across the board.
Secondly, and possibly more important... Don't leave
the chore of answering forum complaints about your pricing policy to third
parties. Partly because it makes it look as if you don't really care, and
partly because in the absence of a clear official statement the fan club
turns into a pack of rabid dogs, savaging people who are supposed
to be paying you money - and that can't be productive in the long term.
I've managed to spend around £300,000 on Dell server
and SAN hardware, this week, and all that effort has left me too worn down
to do more than recycle a handful of random news links...
executive - all that new hardware is destined for our upcoming SAP
installation, so where better to start than news that the software company
is seeking a very particular type of director, with at least ten years
experience in an "irrelevant" industry and no urge to travel. I wish them
The Frog - if you find yourself gritting your teeth or covering your
ears when you see the ubiquitous adverts for Jamster's "Crazy Frog" ring
tones, don't miss this opportunity to wield a baseball bat where it will
do the most good. Very satisfying indeed...
Home delivery damages e-commerce - the only remaining difficulties
with shopping online involve the delivery process itself, according to a
new group that is trying to come up with recommendations and solutions to
cure some of the problems. I have to say that my own experiences mostly
bear this out.
Advice - I'm still trying to decide whether this is a serious advice
page or an elaborate joke, as it seems to be about equal parts of each.
Take a look, and see what you think. Thanks to Ros (who seems to think
it's the latter) for the link.
Fatalities rise in speed camera hotspots - recent figures published by
Motorcycle News magazine suggest that fatal road accidents are more common
in areas where many speed cameras have been deployed, threatening the
credibility of the government's desperate rebranding as "safety cameras".
little robots - it may be smaller than most of the competition, at
only around ten inches tall, but this Swedish robot prototype has an
impressive 22 degrees of freedom, stereoscopic vision, speech, and a
neural network supporting face recognition and tracking. Not too shabby!
Greasemonkey drops its trousers - a nasty flaw has emerged in the
popular Firefox DHTML browser extension, such that access can be gained to
any file on the client's hard disk, and unusually, this applies to either
the PC or Mac platform. A fix is expected in another few days.
Dark Blade by G69T - on the Bit-Tech forums, a pair of
extremely impressive hand-built cube cases. It's amazing what access to a
few pounds of aluminium alloy and a few hundred thousand pounds
worth of computerised lathes and milling machines can produce. Beautiful
IT pros need
a cuddle - a new study from SkillSoft suggests that more than half of
IT staff don't feel valued by their employer, but that actually they are
often held in high regard by colleagues. The Register suggests that glum
techies need a cuddle, though, and I can't argue with that.
faster than XP - the first beta of the long-anticipated OS is drawing
near, and Microsoft is starting to drop tantalising hints. Among the
improvements claimed are 15% faster application launching, 50% faster
system startup, and 50% fewer reboots required after updating. Gosh!
as slow as a slug - the database manufacturer is being roundly
criticised for not having patched a series of security vulnerabilities
almost two years after they were first warned about them, and in
desperation the company that discovered the problems has finally made the
full details public.
for WinZip? - together with the original PKZip that inspired it,
archiving utility WinZip is probably the most pirated shareware
application of all time. That could be set to change, however, as the
struggling manufacturer is now receiving funding and advice from the
notorious Vector Capital.
Google the Moon -
to celebrate today's anniversary of the first manned moon landing, Google
Maps is showcasing an annotated map of the area of the six landing sites.
If you zoom in all the way - well, try it and see. It's funny the first
time, but really I'd rather have an extra level of detail.
Arch spammer surrenders his crown - self-styled spam king Scott
Richter has changed his ways, earning his removal from the Spamhaus
blacklist after six months of sending only confirmed opt-in messages.
Stiff legal action by New York state and Microsoft can be thanked for
this, it seems.
UK regulator toothless against spam - the fight against spam in
England is not going so well, however, as the Office of the Information
Commissioner has received around 600 spam complaints in the past 12 months
but it has taken no legal action in part because its powers are
Pakistani geek girl - at the tender age of 9 Arfa Karim Randhawa
became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, although there may
be competition from India with claims of at least one 8 year old MCP - and
given the intense rivalry between the two countries one wonders what will
Indian porn drive
makes audience sit up and notice - New Delhi police who raided an
illegal sex cinema paraded the customers out into the street and forced
them to do sit-ups before making them vow never to watch pornography
again. You know, I really don't think that will help...
Arcade on GTA Hot Coffee - the controversy over the semi-secret
scenes in GTA San Andreas receives the PA treatment, but as usual
words of wisdom to back up the strip. There's certainly something
wrong with the ratings system when the only difference between the
"Mature" and "Adult" categories is the length of the content in
Regular readers of Epicycle will know that I've been
having difficulty finding a
suitable power supply to replace the noisy PCP&C unit in the new water
cooled chassis, as finding a quiet and visually appealing EPS12V supply is
hard enough, without also needing one rated at 600W or more!
I arrived at this alarmingly high figure partly from
the perceived wisdom of the various modding forums, and partly from a
selection of online
calculators - when one takes
into account the dual Xeon CPUs, the four SATA hard disks, two DVD drives
and a VXA tape drive, the water cooling hardware, and all the various
lights, fans, gizmos and gadgets... well, one of the online calculators I
tried simply couldn't display that high!
However, over the last few weeks I've noticed a gradual
emergence of obviously knowledgeable techies suggesting that most people
drastically over-estimate even the peak power requirements of their
system, let alone the power used under regular working load, and although
I discounted this to begin with (I suspect myself of secretly wanting
an 800W PSU!) the seeds of doubt started to grow. I wasn't alone in being
dubious, as for obvious reasons the manufacturers have encouraged us all
to think that we need to upgrade to an even bigger, more exotic power
supply ever time we add a new stick of memory, but the simple advice to
doubters on the forums has been to buy a plug-in power meter and see for
A Watt" meter that is most often recommended isn't available in a 240V
version for use in England, but I tracked down an equivalent (it may even
be made by the same anonymous Chinese factory, given the remarkable
similarity in appearance) at old-faithful electronics supplier
Maplin, for an extremely reasonable £12.49.
Having seen the theory espoused so frequently, of late,
I was not dreadfully surprised when I plugged it in and discovered
that even after trying quite hard I couldn't get the reported power
consumption to go much above 330W. That's right - the whole thing is
drawing rather less than 1½ Amps, which is not really very much at all!
Even allowing for gross inaccuracy on the part of the power meter, and
equally gross lies on the part of the manufacturers, I don't need anything
like the 600W-plus hardware I've been looking at so far. Suddenly there
are a lot more options to pore over, and because in the 500W region
of the market a greater proportion of the units on offer are designed for
home enthusiasts rather than servers, they tend to be both elegant and
quiet instead of being
massive grey bricks with 40dB fans.
Bit-Tech, a useful summary of all the various techniques for
keeping the cables inside a PC neat and tidy - useful tips, but in my
opinion braided sleeving is really the only way to go...
An extremely clever keyboard - each keycap is a tiny OLED colour
display, allowing the keyboard to be completely customised for particular
users, or applications, or even just changing moods. It's still just a
prototype, but I have the feeling that the idea is going to be huge.
[Update: More pictures
Holding back the waves - the new Harry Potter novel has
already been pirated extensively, it seems - firstly by a collaborative
scanning project, coordinated via IRC, that has resulted in
high-quality e-book being made available via various underground
servers; and secondly as what is apparently
a very well-produced
audiobook, available via equally dubious channels. Pundits suggest
that this wouldn't have happened (or, at least not happened so amazingly
fast) if Rowling has not been so concerned about piracy that she
refused to allow official e-book or audiobook versions of the novel...
something of a
minor scandal brewing, at present, over Microsoft's definition of
spyware. The beta of their AntiSpyware product has been generally fairly
well received, and I've been using it myself to supplement Lavasoft's
venerable Ad-Aware and relative
Search & Destroy.
Recently, however, they have chosen to change the
classification of software from Claria, who in their original guise as
"Gator" virtually invented the entire adware industry (their so-called
"Precision Time & Date Manager" is still something of a bane to gullible
users), along with equivalent malware from 180Solutions, WhenU, New.net,
eZula TopText, and Webhancer - all names that make me groan out loud when
I see them in the list of installed programs on a home PC on which I'm
working. Although earlier versions of AntiSpyware flagged these
applications to be removed or quarantined, the recent releases now
recommend that they are just ignored - really not a safe option
considering the damage they can do, especially en masse!
It's not clear exactly why they have done this -
initially there was some shrill speculation that they were intending to
acquire Claria, but this doesn't seem to have amounted to anything and was
in any case extremely dubious. Claria's business model consists of
tricking people into installing software that they don't actually want
and then using that software to deliver a flood of pop-up adverts, and
it's hard to see what interest any of the company's assets could be to a
company like Microsoft - and given that in any case they wouldn't have
intended to acquire all the other companies that have been reclassified, I
think that idea can safely be discounted.
Actually, it seems more likely that this is a political
decision, stemming from Microsoft's involvement in the rather bizarre
Anti-Spyware Coalition, a group that also includes AOL, Computer
Associates, Lavasoft, McAfee, Symantec, EarthLink and Hewlett-Packard.
These companies are normally on the side of the consumer when it comes to
malicious software and, indeed, both Microsoft and AOL have launched very
successful lawsuits against adware and spyware manufacturers. However, the
Anti-Spyware Coalition was apparently formed to publish a standard
definition of spyware that seems merely to insulate companies such as
Claria from any accusations of misbehaviour, giving them an official seal
of legitimacy that is absolutely the last thing that they should
have. This is NOT a good thing, and it's disappointing to see such big
names involved in what is basically a whitewash.
Microsoft's response to the complaints (what they describe as having
"received some questions" must surely have been considerably more
than that!) is brief, obscure and unhelpful. However, whatever the reason
for their decision, it seems rather unlikely that they will change their
mind (Microsoft do not make a habit of changing their mind, it has to be
said) and if this policy of pandering to malware authors does continue it
casts serious doubts over the value of their AntiSpyware app.
Meanwhile, Dan is
pontificating on The Future
- he favours Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display (SEDs) and
holographic micro-projectors for the next generation display technologies,
and software-defined radio (not something I'd heard of, before!) for
all-purpose broadband wireless communications. Fascinating stuff.
My mother sent me a newspaper clipping a few days ago,
and although it actually dates from April it didn't get much news coverage
at the time and still seems very relevant given the current Home Office
proposals to ban everything
down to and including water pistols.
Following an appeal against a conviction for carrying a
"bladed instrument" under the Criminal Justice Act, the High Court has
ruled that even
the humble butter knife can be an offensive weapon. The defence
counsel argued that the knife in question had no handle, no edge and no
point, and so could hardly fall foul of a law intended to cover dangerous
The justices disagreed, however, stating "I would
accept that a sharp or pointed blade was the paradigm case - however the
words of the statute are unqualified and refer to any article that has a
To quote Charles Dickens - "If the law says that, the law is an idiot".
The deadly butter knife. Beware...
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a rather appealing toy launched
recently, and is available in UK shops now. Designed by the same company
that made the popular RoboSapien robot toy, the new
Roboraptor may be a little
late to cash in on the dinosaur craze but is impressive all the same - it
stalks, walks and runs; bristles with contact, sonic, optical and
infra-red sensors; has three different "moods" which influence its
response to external stimuli; and even bites. I do kinda want one...
new version of RoboSapien itself is about to be launched, and it looks
equally impressive - it can lie down and stand up again, distinguish
between different colours and sounds, interface with and control the
Roboraptor and Robopet toys, pick up and carry objects the size and weight
of a beer can (I wonder what use that could be...?) and even throw
lighter objects a distance of up to ten feet! This is nothing compared
with the third version, however, due to launch sometime around 2007. For a
start, it will be around three feet tall, which opens up a whole new realm
of possible activities thanks to the increases in strength and leverage
that size will bring, and is expected to be completely controlled by
spoken instructions. Cool, indeed!
Dell shuts down customer service forum - the PC manufacturer has
joined the growing list of companies who have realised that the mass of
complaints on their support forums are making them look bad, and so, just
like most of the others, have decided to shut down the forum rather than
fixing the problems highlighted there. Shame...
pulse propulsion - apropos of nothing much, I just happened to be in
Wikipedia the other day (somewhat to my surprise, it is growing into a
seriously significant and useful resource) and came across their entry
on atomic spaceships. I'm still reading
George Dyson's excellent account of Project Orion, but the Wikipedia entry
discussed the various other approaches to the problem and is extremely
Things that go bang in the night - and talking of nuclear bombs, the
60th anniversary of the "Trinity" atomic bomb test was yesterday, and the
Simnuke organisation marked the occasion by setting off a sophisticated
biodiesel incendiary device carefully designed to look like the classic
mushroom cloud. It used six large fans to produce a column of flame
hundreds of feet high, which much have been extremely impressive.
Hackers 0wn Mozilla site - last weekend a site run by the Mozilla
foundation and used to promote the Firefox web browser was compromised and
briefly used as a vehicle to distribute spam email. Given that the open
source evangelists are constantly bleating about how their development
model makes security vulnerabilities a thing of the past, they ought to be
mortally embarrassed that the web sites of the major systems companies are
apparently so prone to break-ins...
Oracle pricing a comedy of fractions - unlike most other OS and
application manufacturers, who license their software per physical CPU
chip, Oracle have been determined to charge per core or per execution
engine, effectively doubling the costs for the recent dual-core CPUs in
comparison to their competition. They seem to have relented just a little
now, but the formula used for calculating the number of licenses required
for a particular system is thoroughly Byzantine and bizarre.
The old VCR on the television in my bedroom made a
funny noise and refused to eject a tape, today, and when I opened it up to
coax it along it actually exploded, with springs and cogs and little
rollers flying everywhere. It looks as if some kind of creeping plastic
fatigue had spread through the mechanics, and once one joint let go the
rest followed in short order. Once I'd collected my eyebrows from the
ceiling I started looking for a replacement, and discovered (with no great
surprise) that VCRs are actually something of a dying breed, with the only
ones worth spending any money on being the high-end SVHS units that would
be thoroughly wasted on the occasional use I'd put one to.
Some further browsing showed that one could obtain a
combination TV / DVD / VCR for only a little more money, and although I've
been fairly disparaging about those in the past a check at my favourite AV
reviews site, What
Video, suggested that these days some of them are really rather good.
After that it didn't take much effort to narrow the relatively slim choice
down to the
Toshiba VTW2187, readily available from most of the high street
Unlike my old television, however, the Toshibas don't
come with a stand, and I'm currently vacillating wildly between a wall
bracket and a traditional cantilever stand.
Conrad (a German company
newly entered into the UK market and competing head-to-head with
old-timers Maplin and
CPC) has a good range of the
former, and as I type this I'm veering towards one of their offerings.
There's a lot to be said for something
quick and simple (and which can't drop your new hardware onto the
floor if it feels bloody-minded) however, and I'm still torn. Isn't it
typical of a geek to spend more time choosing a mounting bracket than the
Meanwhile... I've been telling friends for several
years that the animated SF comedy series
is not just another mindless cartoon, but instead something rather more
complex, classier and better thought out, and the frame above rather
illustrates my point.
The series is absolutely stuffed with
science fiction in-jokes, and any SF fan will have no difficulty in
recognising the last two options on the remote control wielded by the evil
owner of Mom's Friendly Robot Company in the "Mother's
Day" episode - a direct allusion to Damon Knight's classic short story
"To Serve Man", winner of the 1951
Retro Hugo Award
(the "Retros" are not something I'd heard of until today!) but
perhaps more famous as an episode of
The Twilight Zone.
The frame is only on the screen for a tiny fraction of
a second (I had to work quite hard to freeze it to be captured) and
couldn't possibly be read by anyone who wasn't actually looking for it -
it's a fine example of the attention to geeky detail lavished on the
series by the writers and creators, a surprising number of whom have
degrees in maths and the hard sciences.
Futurama is also the only cartoon I've seen with a
single coherent plot line running through all four seasons, and moreover
it's a relatively sophisticated plot line at that - Fry, the hapless hero,
travels forwards and backwards through time in order to (largely
unwittingly) save the universe, becoming his own grandfather along the way
(rather evocative of Robert Heinlein's classic story "All
You Zombies") and eventually winning the heart of Leela, the girl of
his dreams. Although the majority of the episodes stand alone to one
degree or another, once you're familiar with the series you can see how
they build towards the unusually moving climax. Randomly chosen highlights
include marvellous pastiches on the movies Fantastic Voyage,
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Titanic, any number of
Star Trek references, a handful of wonderful songs, and guest appearances
from Beck, The Beastie Boys, The Harlem Globetrotters and the head of
The series is being repeated extensively on the UK
satellite channels at present, but if you're a fan it's well worth
splashing out on the DVDs. They're available on Amazon for the usual arm
and a leg, but I found mine on eBay for only a handful of fingers.
Yat-Kha CDs arrived today,
which took me rather by surprise as I hadn't realised that their
distribution company is based in London and was expecting a much longer
wait while they shipped from somewhere foreign! I'm listening to the brand
new Re-Covers disc right now, and it's everything I expected from the
wonderfully bizarre Joy Division track that was my
introduction to the album. Definitely recommended - if you have the same
peculiar and eclectic tastes that I do, along with a willingness to
suspend disbelief. I haven't heard anything like it since
Hayseed Dixie's bluegrass
covers of AC/DC.
Meanwhile, a few quick news links:
MP3's tenth birthday - exactly ten years ago today the German
Fraunhofer Institute announced that it was recommending the extension
"MP3" for files holding audio data encoded using the MPEG standard's Audio
Layer 3 specification, although the specification itself is actually a few
years older. Who would have expected, back then, that so much fuss from
the RIAA and its lawsuits would follow...
Data retention rears its ugly head - although the groundwork for
compulsory data retention was laid by the controversial RIP Act several
years ago, the ISPs and telcos that would have been affected made such a
fuss about how expensive and impractical the proposition was that the
government back-pedalled somewhat. Following the terrorist bombings of the
last few years, however, the UK government is fighting hard to persuade
the European Union to introduce similar laws.
Lego Turing Machine - it incorporates the RCX microcontroller to store
the transition table, so it's not a purely mechanical TM in the classic
style, but it's clear that the electronics are merely there to make the
machine a little more practical and manageable, and that really doesn't
detract from the genius of the design. What a wonderful piece of work!
Mario on physics - I'm speechless at how clever, witty and innovative
this is... 1 player, 2 player, or Physics Tutorial. And while I think of
it, I spotted another wonderful animated thing at Boing Boing, if of
rather a different nature - it's a sort of
Goldberg musical instrument, and although it's not immediately easy to
get anything more than bings and bongs out of it, it
certainly bears some experimentation.
Internet Archive sued - this week's entry in the
Butt-Headed Lawsuit contest is Healthcare Advocates, a Philadelphia
firm that mediates in health insurance disputes. Having lost a lawsuit
they brought against a similarly-named competitor when evidence from the
Wayback Machine was used to prove trademark infringement, they have
decided to sue the Internet Archive on the grounds that their preservation
of the old web pages in question is illegal. This is a spurious claim, I
suspect, but the verdict will set an important precedent anyway.
Dead pixel camouflage - a new technique developed by projection TV
industry founder Barco allows dead and stuck pixels in LCD, OLED and
plasma displays to be masked by adjusting the properties of their
neighbours during the final stages of the manufacturing process. This
could dramatically increase the currently rather disappointing production
yield pf these technologies, especially in the larger screens, which
is bound to be beneficial for the cost to the consumer.
And finally, today's best spam subject line, advertising
(as usual) a porn site: "A woman and
peanut butter". Yummy, a snack afterwards!
I'm still trying to find the right power
supply to replace my rather noisy PC Power & Cooling unit, and today my
travels took me to this review of
Antec's new Phantom 500
at Dan's Data. It's certainly very elegant, and Dan rates it
highly, but even at 500W it probably isn't quite beefy enough for my
system - this
useful calculator suggests I need at least 550W, and that
doesn't take the Koolance hardware into account! One plausible candidate
Thermaltake Pure Power 680W, but in spite of claming to be EPS12V
compliant it seems to be lacking the 8 pin "processor power" connector
that is required by
Intel's SSI specification. Supermicro, the manufacture of my dual Xeon
X5DAL-TG2 motherboard, promises dire events up to and including a rain of
frogs if you attempt to run the board without this additional 12v feed,
and I'm certainly not prepared to take any chances. I've mailed
Thermaltake to ask how their claim of EPS12V compliance can possibly be
true given that they're missing one of the two main characteristics of the
standard, but I really don't expect I'll hear anything useful back from
Right now, this leaves me looking at the
OCZ PowerStream 600, which is technically adequate but possessed of a
lurid green illuminated fan that would not match with the
aesthetics of my case. I could probably perform an emergency fanectomy and
replace it with something more blue, but the idea of hacking around
a brand new $300 power supply, with all the associated flaunting of
warranties that involves, is not terribly appealing. The search
Acrobat Reader security risk - a
vulnerability has been discovered in Adobe's widespread reader software,
and an update has already been released - but you have to spend quite a
while poking around their web site before you'll find the
Students spurn Napster (again) - The University of Rochester is one of
the organisations that forces Napster's subscription service on the
student body on the highly spurious grounds that as they're bound to steal
music anyway the company is only collecting its dues. Once again, however,
the students have voted with their feet and turned to competitors iTunes
and MusicMatch instead, with not a single student admitting to have
downloaded music from Napster itself during the last semester.
Ambulance-chasing bloggers -
The Register fulminates on the tendency for disasters such as the
recent London bombings to generate first a disguise for a new virus, and
then a wave of self-congratulatory blogging about how wonderful, how
enabling, the Internet is for allowing communication in times of crisis.
The Reg is right, too - both suck approximately equally.
Extended History Of The BBS - as mentioned in Epicycle passim,
Tom's Hardware reviews the history of the Bulletin Board Systems
that predated the Internet and the WWW. The three DVDs contain 40 minute
segments on such diverse topics as ASCII art, the hacker culture, BBS
operators and developers, and a lot more besides. It's available from
the maker's own site or, at a
slightly higher price, from Amazon US.
Neither beautiful or true - Dylan Sisson is an artist at computer
animation company Pixar, and in his spare time he draws and paints
"wall-eyed curiosities with big teeth". They're almost the polar
opposite of cute, and in fact some of the are just plain ugly, but somehow
they're really rather appealing in spite of that.
Das virtuelle computermuseum -
another online exhibit of classic computers, focussing mainly on systems
from my salad days in the late seventies and early eighties and including
some of the less common hardware that is usually (and perhaps best)
forgotten - the Epson HX-20 that was advertised as being useable while sat
in the bath, the doomed MSX systems from Sony, Philips and Yamaha, the
"Trash-80" series from Radio Shack, and a lot more. The site is a touch
German (well, Ok, actually it's completely German) but the
pictures bring back fond memories anyhow.
The Coming Boom
- Wired discusses the next big thing in recreational pharmacology, the
female equivalent of the
Cialis and Levitra drugs that boost sexual response in men. Some
progress has already been made using relatively primitive techniques such
as testosterone patches, but it seems that the biochemistry of the female
is far more subtle and sophisticated than for us coarse, hairy men and
researchers are turning to some seriously complicated analytical hardware.
Learning to tell the time - another of those incomprehensible watches
that only hardened software geeks can operate - although even my friend
Mike, a programming guru if ever I saw one, has declined my suggestion of
various binary and hexadecimal offerings in the past. This one has an
equally incomprehensible name, too - "C Version by Twelve 5-9".
Don't you just love the Japanese.
Arrested for stealing Wi-Fi - via Boing Boing, the news that a
Florida man has been arrested for connecting his laptop to an unprotected
home wireless network while sitting outside the house in his car. He's
been charged with unauthorized access to a computer network, which is a
third-degree felony, and although the "crime" seems harmless enough and
many would blame the network's owner for not securing it, I suspect the
courts may consider it equivalent to stealing from a house where the front
door had been left unlocked...
And, finally, still in court - Google Inc has been awarded the rights
to the domain names googkle.com, ghoogle.com, gfoogle.com
and gooigle.com, which were being operated by a Russian
"businessman" who used the misspelled URLs to redirect hapless users to
sites that attempt to download viruses, Trojans and spyware to their
computers. I thoroughly approve of this, as it's a sneaky low-down trick
that even the most technically aware can fall victim too. I'm not too
hundred advertising windows can certainly be a real pain in the neck...
I moved house at least eight months ago,
now, but some of the annoying details are still hanging on and today I've
been making a real push to get them out of the way. The problems all
relate to changing my address with the myriad of companies, organisations
and government departments that want to know where I live (and doubtless
what I did last summer, too), and in a couple of cases the difficulties
seem almost insurmountable.
Although my various credit card issuers
were all perfectly happy to accept a change of address notification in the
form of a letter, as were pretty much all the other companies with whom I
have accounts of one form or another, my bank (possibly the least
important in terms of the actual sums of money involved!) has been rather
more stubborn and now I seem to have got myself into something of a
One of the most popular forms of
identification in the UK at present is the photocard driving license,
which has gradually been replacing the old paper licenses as addresses and
personal details change over time. However, the last time I moved house
the photocards were still optional, and (for much the same reason as I now
oppose the planned UK biometric ID card) I chose to stay with the old
non-photo style. With hindsight, this was not a sensible decision, but I
didn't realise back then that the abject terror of large-scale money
laundering that our financial organisations are now apparently suffering
from would provoke the changes in both law and policy that have rendered
proving one's ID so difficult a few years later.
The other major form of ID is a UK
passport, and as it happens I don't have one of those, either - not
through any great political conviction, this time, but simply because I
hardly ever go abroad! I have a succession of thoroughly-expired short
term "visitor's" passports, but I suspect that any attempts to use those
to prove identity would be doomed to failure.
Changing my address with my bank is
difficult without either a passport or photo driving license, but
armed with sufficient weight of utility bills, credit card statements, tax
notifications, payslips etc etc, today I finally managed to convince them
that I was actually me, and not an international terrorist trying to
assume control of my overdraft as the first step in some fiendish plan to
subvert the western economy by spending money I don't have on cool but
extravagant computer hardware. God knows, I can manage that well enough on
my own, without needing anyone else to help out!
In order to apply for an updated driving
license however, whether in person at a post office or via mail, I really
need a passport. And this is where the fun starts, because in order to
apply for a passport (and I'm very tempted to do that, actually, before
all the biometric nonsense arrives) the best means of identification is
- you guessed it - a driving license. Both the The Passport Office and the
DVLA make some reference to using a birth certificate instead, but both
state that those are not a very solid form of ID (they're probably right,
I have to admit) and so will need additional identification as well -
which takes me right back to step one. I'm not sure how I'm going to
resolve this, except by presenting such a vast mass of other forms of ID
that they're finally forced to admit that even if I'm not Dominic Thomas,
I must have killed him and taken his place so comprehensively that it
actually doesn't matter!
Meanwhile... I've been a fan of Tuvan
throat singing for years, coming to it the traditional way that geeks do
via an interest in the life and times of
Richard Feynman, so when I
saw a reference on
Boing Boing to an unusual example of the genre I was quick to follow
it up. The singer is Albert Kuvezin, one of the first Tuvan musicians to
leave the steppes and capitalise on the Western thirst for world music,
and the song is the old Joy Division track "Love Will Tear Us Apart" -
performed in in the traditional Kargyraa overtone style, accompanied on
equally traditional instruments by his band
By any normal standards this is a
depraved and perverted musical fusion, so of course it appeals to me
greatly, and when I discovered that the rest of the album contains covers
of Motorhead, Kraftwerk, and Captain Beefheart, to name but a few, I was
already reaching for my credit card. While I was at it I picked up copies
of the Yenisei-Punk and tuva.rock CDs, both containing
rather more traditional songs, to replace the bits and bobs acquired over
the years in MP3 format. It's all good stuff.
No regular entry today, as I've been working to finish
the project pages for
Infinity4. I stuck with the next name in the series, in the
end, thanks to my abject failure to design a satisfactory logo based
around the idea of a square root. Maybe next time...
The first phase of the build is complete, now. I still
need to install my
MoJoMeters into the vacant top bay, and fix a couple of glitches with
the floppy drive and internal tape drive, but I've achieved everything
that I planned in the original design. I may still replace the side panels
with either bigger windows, or multiple windows, or even mesh to match the
front bezel, but the factory-fitted option has grown on me and I'm in no
hurry at this stage.
Enjoy! I know I am. :-)
Adventures in tablet land continue, and the thing is
really growing on me. Experiences are somewhat mixed after the first flush
of enthusiasm has worn off, but in spite of a few quirks and quibbles
(many of which disappeared after I learned how to configure the particular
utility or subsystem to match my preferences) the overall verdict is still
The fingerprint recognition is actually far more fussy
that my initial foray last night suggested, as it seems extremely
sensitive to the placement, angle, and motion of the digit in question -
having trained it while slouched on the settee, any attempt to login while
standing or sitting fails completely, and apparently it will only recognise me when I'm
horizontal! It looks as if I'm going to have to spend a while
practicing rolling my fingertip across the sensor in just the right way
before I can reliably use it for authentication.
Another frustration is that
Windows Media Connect, the service that streams and synchronises media
files from a desktop PC to a tablet, will not install on Server 2003 - and
when running on Windows XP, it won't share files on a drive mapped to a
server elsewhere. This makes the technology a bit of a dead duck in my
and as Microsoft's own figures suggest that 30% of their Small Business
Server suite are actually sold to home users it seems to be a
problem that needs addressing. Apparently
the decision to omit support for the server OS was taken because of
the security implications of the UPnP protocols that drive the system, and
won't be addressed until the semi-mythical Longhorn release - but the lack
of support for mapped drives has no such justification and seems just plain silly.
Configuring yet another PC started me thinking, though,
and I suddenly realised how many computers I have at home these days:
my desktop PC, the Dell Latitude laptop, the new tablet, the old dual Pentium II
that acts as domain controller and fileserver, the Compaq SFF PC that runs
the Smoothwall firewall, the Cobalt RaQ web server, and my Tungsten T3
PDA. That comes to four Windows systems, two Linux systems (oh, the shame
of it!) and a Palm, which is bad enough in itself - but I could probably
build another two or three fairly respectable computers out of my stock of spares!
I've worked for companies (although not for a long time,
admittedly) that owned fewer computers that that. I'm hanging my head in
I've been using computers of one type or another since
around 1977, if my memory can accurately stretch back that far, and these
days it takes something quite impressive make me exclaim "cool" out loud -
and it takes something even more impressive to make me say "kewl",
which was the sound I emitted when my new
Computing LE1600 tablet PC connected itself to my wireless LAN and
began downloading from Windows Update. Involuntarily lapses into
l33tspeak aside, it really is an extremely nifty little gadget.
I always read manuals before trying to set up new
systems at the office, but with my own hardware I allow myself the luxury
of diving right in. The learning curve for a first foray into Windows XP
Tablet Edition is quite steep, of course, but after some initial puzzling
over how exactly to press CTRL-ALT-DEL on a device with no keyboard, some
random button pushing revealed that the little round button in the top
left of the tablet has the same effect. Having then logged in, I could
enable the fingerprint reader (the little strip just below the
aforementioned button) for biometric authentication and after that
everything has progressed smoothly. I taught it my voice, I taught it my
handwriting, and I taught it my fingerprints - in fact, it probably knows
more about me now than I do about myself!
With 1.5Gb of RAM I've disabled the pagefile, and
thanks to a 1.5GHz Pentium M/Centrino CPU everything seems to fly along
very speedily direct from memory. The 12.1" screen is actually very small
compared to my 19" Iiyama desktop or even the 15" 1600x1200 monster on my
Latitude C840 laptop, but this is very much a case of horses for courses
and it certainly doesn't feel too cramped in use. The optional "View
Anywhere" wide angle screen is as clear and crisp as everyone said it was,
and apparently it adjusts automatically to the ambient lighting, allowing
seamless transitions from indoors to out.
The whole tablet weighs a touch over 3lbs, according to
Motion, and feels nicely tactile and grippy. I'm handling it a little
gingerly at present, as befits an expensive new toy, but as I become more
familiar with the size and shape I think it will fit the hand extremely
well. Several early reviewers have complained that the port covers on the
pre-release models were annoyingly loose, and that the PC-Card blank
rattled in its socket, but neither of those problems are at all evident
with my unit and the overall impression it gives is of sleek, smooth
Even without a docking station there is an impressive
range of ports to hand - a pair of USB 2.0, PC-Card and SD memory card
slots, DVI-D and VGA video output, IrDA (in case anyone still remembers
it), Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, and of course the 802.11g wireless.
Multimedia is catered for by the usual audio in and out jack sockets, dual
stereo speakers, and an array of three microphones designed for optimum
speech recognition - which certainly seem to work very well, if my smooth
experience with the speech recognition training process is anything to go
It's going to be a busy few days learning the fine
details of the various data entry methods, and filling the thing up with
my usual software (I wonder if it plays games?) and at some point I still
need to dive into the new desktop PC and tidy up the last few cables and
pipes before uploading the final photos to the project log. So many
computers, so little time!
It was only a matter of time before the legacy of
Britain's complicity in the US-sponsored invasion of Iraq came home
to haunt us.
I worked in the center of London during the nineties,
when the IRA were blowing things up every six months or so - but in
contrast to the
by that time many of their attacks on the UK mainland were timed for early
mornings, evenings, or weekends. They made their point, and left their
mark, but the number of civilian deaths stayed relatively low.
Today's terrorists think in
way, and as I write this the death toll is given as somewhere between
thirty and forty.
I was lucky, this time, as I had no particular reason
to believe that anyone I knew or cared for would be amongst the
casualties... But one of my colleagues in the IT department suffered
through an extremely upsetting couple of hours until he finally managed to
contact a close friend and confirm that she was unhurt.
I've spoken out against the Labour government's
involvement in the Iraq war before, and about their lies and evasions -
and doubtless I'll do so again - but even though it is clear to me that
Blair and Bush provoked this retaliation I will never, ever defend
the hate-filled scum who can use explosives against innocent civilians. I
hope that justice comes swiftly to them in the form of a 5.56mm round from
a NATO assault rifle.
Meanwhile - for most of us, at least - life goes on...
anti-spam pact - second only to the US in its output of junk email,
until now the attitude of the Chinese government has been thoroughly
unconcerned. If they're serious, this is excellent news.
New Trojan attacks Symbian phones - the so-called Doombot-A
acts as a loader for the existing Commwarrior-B virus, and between
them they can pretty much kill affected hardware.
UK web site defaced - apparently the work of a certain "Apocalypse"
(with a name like that, betcha he's a teenage boy) the message supported
Venezuelan hacker Rafa, currently awaiting trial.
Jaschan throws in towel - the author of the Sasser and Netsky worms
has broken down in the middle of his trial and confessed to everything,
probably rather to the annoyance of his defence counsel.
Phishing reaches new high - as previously reported, phishing attacks
are now the most popular online fraud, with many of them organised by
large-scale criminal groups and growing in sophistication.
Fractal-generating programming language - Context Free is a new
language, rather reminiscent of my old favourite LOGO, specifically
designed for wasting time by creating pretty pictures. :-)
Clarke's ID card cost laundry - in the face of mounting public opinion
against the charges for the card, the Home Secretary is floundering about
looking for ways of partially funding it privately.
fusion update - the new International Thermonuclear Experimental
Reactor project replaces the initially promising but ultimately rather
disappointing JET, but will it fare any better in the long run?
Solar power update - the "SoLong" test plane has a 15' wingspan
containing 76 solar cells which produce 225W of power - but the craft
draws only 95W from the Li-ion batteries during level flight.
Astrologer sues NASA - as if further proof was needed that some people
don't have the brains that god gave an amoeba, this fruit loop claims that
the Deep Impact mission will bring the end the world.
And finally, musician and activist
Bono has torn a
strip off the Canadian PM, apparently for being prudent, sensible and
honest. "He won't agree to things that he doesn't believe he can
deliver", ranted Bono, standing right next to the PM as he
spoke. "That is very frustrating and annoying and infuriating". In
an age where most politicians are depressingly eager to promise anything
that will win them a vote or two, a man who would "rather commit to
small increases he knows he can afford than make long-term promises"
may well be someone to admire instead of to abuse... I think that some of
these politically aware rock stars are not only in severe danger of losing
their common sense, but of taking themselves altogether too seriously as
There has been a lot of griping about Microsoft's
PC operating system over the last year, thanks to
a nasty memory leak in the handwriting recognition subsystem that
pretty much necessitates a daily reboot. Microsoft had been fairly cagey
on when an update could be expected, but growing media attention seems to
have prodded them into action and - lo and behold! - today they quietly
KB895953, a successful patch for the bug.
This is extremely timely, as today I placed an order
for the newly released
tablet from market leader Motion Computing - I've been yearning for
something like this for ages, but when Microsoft abandoned the
"Smart Display" project I rather went off the idea. However, Motion's
new tablet is getting
rave reviews, and
seems to be everything that Mira could have been and more.
I'm maxing out the memory with the addition of a
1GB DDR2-4200 SODIMM from Crucial (have you noticed how incredibly
cheap standard memory is, these days? I paid more than that for a
256Mb EDO to revive an obsolete laptop earlier in the year) which will
probably let me operate completely without a swapfile for maximum
performance and battery life.
My tablet is on order from
The Technology Factory,
who are not one of the suppliers that Motion themselves will point
you to when you make an enquiry... But I had the strangest experience with
preferred supplier Box
Technologies, who stopped replying to my messages after sending me two
copies of the price list, leaving me high and dry just as I was ready to
place the order! After two days trying to get a response I gave up, and a
quick search revealed that there were a handful of other UK companies with
stock ready to ship. TTF were the cheapest, by over £100, so we shall see
if they can deliver as promised.
Most of the accessories for the LE1600 aren't available
until later in the month, but that's probably a good thing as by then I'll
have decided what will be useful and what will just gather dust. I expect
that I'll want a keyboard of some kind, for example, but whether it will
be the clip-on portable unit or the desktop base station is not clear at
the moment - and had all the various
gadgets and gizmos been available now the temptation to load up on
everything under the sun would have been hard to resist.
I don't see the tablet as replacing my trusty
Latitude C840 laptop - especially for blogging, as I doubt that speech or
handwriting recognition is ever going to be as nippy as a regular keyboard
for hammering out blocks of text, but for recreational browsing once the
work is done, for doing my online
grocery shopping from the kitchen, or for playing movies in the
bedroom, it sounds extremely plausible. Watch this space for further
It's only Monday, but thanks to a day spent auditing
part of our network security procedures in preparation to beefing them up
a little over the next week, I'm completely shattered and you'll have to
content yourselves with a few quick links.
Copycat lawsuits - no sooner had the ink dried on AMD's
anti-trust lawsuit against Intel than it was joined by two almost
identical class actions brought on behalf of individual PC owners.
Surely not again
- it must be the time of the year for lawsuits, as the founder of the
long-defunct Go Corporation is suing Microsoft with the usual claims of
anti-competitive behaviour and bullying tactics.
The Internet is not a safe place - according to new figures
released by AV vendor Sophos, an unprotected PC currently has a 50% chance
of being compromised within 12 minutes...
"The best thing
about free software is the price" - according to Sun president
Jonathan Schwartz, in a statement just guaranteed to stir up an
angry response from the open source software community.
consoles not impressing? - Ars.Technica discusses an article at
Anandtech which claims that developers are extremely discouraged by
the lacklustre performance of the PS3 and Xbox 360.
beaten hollow by Hydra - UK chess grandmaster Michael Adams lost five
out of six games against a cluster of Xeon-based PCs... and it was only
using 32 of it's 64 nodes, at that!
No ban on guns by mail - mail regulator Postcomm has rejected the
Royal Mail's proposal to ban traffic of legal firearms-related items
(including replicas and air guns) through the postal network.
Jeff Bezos' space plans - the billionaire founder of Amazon.com has
kept the details of his Blue Origin spaceflight company close to
his chest until recently, but details are finally starting to emerge.
Still in mourning after Columbia - NASA personnel are set to resume
the roles they played before the Columbia disaster, and for some of them
it will be an especially tense and emotional time.
Things that go
bang in the night - nicely timed for the 4th July, the marvellous
How Stuff Works site has an explanation of the mechanics of fireworks,
from sparklers to multibreak aerial mortar shells.
Grab 'em before they're obsolete - the US National Archives has huge,
high-resolution scans of the Declaration Of Independence, the Bill Of
Rights, the Constitution and the Amendments.
So it was Live8,
today, and a very impressive line-up it was, too, with many stirring
speeches... So now the G8 movers and shakers are sweating in their
boardrooms and executive offices, cowed by the overwhelming weight of
popular opinion and swearing to reform their arms dealing, tariff fixing,
trade limiting, worker exploiting, corporate greed-head ways.
My ass they are.
But it probably doesn't hurt to try, anyway.
I didn't get a reply from Dan about yesterday's 128Gb
partition issue, but shortly after I mailed him he quietly edited the
column, removing the dire warnings about using a large boot partition even
with an appropriately patched OS version. I don't imagine I was the only
person who pointed out the mistake...
Via Boing Boing, a couple of bizarre but fascinating
animations - the first is
female mannequin falling through a sky full of giant bubbles (prod
with the mouse if she gets stuck!), and the second is
a strange liquid
man-shape that kind of flows to follow the mouse pointer.
Strange, but somehow rather compelling.
- at the Defense Tech blog, a link to Information Unlimited, a New
Hampshire company that sells some very unusual weapon-like
hardware... Take your choice from the instructions, which start at around
$15, the complete kit of parts, or the fully assembled unit. With airsoft
on the point of being criminalised out of existence, does an
electromagnetic railgun or a CO2 cutting laser take
Anti-spam success backfiring - now that some progress is finally being
made against the spam problem, both at the server and in the courtroom,
the scum who were making their money from junk email are moving towards
phishing and ID theft scams instead. These may have a lower profile than
an inbox full of Viagra adverts, but unfortunately their effects are
potentially far more damaging.
of scammers - UK comms regulator ICSTIS is increasing the maximum fine
for phone fraud and similar from £100,000 to a quarter of a million, as
there is so much money to be made from the various premium rate call scams
that the risk of being fined simply wasn't a deterrent. This is a growing
problem, I'm afraid, and even the increased figure probably isn't actually
Biometrics won't deter passport fraudsters - the head of the UK
passport agency has admitted that the improvements in passport security
(and the notorious ID card) will not actually eliminate fraud or
terrorism. This is nothing that the campaigners haven't been saying for
years, of course, but it's extremely telling that even certain parts of
the government apparently agree!
keeps its eye on the target - the HST has snapped a couple of neat
shots of the Tempel-1 comet ahead of Monday's culmination of the Deep
Impact mission - and the ESA has pitched in with what must surely be the
worst astronomical photograph since before the Hubble optics were
corrected back in 1993. Fortunately the source of the image, the
spacecraft Rosetta, will actually be watching the impact in the microwave
and infrared portions of the spectrum and the visible range is merely an
NASA sets a date - the space shuttle Discovery will launch on 13th
July, if all goes well, on a badly-needed mission to resupply the
International Space Station. This is the first flight since the redesign
provoked when Columbia died on re-entry in January 2003, but there may
still be problems lurking - an advisory panel has stated that NASA failed
to meet three of the 15 safety recommendations issued by accident
investigators. In an unsettling echo of the agency's attitude after the
Challenger disaster NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and other senior
officials are claiming that all risks have been reduced to an acceptable
level, but I'm afraid that only time will tell...
brews its own juice - not content with making unwitting test pilots
out of hapless brine shrimp (see Epicycle passim), model rocket
manufacturer Estes has released a hydrogen powered rocket, with the fuel
generated by the electrolysis of water inside the special launch platform.
science doesn't know - but knows that it doesn't know...
Courtesy of the 125th issue of Science magazine, 25 short summaries of the
most compelling puzzles and questions facing scientists today, together
with a list of 100 more just to keep us busy. Mind you, as I was telling a
friend the other day, if you want an example of something that is very
poorly understood and yet has a direct impact on the everyday world around
us, the problem of turbulence in liquids and gasses is a damn good start.
And finally, one of the better uses for Apple's silly
little Mac Mini thing I've yet seen. These enterprising French modders
evidently noticed the form factor's remarkable resemblance to a toilet
paper dispenser, and made
next step. Cosmetically it works rather well, I think, but of course
the problem of grossly inadequate capacity found in the Mini's original
role as a computer carries through to its new function too... Thanks to
the excellent UK geek site Bit Tech for the translation.
Tech guru Dan Rutter has been unusually quiet in recent
months, so it was a real treat to visit
Dan's Data this evening and
find a mammoth four page letters column. Dan's reply to one of the letters
has me distinctly anxious, though, as either the data on the boot
partition of my desktop PC is at significant risk or <dramatic chord>
Dan has made a mistake!
A hapless user wrote to him to relate the sorry tale of
how the OS and data stored on his 160Gb hard disk has just gone west, and
Dan's explanation for this was that the system fell foul of the 128Gb
limit imposed on a Windows boot partition. I was under the distinct
impression that this issue had been fixed by the
48bit LBA support included
in Windows XP SP1, but Dan insists that the boot partition of even a
service packed installation cannot be greater than 128Gb - apparently the
setup program will prevent the creation of a partition greater than this
limit at installation time, and there is no safe way around this.
Now, I did pretty much what the letter writer did,
installing XP onto a smaller partition and then expanding it out to fill
the drive with Partition Magic at a later date. [It's more complex than
that, actually, as this instance of the OS used to be a Windows 2000
installed onto smaller drives
on a Promise IDE RAID controller, before being upgraded to XP and then
cloned onto the current 160Gb SATA RAID volumes - but the end result is
the same!] I haven't seen any problems, but I'm currently only
using around 40Gb of the volume and the flaw would only manifest if data
was written past the 128Gb boundary, at which point the Windows IO
subsystem would "wrap around" in some unpleasant manner and most likely
corrupt the entire partition.
However... Two things make wonder if Dan hasn't slipped
up, here. Firstly, as the Diskeeper screenshot above shows, I do
actually appear to be using the section of the disk that falls past the
128Gb barrier - that little yellow block is a 512Mb pagefile, and a rough
estimate suggests that it's sat at around the 145Gb mark. Secondly, I
can't find any reference to this particular issue online, even after half
an hour of worried searching... There's plenty of discussion of the 128Gb
limit itself, complete with frequent pointers to Microsoft technote
Q303013 which describes the various ways of enabling 48bit LBA
support, but this mentions nothing about the boot partition. In fact,
several documents from usually reliable sources (a
from hard disk manufacturer Seagate, and
part of the FAQ at
specialist site 48bitLBA.com) actually recommend the work-around of
installing the OS to a 128Gb partition and then expanding it at a later
Now, Dan's correspondent was actually using Windows
2000 instead of XP, and his letter mentioned nothing about the
EnableBigLBA registry tweak required to support big disks on this
rather creaky old OS - and, indeed, he didn't even confirm that he was
using SP3 or later to provide the required version of the ATAPI.SYS
driver. Moreover, he used the rather unorthodox method of manually
creating a full-sized partition with FDISK and then installing Windows
onto it in spite of the rather ominous query that resulted. None of those
factors are ideal...
So, in this case I suspect that it was the lack of the
registry tweak (and maybe even an obsolete driver version) that was really
the source of the data corruption, and that a correctly service packed XP
system is immune to the 128Gb limit even on a boot partition. Is it
possible that Dan has made a mistake, if the first one I've noticed in
several years of reading his articles? I shall point him towards
Epicycle and we'll see what he thinks...
- NASA's Deep Impact probe is due to smack into the comet Tempel 1 in a
couple of day's time, and PhyOrg.com has a handy guide on watching the collision
yourself. It's unlikely that anything will be visible with the naked eye, but as
Patrick Moore often said, a good pair of binoculars will make all the
difference. This is a fascinating mission, as well as being rather more
violent than NASA usually plans for, and I'm looking forward to seeing the
AMD vs. Intel
- microprocessor underdog AMD has been alleging all sorts of things about
their bitter rival for years, and now it seems that they're ready to put
their money where their corporate mouth is. They are claiming that Intel
has misbehaved in much the same ways that Microsoft were alleged to have
done, unlawfully maintaining a monopoly by bullying manufactures,
distributors and retailers across three continents. It's quite a claim,
and I suspect that (as usual) the legal battles will run and run.
the menu tonight - the European Space Agency has developed a comprehensive
menu designed to keep astronauts healthy and content on long voyages, such as
the much-vaunted manned Mars missions. The nine organic ingredients are designed
to be tended either by the astronauts themselves when time permits, providing a
measure of recreational activity as well as food, or by robotic systems during
busier parts of the mission. "Spirulina gnocchi" - Hmmmm.
down the curtain - MS have released a post-SP4 hotfix rollup for Windows
2000 instead of the rumoured SP5 (shades of the semi-mythical NT4 SP7 that was
only made available to NASA for use on the International Space Station!) and
although they will still provide critical security patches via Windows Update
that's pretty much the end of development for W2K. It was definitely one of the
classic operating systems of the decade, bringing as it did a very workable
combination of the Windows 9x GUI and the stability of the NT4 OS upon which it
Etch-A-Sketch coming to cell phones - I can't count the number of times I've
felt the urge to draw a crude rectilinear diagram on a tiny handheld gadget but
have had by desires cruelly dashed by the heartless consumer electronics giants,
so if you're like me you'll delight in the news that the venerable seventies toy
is being ported to a range of handsets from UK provider Orange. Ah, well, I
suppose it could be worse - how long before we get Etch-A-Sketch as yet another
bizarre USB add-on?
Ahh, how the mighty have fallen. Well, not that my stats
were exactly mighty, but they were at least lush and full and they
were mine own. My little juggling trick with domains and web servers back in
May has slashed my figures to a pale shadow of their former selves, but in
fact there are already signs of a recovery in the monthly figures (in spite
of your pessimism, Mike, there is a definite upwards trend!) and I'm
hoping that in another month or two I'll be back to something approximating
the levels of the first part of the year.
One solution, if my pride permitted, would be to troll
for attention from one of the heavyweight 'blogs - such as
Boing Boing, or
Instapundit - and there are
have tips for ensuring that this happens. I am too dignified for such
cheap tricks though, it seems, so I shall just have to rely on Google and my
friend Avedon Carol, proprietress of noted left-wing 'blog
The Sideshow, who is kind enough to
mention me from time to time when one of my less geeky scribblings catches
her eye. <sigh> I suppose I shall have to go and write some