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EPICYCLE

 

29th June

As usual when I've had a few days away from the office, my first day back at the silicon face was a crazed whirl as I tried to catch up. Work really is crushingly busy at the moment, and unfortunately with a complete refurbishment of the computer room due next month and an upcoming SAP/Siebel implementation starting shortly afterwards, it's likely to become worse rather than better as the year progresses.  <groan>

While I still have the time and energy, then, a few quick links...

Shrimps in spaaaaace! - the wonderfully-named Estes Simian Space Transport Rocket Kit contains a special chamber that allows you to shoot innocent "sea monkeys" up into the blue yonder. Bizarre...

Cory Doctorow on Grokster - everybody and their dog has already had their say on the Supreme Court ruling, but Cory's viewpoint is often more insightful than that of the other online pundits.

FTC restrains “anti-spyware” company - claims that PCs were infected with malware were false, and in any case the viciously marketed software was incapable of removing some malware that did exist!

The poor man's RAID array - a recipe for building a SCSI array from a surplus rack mount chassis and a batch of second-hand drives sourced from eBay. Definitely a geek after my own heart.  :-)

Future-proofing your Mac - get ready for the year 10,000 by adding a fifth digit to the date field... It's best to be on the safe side, in case your fluorescent orange iMac remains sufficiently fashionable!

Reminiscing isn't what it used to be - scans of the Ladybird "How It Works" book on computers, with the original 1971 and the revised 1979 edition side by side to for comparison. Marvellous stuff.

Paper-based encryption - at Boing Boing, a link to a papercraft Enigma machine kit, and a reference to the largely unknown Polish mathematicians who did much of the early decryption work.

No sense of proportion - Pennsylvania high school students who bypassed the web censoring filters on school-owned laptops are being charged with a federal offence for doing so. Sad times...

Raising the dead - Novell (anyone remember them?) is releasing a new version of the venerable Groupwise email and collaboration server, now hosted on SuSE Linux rather than Netware itself.

 

28th June

I'm intending to take the day off from computer hardware, today, so unless my PC actually catches fire I don't intend to open the case at all - and, for that matter, even if it does catch fire I expect the water cooling to take care of it! It's extremely hard to stay away from computers completely, though, so here are a few random snippets of news:

Hilary Rosen spinning like a top - the former CEO of the RIAA seems to have abandoned what was a rigid party line since leaving the organisation, and in this comment on the recent Grokster decision she even admits that Napster was "a great service", and that all the additional legislation she insisted on hasn't actually lead to greater control of the downloadable music industry. Bizarre... [More here]

The art of science - the entries in a contest held at Princeton University to find visually appealing imagery produced in the course of research are online, and many of them are extremely striking. Evidently science is in the eye of the beholder, though, as the first prize winner (a tiny plasma cloud floating above a charged electrode) is not actually that notable in comparison to some of the others.

Tube disruptions highlighted graphically - this frustrated London traveller captured the online disruption maps appearing at the LUL website, and cleverly animated them in a way that clearly illustrate how bad the service really is. His figures show that the network is free from problems only 22% of the time, which needless to say is not quite what the management claim!

"Toilets of gaming" gallery - all the loos depicted in computer games, collected for your edification and delight... It just goes to prove (as if it needed further proof!) the old adage that some people have far too much time on their hands - but given that they evidently do, I suppose it's preferable that they use it on projects like this rather than on poking their nose into other peoples' business...

Disassociated body parts - from the culture that brought you the girlfriend's lap and the boyfriend's arm pillows, mentioned in Epicycle passim, comes a new pair of cushions allegedly modelled on the bosom and lap of tennis star Maria Sharapova. I am curious to know how Maria, or for that matter her high-powered corporate sponsors, feel about her anatomy being co-opted in this way.  :-)

Play windows games on Linspire - the Cedega system allows a growing list of current games to be played on the Linspire distribution, and if it works as well as is claimed that's an impressive achievement - but every time the subject of Linux gaming (or application software in general, for that matter!) comes up, the fanboys fall over themselves to insist that there are plenty of native offerings... which begs the question of why everyone is working so very hard to create emulators, middleware layers, binary interfaces etc etc so that Linux users can run Windows software instead!

This disk will self-destruct - Ensconce Data Technology brings a new approach to data security in the shape of their “Dead on Demand” hard drive. Any attempt to remove or tamper with the drive, a change in the pre-set location as detected by built-in GPS, a manual telephone call, or even a change in temperature will trigger the release a chemical mist into the drive that completely destroys the magnetic surface and so erases the data held on it. The potential for honest mistakes or malicious damage from a disaffected employee is marvellous.

And finally, Penny Arcade on not overdoing things for summer.

 

27th June

I spent a while fiddling with the new PC case today, of course, hooking up another pair of blue lights and fixing the floppy drive - it needed to be slid backwards slightly in the aluminium bezel's mounting frame to give clearance for the button to come all the way out when a disk was inserted. It still doesn't actually work, though, so either I've done something butt-headed like connecting the cable upside-down again or it's chosen an annoying moment to die... Either seems equally likely, but I've spent enough time inside that case for the moment and further investigation can wait until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, some random news links...

The thin end of the wedge - Microsoft is "encouraging" use of their Sender ID system by flagging any unsigned mail that reaches Hotmail as spam. This is not going to be popular!

Opera vs Firefox - the war of words escalates, with the CEO of the former claiming that the usage stats of the latter are inflated, and this his own product's figures are widely under-reported.

And talking of Firefox, an article in the Real World Computing section of the current PC Pro magazine suggests that it has a fairly ferocious memory handling problem - opening twenty-something tabs used twice as much memory as all the other mainstream browsers, and the peak usage didn't fall until every one of the tabs had been closed again! Not very elegant programming, by the sound of it...

The house that Bob built - courtesy of The Heinlein Society, a photo tour round Bonny Doon, the house where Robert and Ginny Heinlein lived from 1967 until shortly before his death in 1988.

Identified flying objects - at the aptly-named Strange Military site, some photos of unusual space hardware in the "Misc" gallery, mixed in with everything else. Beware the annoying popups, though...

Best to be prepared - casting your own silver bullets is in danger of becoming a lost art, and with the every-present threat of werewolf attack it's just as well that Real tech News is here to help out.  [Aside: The author seems to be under the misconception that hand-loading of more conventional ammunition is a dying art as well, which is certainly not the case.]

A blast from the past - thanks to the highly worthy Internet Archive, preserved video of the classic Computer Bowl quiz challenges from the golden age of computing. Bill Gates vs. Mitch Kapor.  :-)

ID card costs could soar - a report from the London School Of Economics suggests that the cost of implementing the card could be as much as 19 billion pounds, triple the official estimate.

Two more contestants in the ongoing pointless IT innovations stakes are the pistol mouse and the USB lava lamp, the latter joining a growing array of thoroughly silly things to connect to a USB port.

And talking of pointless technology, gadget 'blog Gizmodo has a quick review of the pseudo-science e-Meters beloved of Ron Hubbard's Scientologists. I'd really like to see Dan Rutter take a look at these - they're basically just a Wheatstone bridge resistance meter, and I'm sure he'd have something to say about the wisdom of shelling out up to $4500 for the top-of-the-range Quantum Super VII...

 

26th June

Well, that went exceedingly smoothly! Apart from much pondering and head-scratching over the water cooling and (as always) the difficulty of neatly routing the dozens of cables that such a complex system contains, there were very few real problems. The first difficulty emerged when I discovered that rather than the Xeon/Prestonia-type brackets needed to mount the Koolance water blocks onto the CPUs, the usually reliable Tekheads had actually sent two of the Xeon/Nocona style brackets instead. They are very similar, so I can see how the mistake was made, but the differences become extremely clear when one tries to attach them to a Prestonia motherboard... In the end I re-used the existing brackets from my previous heat sinks, and thankfully they all seem to be pretty much a standard size.

As far as mistakes during the build, for such a long project I made remarkably few - I managed to connect the floppy drive cable upside-down, which is one of the classic errors, and also misconnected the power switch cable to the motherboard jumper at the start of the first live test, puzzling me somewhat when the system stubbornly refused to turn on. Both were easily rectified once I noticed, and given the fact that I spent around eighteen hours working on it this weekend I think I got off very lightly! The only outstanding problem is that the aforementioned floppy drive seems to have taken a dislike to the rather elegant aluminium bezel that ships with the case, and will need adjusting the next time I open the system up again - which is likely to be fairly soon, as I need to tidy the cables a little more and then mount a bunch of those the little 4" cathode tubes to make the case even more blue than it is already.  :-)

The cooling system seems to be working extremely well. The CPU temperatures are holding at between 40° and 45° under regular load, and at that temperature the Koolance subsystem is so quiet that I can hear my hard disks for the first time ever - and so quiet that I've realised that my new PCP&C power supply is actually quite noisy! I may have to do something about that, as it's by far the loudest component in the entire system. The two 120mm fans on the radiator Koolance vary between 720 and 2400 rpm in ten stages, and on the second or third level they're operating at as I write this they're completely silent. I can't monitor the Radeon GPU temperature directly, but I'll run a long artefact test later and that will highlight any issues.

In the event, installing the water cooling hardware was actually quite straight-forward. Mounting the cooling blocks was no harder than installing any other kind of heatsink, and considerably easier than squeezing the damn retention clips onto the Akasa units of the previous air cooling solution - or getting them off again this time, for that matter! Installing the tubing onto the blocks was a touch fiddly, but softening the last half centimetre by dipping it in boiling water for a few seconds really helped there. It took a while to flush all the air out of the system, but lying the chassis onto its side and back again as the work progressed seemed to help fill the disk coolers, apparently the most prone to trapped air, and given the length and relative complexity of the loop (two CPU coolers, the GPU, and four disk coolers) it was actually considerably better than I was expecting. I certainly didn't have any of the persistent problems with trapped air mentioned by one reviewer of the similarly designed Exos-2 system.

I'm not particular fond of the half-sized side panel that ships with the Lian-Li chassis, and I'm currently talking with Kustom PCs about full-panel windows for both sides in either Perspex or a fine aluminium mesh. For the moment, though, I'm extremely pleased with both the cosmetics and the functionality of the setup, and after I've tidied up the mess of tools, unused components, and remnants of the old system I'm going to spend the evening admiring it from the settee. It was a tiring couple of days!

 

24th June

I'm taking Infinity3 offline tomorrow morning to transplant its internals into the new Koolance case, and although I have FrontPage on the laptop I don't know yet whether I'll have the inclination to post updates on progress as I go along, or whether I'll just take a bunch of photos and write it all up at the end. The only question left to answer is the name of the new system, which I keep forgetting to think about. Mike has suggested a couple of suitable geeky options, Infinity and Infinity, which are certainly both possibilities - but if anyone else has a bright idea, let me know.

In the meantime, I shall leave you with a picture of about ten yards of assorted cables and coolant tubes unkinking ready to be installed. Normal service, as the old saying has it, will be resumed as soon as possible. Wish me luck!

 

23rd June

I've just spent an hour dialled into the office upgrading our main email server from Exchange Standard to Enterprise Edition, and it was certainly a smooth enough procedure - which was exactly as it should be considering that the difference between the two versions is a registry key or two and some buffer settings, being as it is a purely marketing-based product separation rather than anything technical. The end result, however, is impressive - rather than a pair of 16Gb databases per server (one for private mailboxes, one for public folders), Enterprise Edition can support four separate storage groups, each of which can contain five databases of effectively unlimited capacity - up to a total of 8 terabytes, which I think is beyond the ability even of my users, who apparently don't know the meaning of the word "delete", to fill up in anything less than a few decades. Cool!

Meanwhile, the usual midweek links...

White Knight rides again - the carrier plane used to launch Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne towards orbit has been re-used in a captive-carry test of the new Boeing X-37 ALTV, one year after the prize winning flight. The Mohave Airport Weblog that hosts those photos is a fascinating site, by the way, if you're interested in unusual aviation.

Hope expires for solar sail - The Planetary Society, the Pasadena-based privately-funded space research group that launched the Cosmos 1 spacecraft from a Russian submarine earlier this week, has admitted that it is unlikely that the project can be salvaged at this stage. The rocket engine seems to have failed at a fairly critical point in the ascent, leaving it in an unstable suborbital trajectory.

Eddies in the space-time continuum (again) - for the first time, density fluctuations have been observed in the background flux of neutrinos, some of which were formed in the first few seconds after the big bang. The ripples are the final nail in the coffin for various discredited theories of neutrino interaction, and add even more support to the classical Big Bang theory.

Future of DVD mired in confusion - talks between Sony, backer of the Blu-ray standard, and Toshiba, a leading supporter of HD-DVD, have ended in stalemate. Estimated capacities range from the 45Gb of HD-DVD, to 50Gb from double-layer Blu-ray disks with 100Gb in the lab and 200Gb promised next year. As usual, though, the final decision is more likely to be political than technical...

Lies, damn lies, and the MPAA - at Boing Boing, some official figures on illicit music downloads and DVD piracy are weighed in the balance and found wanting - and it is becoming increasingly clear that the RIAA, MPAA et al are resorting to desperate tactics in order to perpetuate the claim that draconian laws are required to persecute anyone who doesn't conform to their world view.

Microsoft vs. Sony in a the cool war - when Sony opened a showroom in Paris to publicise the PSP console, Microsoft paid the laundry across the road to display giant advertising posters for the forthcoming Xbox 360 in their windows... But after only one day, it seems that Sony paid the laundry owner even more money to take the posters down again. Marvellous.  :-)

Inside Applied Minds - at Wired, a fascinating interview with Danny Hillis from technology think tank Applied Minds, complete with a tour round the offices. I'm seeing a surprising amount of Hillis in the media, recently, which makes me think that he's probably up to something - but I really wouldn't have recognised him with that beard and the extra pounds... I guess it comes to us all eventually.

Dumpster-diving rescues classic game - hardcore fans of Castle Infinity, one of the original graphical online multiplayer games, have salvaged the server hardware from a skip almost eight years after the game was taken offline. Their web site is dying under the attention from Slashdot readers, right now, but as soon as the first wave of interest passes the client software can be downloaded for free.

Open letter to Kansas School Board - it seems that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster whose doctrine must only be spread by those wearing full pirate regalia, a claim I find easily as plausible as the "Intelligent Design" claptrap currently in vogue among creationists trying to wrap their bigotry and ignorance in a pseudo-scientific disguise.

And, finally, a severed thumbdrive - I was unlucky enough to own the original Trek ThumbDrive, before the term became as generic as "hoover", and suffered through several years of appalling drivers and horrendous compatibility problems before finally abandoning it in favour of a freebie from the MS Office 2003 launch - but it looked nothing at all like this grisly article, which in fact is probably a little too realistic for those of a squeamish disposition. You have been warned...

 

22nd June

I do not approve of having excess material in the path of the airstream from a fan, even when it's as skinny as this mounting frame at the front of the Lian-Li chassis - but that's why Dremels were invented, after all... I've been taking care of a few minor but time-consuming oddments, this week, so that when I come to transplant the internals at the weekend I'll only have to cope with the dozen or so things I haven't thought of yet. I suspect that the majority of the project is going to be fairly routine (I can't quite install a motherboard in my sleep, but possibly during a quick nap), but the plumbing of the water cooling subsystem is a challenge and as it's my first time I'm expecting to pretty much make it up as I go along. It's going to be "interesting", and I'm looking forward to it with a certain trepidation.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Linus holds forth - the future of open source and the future of Microsoft, but it's all a bit vague and woolly and frankly he doesn't seem to have any particular insight into the computer industry right now

More holding forth - Michael L. Robertson of Linspire pontificates on Apple's missed opportunity in keeping the OS tied to their own hardware. I have to admit that Robertson is growing on me...

And yet more - this time it's Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent, tearing a strip off Microsoft's Avalanche P2P project. Not really fair, considering it's still very in the design concept stage!

Secunia announces another flaw in IE - and what's that, wait a minute, the same flaw in Firefox and Safari too? So much for the much-vaunted infallibility of the open source development model.

Integrated circuit pioneer dies - Jack Kilby created the first IC in 1958 at Texas Instruments, working during the company's two week vacation period. He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000.

At BBSpot, news that Microsoft will port Windows to Intel hardware -"Moving from one processor to another is easy", he said, "Moving from one processor to that same processor, well, that's difficult."

 

21st June

A well made cable is truly a thing of beauty. The last batch of hardware for the new PC chassis turned up today, after a long journey from Performance-PCs in Florida, and they're definitely worth the wait. The top two are Antec's "Cobra" rounded floppy and IDE cables, the latter being shielded in an earthed foil screen to keep out all that nasty high frequency noise from the cold cathode lighting inverters. Well, to be honest, I'm unconvinced of how necessary the extra shielding actually is (although once a cable is rounded the effect of the 40 extra grounding wires in a modern UDMA cable is probably drastically reduced) but they certainly do look sleek and sexy. To complete the effect I ordered a set of SATA power leads in a similar braiding, one of which can be seen at the bottom of the picture, and the contrast between the red and black of the power and data cabling and the bright blue of the coolant tubing should be striking to say the least.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch - or, in this case, the office - the recent arrival of summer has brutally exposed the weaknesses in our creaky old computer room air conditioning system. The planned refurbishment of the entire suite has been delayed while the company directors gripe about the cost, and despite the best efforts of my management to speed things along the sudden heat wave rendered the system incapable of bringing the temperature down below around 30°C. Fortunately the building services manager and his general factotum responded to my anguished call with a marvellous piece of emergency engineering, rigging up a set of portable coolers in various unlikely Heath Robinson ways and bringing the room down to an almost workable 25°C. The refurbishment is due to start in a couple of weeks, and as long as we keep emptying the buckets that catch the condensed water it will be business as usual. It certainly provides for an interesting life!

And finally, at Ars.Technica, the news that Apple are being sued for patent infringement over the fundamentals of the iTunes to iPod interface. The claim looks somewhat spurious to me, given that the patent actually covers the connection of computer systems to playback devices such as MIDI keyboards, but I was struck by one of the comments on the resulting thread: "I hate when people who can't make money by honest work try to steal from people who can"... except when the victim is Microsoft and the perp is Eolas, apparently, in which case everyone cheers and eggs them on...   :-(

 

20th June

When geeks go bad...

In 1952, at the Nevada test site, Ted Taylor added to his already considerable reputation by holding up a small parabolic mirror and lighting a cigarette with an atomic bomb. The fireball was twelve miles away. "I carefully extinguished the cigarette and saved it for a while in my desk drawer at Los Alamos", he says. "Sometime, probably in a state of excitement about some new kind of bomb, I must have smoked it by mistake."

- George Dyson, Project Orion

One of the many intriguing snippets of information to emerge from this fascinating book is that the level of destruction even very close to a nuclear explosion is considerably less than is generally expected. Small structures made of certain materials, especially those which are both flexible and non-metallic, can actually survive virtually unscathed even a few tens of feet away from the centre of a multi-kiloton blast - where temperatures might briefly reach 150,000 Kelvin. This factor, along with an equally unexpected level of propulsive effect (some of the test objects were hurled far further away than scientists at the time could account for) was what provided the first germ of the idea of propelling a spacecraft by a series of nuclear explosions, and although the project was cancelled in the mid sixties there's no doubt that the physics of the idea are perfectly feasible. Less feasible, perhaps, is the idea of convincing world governments to allow the detonation of hundreds of atomic bombs on the way up to orbit and back, as even though they would be extremely small and clean by the standards of conventional nuclear weapons, there would doubtless still be a certain amount of... ah... consumer resistance to overcome.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Google planning e-payments service - a rival to PayPal is long overdue, some would say, as they've been dominating the market virtually since inception... possibly to the detriment of the consumer.

A new tool for Big Brother - by examining the writing style of dubious email messages, law enforcement agencies and suspicious employers hope to be able to detect signs of illegal activity.

Desktop threat changing - the number of conventional worms and viruses is down, according to a report from the CompTIA, but the incidence of browser-based attacks has increased to compensate.

Are big screens the new gas guzzlers? - an article at the Christian Science Monitor suggests that the new generation of televisions has not been as well optimised for energy use as it should have been.

BBC to release open source codec - to go with the imminent launch of the BBC's online video archive, they're working on a wavelet-based codec which stacks up very well against the competition.

Change proposed EU Microsoft case - the senior judge of the EU's second-highest court has proposed changing judges in the antitrust case after controversial comments on the legal system.

 

18th June

It's the old story, I'm afraid. These days I just can't go near the inside of a PC case without seizing every bare wire in site and wrapping it in black braided sleeving. I'm planning to do the build itself next weekend, now, and ahead of that I'm taking care of some little odds and ends - drilling extra holes to mount the rather eccentrically perforated Vantec fan controller in an equally eccentric Lian-Li 5¼ to 3½ bay adaptor, pondering the fine details of what is going to go where (which is changing on a pretty much daily basis, right now) and of course sleeving every wire that isn't already decently clothed.

Actually, having said that, braided sleeving is becoming fairly normal even for off-the-shelf components - the HT wires of the AC Ryan mini cathode lights I mentioned the other day are sleeved as standard, and all of the fans, adaptors and cables I've bought from Frozen CPU and Performance-PCs (motto: "Sleeve it and they will come") can be wrapped and heatshrunk in a wide variety of colours for only a token increase in the cost. In contrast to Infinity3, where I had to do every damn wire myself, in the new incarnation it's likely to be only the temperature sensors and control connections from the Koolance hardware, as seen above, that needed attention. What luxury!

Meanwhile, a few odd links...

10 big myths about copyright - Brad Templeton, founder of ClariNet and EFF chairman, shows that most people (including the RIAA et al, apparently!) don't really understand copyright very well.

Linux is for losers - Theo de Raadt, the man behind OpenBSD, has slammed the Linux OS as amateurish, poorly written, slapdash and generally cobbled together! Fighting words, indeed...  :-)

"Firefox" not trademarked - the Mozilla Foundation is facing legal and commercial difficulties in a number of countries, especially the UK and Germany where other companies already use the name.

AOL sets new record - perpetually troubled ISP America Online hosts more zombie PCs than any other provider, it seems, although actually the company seems largely unconcerned by this statistic.

Leading by example - Apple co-founder Steve Jobs gave an unusual commencement speech at Stanford University, claiming that dropping out of college was one of the best decisions he made!

Open Sesame! - Dan Rutter is discussing smart fasteners, and these witty and informative little snapshots are one of the things that raises him above the majority of independent IT journalists.

Technical field day - the US military's Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration evaluates newly released technology to assess its value and suitability for use by the armed services.

Sewn up tight - now that Apple is switching to i386 hardware, speculation is rife that they will use Intel's LaGrande integrated DRM technology to prevent their OS being run on regular PC hardware.

Sucks like a Fusion - BT have launched their combined cellular/landline phone, but to nobody's great surprise it seems to be a real lemon, with a number of significant flaws and missed opportunities.

Office pranks revisited - I've seen a couple of these before, but the cubicle filled with polystyrene chips is not only new, but also an instant classic. Some people have waaaay too much time on their hands...

Warning of orchestrated attacks - the UK government has warned of an "industrial scale" series of malware-bearing email messages aimed at the country's infrastructure and public services.

How clever! - run DittyBot on your Mac, then send an SMS containing a song title from your phone to a mailbox it monitors automatically. The software then phones you and plays the appropriate MP3!

And finally, the kidnapped Dalek has been found abandoned on Glastonbury Tor, just in time for the climactic final episode of the revitalised series. It appears that the thieves had been rather taken aback by an unexpected level of attention from both the media and the police, and decided to call it a day before they felt obliged to detach any more of its limbs. Everybody concerned is denying that it was a publicity stunt, but given the timing one has to wonder...

 

16th June

With both PFYs out of the office and the helpdesk still coping with the aftermath of our company's first ever enforced global password change, it has been another rather trying day. The latter is proving to be an education, though - our users have been so pampered by a lax password policy (a result of a legacy application that enforced non-expiring short numeric passwords! Eeek!) that they don't appreciate the harsh realities of the way most other corporates manage logins, and there is a great deal of resentment coming our way from users who feel that we're making stupid rules just to annoy them.

In spite of six months of increasingly informative email messages (ranging from an initial announcement explaining the reasons for the change sent out to department managers and team leaders at the start of the year, to a detailed set of instructions, with screenshots, sent to everyone the day before the change itself) a proportion of our users have found themselves completely unable to cope. Many complained that they were "too busy to read things that IT sends out", a viewpoint for which I have little sympathy; some, it emerged, were unable to remember their old password, their new password, or, in some cases, even their own name... Others had been routinely logging in with a colleague's ID instead of or as well as their own, which caused no end of head-scratching all round when they changed one password and then proceeded to use a different account - a fact which of course they omitted to mention for the first twenty or thirty minutes of the support calls!

All-in-all, it's been a complete pain in the neck, and by the end of yesterday I think the helpdesk staff were about ready to burn me in effigy. I'm hoping that the worst is over now, though, and if it isn't then at least the coming weekend will give them chance to unwind a little - I'm sure I saw one of them knotting a hangman's noose, earlier today...

Meanwhile, more PC bits:

This little gizmo is a Vantec Nexus NXP-305, capable of supporting three fan channels of up to 18W each, and a pair of cold-cathode tubes. I already have its sibling, the four channel fan-only NXP-205, and although it's nestling in the front of the current flavour of Infinity I never actually got around to hooking it up to anything! In this almost fanless incarnation, though, I'm intending to retire the DigiDoc and downsize to something with rather less wires, and as the 305 combines both fan control and the CC inverter in one neat little 3½" device it fits the bill rather well. Both the CC tubes and the illuminations on the knobs are blue, of course - this is going to be a very blue case...

Adding to the overall blue feel will be one or two pairs of 4" mini-CC tubes - I picked these up for a song from my old favourite Kustom PCs (who are currently working out how to replace one side panel of the case with fine steel mesh), although in the end they are likely to be installed in rather a stripped-down form - as standard they come with a clunky PCI slot-mounted controller including a switch and a microphone for sound-sensitivity, which is not something I'm especially interested in. Although I don't know exactly how I'm going to arrange the lighting as yet (a lot will depend on how the mesh side panel turns out), but I'm sure tubes this teeny will come in handy for something...

I'm starting to get an itchy modding finger, now - all I need is a long weekend to make a start on it all!

 

15th June

I discovered today that the local server in two of our regional offices actually shared the same MAC address, which was allowing them to over-write each other's entry in the ePolicy Orchestrator anti-virus server's database and so causing all sorts of unexpected behaviour. Unfortunately this only emerged after around two hours on the phone with a Network Associates support bod, and was the last thing he checked before escalating the case to the ePO developers themselves - imagine my surprise when I checked and discovered them to be identical, and imagine his long, enthusiastic laughter when I was forced to admit that to him... I was not very pleased!

Both servers are using a pair of fault-tolerant network cards, and in these systems the teaming driver over-rides the real MAC address of each card with a single shared address, which we assume is the original address of one of the two cards - but this is not something that we can figure out how to test remotely, so at the moment for all we know it may even pull one out of thin air! The solution to the problem is simply to change this over-riding address by a byte (having checked that the new value is currently un-used on our network, there's every chance that it's likely to stay that way) - but when attempting that remotely the teaming driver disappeared up its own behind and we've now completely lost contact with the server. Fortunately one of my PFYs was willing (if not overjoyed at the idea) to travel several hundred miles to the regional office to perform what is likely to be a ten minute repair, and after that all should be well again.

The mystery of how this actually happened remains, though, even if the problem itself now has a solution. The network interfaces in these servers are integrated onto the motherboard, so there's no chance of them having been swapped around at some point and carrying their over-ridden address with them, and even if the driver does make up an address in an appropriate range at the creation of the team (and that would be a very dubious idea, if so!) the chances of two instances of the driver choosing the same value is pretty slim. I'll investigate further when time permits, but right now it's all thoroughly opaque to me!

Meanwhile, elsewhere, a few random snippets of news...

From Applied Minds, the off-the-wall R&D company co-founded by the equally off-the-wall Danny Hillis, comes a  marvellous new gadget that keeps your conversations private by hiding them behind a veil of sampled and re-processed background noise. It makes me think of The Cone Of Silence from the old "Get Smart" TV show.  :-)

Vendors snub EU Windows - the cut-down version imposed on Microsoft as part of the EU anti-trust case has completely failed to attract interest from the major vendors, with Dell, HP, Lenovo and Fujitsu Siemens revealing that they have no plans to pre-install the new OS because of a perceived lack of consumer demand. Is anyone outside of Brussels actually surprised?

The EFF on law for bloggers - I'm seeing an increasing number of stories about bloggers falling foul of their employers, the courts, a company they're having some kind of dispute with, or even a private individual who feels impugned (in fact, I've had a few problems along these lines myself) so advice from the premier online rights organisation is worth far more than most of what you'll find elsewhere.

They're paid for this? - ISPA, the UK Internet trade association, has warned consumers that there are better ways to choose a broadband supplier than solely by the cost. As someone who pays about four times the going rate for my 2Mbit DSL pipe in the hope of better-than-average reliability and performance I feel somewhat validated to hear that, but really it's nothing very insightful.

Japanese phisher arrested - an Osaka man who created a scam based around  the popular Yahoo auction site has been charged with infringing their copyright, but he evidently isn't a criminal mastermind as the fraud seems to have hooked less than thirty victims! Apparently this kind of scam is very new to Japan, and only around sixty five such sites have been discovered in the last year.

Interior violence - enfant terrible designer Philippe Starck's line of lamps made from firearms (an M16 standard, an AK-47 table lamp, and what looks like a Sig Sauer bedside lamp) are certainly elegant and appealing, but being gold plated I'm sure they have a price tag to match - so maybe this homage based on a 1950s cap gun is worth checking out instead. $50 on eBay as I write this...

Necessity is the mother of prohibition - Hong Kong police investigating a shipment of printer cartridges inbound from Malaysia discovered that the ink sponges inside had been removed and replaced by ketamine. It's not clear how well an inkjet cartridge performs on Special K instead of micro-particulate ink, but my gut feeling is that it wouldn't work very well...

Vintage radio shows - I think I'm going to scream if I read the word "podcast" one more time today, so I'm only going to refer to this collection of classic radio programs as an MP3 archive (I don't own and iPod and don't plan to, so that's what it is, dammit). Detective serials, cowboy shows, big band, comedy, you name it. I'm always really pleased to see this kind of thing springing up on the Web.

 

14th June

It was a very long day today, thanks to an early start to baby-sit an engineer rewiring a couple of our backbone strands before the users arrived, so  I only have the energy to show off a couple of components for the new PC build. There's a steady stream of parcels winging their way across the Atlantic to me this week (as usual, most of what I want is either too new or too rare to be bought from UK suppliers) and the first two arrived today.

This is a 120mm illuminated fan from Aerocool, a relatively new entrant onto the modding market. As 120mm fans go, it's a real wimp - rated at around 37 CFM, a figure easily matched by many 80mm fans, but to compensate the noise level is less than 20 dBA, so if the figures are accurate it should be inaudible in regular use. I have to admit that its main appeal is cosmetic - the little transparent inserts in each corner are high-intensity blue LEDs, and together with the brightly chromed turbine blades the overall result is extremely attractive. If the Koolance water cooling system works as well as I hope, the pair of Aerocools I'll be installing into the case in the place of the stock fans will either be running at a very low speed or even switched off altogether except for special occasions, so I can look upon them more as eye candy than anything functional. That's quite a luxurious change for one of my PCs!

Not quite so new, but equally exotic, is the Koolance CPU-300-V10 water block, one of a pair destined to suck up the 80 watts of heat generated by each of my Xeon 3.06 GHz processors. These are designed for Koolance's new standard 10mm 3/8" tubing, and have a copper base with a mirror-finished 21k gold-plating. No wonder the damn things are so expensive! In the reviews it's scoring extremely well for both ease of installation and thermal performance, and as all the elements of the cooling subsystem are from the same manufacturer I have a reassuring glow from the thought that at least they've all been tested with each other - there may well be enough nasty surprises involved in my first foray into water cooling without the added excitement of mixing and matching...

I don't plan on carrying out the transplant from the existing case for another week or so, but I doubt I'll be able to resist showing off the various other components as they arrive. Watch this space!

 

13th June

Now that the Star Wars series is complete, and being watched in sequence by a new generation of viewers, the die-hard fans are spinning in small circles trying to explain the various inconsistencies between the first three movies and the prequels. One of the biggest difficulties, apparently, is Obi-Wan's complete failure to recognise R2D2 at the start of the original Episode IV, and this particular balloon head is jumping through some marvellous hoops in order to rationalise something into the film that wasn't ever actually there:

Look at Obi-Wan's eyes... there's recognition there, followed by a quick assembly of the puzzle.

Really? I know Alec Guinness was an extremely good actor, but I don't think that even he was good enough to anticipate a movie that wasn't to come for another twenty five years and put a twinkle into his eye in readiness... Like the mystery of the Klingon forehead, these plot glitches are usually better just ignored.

Elsewhere - as mentioned previously in Epicycle, legendary folk singer and political activist Country Joe McDonald has an excellent web site that includes a fair number of his songs as Real Media streams. I've always been rather tickled by the science fiction folk ballads of the "Country Joe In Space" album, with my favourite being the anti-war epic "Picks And Lasers" - unfortunately the recording quality of the studio version is too low to really appreciate the song, but today I stumbled across a live version elsewhere on the site which is not only somewhat more accessible but also an interesting variation musically as well:

Well, the first time that I heard the sound I thought it was the humming
Of weather drones orbiting above the frozen sea.
The next time that I heard the sound I also heard the voices
In a hundred different languages calling out to me:
"Come put away your laser-pick and soar the galaxy."

And working on my K-jet in the heat of Martian summer
I felt a strange vibration coming from the distant stars.
Old Charlie only laughed at me, he said it was space fever
He thought that I had lost my mind when I told him that I saw
The warships of a thousand worlds slicing through the stars.

Check out the jukebox and lyrics pages for the rest...

Finally, some quickies:

For sale on eBay, a unique racing car powered by a hydrogen peroxide rocket.

Collaborating to hack a disposable drugstore camcorder.

British Telecom shows its true colours (again) by cutting off a charity helpline.

Penny Arcade on the best use for all that disk space.

 

12th June

It's that link again!

Doonesbury on Dubya - the collected wit and wisdom of George Bush (Ok, it's rather a small collection) immortalised in Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury strip.

Smarter than the average 'toon - a pair of web sites featuring the maths and science in TV cartoons The Simpsons and Futurama; the latter, especially, is full of extremely geeky throwaway humour.

Backlash against blue - the height of fashion last year, but apparently blue LEDs in electronics and computer hardware are becoming less popular, and there may be good scientific reasons for that...

Throw away your tinfoil hat - for those of a nervous disposition, software that jams any attempt by aliens, the government, or the Illuminati to read your mind and control your thoughts.

Inside MSRC - Microsoft's Security Response Centre tracks discussions on dubious hacking sites and white hat security lists, and then analyses and responds to anything that needs following up.

Creepy-crawlies - Symantec have released a new version of their Worm Simulator, which illustrates graphically how malware such as Blaster and NetSky spread through local and wide-area networks.

The evil that lurks within - security site SpywareInfo has provided a list of the P2P file-sharing apps that come bundled with spyware and adware - and actually, that turns out to be a lot of them...

Behind the scenes - what really caused Apple to forsake IBM's PowerPC CPUs? Was the break up for technical reasons, or were there political issues as well? Caesar at Ars.Technica speculates...

 

11th June

The first instalment of my new case hardware arrived today - a Koolance PC3-736BK, which is the Lian-Li PC-V2000 full tower case with Koolance's new 700W Exos 2-type cooling system pre-installed. Given that this model only launched a couple of weeks ago and that there's a three month lead time from either of the two UK dealers, this is probably the only one in the country right now. I do like being ahead of the curve.  :-)

I'm voting the straight party ticket, with the full complement of water blocks, tubing and assorted hardware also from Koolance - a pair of the CPU-300-V10 blocks for my Xeon CPUs, and an assortment of others for the ATI Radeon graphics card and the motherboard's Northbridge chipset. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing there, as yet, so I bought one each of the L06, H06 and V06 blocks to make sure that all the bases are covered. I also ordered four of the new style HD-50 hard disk coolers to keep my drive array as chilly as the rest of the components.

If I decide to use the full set of coolers, I can dispense with all the fans except for the pair of 120mm units on the radiator itself and the PSU fan - and given that my current setup has four 80mm and two 120mm case fans, a pair of CPU fans, and the GPU and PSU fans, I think that should bring a noticeable decrease in the noise level.

I won't be starting the transplant until the rest of my hardware has arrived in a week or two (there's a huge assortment of long SATA cables, drive bay adaptors and extra bezels, cable management oddments, blue cold cathode lights etc. still on its way to me) but when I do I'll be putting together something of a project log alongside the other incarnations of Infinity.

Until then, here's a teaser:

Meanwhile, some links...

Origami Yoda - it's a neat little model, but with sixty steps (illustrated with those obscure little arrows that only make sense if you already understand what to do) it does look somewhat non-trivial...

Try-before-you-buy gaming - rent a ready-made, experienced character in one of the popular online role-playing games, play it for a while to get the feel of it, then buy it if you like it.

Dalek kidnapped - one of Daleks from the original series has been kidnapped from an exhibition at the Wookey Hole Caves  - and the abductors left a neatly severed plunger arm as a warning...

A salutary lesson - a Baltimore man who maliciously subscribed his manager to various spam lists, dating services and job sites has been convicted of harassment and sentenced to community service.

Feudin' and fightin' - Opera's claim that they won an award for best browser has provoked fierce argument from the Mozilla Foundation, creator of the Firefox and Thunderbird browsers.

 

10th June

Just a few quick links tonight, as I'm running a little late...  <yawns decorously>

Microsoft finally ships EU's crippled Windows - although how providing an OS without the bundled Media Player app is beneficial to European consumers completely escapes me. Are Apple going to be obliged to do the same in the interests of fairness and competition? I rather think not...

The history of the BBS - at Wired, an article on the BBS documentary I mentioned a few weeks ago. The film looks really interesting, but I was greatly amused that the article fails to mention that a significant number of the 105,000 BBSes listed were devoted to pictures of naked women!

Hovering an inch above the desktop - a PC case made entirely from fans (seventy of them!) fastened to Dexian racking by cable ties, and all whirring away happily to themselves, I am full of admiration for his inventiveness, but have absolutely no desire to be sitting in front of his computer.

Loch Ness monster - a radio controlled model of the infamous Scottish beastie, complete with that gliding motion and a bobbing head on the end of the trademarked long, snake-like neck. It's not clear how large it is, and for that matter all other details are rather sparse, but it looks rather neat.

"In case of sonic attack on your district" - several steps up from the rock music used to annoy Noreiga during the invasion of Panama, the Israeli government is considering using a new directed sound weapon against Jewish settlers who resist the planned evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

 

9th June

So I was trying to track down a particular PC somewhere that was raising some errors in our domain controller logs, and as it didn't follow our usual informative naming convention, I decided to use the old NET SEND command to pop-up a message asking the user to contact the helpdesk. Unfortunately it's been a while since I've used the command and I inadvertently added the /DOMAIN flag, resulting in the message being sent out to the entire network, eight offices spread around the country. Under normal circumstances my users completely ignore most announcements we send out, but evidently something about the urgent nature of a pop-up message attracted their attention and the next ten minutes were extremely busy as what felt like all seven hundred of them called the helpdesk at once. It's going to be a while before I live this one down...

Meanwhile, while I wait for the ground to open and swallow me up, a few random links:

Annoying action at a distance - use a Bluetooth-enabled Palm to identify unsecured cellphones, PDAs and the like with BlueSpam, then automatically send a text file or image to them.

Frank Lloyd Wright at Google - to mark the birthday of the great architect and designer, yesterday, Google rolled out another of their neat little logos.

Refugee from the Skunk Works - inspired by the F117A Stealth Fighter, Project Nighthawk is an ambitious custom PC project. Looks like there's still a long way to go, though...

Vulnerabilty from beyond the grave - both Firefox and Mozilla are prone to a frame injection exploit that was first identified and patched seven years ago. Surely some mistake...?

An end to rumours - speculation about a feature-length movie of The Simpsons has been rife for years, but it wasn't generally expected until after the series itself had ended.

 

8th June

The news that the government intends to ban replica firearms wasn't the best start to my day, but unfortunately the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, announced this morning in a blaze of publicity, is likely to achieve just that if it passes intact into law. As so often with recent legislation, this bears all the hallmarks of a knee-jerk reaction based more on playing to the media and appeasing public hysteria (largely generated by that media), than on either the facts of the issue or a genuine belief that the proposals will actually achieve anything.

Given that the last two major changes in the law concerning real firearms (first a ban on semi-automatic rifles and magazine-fed shotguns after the Hungerford shootings in 1987, and then what amounted to a ban of handguns following Dunblane in 1997) have been completely and utterly ineffective in not only in reducing gun crime, but even in slowing its growth, it is difficult to see how restricting imitation guns can possibly help in any way.

In fact, there are already perfectly adequate laws in place concerning all the measures proposed in the bill - the only two designs of replica that stand even a chance of being converted to fire live ammunition (the PAK blank firers and the Brocock air cartridge replicas) have already been made illegal, carrying any kind of replica in a public place is already covered under last year's Anti-Social Behaviour Act, and anyone who uses an imitation firearm in the commission of a crime is already tried as if it was a real firearm. There is no benefit to be gained from extending these already comprehensive measures any further, and as before the only people who will be significantly affected by the new proposals are the enthusiast collectors such as myself, the competition target shooters relegated to imitations by the previous bans on firearms, and the airsoft skirmishers who use the replicas for sport. As always, criminals are not only decidedly more interested in fully functioning guns than BB-firing replicas, but in any case would no more be deterred by the proposed legislation than they are by the mass of existing laws.

The new bill appears to have been carefully worded to avoid the difficulties in defining a replica that seem to have deterred the government from acting in previous crackdowns. In summary, if it takes an expert examining the gun at close range to tell the difference, then it counts as a "Realistic Imitation Firearm" and so will fall under the provision of the Act - and if the bill passes it will be illegal to manufacture, import or sell any item that fit this definition. At this stage mere ownership of a replica is not covered, so apparently I won't be criminalised overnight, but given the current social and political climate it's very difficult to believe that the law won't be extended to prohibit possession at some later date.

Unfortunately, replica gun enthusiasts are pretty much out on our own in the face of the growing tide of government and media opprobrium. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, representing the old guard huntin' shootin' and fishin' types, has spoken out against a minor element of the bill, a proposal to increase the age limit for owning an air weapon from 17 to 18, while declaring their support for the other clauses as "sensible and well thought-out"... The Sportsman's Association, while considerably less aloof in their outlook than the BASC, is mainly focussed on re-legalising target pistols for competition shooting (not without justification - the British Olympic shooting teams are obliged to train in France!) and although they have extended the olive branch to airsoft little actually came of it. That only leaves the airsofters themselves, and unfortunately as a group they seem so thoroughly argumentative, abusive and dogmatic that even after several years of wrangling they have yet to form a stable player's association, or even come close to it. A trade association exists for the skirmishing sites themselves, the UKASGB, but unfortunately they have managed to arouse just as much ill feeling as the proponents of the various abortive players' associations and I'm unconvinced that they have either weight, drive or credibility.

All we can really do, at this stage, is to write to our MPs and to anyone else in government who seems involved but not yet committed, but I can sense the prevailing mood, here, and I'm very much afraid that this is already a lost cause. Just as with the legislation covering real firearms, time will doubtless prove that it was a foolish and pointless piece of legislation, but by then it will be much too late.

It's a damn shame.

[As always, news and updates can be found at the excellent Arnie's Airsoft. Welcome back, Arn...]

 

7th June


I'm busy this evening, so here's a picture of one of the rose bushes in my garden. See? It's not all politics and computers, at Epicycle! (Just mostly...)

 

6th June

I worked my self to a frazzle, today, as both PFYs were off on holiday and there were a lot of small but annoying loose ends from the weekend's department move to tidy up. I'm not quite sure what happened to the helpdesk staff who usually worry about this kind of thing, but I ended up trapped in the HR department for three hours moving printers from one end of a desk to another and helping people plug their laptops into their laptop power supplies... Times like this remind me of why I was so glad to move away from desktop support in the first place!

Meanwhile, all the news that's fit to link:

At airsoft site Element Concepts, some extremely useful advice on upgrading an AEG - components that are actually a waste of money, and the best buys for enhancing the Tokyo Marui M16/M4 range.

A wonderful case mod based around a Star Wars TIE Fighter - although as the structure actually includes a desk, as well, it's rather more than most PC mods. Spectacular!

Tom's Hardware reviews two leading voice-over-IP apps, Skype and Vonage. and finds that although their approach is somewhat different there's actually very little to choose between them.

Also at Tom's, an interesting article on the techniques used by data recovery firms to restore data from failed hard disks. This used to involve giant machines, but now seems to be mostly software.

A newly-discovered sketch appears to lend weight to the claim that the Nazis were closer to nuclear weaponry that usually thought, and may actually have detonated a number of small hybrid bombs.

As expected, Apple today confirmed that it it will switch from IBM's PowerPC to Intel processors. The new systems will be released next year, and by 2007 the entire range will be Intel-powered.

The aptly-named Shagster.net is hoping to prove the old "six degrees" adage by compiling a database of linked sexual partners, although it remains to be seen how many people will kiss and tell.

More progress on very tiny things, including coils for nano-motors made from coiled gold wires 0.6 nm wide by 5 nm long, and molecular transistors that can be switched by moving a single hydrogen atom.

"Why geeks and nerds are worth it" - the meme circles around the Internet every year or two, but this particular version is one of the better ones. It probably wasn't actually written by a woman, though...

Dan's pet obsession is old-fashioned "clicky" keyboards, as found on IBM hardware back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. They're not my cup of tea, but it's nice to know that they're still available.

Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has written a book, "Reaching For The Moon", intended to introduce children to the realities of space exploration as opposed to the Hollywood movie versions.

Via Boing Boing, a wonderfully high tech way of cheating at cards - using a high res camera to analyse the scattered light that is reflected from the face of a card to fall on nearby objects.

And finally the spam email subject line of the week, advertising a porn site - "Part angels, part algae". I'm not sure what the author intended to say, but I don't think it was that... At least, I hope it wasn't.

 

4th June

It seems to me that the Islamic peoples are playing into the hands of the Bush government by allowing them to keep the issue of alleged mistreatment of the Koran at the forefront of the world media's attention. Even though the original Newsweek story was withdrawn, it's obvious from subsequent reports that at best the camp guards are extremely casual about respecting the basics of Islamic law and custom, and at worst are deliberately infringing these customs as part of an ongoing programme of intimidation and psychological torture. However, there has been something of a change in focus over the last year, and I think that maybe a point is being missed.

I know that, unlike most other religions (I don't remember Catholic riots with a dozen deaths when Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of the Pope a few years ago) the physical symbols of Islam are considered just as important as the religious tenets they embody, but surely they realise that there is a bigger issue at stake - the fact that more than five hundred Moslems are being held illegally in a foreign prison camp without charge, without legal advice, without trial, and without the protection of the Geneva Convention.

By allowing the arguments to rage over a book, or even over the wider issue of the general treatment of the prisoners, they are tacitly agreeing that there is nothing that can be done except to improve the conditions in which they are held, and while this is obviously necessary it really isn't the most important thing - if they must resort to violence in the streets (and unfortunately this seems to be the only way the extremists know of expressing themselves) they really ought to forget the book for the moment, and simply concentrate on the people themselves. If by doing so they can force the US to release the prisoners, or at the very least to try them in an open court, then whether a copy of the Koran was ever flushed down a toilet becomes not only somewhat moot, but also something they can enthusiastically protest about for years to come, smug in the knowledge that they've already won the bigger battle.

So... on one hand we have the Bushistas, happy to absorb the minor political damage that the allegations surrounding the Koran bring them in the US, as long as the wider issue of the questionable legality of the detention camp itself stays firmly out of the mainstream media - and it does indeed seem to be working out like that. On the other hand, we have the Islamic fundamentalists, who by behaving in this way are not only helping the White House to construct its smokescreen, but who may actually be glad to have the prisoners still in custody so that they can provide a strong focus as martyrs to the cause. If the latter does indeed have even an element of truth, then unfortunately think the outlook for the Guantánamo detainees is bleak indeed...

And while I'm on this subject, I really do think that the US left wing would be best served by kicking the habit of referring to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp as "Gitmo". I don't know how old this nickname is, as although I only started hearing it a few months ago for all I know it may be long-standing US military slang for the base, but even if so I don't think it's appropriate when they're talking about something so serious and significant. I know I'm coming perilously close to Godwin's Law, here, but imagine abbreviating the WWII German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen to "Bergey"... Both people and liberty are slowly wasting away at Guantánamo, and I think we owe them the respect of not trivialising even the slightest part of the issue.

 

3rd June

It's been a long week, and with the last of our departmental relocations due tomorrow it's not quite over yet. At least this is the smallest of the moves, though, which is just as well as both of my PFYs are unavailable this time and I'm going to be doing the infrastructure side on my own - although after four other floors it's all fairly routine by now, and I'm not actually expecting too many stresses and strains in spite of that.

A few quick links, then, while I still have the energy...

Solid state disks coming round again - an idea who's time never quite seems to come, but that doesn't prevent it from showing up every five years or so as the next great white elephant hope. This time the offering is from motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte, and its four standard DIMM slots can support up to 4Gb of DDR memory. I'm expecting it to sink like a stone along with its predecessors...

The story behind the spam - at Slashdot, an interesting review of the new book Spam Kings, documenting the rise (and hopefully the fall) of spam magnates such as Sanford Wallace and Scott Richter, contrasted with the people who have dedicated themselves to tracking them down and prosecuting them. It looks like a fascinating book, and will definitely go onto my Amazon wish list..

The Washingtonienne in print - notorious sex-blogger and whistle-blower Jessica Cutler has written a novel, it seems, about a young woman who trades her favours for attention, money and drugs from the political elite of Capitol Hill before the exposure of her webblog brings everything crashing down around her ears. However, we are assured that the story is definitely not autobiographical... Indeed.

Archiving podcasts - the mark of the true obsessive is someone who collects for the sake of it, rather than from any particular love for the items being collected, and as Boston filmmaker Jason Scott has captured and catalogued more than 340 GB of amateur broadcasts without listening to more than a tiny fraction of them I think he probably fits the bill. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Method in their madness - Microsoft have announced that XML will be the native file format of future MS Office versions, so their recent patent covering the conversion of objects into XML is probably no coincidence. Needless to say, the latter is raising hackles in the anti-MS camp. XML seems to be assuming the almost cult status that Java achieved in the nineties, though, which I do find bizarre...

And finally, the original use for the Internet - StripDir is a new online service that extracts the images from a web page and presents them in a format both easy to scan and to save. It also allows visitors to retrieve the recent and most popular request to view themselves, and needless to say the majority of these are decidedly rude. As usual, this ubiquitous perversion of technology makes me think of the Three Dead Trolls line about how the Internet was created "so that in the event of a nuclear attack American military leaders would still have access to pornography".

 

2nd June

I find it ironic and more than a little irritating that having managed to keep my company's leased mainframe firmly at arm's length for almost six years, now that the proverbial writing is on the computer room wall and it's due to be replaced by the aforementioned SAP system in the next year or so, I now seem obliged to cozy up to it in various increasingly intimate ways. Today has been spent waist deep in the intricacies of Microsoft's Host Integration Server and the deeply disturbing FormScape print processor, and although our efforts have ultimately been fairly successful and productive, I finished the day feeling an almost overwhelming need for a long, hot shower. SNA makes me feel so dirty... and not in a nice way.

Elsewhere, the Internet scandal du jour is that Yahoo has been placing adverts commissioned by major household brand names such as Pepsi and T-Mobile in the entrances to chat forums apparently intended to help paedophiles attract child victims. The implication of the $10 million lawsuit that has resulted is that Yahoo deliberately placed these adverts in the groups in question, but of course the reality is that adverts are displayed indiscriminately in the gateway to every forum, and in practical terms their only  culpability is in not finding and closing the less savoury areas faster than they apparently did - and considering how many groups there are, these days, it's not actually surprising that some are overlooked for a while.

In spite of the suggestive names, however, the exact nature of the discussion in the groups in question is unclear, and I have significant doubts about the scale of the risks alleged - I can't imagine many real children joining groups with names such as "5 To 13-Year-Old Kiddies Who Love Sex" or "Girls 5 To 13 For Older Men", especially when the groups were buried in the Education section of the listings - trying to persuade my step-offspring to go near anything even slightly educational, at that age or any other, was an almost impossible task, and between the names and the location they don't seem likely to attract anyone very much at all! In fact, the meme is that whatever they purport to be, the majority of participants in chat areas like this are actually male law enforcement agents in their forties...

The whole issue is another flash in the pan, of course, and although Yahoo will doubtless lose some advertising revenue in the short term, in fact Internet-based advertising is so cheap in comparison to any other medium that the sponsors will quiet drift back again as soon as the fuss has died down.

Meanwhile, the case of the two Metropolitan Police officers who shot and killed an unarmed man in the belief that the table leg he was carrying was a firearm has been re-opened. The shooting occurred in 1999, and although the initial inquest returned an open verdict in 2002, this was quashed by the High Court in 2003 and a second hearing returned a verdict of unlawful killing that has resulted in a review of the entire case. Bizarrely, one of the two won a High Court bid only last month to overturn the unlawful killing verdict on grounds of insufficient evidence, and as both have now been arrested on charges of murder, gross negligence, manslaughter and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, whatever new evidence has emerged must be significant indeed. I will be watching this one with great interest.

And, finally, the thought for the day is from Scott Adams' Dogbert’s New Ruling Class newsletter, "A Little Ray of Bitter Sunshine"...

Dear Dogbert,
Lots of people write blogs, but I’ve never heard of anyone who actually reads them. What’s up with that?
Kurt

Dear Skirt,
Blogs exist to fill the important market niche of writing that is so dull that your eyes will burrow out of the back of your head to escape. People do read blogs, usually by accident, sometimes on a dare, but those readers are later mistaken for Mafia victims with what appears to be two holes in the back of their heads. On closer inspection, you might find their eyeballs clinging to the drapes directly behind them. Unless the cat gets them first.
Sincerely, Dogbert

Indeed.

 

1st June

Life seems to have revolved around my company's upcoming SAP implementation, so far this week, and whenever possible I'm making sure that I refer to it as "SAP" rather than spelling the letters out as "S-A-P" - partly from habit, as it always used to be that way, but partly because it seems to annoy the consultants and that brings the only small moments of pleasure that this otherwise benighted project offers. Still, at least the implementation means that my PFYs and I will be getting a whole raft of shiny new hardware to fondle, including some quite respectably-sized EMC SAN arrays and a bunch of new clustered Dell servers. It could be worse!

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Government launches MG Rover investigation - following the discovery of certain irregularities in the accounts of the failed car maker, the DTI is to hold a full-scale enquiry. The actual numbers involved are instructive to say the least - when the company filed for bankruptcy its debts stood at 1.4 billion pounds, including a 415 million pounds pension shortfall, and yet apparently the directors have awarded themselves 40 million pounds in salaries and bonuses since buying the company for a nominal £10 in 2000. There have been suggestions that this money will be returned to the company to help towards redundancy payments, but it is still unclear whether this will actually happen.

RAM airsoft conversion - following in the footsteps of the ill-fated Area 51 Airsoft, a new company, SoftRAM, is marketing components designed to convert the shell-ejecting paintball markers to 6mm calibre airsoft. Dee Sheldrake of Area 51 eventually admitted that the concept was considerably harder to realise than he had anticipated, and it will be interesting to see if SoftRAM fare any better. Incidentally, they turn out to be another company with a thoroughly inappropriate domain name - softram.com is owned by a speculator, so evidently they decided that softram.net was fair game, not knowing or not caring that this TLD is intended for companies who provide the infrastructure of the Internet - ISPs, bandwidth providers, administration services etc etc. I know that people don't pay nearly as much attention to this stuff as they used to, but I'm a traditionalist and it still bugs me...

Armstrong in hair scandal - via Mike comes news that Neil Armstrong may sue his favourite barbershop after the proprietor sold Armstrong's hair clippings for $3000. Armstrong's lawyers contend that the sale violated an Ohio law designed to protect the rights of famous people, and have demanded that either the hair is returned or the profits are contributed to charity. The barber claims that he has already spent the money, and unfortunately the purchaser (an enthusiast who apparently has the world's largest collection of celebrity hair, including that of Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein and Napoleon) has declined to relinquish it. Maybe Armstrong should take a lead from fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and just punch him out...   :-)

 

Two graphs this month, to illustrate the folly of messing with domain names when the majority of one's coveted site stats come from visitors linking in via Google... Until the 21st it seemed likely that this month's figures would approach the record level of January, but as you can see the number of hits tailed off rapidly as I first re-located the domain name and then tidied up the old remnants at the chthon and cix addresses. This is now the only extant copy of Epicycle, and even though Google is already busy re-indexing the new site it may take a long time before I can edge back up to my previous level.

The benefits of the new domain host are already clear, though, in that I have finally managed to get the local search feature working. I tend to use Google myself to find entries in this site, and having the facility already integrated into the archive page is really rather neat. Go ahead, knock yourself out!

 

 

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