I'm coming to the inescapable conclusion that the
TruePower power supply in my desktop PC,
is gradually fading away and dying... I've been worrying about it
off-and-on since last autumn, when the voltage monitoring facility of my
began occasionally complaining of a low voltage on the five volt rail, and
unfortunately the problem seems to be getting steadily worse. As I write
this the rail is wobbling between about 4.5 and 4.6 volts, which is
well under spec and almost certainly the cause of the occasional
system lockups and disappearing SATA disk channels I'm seeing, and it's
clear that something will have to be done. In theory it ought to be
possible to open up the PSU and tweak a potentiometer or two, but the
exposed mains components and fine tolerances involved make that a fairly
scary procedure for both me and the motherboard, and I'm not sure that I
feel brave enough. The alternative, though, is to buy a replacement PSU -
and apart from the considerable expense of the high-power EPS12V devices
required for a heavily-loaded dual Xeon system, the idea of sleeving all
those damn wires again really doesn't appeal. The nominal five
volts seems to be rapidly heading towards four, though, and as I'm
starting to suspect that the twelve volt rail is slipping as well I really
can't dither for much longer...
Meanwhile, I'm still busy trying to catch up with
myself after the Easter holiday, so here are a few more random news links:
The Gridgame - via Ros, a fascinating and unusual online puzzle game.
I tried clicking cautiously in one corner, at first, and nothing much
happened - but then I clicked in the middle, and boy!
Yahoo vs. Google - an article at Guardian Unlimited describes how the
two online giants are continually vying to outdo each other with new
services - and right now Yahoo is ahead on points.
with biometrics - when thieves stole a new Mercedes with a fingerprint
recognition security system, they took the finger in question with them.
it was only a matter of time, really...
Blistering battery performance - Toshiba's new Lithium Ion battery
pack recharges to 80% of nominal capacity in just one minute, and will
retain 99% of this capacity for at least 1000 recharges. Not bad!
The AV Guide
- apparently an organ of venerable electronic gadget supplier
Lektropacks, this new site is
intended to be a relatively impartial guide to all things (do I really
have to tell you?) audio-visual.
allegations are circulating that ex-supermodel Naomi Campbell was seen
assaulting her assistant with a Blackberry PDA. I have to say that this
sounds a touch unlikely - the slimline Blackberry would make a very poor
blunt instrument, I think, and perhaps Naomi would be better off with
something a little more forceful - an iBook, perhaps?
Just some more quick links, as it's been a busy day. So
Dan bends over
backwards - in the wake of criticism from the
manufacturer, Dan has updated his review of the Batterylife Activator -
and, unsurprisingly, it still doesn't seem to work...
Pioneers of electronic music - New Scientist interviews Bob
Moog of the eponymous synthesiser, MIDI creator Dave Smith, and Peter
Vogel of Fairlight Instruments.
Future looking grim for Comdex - the seminal computer trade show has
been cancelled again, and after two missed years it's anyone's guess
whether it will ever be held again.
playing nice - MS have dropped their demands for $500,000 restitution
from the 19 year old author of the MSBlast worm, instead asking for a mere
225 hours of community service.
Service Pack imminent - WinBeta says that build 1830 of the service
pack will be released to manufacturing tomorrow, with commercial
distribution due sometime next month.
shower of bastards - a fascinating list of malware companies that have
filed suits against the manufactures of anti-spyware software for
detecting, removing, or even writing about their products.
rodent - Logitech's new mouse has a fascinating surface finish that
looks like three dimensional craters in the plastic. A review at
Everything USB has some great pictures.
And on the sixth day, normal service was resumed as
It was incredibly rainy as I was driving home today,
and as the motorway out of the West Country apparently went up through the
cloud layer at several points visibility was sometimes pretty much
non-existent. Of course, as usual this didn't stop a small percentage of
lunatics from charging ahead regardless, and after an hour of cautious
driving with my eyes out on stalks I came out of a fog bank to find that a
huge truck of some description had just crossed the central reservation,
stretching the metal barrier out for hundreds of yards like a giant
elastic band. This blocked the outside lanes of both carriageways, and to
make things even more exciting the ghouls who slowed right down for a good
peer at the wreckage pretty much blocked off the others. It certainly
keeps one on one's toes...
For now, though, a handful of random links while I
catch up with myself:
income taxable? - unlike most eBay users, I'm sure the IRS and the
UK's Inland revenue think that is is, but it's still a decidedly grey
area. One Ohio woman is trying to determine the exact legal status of
Internet-based "hobby" selling, though, and it will be interesting to see
Got wood - I've seen both home-made and commercial wooden cases for
desktop PCs. before, but I think this laptop shell is the first of its
kind. it certainly has... ah... character.
on dead pixels - this time a flurry of complaints about the Sony PSP,
which has prompted a less-than-impressive response from the manufacturer.
that it's the first time, though...
Robotic battlefield medics - the Pentagon is to award $12 million in
grants towards the extensive modifications required to enable use of a
civilian telesurgery system in combat situations.
Gullible Londoners free with their details - the vast majority of
people asked were quite willing to hand out significant personal details
in exchange for a chance to win theatre tickets.
Money where their mouth is - in the wake of last week's warnings from
Symantec, a Mac peripherals company offered a prize for successfully
hacking into a pair of their Macs - but the offer was withdrawn less than
a day later, allegedly after pressure from Apple. Hmmmmm.
Hanging it out in public - this New York bus information screen has
crashed and hung at the POST screen of what looks like a cheapy
off-the-shelf clone system. How embarrassing. :-)
The evils of HDTV - the TV companies are squatting on a huge swath of
the radio spectrum originally intended for digital high-definition TV,
even though the emergency services are desperate for additional
Copyfight - at Corante, a link to a study that roundly
dismisses the RIAA's claims that their war against file-sharing is "a
life-or-death struggle over theft of their means of livelihood".
RFID Kills -
the State Department wants to embed RFID devices into US passports,
broadcasting details such as name, date and place of birth and even the
holder's photograph to anyone nearby. This is a bad idea for a number of
reasons, it seems to me, and there is already a campaign against the
Epicycle will be on hiatus for a few days over
the Easter period - I'm having some downtime away from the computers.
Well, all except for the laptop, the PDA, the GPS system, the cellular
modem and whatever else I apparently can't avoid taking with me whenever I
go away, that is.
Normal service (or whatever passes for normal right
now, at least) will be resumed next week, but until then here are a few
IBM spamming spammers - new automatic systems send junk email right
back to the computer that sent it - although it's not clear to me why
there should necessarily be anything listening there... An SMTP spamming
engine probably doesn't include an incoming email service, after all!
The 2005 ROBOlympics - 450 robots have registered to compete, and the
event even comes bundled with a lawsuit from the International Olympic
Commission, who have their panties in a bunch over the use of the
"Olympics" trademark. <sigh>
The shape of things to come - five hypothetical products from Apple,
as envisioned by the design team that brought us the original PowerBook.
Now, remind me, again - this was the same PowerBook that doubled as a
hibachi grill, yes?
The birth of the notebook - a fascinating account of the development
of portable computing, although there are a number of obvious omissions...
Compaq Portable "lunchbox" series, for example, or the
that replaced them, both deserve an honourable mention.
PostSecret is exactly what it says on the can - or, in this case, on a
3" x 5" postcard. Partly a psychological experiment, and partly an arts
festival project, it's a growing collection of intimate confessions,
hidden dreams or fears, and long-buried memories - recorded on
postcards (many of them illustrated) and submitted anonymously. They're
fascinating, and often compelling and rather poignant.
I have no links, and I must thumb.
[Oh, dear, I think the pressure is
starting to get to me]
Criminalising technology - If P2P company Grokster loses their court
case next week, in theory a whole raft of everyday items will suddenly
become illegal! As the EFF explains, any technology that can conceivably
be used for violating copyright will have to be designed specifically to
prevent that from happening - photocopiers, video recorders, email
software, and even the TCP/IP itself... All we can do is hope for common
sense and fair treatment for the consumer, but I'm afraid there's precious
little sign of either of those in the US legislature these days.
Symantec in the
dog house, again - The suggestion that the Mac OS X platform will soon
attract more attention from hackers and virus writers has been greeted
with scorn and anger by the Mac community. The security company cited
Apple's growing market share, together with the 37 vulnerabilities
discovered OS X during 2004, but was met with responses along the lines of
"Grow up and quit whining" from the assembled Mac bigots. Apple
themselves declined to comment.
bans Internet porn - A new bill will require the state's ISPs to block
access to websites deemed "harmful to minors" by the Attorney General.
This move is both absurd and offensive, in my opinion - aside from the
fact that it's impossible to completely block access to any
Internet resource, and pointless even to try, this is a clear violation of
the first amendment - and six other states have already had similar
legislation ruled unconstitutional.
Retro comms frenzy - instructions for eviscerating a traditional
1950sdial telephone and replacing it with a cellphone - in such a cunning
way that the rotary dial actually dials the number. Neat!
the space-time continuum - "Einstein was right when he said he was
wrong", according to FermiLab, but it looks as if Douglas Adams was
just plain right.
cursed teddy bear up for auction - complete with a well-documented
history of bizarre and scary incidents fit for any low-budget horror
movie. The bidding is at over $135 as I write this, so evidently there's
no accounting for taste. Think of it as Monkey's Paw syndrome.
I have no thumbs, and I must link.
on implausible battery gizmos - These articles are so good -
factual, informative, as rigorous as possible under the circumstances -
and extremely amusing too
Huge computer key
seats - GreatBigStuff.com specialises in (do I have to spell it
out?) giant versions of everyday objects. If you want normal things, only
bigger, then this store is definitely for you...
Only furries need
apply - most Apple bigots seem to think that the hardware looks good
enough already, but if you fancy covering your iBook in fur fabric then
check out these instructions.
That's a lot of money - search engine Ask Jeeves is on the
point of changing hands, for an eyebrow-raising $2 billion. I've never
thought that much of it myself, actually - a bit too woolly...
crackdown on solitaire - a North Carolina senator is proposing
legislation to remove the bundled games from the state's 50,000 PCs.
Betcha that won't help productivity one little bit...
Fear Of A
Bot Planet - Britain tops the charts in zombie PCs, according to an an
article at The Register, beating the US by a little and notoriously
virus-ridden China by a lot. Hmmm.
Another rat jumps the Novell ship - now the chief technology officer
has left to head an un-named company, only moments before the annual
BrainShare fest. Sign of the times, for sure.
Information Commissioner investigating Ken Livingstone - in the wake
of yet another data protection gaffe, this time referring to a
"Shredding Week" before the Freedom Of Information Act became law, the IC
may well want a word with him... And not before time, too, if you ask me.
Ted "Theodore" Logan: Who are
Bill S. Preston, Esq.: Ted, it's the Grim Reaper, dude!
Ted "Theodore" Logan: Oh. How's it hanging, Death?
- Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
(It was very hard to think of Keanu as anything other
than Ted for a long time after
those two movies)
It's been a frustrating hardware day, on top of a
frustrating hardware month, so I only have the energy and
enthusiasm for for a few quick links... Normal service will be resumed
soon, I hope.
Explosive television - Via Boing Boing, a Russian designer TV
that is delightfully 1960s retro - but the $1499 price tag is neither
delightful nor retro... Some subtle revenge for the fall of the Soviet
Bizarre toys - also at Boing Boing, a collection of unusual
toys. I think My Borg Pony
is the favourite, but the other links are fascinating - although I'm
wondering if some of them are actually bizarre hoaxes!
Marvellously surreal - Skeletal Systems is an art exhibit of
the skeletal structure of well-know cartoon characters, from the "Peanuts"
gang to modern Japanese icons. What a wonderful idea!
The Online Video Game
Atlas - a collection of level maps and floor plans from video games
reaching back over several decades. I spotted
Of Persia, which certainly brought back memories.
dissing iTunes - I'm not the only one who is finding the current state
of Apple's iTunes hard to swallow, it seems. You can't distribute
slideshows with embedded music, now, it seems.
Self-replicating 3D printer - these cunning devices have been around
for around a decade, now (if with rather a low profile) but this is the
first one that can make a copy of itself. Another significant step...
How to hypnotize a man
- not a safe link for the office, really, unless you work for a company
where the managers have lost the ability to raise their eyebrows and stare
at you over the top of their glasses...
- I wish I had a dollar bill to hand, right now, as this site might allow
me to follow its path from person to person around the world. It will only
work well if the fan base grows a lot, though.
- a relatively new 'blog that ranges from Fortean weirdness to mainstream
science news - the current page has an odd but pleasing mixture of ghosts,
particle physics and new technology.
Letters toy I linked to the other day is cool,
Amaztype is even more impressive...
It uses images of books or album covers from Amazon to spell out the name
of the authors or musicians - here are
for example. The idea of raiding sites such as Google or Amazon for
metadata is relatively new, and if we're already seeing ideas this cool
(if, admittedly, relatively useless at present!) I wonder what is just
around the corner - especially as Google
themselves are apparently going out of their way to make interacting
with their data transparent and straight-forward.
Less impressive, though, is Apple's continuing descent
through the layers of corporate hell.
latest change to iTunes is to further restrict the streaming
capabilities, limiting the amount of people who can listen to downloaded
music locally. This is just
one of a number of changes to the service terms and conditions that
have been made after users have already purchased music, and people
are starting to notice.
To quote Tom Waits -
"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away"...
And talking of corporates... the CEO of Computacenter,
traditionally rather outspoken, has
up at Hewlett Packard: "If you look at it, what do they do? What's
their job? The software is made by Microsoft, Intel make the processors,
that's where the value is. They don't make hard drives. They don't make
the memory chips and they don't make the tin itself. They certainly don't
assemble themselves. What is it that HP do?" <laughs> I love it
when giant corporates get pissy with each other.
Quiet bike needs
added vroom - the fuel cell powered bike from Intelligent
Energy is so quiet that they're having to add artificial noise. I remember
this being mooted when BMW introduced the K100 back in the eighties - it
just purred along, and people kept stepping off pavements in front of it.
Marmite blob ad
terrified children - I saw this advert and thought it was funny, so
I'm distinctly annoyed to find that it's been banned from being aired
during children's programmes after only six complaints to the ASA.
Given how many children must have watched it, six being upset is
devils spring clean Spirit - it looks as if miniature whirlwinds have
blown dust from the solar panels of the Martian rover, bringing their
power output up to around 93% of the original level. There is still some
controversy about the exact cause, but it does seem to be too much of a
running rife - large bot nets are becoming increasingly cunning and
sophisticated, with a change of emphasis away from spam and DoS attacks
towards identity theft and scamming - one even steals objects from an
online game and hides them for the fraudster to collect later and sell!
And finally, at Cockeyed.com -
Unsolicited Commercial Love Story with a surprise ending.
I treated myself to a day off, today, and for the first
time in weeks managed to spend a couple of hours not thinking about
backup... In the meantime, I've enlisted one of my PFYs as a second brain
- after three weeks working on these problems, I'm too full of
preconceptions and assumptions to be sure that I'm really seeing the
nature of the issue clearly. He spent today going through logs and
checking error messages, so we'll put our heads together tomorrow and see
if we can come up with anything new.
For now, though, a few random news items:
Some new airsoft replica releases, courtesy of
Arnie's - firstly, a
CO2 powered mini Uzi from KWC, with full metal
construction giving it a highly realistic weight of 3.2Kg. The only
disadvantage, it seems, is that a CO2 caplet won't
actually provide sufficient power to empty an entire 39 round magazine on
full-auto. I would find that rather an annoyance, personally... Meanwhile,
the UN Company is offering
impressive FN FAL rifle, partly built from real components. I learned
to shoot on the British Army's L1A1 SLR,
a variant of the FN
design, and seeing the replica certainly brought back memories - but it's
an AEG, and I really am a gas purist these days...
Also at Arnie's, news of
a new conversion kit to enable the
Asia Paintball Real
Action Markers to fire 6mm airsoft BBs. Given that this is exactly what
the ill-fated Area 51 shell ejectors
were, it will be very interesting to see if
SoftRAM has any more success with
their design. Details are sketchy at best right now, and although I'll be
watching with interest I really don't think I'll be buying one.
Once bitten, twice shy...
Something I did buy, though (and on a sudden
whim at that!) was a new electronic target from Maruzen. I spotted it at
Zero One whilst shopping for gas, and as I'm a sucker for both high-tech
and different types of targets it positively leapt into my cart.
Zero One won't let me link to their listing (although their product code
is MZBE, if you want to find it there yourself), so here's
a photo on a Taiwanese site until I can provide my own review. Now all
I need is the time and energy to try it out - roll on the weekend!
Meanwhile, elsewhere... Defence contractor Honeywell
and industrial glass manufacturer Guardian have
filed dozens of lawsuits claiming that their intellectual property
rights for liquid crystal displays have been infringed. Some of the
lawsuits target the LCD manufacturers directly, but others are aimed at
companies that incorporate LCDs into finished products - including Dell,
Gateway, Acer, BenQ, Lite-On, Apple, Sony Ericsson, Fujitsu and Nokia.
Wow! This one is going to run and run, you bet...
In yet another flip-flop,
announced new measures to cut down on the risk to home computer users
from rogue diallers that call premium rate numbers. They seem to change
their position on this issue every month,
these days, but the new measures are better than nothing... barely. One is
an early warning service that alerts users to unusual activity on their
account, and the other is software that restricts dialup connections to
only specified numbers. Given that the former is a reactive rather than
proactive solution, and that the latter will almost certainly be shut down
automatically by the next generation of dialler scams, the best way to
serve the consumer would still be to not sell premium rate services to
offshore crooks in the first place! <sigh>
And finally, thanks to Mike, my usual purveyor of space
news - it seems that NASA budget cuts may lead to the venerable
Voyager 1 probe
being abandoned a decade or more earlier than necessary, as apparently
there no money to keep the projects operating after the
current fiscal year ends in October. Other "low ranking" missions
are also under threat of termination, including Ulysses,
Polar, Wind, Geotail, FAST and TRACE - and although the scientists
involved are scathing of the plans, they are likely to have little choice
in the matter. [As an aside, I went to check Space.com for further
details, but instead became distracted by their
Best Of Hubble
gallery and their new ray-traced
space wallpaper. Great stuff...]
I should re-post that Tim Taylor "More Power"
grunt from last week... This is the sort of tool for which the advice "do
not drink and operate heavy machinery" was coined. In spite of its
rather lurid colour scheme, this 52cm Bosch hedge cutter can chop through
branches up to 16mm thick without breaking stride - and as that is about the
size of my little fingers, I'm glad that the dual safety levers render it
impossible to use without being held firmly in both hands. It certainly made
short work of the thick ivy that is spreading over the front of my new
house, though, and as the growing season hasn't really started properly yet
all signs suggest that it's a tool with which I'm going to become extremely
A permanent eavesdropping presence - watch as the NSA franticly
struggles to reconcile their need to watch everybody in America with their
obligation to respect privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
PPU - after the CPU, the FPU and the GPU, is the next big thing a
Physics Processing Unit for calculating the motion of objects within a three
dimensional game world?
Space tether to re-orbit satellites - another classic SF idea, MXER
is a design for a 100 kilometre spinning structure that could catch
satellites in a low orbit and throw them cheaply into a higher one.
Now this is a cunning thing - the "Name
Voyager" at the Baby Name Wizard site shows the ebb and flow of
popularity in almost 5000 names over the last hundred years. Via
Bluetooth sniping - a high-gain directional antenna pointed at a large
office building detected several dozen Bluetooth-enabled devices at a
distance of around a kilometre. Next week; hacking them...
Finally, a quick plug for
The South Park Scriptorium -
comprehensive even by the usual standards of obsessive fan sites, this has
pretty much everything you'd ever need to know about the show.
For my occasional forays onto the P2P file sharing
networks I use the
FastTrack client Kazaa Lite K++, a version of the original Sharman
Networks application with all the horrendous malware removed and some
extra tools bolted onto the side. The Sharman code has a number of quirks
and annoyances, though, and today I decided to see what options were
available to update the software. Kazaa Lite itself is no longer
available, as Sharman (quite reasonably, some would say!) took offence at
such blatant copyright violation and embarked on a major campaign to shut
down sites distributing the software. This was unusually successful as
these things go, and although you can still find the final V2.4.3
release, you do have to search around - and
thanks to the DMCA Sharman even managed to remove all traces from
In its absence, though, a number of other applications
have emerged, bringing with them a confusing set of imitations, scams,
turf wars and competing projects with annoyingly similar names. Starting
one is pointed to Kazaa Lite Resurrection, Kazaa Lite Revolution, Diet
Kazaa and K-Lite. The first two are equally unauthorised hacks of the
Sharman code, but the latter pair run the legitimate code in a sandbox
environment that prevents the worst excesses of the bundled malware, and
in this way the authors hope to remain within the law - a dubious
standpoint, but one as yet untested in court.
Further searching reveals another unauthorised hack of
the Sharman code, KLT K++, which seems to be the spiritual successor to
the Kazaa Lite K++ build I'm used to. However, this is where the
infighting starts, and is also where I started to take a cautious step
back from the whole thing... The creators of the KLT K++ software are
their forum to warn about the undesirable behaviour of their
competitors, quoting a Wikipedia entry to show that Kazaa Lite
Resurrection and Kazaa Lite Revolutions are scams which install malware
onto their host platform. However, the
itself doesn't actually mention Revolutions in this context, so it has
presumably been added by the forum poster - and from the subsequent smear
of its author in the same post it appears that this is merely a personal
vendetta. This makes me wonder about the ethics of the KLT K++ creators,
and whether I wouldn't be better off staying with the known factor of the
software I'm already using... It has its annoyances, definitely, but it's
also relatively safe and secure (comparatively so, at least!) and as I
write this I'm erring on the side of prudence and caution.
At Arnie's Airsoft, more news of the upcoming
Model 470 gas adapter from
Madbull. This cunning gadget fits into the place of a Tokyo Marui M16
series mechbox, converting it from an AEG to CO2
power with "strong" recoil and a muzzle velocity of 470 fps. It's is a
fascinating idea, and I'm very tempted to get one for my own replica, but
after my disappointing experiences
with the Area 51 shell ejectors I'm cautious about being an early adopter
in this field. This time, I think I'll wait to see how the unit works out
for everyone else before taking the plunge.
Now that Microsoft and Sun are no longer constantly at
each other's throats (since the Java settlement, Sun has promised not to
be quite so rude in the press, and not quite so often), it's
evident that the physical links between the two companies are
strengthening as well. Recent visitors to the Microsoft campus have
$850,000 worth of Opteron-based servers and storage systems from Sun,
and it seems likely that more will follow.
Having written yesterday that the real risk from
viruses has moved from the traditional email vector to new, web-based
article at Yahoo News suggests that the instant messaging networks may
be just as much of a growth area. The slanging matches familiar from the
last year's email viruses are with us already, though - "Serflog", which
appeared last week, features abuse aimed at the author of February's "Bropia"
worm. <long sigh>
Finally, this year's CeBIT tech show suggests that the
IT industry's love of
jargon and acronyms is still going strong. The burgeoning
Voice-over-IP sector, for example, has already generated the terms SDP,
RTP, RTCP, VAD, CNG, NAT traversal and STUN - and I only know what one
of those actually means! You gotta love us...
There's a marvellous line in the current Misco
Networking catalogue, advertising Symantec security software -
"Viruses! Can your business afford them?". No, but we're saving up,
and hopefully by next year...
It's an odd advert, actually - it goes on to quote an
ISB survey (whatever that is!) claiming that "the average UK business
now receives roughly twenty viruses a year", and I'm still trying to
work that one out. My company receives more than twenty viruses per
minute, if they're talking about individual emails that are stopped at
one of our mail filters, and those messages represent far more than twenty
different varieties of the thousands that are currently in active
circulation... But if they're talking about viruses loose inside the
network, infecting machines and replicating internally, then, well, our
score for 2004 was nil. The flood of Bagel/MyDoom/NetSky variants was
annoying, as it threatened to slow our external mail gateway down to the
point where genuine messages might actually be delayed, but after
comprehensive testing over the summer we contracted the first line defence
out to BlackSpider's MailControl
service and haven't been bothered since. We had a one minor outbreak
back in 2003, and I think a couple in 2002, but at present viruses are
very much a known quantity and until the writers stop their
silly squabbling and get back to developing new and innovative ways of
being a pain in the ass, I don't think they're actually much of a threat
to a well-prepared organisation. We're just now seeing the first signs
that things may be about to change, though, with a new emphasis on
web-based virus code that exploits known but unpatched weaknesses in
browsers. I can implement fairly reliable defences against this sort of
risk quite easily, I think, but only at the cost of heavily
restricting the web sites that my users can access in the currently fairly
relaxed periods over lunch and before and after the working day - and I'm
sure that will generate a huge flood of complaints, many from senior
management. We shall have to see...
Elsewhere - I hadn't heard, but
Hans Bethe died last weekend. One of the 20th century's truly
outstanding physicists, Bethe's early work included theories of the
nuclear reactions that power stars and key participation in the
Manhattan Project, before he settled at Cornell University for a long
and distinguished career which lead to him being awarded the
Nobel Prize in Physics for 1967. This was by no means the end of his
contributions to physics, though, as although he officially retired a few
years later in 1975, he was still
lecturing in 1999 - at the age of 93! Every article I've read about
Bethe remarked on what a warm, friendly man he was (and I met his
secretary at a party once, who said the same), with a sparkling
sense of humour
and, just like his Cornell colleague Richard Feynman, he delighted in
passing on his love of physics to his students. He'll be
On a very different note, France's National Library has
airbrushed the cigarette out of a poster of chain-smoking philosopher
Jean-Paul Sartre to avoid prosecution under a law banning tobacco
advertising. He's not alone, though, it seems - fellow victims of the
recent wave of anti-smoking hysteria include
Equally bizarre and insulting, a story at The
Register reveals that the police in Clark County, Kentucky, have
arrested a student for intending to raise an army of zombies to attack
his school. The hapless youth insists that the so-called "evidence" was
actually a fantasy story written for his English class, but nevertheless
he has been charged with threatening terrorism, a second-degree felony,
with bail initially set at $1000 but then
raised to $5000
by a judge at the request of the persecutors. Oh, I'm sorry, that should
have been prosecutors... Rural America obviously doesn't realise
how ignorant, how asinine, how primitive and superstitious this kind of
behaviour makes them look to the rest of the world, or if they do then
evidently they just don't care. Next stop, witch burnings in the public
Just as stupid, if on a somewhat smaller scale,
this loon is
threatening a games review site with legal action because one of the
games they have reviewed (Blair Witch Vol. II, released in 2000)
contains a character with his name: "When folks type in my name to find
me, they connect me with the Blair Witch crap that makes me look
foolish--among my colleagues. This is not a pleasant experience". As
often with people who take this kind of thing personally, he appears
somewhat confused and incoherent, and apparently doesn't need outside
assistance in order to look foolish. Thanks to his featured spot on Game
Revolution, though, I don't think that "folks" will have any difficulty at
all in finding him online...
And, finally, IBM have hit upon
remarkable and innovative scheme - they have a huge, powerful
supercomputer, Blue Gene, and they plan to rent out little parts of
its processing power to external companies so that they can benefit from
the performance remotely without having to buy and operate a supercomputer
of their own. Hmmm. You know, there's something very familiar about this
idea... I can't quite place it... It's on the tip of my brain... No... Ah,
well, maybe it will come to me later.
I suppose that at some point I'm going to have to
relate the horrible and continuing saga of our misbehaving tape library,
but at this stage the exact cause of the problems is still thoroughly
obscure and it probably makes sense to wait until I can finish the story
properly. Suffice to say that at the moment Dell (the OEM), ADIC (the
hardware manufacturer), Veritas (the software house) and NCE (the
maintenance company) are all disagreeing enthusiastically with each other
over both the cause and the best resolution. However, after a full day of
on-site testing today confirmed everything I've been telling them all for
a week, NCE has finally agreed to provide a complete replacement chassis
on Monday, so we'll see what happens then. In the meantime, I'm VPNed into
the office again, as I have been every night for the last two weeks,
keeping the network backups ticking over as best as I can. It's been a
long haul, and it's not over yet...
Mars is an online radio show in MP3 format (they're calling these "podcasts"
now, I gather, as if the idea was something new that originated for the
iPod!) presenting science and space news. I especially enjoyed
the interview with legendary NASA flight director Gene "Nice
Project is constructing a replica of the solar system at a scale of
1:15,000,000 - the sun is located at the famous Jodrell Bank observatory
in Cheshire, Pluto is in Aberdeen, and various comets and asteroids are
scattered as far away as the Shetland Islands and Cornwall.
"Powers of Ten"
is the famous film sequence that pulls back from a man in a Chicago park
to the edge of the universe, and then all the way into the microscopic
cellular structure in the man's hand. Twenty five years later it was
parodied wonderfully in one of the best of the
Simpsons Couch Gags.
a Java applet that seems designed to melt one's brain. Avedon describes it
as a Rubik
Hypercube, and whilst I don't think it's actually intended as a puzzle
(god, I hope not - it's fiendish!), that's certainly is what it
looks like. More of the same
elsewhere on the site.
clever for their own good? Visitors to Japan's World Expo will be
greeted by the
reception robot from Advanced Media Inc, which looks and behaves in a
spookily realistic way and even has a sense of humour - or what passes for
one to the Japanese, that is.
hailed as the world's 579th-greatest rapper, is the creator and leading
proponent of nerdcore.hiphop. No, I didn't know what it was,
either, and even after listening to a number of his songs I'm still not
much the wiser. I expect I'm probably too old and too square...
Miles Tag is a DIY laser tag system that the creators think is
comparable or superior to the best commercial systems at a fraction of the
cost. There seem to be a number of other
too, so it's obviously something of a growth area.
And, finally, just when you thought it was safe to go
back in the call centre - terrorists fighting for an independent Kashmir
planning to attack the offices of major software firms in Bangalore,
according to the Indian police. Just another reason to rein-in the
relentless drive for offshore outsourcing, which I am convinced is causing
real harm to the future of Western business.
thinks so, too...
It's been a fairly traumatic week at the office,
between dying tape libraries and misbehaving backup software, so I'm just
going to throw out some random links and call it a night...
version of BitTorrent is out, and with more and more data being
distributed in this way (yes, even legal, above-board files!) it's
something of a must-have.
computer industry pays tribute to the great games designers with the
Walk Of Game in a Silicon Valley mall - including Atari's Nolan
Bushnell, creator of the classic "Pong."
The wait is over - after several years of speculation,
Microsoft has released the general specifications of the upcoming Xbox
2. For the real techy details, though, one needs to go to
At Forbes.com, the
ten corporate hate sites - as well as some of the big names online,
such as PayPal, Microsoft and Verizon, the other entries are traditional
Trouble in paradise? -
the Mozilla group is arguing over the future of Firefox, with heated
opposition to a faction that wants to split the application off into its
own development community.
Meanwhile, a warning to those who have moved to Firefox
or other supposedly more secure browsers instead of IE - if you have Sun
Java installed, you may still be
just as vulnerable to online nasties.
about switching to Mac - the next part of a series at Bit-Tech
about switching from the PC and Windows to the Mac and OS X - as usual,
there are many pros and many cons...
20 questions - an expert
system that plays (do I really need to tell you?) 20 questions. It's not
very good, right now, but the nature of these things is that they tend to
get better with time.
Firmly in the "too much time on their hands"
worm-controlled Synthesizer and a
worm-based sculpture. Yes, you heard me; worms.
Plush aliens - via
plush Face Hugger and Chest Burster toys. They're just a bit too creepy
to be cuddly, though, I think...
taxidermy - a bright pink wild boar rug, made from a moulded plastic
head and about an acre of artificial fur fabric. The effect is marvellous!
is it hot in here?
- an Office XP advert intended for the Swiss market, but deemed too risqué
(apparently by Bill himself!) and never officially released.
These are drive carriers for an LSI / Metastor e2400
RAID array - and they're also a complete pain in the neck. They're simply
an aluminium frame that a SCSI or fibre channel hard disk screws into,
together with a plastic front panel and retention clip that locks the
carrier into place when inserted into the drive bay. When an array comes
from the manufacturer, it contains a number of hard disks in these
carriers, and additional carriers in any vacant drive bays both in order
to control airflow and to avoid an ugly great gap in the cabinet.
However, the extra carriers that fill the unused bays
are subtly different from the ones that ship with drives attached, and the
nature of this difference is a clear sign of the nature of the modern
The first time I came across Metastor array hardware,
the spare carriers were without the screw holes needed to attach a disk
drive - although they actually had slightly raised circles where the holes
would be in a real drive carrier. I always found this rather curious, as
it was such a blatantly artificial way of wringing a few more bucks
out of the customer - the dummy carriers must cost pretty much the same
amount to manufacture as real ones, so they might as well have given you
all you needed to fill the array to capacity when you purchased the unit.
After all, the arrays themselves cost tens of thousands of pounds, and
forgoing the sale of a few additional bits of metal and plastic at a later
date probably wouldn't cause the downfall of the company...
Lack of holes notwithstanding, on the occasions we
needed to add a drive or two to these arrays in a tearing hurry I simply
grabbed a handful of carriers, took them home, and attacked them with my
trusty Dremel. Thanks to the ready-marked locations, drilling the required
holes in the soft aluminium frame was the work of only a few minutes, and
often preferable to waiting several days or weeks while a purchase order
crawled its way through various finance departments and a new carrier
found its way from the supplier to my desk.
However, the current generation of carriers (now
supplied under the aegis of "Engenio" after a merger with LSI Logic, and
then a subsequent separation and rebranding) are considerably more
annoying... It obviously occurred to some swinish marketing droid that
harried techies might do just that, as instead of merely not drilling
the screw holes, as before, instead they have deliberately drilled holes
that are too large!
This makes DIY modifications almost impossible, as the
carriers are an exact fit into the chassis and there's no space for a
washer or over-sized screw head, so even the more resourceful users are
obliged to buy genuine replacements. Unfortunately, the array hardware is
getting a little long in the tooth, and now that we want to wring the last
few gigabytes of capacity from it before retirement next year I'm having
great difficulties actually sourcing extra carriers! None of my usual
suppliers can help, and although I'm waiting to hear from several other
firms I'm not really expecting good news to be waiting in my mailbox when
I get into the office tomorrow morning.
Necessity, however, (as usual in hands-on IT) is the
mother of invention, and I'm attempting to bodge my way around the
problem. The top carrier in the picture is my pattern, showing the neatly
drilled and countersunk holes that I have to reproduce - and the bottom
one is my experiment, showing where I'm attempting to fill the over-large
holes with epoxy resin prior to re-drilling them to the correct size. I'm
not convinced that it will work, as by the time I've countersunk the epoxy
to allow the screw heads to fit flush into the carrier there won't be much
bulk left to hold the screw, but in the absence of any better ideas I'm
giving it a go. It will be interesting to see if it works out - watch this
[Update: It did work, and very well. We found a
supplier, in the end, but they wanted to charge us over £180 for a
pair of carriers and both my manager and I blanched at that... So once the
epoxy had hardened completely I drilled and countersunk the holes, scared
up some spare screws, and J.R. "Bob"
Dobbs was our uncle. Neat!]
|What do we want? More power!
It's always nice to have the right tool for the job. :-)
I spent a few hours yesterday drilling monstrous holes in
the walls of my house and running CAT5 through them, so for the first time
since I moved back in December of last year I don't have to step over a
bundle of network cables when I go into the kitchen. Ahhh, luxury! I still
have to route one cable around a door frame a little more elegantly than it
is at present, and I have some mini-trunking on order from old favourite
The Networking Store for that, but I'm getting there slowly.
Installing a corporate-level computing infrastructure in a small terraced
house is a challenge, but it's certainly an entertaining one!
PoliTech - Live from the last week's court hearing, Apple's Orchard
Of Terror. And at
News.Com, "Apple Computer is trying to win the argument that Richard
Nixon lost". Indeed.
Eek! Via Security Focus, news of
a nasty new vulnerability in XP and Server 2003 - "Using tcpreplay to
script this attack results in total collapse of the network". Look
forward to an update soon... I hope.
BPI learns from the RIAA - in less than a month, the British
Phonographic industry has managed to extract £50,000 in out-of-court
settlements from alleged file-sharers in the UK.
A change to Windows Product Activation - in a nutshell, you'll no longer
be able to use the OEM serial number stuck on the outside of a big-name PC
to re-activate Windows if you need to re-install.
Off the hook again! Russian online music store
safe for a
while longer, it seems, after prosecutors concluded that the loophole
the site had counted on is perfectly valid.
"You probably didn't think I did
But I heard
You say that
Love is just a four letter word"
Bob Dylan, but
In the wake of the legal decision that the Apple news
turn over the names of their sources, a thread at Slashdot is asking
Apple The New Microsoft?" - and the general consensus is that, yes,
they might well be. Regular readers of Epicycle will find this
sentiment decidedly familiar, so remember, folks, you
what we're listening to - Gracenote Inc, the current owner of the
original CDDB database, is collecting all sorts of information every time
someone plays or rips a track using a CDDB-enabled application. Well,
there is a reason why the technically aware have
hacked all their apps to use FreeDB,
More on the Microsoft vs. Eolas retrial -
evidence was deliberately left out from the original trial, it seems,
showing that the browser plug-in concept had already been used in the
Viola application a year before the patent was filed in 1994.
At Modders HQ,
an excellent tutorial
on using a Dremel rotary tool to make a complex and detailed cut-out in a
PC case panel. I seem to have blown my Dremel up, unfortunately, and I may
take this opportunity to invest in one of the newer
The FCC has
imposed a $15,000 fine
on a North Carolina telco for sneakily blocking Voice-Over-IP calls made
over their network. This is a classic corporate reaction at the moment,
I'm afraid - protecting a monopoly is far more important to many
companies than serving their customers.
Strange things are afoot in Seattle - in something of a reversal of
previous intentions, it looks as if Microsoft will retrofit their
long-delayed WinFS file system into Windows XP... In spite of announcing
that it won't be included in the initial releases of the Longhorn OS that
will be XP's successor!
On the Internet, everybody knows you're a dog - a Ph.D. student
at University of California has demonstrated how PC hardware can be
fingerprinted remotely, allowing it to be tracked wherever it is on the
Internet. As usual, the implications for online privacy are deeply
At a Java symposium in Las Vegas, the assembled experts
declared Java to be
mature to the point of boredom, and admitted that Microsoft's
competing .Net Framework now has more vitality, and is becoming
increasingly appealing to modern developers. Interesting...
"Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand
ways. Where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses."
- Arlen Price
Just a few random snippets, tonight...
The US Court Of Appeals has
reversed part of the ruling in the Microsoft vs. Eolas patent dispute,
removing the absurd $565m penalty and sending the case back for a
re-trial. I definitely approve...
Blasting Condi - Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of
Winnipeg and former Canadian foreign minister, addresses U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice in no uncertain terms.
Twang - A neat little Java applet that graphically models the harmonic
motion of a vibrating string. I love playing with these things...
Guide game wins BAFTA - the recent port of the old
HHG text adventure to the web has picked up an award for interactive
Cheap world music - courtesy of Smithsonian Institute's Global Sound
project, an extensive collection of folk music from around the world, all
at 99¢ per track with no DRM restrictions.
Duke lives on - the first Doonesbury strips featuring the character
inspired by the late Hunter Thompson.
volumes of collected Uncle Duke strips can be found at Amazon, too.
L0rd 0f teh Ringz0rz, Teh Tw0 T0werz - what can one say? Highlights
from the second volume of LOTR, helpfully translated into Leetspeak. D00d!
Finding The A-Team - at media site Stuffo, an elegant piece of satire
as they try to recruit the A-Team to rescue a damsel in distress. "I
love it when a plan for a plan coming together comes together"...
And, finally, something marvellous from the Jargon
Guide... Anyone who was delighted by hacker folklore
Story Of Mel, A Real Programmer will be fascinated to know that he
really existed - an unearthed copy of the manual for the LGP-30
minicomputer featured in the saga refers to Mel Kaye of Royal McBee, who
did the bulk of the programming of the ACT 1 system. Neat, indeed! .
"There are a number of gadgets on the market that
enhance sexual desire. Chief among them, for women, is the Mercedes-Benz
380 SL convertible."
- P.J. O'Rourke
Tonight Epicycle is drawing back the veil that
shrouds the mists of time to reveal a glimpse of the shadowy pre-history
of computing... Or something like that...
Could Bill Gates write code? - Yes, it seems, he certainly could... In
fact, back in the mid seventies, his work on Altair BASIC showed that he
was something of a programming diva. It's nice to know. ;-)
And talking of the salad days of Microsoft (or
"Micro-soft", as they were until 1976)
a fuss is brewing over the real origins of the QDOS operating system
that became the original MS-DOS.
MS-DOS is missing, but you can play with its main
competitor of the day, CP/M, at the wonderful (if somewhat embryonic)
Online Software Museum.
Altair Disk Extended Basic is there, too, as well as the canonical UNIX
Seventh Edition and Data General's minicomputer RDOS.
A Brief History
Of Spreadsheets, from VisiCalc to Excel - surely one of the least
exciting classes of application software (to anyone but an accountant,
that is), but nevertheless the "killer app" that drove the entire
A History Of
Browsers, as well - and these tools, together with the underlying Web
that they navigate, are still powering the current revolution in online
computing. There's a full
breakdown here, too, for those obsessed with HTML version numbers...
The chronicle of that marvellous white elephant,
It showed great promise for a while, but a bizarre political schism
between IBM and Microsoft in 1990 sealed its fate for ever.
excellent entry on the evolution of OS/2's successor, Windows - all
the way from V1.0 to the perpetually imminent (but inevitably delayed)
release of Longhorn and Blackcomb.
Of course, no discussion of modern operating systems
would be complete without
the GUI war
between Microsoft and Apple, and Wikipedia delivers there, as well, with a
thoroughly unbiased account.
As enthusiasts of Microsoft's server platforms know,
the kernel of Windows NT was written by David Cutler, creator of Digital's
VMS mainframe OS.
A 1998 article discusses the noticeable similarities between the two
At The Old Files
abandonware site, a number of useful resources, including Powerload's
information on DOS in all its various flavours and Lightspeed's
And finally, courtesy of Wired,
extract from Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, which together with
Tracy Kidder's classic
Soul Of A New
Machine, is one of the finest books ever written on the
high-pressure computer industry culture of the eighties. The contrast
between Data General's button-down hardware engineers and Microsoft's
relentlessly alternative programmers is striking. <long sigh>
Ah, it all makes me feel so nostalgic for the good old days...
has now announced that stopping Osama Bin Laden from orchestrating
further attacks on the US is "the greatest challenge of our day". Does he
think we all have as poor memories as he apparently does?
"You know, I just don't spend that much time on [bin
Laden], Kelly, to be honest with you ... And, again, I don't know where he
is. I - I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him"
- White House press conference, March 2002
"Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not
worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."
- Presidential Debate, March 2004
You can actually hear
the sound of
flip-flopping all the way over here in Essex... What an ass he is.
Elsewhere, courtesy of satire group The Royal We,
a parody of
Apple's infamous "1984" advert, which really tells it like it is. "Apple:
We've got your revolution for sale." Heh!
Tales of Future Past - a marvellous gallery of predictions of the
future, now mostly been and gone... We were all going to have robot
butlers, fly to the office with jetpacks, and holiday on the moon...
Turnpike Prank - hilarious adventures on the The Massachusetts
Turnpike, courtesy of Zug, "the world's only comedy site". Also
experiments in credit card fraud and Viagra in church - this is
definitely a site to keep an eye on. :-)
This is the result of our labours at the weekend - a
42U cabinet filed from top to bottom with CAT5. This particular one is a
joint effort between one of my PFYs and myself - he did the blue network
cabling, then I did the red phone cabling - and between us we managed to
turn out the best one so far. It won't last, of course - over the next few
months other, less fanatical, colleagues will add cables here and there,
normally in a hurry and without the right colour or the right length to
hand, and soon enough it will be a mess of spaghetti just like the cabinet
it replaced. Ah, well - nobody ever said the life of a senior techy would
be an easy one...
I've spotted some interesting new developments in CAT5
cable management, though - firstly, old stalwart supplier RS are selling
patch leads with right-angled bends built into the RJ-45 connector, so
that the cable comes out either parallel to the hardware for use in
confined spaces, or, more usefully, up or down for use in a crowded patch
panel. These are very cunning indeed, and although they're at a premium
price right now, hopefully in a year or two the novelty value will have
worn off and they'll be affordable as standard equipment.
Something else I spotted recently is the eponymously-named
Neat-Patch system from American manufacturer
Neat-Patch Products. Designed with
the cabling needs of high-density blade server installations in mind,
nevertheless it looks extremely suitable for medium density installation
as well, and as the name suggests it is wonderfully neat. I've seen
similar cable management gadgets in the last few month, so evidently
the market is undergoing something of a resurgence, but Neat-Patch does
look to be the most elegant. Maybe next time...
honorary knighthood - not Sir Bill, unfortunately, but instead a
Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Carly Fiorina for president - now that Hewlett Packard have dispensed
with La Fiorina, she's looking for another job... and apparently the
presidency of the World Bank is up for grabs. Bob help us all...
Got Bible - Via
The Sideshow et al - it's kinda neat, and kinda fun... but it's
kinda sad as well. I really do prefer quislibet's
exceptional Latin version, though...
Supermodel spy robots - you heard me. Yes, supermodel spy robots.
Don't look at me like that. Honestly, you'd think you'd never seen an
elegantly anthropomorphic automaton that lurks in malls, identifying the
brand names on passing shoppers' carrier bags and sending the statistics
to its owners for marketing purposes, before. Well, really... Have you
been living in a cave or something?
An annoying day at the silicon face, unfortunately,
with a bout of all-in wrestling with our Exchange 2003 email server. As
with its predecessors, the information store that holds the messages is
total of 16Gb and, unlike the Enterprise Edition, with the Standard
version we use only one store can be configured per server. This is an
annoying restriction, based as it is on a marketing decision rather than
any technical reason, but after all 16Gb represents a lot of email
and it isn't usually too much of a worry.
However, over the last month we've been working hard to
move tens of gigabytes of data from stand-alone .PST files held in user
home directories on our main file server (now groaning at the seams
somewhat!) into an
email archiving system designed to hold all older and larger messages
until someone in senior management decides that they can be safely
deleted. Unfortunately, as these imported messages pass through the
information store on their way to the archive, some messages don't meet
the qualifications for archiving and stick in the IS instead. We've been
monitoring the size of the .EDB database file carefully over the last
month, but unfortunately had failed to realise that the .SFT streaming
file counts towards the 16Gb total as well - so while we were thinking
that we were perfectly safe at less than 14Gb, in fact we were heading
ever closer to that hard limit...
We finally hit the barrier on Friday afternoon, and
when that happened the information store automatically dismounted itself,
cutting 700 people off from their email. As can be expected, they were not
happy about this, but short of a mass slash-and-burn through the email
folders (about which they would be even less happy, you betcha!) there
wasn't much that could be done except to tweak the parameters from their
generous initial settings to something a little more keen, leave the
archiving process and online defragmentation to run in the background for
a few nights, and then run an offline defrag of the IS to recover
the free space.
Unfortunately this plan didn't take into account the
voracious email usage of our users, and this lunchtime we hit the 16Gb
limit again and I had to abandon my chicken burger half-eaten and rush
back to the office to start off an emergency offline defrag. This one only
produced barely enough free space to last us through the afternoon, but
having completely removed the deleted item retention period from the IS
I'm now watching a second defrag pass which hopefully will free up enough
(and I'm looking for several gigabytes here, Ok?) to get us over the hump
and allow the background archiving to take care of the rest over the next
I thought I'd seen the last of this kind of crisis when
we migrated away from Exchange 5.5 eighteen months ago, but although
Exchange 2003 demands significantly less day-to-day housekeeping,
it still needs an experienced eye cast over it rather more frequently than
we've had the opportunity to... The pace of change, development and
implementation of new systems on our network over the last couple of years
has been breathtaking, and I'm afraid that some of the routine
maintenance tasks have fallen by the wayside under the pressure. It's a
salutary lesson - Microsoft's modern Active Directory networks are very
good indeed, and I definitely stand by my decision to steer our own
evolution in this direction, but they still need competent management and
that just can't be skimped on.
[Update: It's eleven o'clock, and having wrestled
with the damn thing since six, after various cunning schemes I've
succeeded in whittling the store down to around 10Gb. I think that will do
Meanwhile, back at the stats... Not quite such a
spectacular month as January, but I suspect that the overall trend will
remain upwards in the long term. Today's grand total is 89,525 hits since I
started monitoring, though, so I think that I'll reach that magic 100,000
rather sooner than last year's calculations suggested. In the meantime, feel
free to vote for Epicycle at the
50 - and then I won't have to come over to your house and manage your
email system, Ok...?