I'm currently reading a
biography of Sun Microsystems co-founder and CEO Scott Mc Nealy (the
man who once described Microsoft supremos Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates as
and Butt-head") and it made me think of this old anecdote from net.god
Keith Bostic's mailing list back in the heady days of 1994, contributed by
Wendell Craig Baker:
What makes my friend's job so ugly
is that he doesn't only work with just any strain of Unix - he works
with Solaris. And he doesn't just deal with just any braindead users -
his users are the executives at Sun Microsystems.
Let me tell you about Sun
Microsystems. At Sun, there's a long history of executives playing
pranks on one another. For April Fools, these rowdies would play tricks
like putting a golf course (complete with putting green) in Scott
McNealy's office, or floating Bill Joy's Ferrari in one of the
landscaped ponds. Things have come a long way since then. Now every day
is April Fools, and my friend doesn't like it one bit.
VP: "Admin!! What the fuck is this
thing running on my machine?"
Admin: "It's Solaris, sir."
VP: "Get it off of my machine at once!"
Admin: "But sir, Ed Zander told me that you should be running
VP: "Zander, huh? I'll fix him. Is he running Solaris?"
Admin: "No sir."
VP: "Why not?"
Admin: "If he ran Solaris, he wouldn't be able to get any work
VP: "Very well, restore my machine to SunOS, and put this Solaris
crap on Zander's machine"
Admin: "But sir..."
VP: "That's an order! And tell him Scott gave you the directive
Admin: "Yes, sir"
Zander: "Admin!! What the fuck is
this thing running on my machine?"
Admin: "It's Solaris, sir."
Zander: "Get it off of my machine at once!"
Admin: "But sir, Scott McNealy told me that you should be running
Zander: "McNealy, huh? I'll fix him. Is he running Solaris?"
And I thought I had it tough.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
The truth about cables - Dan of Dan's Data has always
opponent of the
pseudoscience used by hi-fi companies to sell cables costing hundreds of
dollars per foot and other voodoo audio hardware, but it's often seemed
that he was a lone voice in the wilderness. It's very nice to see that he
now has able support from geek site Audioholics, who are
myths such as the requirement to "break in" interconnects. More power
in the news - Microsoft has identified thirteen organisations that are
using large groups of so-called "zombie" PCs to distribute spam, and is
currently trying to track down the people behind the scenes in order to
proceed with legal action. Given their extensive influence and resources
it seems likely that they will have some considerable success with the
targets they have already identified, but unfortunately given the scale of
the problem this is merely a drop in the ocean.
ID cards under fire again - opponents of the government's
fundamentally flawed ID card proposals are having to wait in line to
register their displeasure, these days, with the latest criticisms coming
from a number of senior civil servants including Government Chief
Information Officer Ian Watmore. At this stage it seems that only the PM
and the Home Office are in favour of the scheme, and as they are clearly
intending to pass a proportion of both the immense costs and the numerous
difficulties onto other government departments they are rapidly running
out of support elsewhere in Whitehall.
Blunkett still in the doghouse - only a few weeks after his
last little scandal, the disgraced David Blunkett is
mired in yet another. This time he has emerged that during his
(regrettably brief) absence from the cabinet he took an extremely
lucrative job as a director of DNA testing firm DNA Bioscience, a fact
which he "inadvertently" ommitted to mention to the committee that
oversees such appointments. Given that apparently this was the second time
he had made this "mistake" in only two months, and that he was officially
warned after the first "oversight", the only sensible conclusion I can
reach is that he is corrupt, sleazy and moreover incompetent as
well. He should resign.
Given that buying and selling airsoft replicas
(although not, at this stage, owning them) is likely to be illegal in
Britain once the Government's woefully misguided
Violent Crime Reduction Bill has
passed into law, I'm allowing myself to splash out a little while I still
can. My latest acquisition is Tanaka's replica of the
Remington 700 bolt
action rifle, in a "take-down" form as seen in all the best
This is a second-hand piece, and the previous owner has
lovingly assembled a full kit into another of those useful aluminium gun
cases: an enormous Mojji Hornet 3-9x 50mm illuminated reticule sniper
scope, a Versa-Pod style tactical bi-pod, a pair 10 round magazines and a
leather sling. Everything the discerning psychopathic sniper could ask
for, in one easy to carry package.
The front end slips into the stock, rotates 90°,
and locks solidly with a cam when a lever is pivoted back flush into the
foregrip. The scope clips on at one end, pivots 90° and snaps into place.
Slide in a magazine, cycle the bolt, and you're ready for the Federal
Marshals - it's just ten seconds from opening the case to a bloody
last-stand in the window of a book depository building...
In use the replica is extremely pleasant to shoot and
consistency seems excellent once the gas in the magazine has warmed up to
room temperature. The bolt action is smooth and positive, if longer than
the .22LR rifles I used to shoot as a young pup, and the trigger pull is
amazingly short and light as befits its role as a long-distance target
rifle. I've only put a couple of magazines through it so far, doing
extremely well with the first one and disgracing myself with the second
thanks to overconfidence - apparently I'm really out of practice
with long arms!
debased technology - this unusual device is connected via Bluetooth to
a nearby cellphone, and triggered into a pattern of activity when a
specially-encoded SMS message is received. :-)
COM ports - possibly an application who's time has already passed, but
IP-COM allows a serial device to be shared over a network by attaching to
a specific TCP port. Cunning stuff.
lyrics reworked - just when you thought it was safe to go back to the
computer room, the BackBytes column in Computing magazine
has been running a competition...
Point Oh! - choose a name and product for your connected technologies
startup with the aid of this handy online generator: "RSS-based dating
via shockwave torrents", coming right up!
Bastard EULAs - at the new daily 'blog at Tom's Hardware Guide, some
of the more totalitarian and unpalatable license agreements from
Microsoft, Claria, Apple, Pinnacle, and others.
Lies and the UK government - the ID card scheme is proving to be a
fertile ground for deception, spin and downright untruth, such as the
recent announcement that the cost will be kept down to £30.
maps of Hell - the vast majority of the world's DNS servers are open
to attack, according to a scan of 1.3 million servers by net performance
firm The Measurement Factory.
Intel kills Indian CPU - the surprise announcement that Intel is
cancelling the multicore "Whitefield" server processor range is a massive
blow to the company's Indian design and manufacturing arm.
A mouse with RAM - just when you thought you'd seen everything, the
Razer Copperhead gaming mouse has blue LEDs, seven buttons, a 1MHz scan
rate, and 32KB of on-board memory. Gosh!
Pictures of sound - Project C-90 is collecting images of one of
the classic eighties icons, the audio cassette, and I'm amazed at how many
of them I recognised immediately even twenty years later.
housewares - even replica guns are unpopular these days, thanks
to government lies and media hysteria, but apparently this hasn't stopped
a succession of avant-garde designers from producing lamps and vases
inspired by (or even made from) firearms of various types.
I'm making up for lost time... What with one thing and
another, opportunities to post have been few and far between over the last
week, but now the weekend is here and even though I'm fighting with a
'flu/cold bug the backlog is starting to nag at me. To assuage the guilt
provoked by my traditional Protestant work ethic, therefore, here's a
bumper crop of random news links:
bouncing ball - Sony's advert for their new Bravia LCD television
features 250,000 rubber powerballs being bounced down one of San
Francisco's famous hills - and, amazingly in this day and age, there were
no computer graphics involved!
RIM coughs up for
JPEG patent - BlackBerry PDA manufacturer RIM has joined a growing
number of companies who have agreed to license the JPEG image compression
technology from Fogent, who grabbed and then somehow successfully defended
the patent back in 1997.
Support for ID cards dwindles - in the wake of the UK government's
smallest ever majority in passing the bill through the House Of Commons,
both the Information Commissioner and
Microsoft have revealed grave concerns about the security of
the data that is to be stored.
Spam blogging - with conventional email spam dwindling somewhat
following continued improvements in filtering technology and a number of
high-profile convictions, the latest assault comes in the form of fake
blogs, created automatically and stuffed with links to dubious web sites.
browser stats - the war is over, it seems, and - sorry - it looks like
Microsoft has won. Even in the face of a growing number of competing
operating systems, the vast majority of visitors to the popular BBC web
site use MS products. And with Vista due next year, it's hard to see that
Another Apple cockup - the boys from Cupertino are losing their touch,
it seems, with PowerBook and iBook power supplies suffering from a
critical design flaw that can lead to the tip of the power connector
breaking off inside the laptop - something that is extremely fiddly
or expensive to repair.
track minds - Microsoft has warned that the software industry is
woefully unprepared for the emerging multi-core processors, with a
distinct scarcity of applications written to support a multi-threaded
environment - something that will not be news for SMP enthusiasts
such as myself.
mighty fall - if you listen carefully you can actually hear
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's teeth grinding at the news of yet another
critical security flaw in the company's DBMS - this time, a broad-spectrum
weakness in the way that passwords are encrypted within the security
modular PSU - I'm extremely happy with my
Seasonic S12 power supply, but if I was still looking this new unit
from Silverstone would definitely be of interest. It's one of the growing
number of fully-modular units, but the first I've seen that supports the
dual motherboard EPS12V standard.
visits the moon - NASA have released some of the data gathered by the
highly successful lunar mapping probe in the form of a dataset for their
World Wind 3D mapping
application. Accurate to a resolution of 20m, the huge bulk of images have
taken since the 1990s to process.
no guts, no glory - following on from the recent knitted DNA strand
comes this even more wonderful knitted human digestive system,
anatomically correct down to the gall bladder and the appendix. I have
endless respect for people who can dream up this kind of thing...
I came home yesterday to discover that although my
desktop PC was apparently working correctly, and could be driven quite
happily from the laptop via VNC,
nothing could persuade my beloved Iiyama 19" LCD monitor to display a
picture! Some testing with spare components borrowed from the office ruled
out the graphics card as the source of the problems, and further fiddling
showed that the monitor would display an analogue signal via either of its
two inputs, but not a digital one. It still isn't clear whether the
problem is with the monitor's circuitry or the digital signal cable, but I
can scrounge from work again and test the latter tomorrow.
Either way, however, I can take advantage of Iiyama's
year on-site warranty, which thanks to the comparative stinginess of
all the other manufacturers will probably be the first time I have been
able to even think about a warranty repair for a major piece of
hardware. On the downside, however, this actually comes at rather an
annoying time, as I was on the point of upgrading my equally-beloved
Radeon All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro to ATI's latest (and probably final AGP
X800 XT. This card supports dual displays, and I'd been intending to
splash out on a matched pair of the current equivalents to my Iiyama
I could buy the H1900s by simply handing over a couple
of major limbs to Scan or WStore, but amazingly the All-In-Wonder version
of the X800 graphics card seems completely unavailable in the PAL version
suitable for use in England, well over six months after the
reviews started appearing in the IT press. For some bizarre reason ATI
only ships its own versions of the card to the North American market,
instead relying on Far East manufacturers such as Sapphire and Connect 3D
to supply the European market, and evidently they're running behind.
Unfortunately for this particular card I can't even import, as the
ATI-badged versions are NTSC only, a complication I definitely don't
So I suppose I will investigate to see if Iiyama's
warranty is as good in the flesh as it is on paper, and wait until the AIW
card has not only hit the market but also cooled down a little from it's
doubtless extortionate initial pricing - and by that time the H1900 LCD
panels may even be a little more reasonably price as well. Ah, but I hate
Napster has nothing to sell - the beleaguered online music service is
trying a brave new marketing strategy, stressing that you're only
renting music from them and will need a lifetime subscription if you
want to keep listening to it! Given the company's uncertain legal future,
that really doesn't sound like a sensible investment, to me...
molecules - a research team at UC Riverside has created an organic
molecule that actually walks, unbonding one of it's "legs" from a
copper substrate, flexing its little molecular bonds so that the leg
pivots forward, then planting it firmly down again before repeating the
cycle with the other leg. This is an astounding achievement, and the
possibilities for nanotech based on this are immense.
much time? - a somewhat less momentous discovery comes from a
physicist at CERN, who has proved mathematically that if a four-legged
patio table is wobbling on an uneven surface, turning it around its axis
will probably produce a stable configuration. This seems to have been
somewhat of a hobby-horse for the researcher in question, and the proof is
the result of ten years' work...
DNA - and talking of debased science, this knitting enthusiast's site
has a wonderful pattern for a DNA strand, complete with the classical
representation of the GC/TA base pairs. It does seem to me, however, that
the helix is actually going the wrong way...? <cough>
The whirl of activity continues, so I'm just going to
post a handful of random links, and you'll have to survive without the
dubious benefits of my turgid prose to accompany them...
shell - the new MS scripting engine that will ship with the Vista operating
Asymmetric bookshelves - they look... ah, interesting, certainly, and
even have a built-in seat.
for light bulbs? - a side-effect of quantum dot research, stirred into LED
The Word of Dan
- the latest letters column. Short, this time, but always worth reading.
New wireless threats - various flavours of man-in-the-middle attack are
becoming more common.
back in the US - Johansen will be working for maverick entrepreneur Michael
Talking dirty - audio erotica is growing ever-more popular, and I imagine
Apple will claim credit...
props - Master Replicas are one of the premier manufacturers of SF
and fantasy replicas.
the elements - Mendeleev's traditional periodic table is now too boring,
Just a meagre handful of random links, tonight, as it's
all been a bit of a whirl. I'll catch up tomorrow - unless it's another
whirl, of course, which right now does seem rather likely...
Nuts 'n' bolts
- at PureOverclock.com, an article on the new Liberty 500W PSU from
Enermax, but what starts off as just another power supply review suddenly
becomes unusually informative, with a quick run-through of the process of
converting mains AC to low voltage DC, and which physical components on
the PCB are responsible for each stage. Useful stuff.
everything now department - a dedicated editor for your HOSTS
file? Not quite as silly as it sounds, perhaps, given the current
popularity of blocking advertising embedded in web pages and known spyware
sources by redirecting them to 127.0.0.1. It should be noted that the way
the HOSTS list is parsed is not terribly efficient, though, and a giant,
bulging file listing every known source of online annoyances will do
little for one's TCP throughput...
servers - I'm very fond of my racks of gunmetal Dell PowerEdge
systems, resplendent with their soft blue "everything's OK" lights, but
these new 19" server cases from home theatre PC specialist Silverstone put
them to shame... They're 3U designs, in the usual black brushed aluminium,
and have a 7" touch-screen LCD built-into the front panel. They're not
really server-spec by my standards (no hot-swappable drive bays!) but it's
certainly a step in the right direction.
Every week or so I receive an email about something
I've written here, asking for more information or advice. The usual topics
are the Pioneer DRM-5004x CD
library, how good the Koolance
PC3-736 water-cooled chassis really is, or, the perennial favourite,
how to fit a three-point tactical
rifle sling. I've always taken the time to reply, but this can be
quite an involved process when someone has asked multiple questions about
a complex subject, and I often have to send photographs (especially in the
case of the three-point sling, which is far easier to illustrate
than to describe in words) to clarify what I've written... And the
response? 95% of the time, there's no reply at all. Not even a quick
"thanks". Nada. Zip. Nothing.
I have to admit that I find this pretty insulting. I'm
under no obligation to help with these queries, but I do like to help and
having tried to do so the least I expect is to have my response
acknowledged. I don't expect fulsome praise - after all, they may not
actually agree with what I've said! - but I do expect something!
I'm trying very hard not to let this basic lack of manners dissuade me
from taking the time to reply in future, but I wonder how long this will
last before I give up in frustration. In the meantime, though, it's very
tempting to sign up these rude SOBs to the most annoying and offensive
spam mailing list I can find (and believe me, having been online with the
same email address since the dawn of the 'net I'm on a fair few of those
myself) just to vent my spleen...
Spectacular but puzzling - avant-garde artist Elizabeth Hickok has
created an enormous three dimensional model of San Francisco, moulded
entirely from Jell-O. This leaves me with only one thought on my mind -
Why? Why, why, why, oh why? I think we're back at the old adage about time
and the amount of it one has on one's hands...
Stripping down - industry analysis company iSuppli Corporation
is rapidly becoming the place to go for the inside skinny on the
manufacturing cost of today's consumer gadgets, and their latest foray
into gratuitous disassembly covers the iPod Nano and the new Gameboy Mini.
To nobody's great surprise, both cost far less to manufacture than their
premium selling price suggests...
Intelligent design reaches Australia - the federal education minister
Dr. Brendan Nelson has thoroughly proved his unsuitability for the post by
stating that he has no objection to ID being taught in schools down under
- a view which is not supported by the 70,000 scientists who have
signed an open letter condemning the idea as unscientific claptrap.
Loathing In Mos Eisley - Hunter Thompson meets George Lucas... It
ought to be good, but unfortunately it misses the mark. The incredibly
muddy soundtrack doesn't help, as even though I know both F&L and Star
Wars intimately I still couldn't make out many of the words. If HST had a
grave, you'd be able to hear him spinning in it...
the doghouse, again - the pretty yet absurdly fragile iPod Nano is the
subject of Apple's latest visit to court, following widespread problem
with scratches to the display screen. The situation hasn't been helped, I
gather, by the fact that the Nano's optional protective case wasn't made
available until well after the player itself had launched.
goes around, comes around - following his high-profile spat with the
creators of the online comic Penny Arcade, anti-games loon and some-time
lawyer Jack Thompson is under investigation for unethical behaviour. Fans
of the strip have swamped the Florida Bar Association with complaints
about Thompson's rabid faxes and phone calls, and he is likely to face a
how hard does it have to be? - I've upgraded the hard disks in a whole
bunch of laptop PCs, recently, varying from Dell Latitudes of various
types to Motion's new LE1600 tablet, and all of those procedures involved
undoing one or two screws, opening a little hatch or pulling out a little
caddy, and swapping the drives over. Performing the same upgrade with
Apple's PowerBook laptops, in contrast, is so complex that it requires an
article at Bit-Tech to provide the instructions. Having to remove
the entire shell (with a significant risk of causing cosmetic damage in
the process, it seems) in order to swap a hard drive is just plain silly,
but it's entirely consistent with Apple's time-honoured strategy of
locking down their hardware as far as possible and has more than a little
to do with their constant struggle for market share. I'll stick with Dell,
I am very much looking forward to the first weekend in
recent memory that I don't have to work even one day, let alone
both... It's been a bear of a month, thanks to the simultaneous computer
room refurbishment and installation of twenty new serves for our SAP
implementation, but fortunately the worst of both is now out of the way.
Not before time, either - my usual cheerful disposition around the office
is starting to fray, somewhat, and a few more weeks of this would likely
see me running amok in the computer room with our rubber mallet,
scattering builders left and right before me and screaming about plaster
dust, until my PFYs caught me in a net and locked me inside an unused
While I still retain some scant vestiges of sanity,
then, a few quick links to end the week:
Brain bending - a three-dimensional model of a four-dimensional object
that casts a three dimensional shadow. And it's pretty, too!
Free net telephony - following the recent acquisition of Skype, the
CEO of eBay predicts that sooner or later all calls will be free. That's a
bold statement, at this stage of the game.
"Very tiny machines" - a working car chassis just 4 nanometres across,
with Buckyball wheels mounted on a working carbon-compound suspension.
Next stop, a
to power it!
Environmentally friendly - a PC case made from die-cut cardboard, and
somewhat surprisingly it actually looks rather neat. It would certainly
make modding rather easier...
Blackberry thumb - repetitive strain injuries are nothing new in IT,
of course, but the tiny yet surprisingly useable keyboard on the
Blackberry PDA seems to be one of the worst offenders.
Trouble at mill - following their spat with Cogent
last week, backbone ISP Level3 is back in the news again following
major problems routing to Verio, another tier one service.
history of fraud - a fascinating account of the ATM problems that
plagued the UK banking industry in the early nineties, as related by an
old acquaintance of mine from the Cix conferencing system.
Classic debasement of science - dipping things in liquid nitrogen then
shooting them with a gun in front of a high-speed camera? I'll buy that
for a dollar!
A damn shame - a Chinese human rights activist has slammed Yahoo
founder Jerry Yang after his company's actions lead to a dissident
journalist being sentenced to ten years imprisonment. :-(
Following a day filled with crises of all types, from
builders running amok in the computer room to troublesome fibre channel
interfaces and perplexing SAP clusters, I have totally had enough
of this week. Unfortunately, I have to do pretty much exactly the same
thing tomorrow, which is rather a pity.
In the meantime, then, while I still retain the last
vestiges of sanity, some quick links...
clears Bulldog - following what appears to be a genuine intention to
rectify some of the heinous problems that have been afflicting their users
this summer, Bulldog is now off the hook.
on mouse pads - the oddly-named RantoPads are so exotic that
they come with their own zip-up carrying cases. Dan approves, it seems,
but I can't say that I'm convinced myself...
Two heads not better than one - when multiple biometric tests are
combined, the weaker factors can actually damage the reliability of the
stronger one, something the UK government should be aware of.
Virus wars - the so-called rootkits, off-the-shelf hacking tools that
can be customised with the user's choice of payload, are becoming
increasingly proficient in disabling antivirus and security software.
Bioweapons in DC? - following a recent anti-war protect, sensors
around the city detected the bacteria F. tularensis, cause of the
disease tularemia, and numerous infections have been reported.
UK rights to GMail name - in a reverse from most recent rulings, the
giant has lost to a relatively small company - IIIR were asking for £35
million, and Google just wouldn't pay that much.
Musical spreadsheets - a real blast from the past, this one, using
Fourier transform formulae within an Excel spreadsheet to produce
polyphonic musical notes. Very 1984...
Get lamp -
and talking of 1984, from the man behind the BBS Documentary (I really
want a copy of that!) comes a history of the text adventure. You are in
a maze of twisty little weblogs, all alike...
map - the OpenStreetMap project is compiling an open source map of the
world, and to swell their funds a little they're selling a poster compiled
from GPS data submitted by London travellers.
I've just been watching
The Chronicles Of Riddick,
the SF movie starring Vin Diesel, and after some lacklustre reviews I was
surprised by how good it actually was. It has to be said that the plot is
nothing especially new (there are strong overtones of David Lynch's
Dune, most of the SF prison-break movies, and of course The Matrix)
but it's not without its twists and turns and the movie does have
considerable style and visual appeal - in the end I was quite riveted. The
character of Riddick is cool and acerbic, as well as being impressively
violent and indestructible, and to my mind is probably Diesel's best role
to date. There's also an unusually large amount of very competent computer
graphics (exotic landscapes and cityscapes, and gorgeously baroque
spacecraft and monumental interiors heavily inspired by the sculptures of
Adolfo Wildt) and plenty of the now-obligatory martial arts fight
sequences, which are equally competent and exciting. Diesel's own form
seems reminiscent of the Filipino style
Escrima, a refreshing
change from the usual Japanese staples.
You don't have to have watched the prequel,
Pitch Black, although
that does help a little bit with the background (and of course it's a
tolerably good movie itself - if with pretensions of Aliens et al
that it doesn't really manage to live up to) but as I gather that scripts
exist for a further two movies in the series it may yet build into quite a
respectable canon. Recommended.
Meanwhile, closer to home, it seems that the patented
Symantec Kiss Of Death is already making its mark
on the recently acquired Veritas Backup Exec product. We were having
problems applying Service Pack 1 to an installation of V10.0, today, and
having talked to the support bods they recommended that we install the
current full release over the top, moving from build 5484 to 5520 in one
go and so avoiding the need to install a whole bunch of updates.
We did that, but having re-run the Veritas Update
utility to check for anything still outstanding, I was surprised to see
not only three minor patches but also a requirement for Service Pack 1 all
over again! It turned out to be a completely different Service Pack
1 for the new build, and another three hotfixes - one of which was
actually numbered the same as a hotfix for the previous build in spite of
having a completely different function!
So, in other words, in spite of the fact that both
builds are described as "V10.0", in fact they have a completely
independent set of service packs and updates. This is unusual, bizarre,
and very confusing - and as it is not something that Veritas have
done in any of the previous versions over the last five years or more it's
hard to conclude that it's anything other than the Symantec Effect...
And now for something completely different - links:
Fractal food - it's an article of faith among chaos enthusiasts such
as myself that fractal shapes are repeatedly found in nature, but somehow
it always tickles me to actually see such perfect examples as these
photographs of the Romanesco cabbage. It's absolutely spot on...
printer code - with the help of countless volunteers who sent in test
prints, the EFF has deciphered the identification code stealthily included
in the output from the Xerox DocuColor colour laser printer. This
particular data includes the printer's serial number and the time and date
on which the page was printed, and it's likely that models from other
manufacturers will hide similar information.
- a fresh take on a deliciously retro idea, this musical instrument uses a
bank of fourteen Sony Walkman tape players, each of which runs a
continuous loop of a particular musical note. A piano keyboard switches
the output in and out of the amplifier, providing a reproduction of the
Mellotron sound made
famous by countless progressive rock bands of the sixties and seventies.
Standing up to
The Man - the EULAlyzer reads software license agreements so
you don't have to, and alerts you to anything particularly sneaky or
dangerous. Given the degree of arrant corporate bastardry in the industry
these days, and the recent legal ruling that shrink-wrap license
agreements are indeed binding and enforceable, that sounds like a
- "ALON" is a ceramic (actually aluminum oxynitride) with lighter weight
than any conventional armour glass and vastly superior strength - to the
point of withstanding a .50 cal AP round from a sniper rifle without
significant penetration. Cool!
Unhappy birthday - in spite of having been composed waaay back
in 1893, the famous song is still very much under copyright and cannot be
performed in public without permission and payment of an appropriate
fee... So it's probably only fair to bombard the current owner, AOL Time
Warner, with requests to perform the song and tip-offs if you suspect that
it's being sung illicitly...
Groin-Grabbingly Transcendent - courtesy of the Wonderful World Of
Wikipedia, a list of made-up words from venerable cartoon series The
Simpsons... beginulate, craptacular, cromulent, knowitallism,
sacrilicious and superliminal. Marvellous stuff, bettered only by Dogbert
and Dilmom cheating at Scrabble in the animated "Dilbert" series.
Links. Get 'em while they're fresh.
Or, at least, not too stale...
Musical boobies - BT Futurology, a self-styled "top
think-tank", claims that in the future MP3 players will be embedded in
womens' breast implants. Uh, we're gonna need a net over here...?
'armless - a fancy dress costume of Dr. Octopus from the Spiderman
canon. It's a marvellous piece of work, and the creator has a catalogue of
other designs that are almost as impressive.
bedfellows - a "mash-up" poem formed from a combination of Edgar Allen
Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Dr Suess's "Horton Hears A Who".
I have to admit that it has a certain something.
- more DIY, this time a deliciously spooky head in a jar. Rather than the
usual solid model, it uses a printed picture, created by a game skinning
program, wrapped around the inside of the glass.
see here - Dan has posted a short article on the physics of digital
camera sensors, and why (as usual) there's nothing much new under the sun.
to SP3 preview - an unofficial roll-up of Microsoft's pre-SP3 hotfixes
is attracting criticism from both Microsoft and Windows gurus, but the
creator is sticking to his guns.
from the past - the oldest 100 .com domain names still in registration
- no real surprises at the top of the list (IBM, DEC, HP, Xerox, Intel and
Sun) but a lot of oddities down near the bottom.
Bad patch - and talking of Windows updates, one of the latest batch is
causing some difficulties to users who have attempted to harden their
system by tweaking the security on the Windows folder.
Pots and kettles #79 - Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to fight a
lawsuit against a new California law that restricts the sales of violent
video games to minors, somewhat ironic considering his career...
his own petard - anti-game loon Jack Thompson says that his offer of a
$10,000 charitable donation was just "satire", so Penny Arcade has
donated it on his behalf. Marvellous...
"Too much time" department - a machine to cut toast soldiers to a high
degree of accuracy, avoiding all that tedious, archaic messing around with
a knife. <shakes head> Geeks - you have to love 'em.
Just a few random links, tonight...
pricing - the Home Office has announced that the cost of a stand-alone
ID card will be £30, with the combined ID card and passport at £93. Even
if these figures are accurate (and as you can imagine I don't believe that
for a moment) the cost to the taxpayer in general will be far greater.
Spilling errurs - I've picked up a few bargains on eBay myself when a
spelling mistake in the listing has led to the item failing to show up in
the majority of searches, and now there's a site designed to help track
them down automatically.
Wooool! Wooool! - zombies are the flavour of the month right now, it
seems, so I suppose that a retelling of George Romero's classic "Dawn
Of The Dead" with knitted zombies shouldn't come as a surprise. Some
people do indeed have far too much time on their hands.
and kettles - Internet animation studio JibJab were happy to run to
the EFF for aid when they were sued for infringing copyright last year,
but it seems they're surprisingly intolerant when some of their own
material is recycled...
I, Robot - at the excellent Photoshop showcase site Worth 1000, a
contest to add robots or cybernetic components to classic works of art. As
usual, there are some marvellous entries, showing wit and imagination as
well as technical ability.
Life Hackers - analyses of the working patterns of modern office
workers reveal somewhat alarming statistics on the brief lengths of time
that can be devoted to any one task before an interruption comes, but
surprisingly it seems that in some cases this can actually improve
Expensive art - set your digital camera on a long exposure, then throw
it up in the air... And if it survives the experience you might end up
with a rather interesting photograph. I don't think this is a technique I
shall be experimenting with myself, though - I rather prefer my Canon G5
And finally, some cool hardware - Creative's new
motion-following web cam is reviewed at
Trusted Reviews, and Thermaltake have announced a very interesting
PC power supply, with local distribution units that can be placed in
the drive bays and elsewhere in the case. What a clever idea!
It would be nice if it was the end of the week, but
unfortunately I'm due back in the office again tomorrow to shut down the
entire network so that the UPS can be moved. My ambition right now is to
have a weekend spent playing with only my own computers - but at this rate
I'm not expecting to achieve this until sometime in 2006. Ho hum...
hardware - we had a junk fax advertising USB coffee warmers come into
the department the other day and one of my colleagues, knowing my love for
being rude about pointless USB gadgets, dropped it on my desk. This
particular device is especially pointless, I suspect, as it looks
identical to one another colleague showed me a month or two ago - which
overloaded the USB subsystems of both of the two PCs he tried to connect
it to. Probably one to avoid...
confused - the BSA seems to be taking on a decidedly unfamiliar aspect
as a protector of the consumer, calling on governments to abandon the
"private copy levies" that are added to the cost of blank media and
recording devices on the highly spurious grounds that all buyers are going
to use them to make illegal copies of things. These are the fees that
effectively killed both Digital Audio Tape and CDR-Audio, if you remember,
and we're still paying these surcharges on devices such as scanners,
printers, and CD and DVD recorders. The BSA says that these levies are
superfluous in this age of DRM-protected media but, as The Register
points out, it could also be argued that DRM itself is superfluous if
we're already paying extra on the grounds that we are making copies!
embraces bitch-site - in a move unprecedented in the IT industry,
troubled ISP Bulldog
has announced that it will be working closely with its own criticism
site, My Bulldog Hell, in
order to rectify the problems with both the service itself and,
especially, the customer support. In an age when all the other companies
afflicted with a griping site
are resorting to legal action to get their detractors banished from the
web, this is certainly a brave move - but it will be interesting to see
exactly what emerges from such an uneasy partnership.
the mouth - Penny Arcade's latest strip is apparently
inspired by an altercation they're having with the anti-video game
campaigner Jack Thompson, who seems to have taken exception to
response to a bizarre challenge he has levelled at the games industry.
Thompson has said that he will donate $10,000 to charity if anyone creates
and markets a game in which the central character hunts down and murders
employees of the video game companies he blames for inciting America's
youth to crime. On the face of it this seems loopy enough, but if
Thompson's general attitude is represented accurately by PA then he's a
man to be avoided on general principles. Needless to say, the rest of the
anti-gaming lobby is falling over itself
down any connection to Thompson, which is probably a sound move...
The aircon team and our project manager worked their
socks off overnight, and by mid-morning the first of the two cabinets was
online and blowing a nice blast of cold air up through the raised floor.
By the time I left for the day we had removed all the temporary units and
powered up a bunch of the new servers, and the ambient temperature had
dropped from the low thirties to around 19°C - I think
that's a result. :-)
If I read the
technical specs correctly, each unit produces a maximum airflow of 3.3
m³ per second (that's a remarkable 11880 m³
per hour!) from three 4 kilowatt fans, providing a sensible cooling
capacity of around 30kW. The idea is that each one has sufficient power to
cool the entire room, providing a comfortable level of redundancy in case
of system failure or, more likely, runaway global warming turning Essex
into a tropical swamp.
There's still a fair bit of work to do in commissioning
the second unit and wiring up some monitoring and alarms, and for some
reason the vents in the floor aren't available yet and so we have a nice
set of mantraps in the shape of those lifted floor tiles, but I think
we're finally making progress again. This weekend brings the last major
phase of the project, from my point of view at least, when we relocate the
UPS and its external battery cabinet (together weighing around two metric
tons!) into the computer room, and after that it's "just" tidying up. It's
been a long, hard slog, but the new room is looking extremely
professional and it really has been worth the trauma.
At least, I keep telling myself that...
"This installation has a
substantial dollar value
attached to it."
Meanwhile, some random links:
A Swiss Army
Knife for the bedroom - the Anderson Ultimate Bed has dozens of
drawers built in, bedside tables, a TV stand and lamps installed in the
headboard. Good for small rooms, I guess...
Support for ID cards collapses - The Register reports that
support for the government's ID card scheme amongst the directors of large
businesses has slumped from 75% two years ago to a mere 45% this month. It
has also emerged that the Home Office has already spent over £20
million on the wretched scheme, a predictable £12 million of which ended
up in the pockets of PA Consulting, a
partner in the UK government's
wildly unsuccessful and costly IT projects.
iPods, iPods everywhere - I was amused to hear about
Apple's launch of the new video iPod, given that the industry press
over the last week has been full of pundits explaining how they couldn't
possibly be about to launch anything like that. Elsewhere, this
wooden iPod case
is really rather lovely, and this set of instructions for expanding the
capacity of an iPod Nano to a generous 200Gb is marvellous. :-)
- as the name suggests, they sell embroidered patches from TV and movie
costumes, including Star Trek and Star Wars, of course, but also less
common items from Aliens, Stargate, Outland, Starship Troopers, Space 1999
and many others.
Danger in the palm of your hand - hot on the heels of
the first Trojan for the ever-so-popular Playstation Portable (pretending
to be a BIOS downgrader, it actually spanners your PSP beyond any
practical repair) comes the first virus for the
Nintendo DS - which does pretty much the same. Both are only a risk to
users attempting to run pirated or hacked software, though...
Of Unusual Size - a musical of
The Princess Bride? I have
to admit that I'm a touch dubious, even though William Goldman himself is
collaborating on the script...
quarks - having spent years when I was younger getting used to the
idea that the properties of subatomic particles weren't really anything to
do with their rather euphemistic names, along comes somebody to illustrate
exactly what they would look like if they could actually be seen.
It's a neat idea.
Hobbies crossing over - it's probably a bad sign when
my various hobbies start converging, but a
at UK geek site Hexus.net is covering the sport of airsoft skirmishing.
I'm rather surprised to see no mention of the fact that the entire sport
is in severe jeopardy thanks to the government's upcoming
Violent Crime Reduction Bill,
And finally, a wonderful strip from
Arcade - "We may never know who baked your PSP into this flaky
crust..." Revenge is sweet, it seems - especially when there is honey
I spent a while looking through my web stats,
yesterday, and found myself with decidedly raised eyebrows at some of the
search terms relayed via Google. It does make me wonder; what exactly
were they hoping to find when they typed in these particular words...?
linus torvalds per cheek seat licensing
animated gif batman's gibberish
kent state p2p firewall mac
remove picture of woman on the screen
This one had me especially puzzled, as it's gibberish
on so many levels:
nasa space shuttle crashed because nasa spent too
much time building robosapien
And these show a degree of faith in the abilities of a
search engine's text parser that is wholly unjustified at the current
state of the art:
my pc says my maxtor one touch is unallocated
explain to me the meaning of Thatcham Approved
And finally, a plain old typo - but as I'm still
waiting for two large Daikin aircon units to be delivered for the computer
room at work, it seemed especially appropriate... I think I could do with
one of these:
daikin heat pimp
"She cool you long time, white boy..."
Meanwhile, ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett is
the news again after another "honest mistake" lead him to use House Of
Commons stationary for a personal letter - something that is strictly
forbidden - as well as "neglecting" to disclose a personal financial
interest in the planning permission dispute the letter concerned. A
government spokesman has reaffirmed the PM's support for Blunkett but,
especially after the new UK TV channel More 4 chose
a barbed satire of his sex life as its very first programme, one does
wonder if they're starting to find him more of an albatross than an asset.
And talking of butt-headed politicians, the Home Office
has published an "impact
assessment" of the controversial Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which
admits that the proposed measures to ban replica guns are both unnecessary
and unworkable. There are already adequate laws in place to address the
problem, the document admits, the new proposals are unlikely to
significantly improve the levels of crime, and the cost to both the police
and the replica industry will be prohibitive. Of course, these facts make
absolutely no difference to the politicians, who are charging forward with
the bill regardless of its merits. I suppose I shall have to
write to my MP again, but
he's an ardent Blair-ite and I have no real hope of influencing him in any
way. It's a damn shame.
Wreck is a movie-length sci-fi parody, the end-result of seven
years of work by five Finnish fans and over 300 extras, assistants and
supporters. It's heavily influenced by Star Trek, as the name suggests,
the humour is described as "rough-and-ready", and from the trailer the
special effects and computer graphics seem to be the equal of any
big-budget Hollywood production. The main problem is that the film's
soundtrack is in Finnish, which is not unreasonable given the origin of
its creators, but which unfortunately is a language understood by rather
fewer people than speak Klingon. There is a version subtitled in
English, but I have to admit that it's somewhat of a deterrent even so...
Still, it's available as a free download (if rather a large one at over
half a gigabyte) and it has to be worth a look.
I read the geek news site
almost every day, and on the whole it's a very good source for a certain
subset of IT news. The main drawback, however, is that occasionally one of
their contributors is so thoroughly wrong-headed and bigoted that it makes
me grit my teeth and email them to complain.
The last time was
a butt-headed crack at the expense
of President-elect Al Gore and the myth that he claimed to have invented
the Internet, this time (the site doesn't use permalinks, for some
unimaginable reason, so it's the entry headed "The Story of The First
Internet Worm" on Sunday 9th October) it's an attack on veteran programmer
Morris. The clipping links to a trivial little article elsewhere that
manages to cast Morris as not only a criminal but stupid with it, in
direct contrast to everything that I've read from more informed and
contemporary sources - although I suppose the author can be almost be
forgiven, as his resume claims that he's only been "active in the
security industry for 10 years" and so the heady days of the early
Internet back in 1988 are probably so much ancient history to him...
The writer at [H]ard|OCP, however -
a certain Rich - certainly cannot be excused. It seems likely that he
hasn't heard of rtm before, and so has based his comments purely on
a quick scan of a noticeably biased article - at least, I hope this is the
case, as otherwise he's just profoundly ignorant, but either way the
course of action he recommends is so thoroughly misguided and offensive
that it really made me angry:
"I’d like to round the boys up,
get some blunt objects, and wait in the bushes by this guy’s house.
Maybe we’d have less viruses if the penalty was to be strung up, and
repeatedly kicked in the nads?"
Unlike every single virus and worm author since
1988, rtm was unique in being able to claim naive innocence as a defence.
Back then nobody (except maybe
realised how fast these programs could propagate, and how much damage they
could do to the computers they infected. As the worm spread across the
world this soon became abundantly clear, but not before the cat was well
and truly out of the bag... Morris was horrified, but by that stage there
was little to do except turn himself over to the authorities - something
else that sets him apart from the spotty adolescents that came after him.
Although comments at the time were often somewhat acerbic, in fact there
has never been any suggestion that he intended to cause the damage he did,
and indeed it is arguable that his worm provided the first wake-up call to
server administrators and network analysts that something needed to be
done. There's no particular sign that they heeded the call,
unfortunately, but that's a
horse of a different colour...
A word of advice to Rich, though - in future, it would
be best to check your facts before inciting violence towards highly
respected members of the computer science community. As well as being
illegal in many countries, it also makes you look very, very foolish...
Hyper-threading dual-core Xeon - Intel have released the first dual
core chip with Hyper-threading, initially at a relatively meagre clock
speed of 2.8GHz. <rubs hands together> How soon before we see
dual CPU boards that will support these chips, I wonder - a quad
motherboard in the same form factor as my current system would be an
impressive toy, although at present it would mean stepping up from the
workstation versions of Windows to the server OS, which is not without its
problems in a desktop environment.
Vintage hardware for sale - what must be one of the world's finest
collections of antique computer hardware is up for sale at eBay. The
Freeman PC Museum comprises more than one thousand items, ranging from
PCs to calculators and games consoles, but the owner is now selling the
entire collection (over 6000 pounds of hardware and accessories!) because
of ill-health. It would be a tragedy if someone doesn't step forward to
give this a good home...
Boots on the other
feet - rumours are circulating that Apple is going to be investigated
by the Korean Fair Trade Commission following allegations that Samsung
illegally discounted flash memory modules to below market rates in order
to secure the massive contract for the new iPod Nano. Apple has so far
declined to comment, but as one of the main players in the Microsoft
anti-trust witch-hunt it will be interesting to see how they react to a
little of their own medicine. As I repeatedly said during the Microsoft
case, they weren't actually guilty of anything that the other big players
in the IT industry don't do... Or any other industry, that that matter.
It's been a frustrating weekend. The new aircon units
for the computer room were supposed to have been installed, but after
several hours hanging around on Saturday and then the same again on
Sunday, they still hadn't been delivered - and some investigation this
morning revealed that they were still in Turkey! ("Turkey?"
"Yes, Turkey." "Oh, OK then.") As the temperature when I
arrived this morning was over 30° and climbing, I
decided that enough was enough. We turned off all the servers that weren't
actually directly involved in feeding data to the end users, sent the Dell
consultants who were due to install the SAN backup software away again,
and made a big fuss. This attracted the attention of various directors,
and by lunchtime we had a full set of anxious contractors, a pair of
heavy-duty portable units and a collection of giant aluminium air ducts -
and the temperature was a mere 26°, a new record for recent weeks, if
still around ten degrees higher than I'd like. Unfortunately, sometimes
drastic action is the only way of making progress...
Meanwhile, some apparently random links...
How could he resist - the license plate GOO61E is up for sale on eBay,
and The Register suggests that after recent events the irascible
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer would be the perfect buyer.
find zerver - the Zelle online catalogue may have a rather
confusing pseudo-retro style, but they also have what is undoubtedly the
finest geek jewellery I've ever seen. Beautiful work!
Monster brooch - and talking of jewellery, a neat little FSM broach
made from silver wire and beads - complete with His Noodly Appendage. It's
been a remarkably successful meme.
Worse than useless? - anti-spam authentication techniques such as SPF
and Sender ID are so easily circumvented as to be pointless, according to
a controversial report from a security consultancy.
fine coffee, and hot - Everything you ever wanted to know about the
cult TV series Twin Peaks - except, perhaps, when the long-awaited
Season 2 will finally ship on DVD...
paranoia - the ISP that everybody loves to hate has accused one of its
most critical ex-customers of illicitly obtaining an extensive database of
subscribers, a charge that he strongly denies.
Google/Sun alliance not a threat - Microsoft has dismissed the recent
announcement of a partnership over OpenOffice as marketing hot air, and
from what I can see they're quite right.
- surely a strong contender in any pointless technology contest, PG Tips
is about to launch a kettle that you can switch on via a cell phone. I
would like to think that this is a hoax...
We had a minor crisis in the computer room yesterday,
when one of the decorators working on a newly built wall decided to start
sanding down several acres of plasterboard ready for painting. By the time
I realised what was going on the entire room was thick with fine white
dust, and I had to round up my team to grab cloths and vacuum cleaners and
salvage the situation as best as we could. Unfortunately, somewhere during
this work one of my PFYs snapped this picture with his PDA's camera,
showing me down on my knees carefully cleaning a trio of obsolete
DEC Alpha servers.
The Alphas are something of a sore spot for me, as they
take up a disproportionate amount of space, and place a disproportionate
load on the UPS and aircon, than their meagre processing power actually
warrants. They host a legacy system for one of our finance groups, and I'm
longing for the day when it's ported onto a modern platform and I can give
the Alphas the send-off they deserve - a shallow grave in an abandoned
railway tunnel is the favourite, at present...
My dislike for these systems is well-known in the
department, and to forestall the inevitable blackmail attempts on the part
of my PFY I'm forced to 'fess up and admit that yes, that is indeed me
caring for my own personal digital bugbear. The Alphas were fine computers
in their day, and the early models contained some genuine technical
innovations - it's not their fault that they should have been replaced at
least five years ago, and while I have the wretched things in my care I do
feel obliged to treat them with a degree of compassion. It's the least I
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Symantec has
registered a complaint with the EU's anti-trust regulators about
Microsoft's renewed assault on the security market following the
announcement of their integrated antivirus and antispyware product
Microsoft Client Protection.
I have to say that I think this is pretty rich.
Symantec has spent the
last fifteen years
vacuuming up approximately half of the world's small software
companies (Computer Associates seems to have bought the other half),
starting way back in 1990 with the acquisition of Peter Norton's
pioneering system utilities, and progressing through once-proud names such
as Central Point, Delrina, Quarterdeck, Powerquest, Sygate, and most
recently storage giant Veritas - to name but a few! Oh, and incidentally,
the overwhelming opinion amongst the techies I know is that few of the
products acquired by Symantec in this way have actually benefited from the
Given this, it seems to me that any accusations of
monopolistic behaviour on their part are at best a nasty case of pots and
kettles, and at worst an even nastier case of sour grapes. As one of the
main players in the computer security market, a position gained not by
technical innovation or solid customer service but simply by having deep
pockets, it's perfectly reasonable that the company is anxious about any
increased competition - but reacting to the threat by running to tell
tales to the teacher is hardly good business practice.
I'm afraid it's just another example of what I have
started to think of as the
Syndrome - if your company can't succeed on its own merits, sue
Microsoft instead - or, in this case, try to persuade the EU to do your
dirty work for you. Bah!
It's been a bit of a whirl this week, thanks to the
seemingly perpetual computer room refurbishment at work, and I've built up
something of a backlog of news items and random links. Let's get them out
of the way before they're stale:
tape band aids - for workmen who think that traditional plasters look
too wimpy, presumably?
What is the fairest OS of all? - a four-section wall mirror shaped
exactly like the Windows logo!
Camera in a pill - further advances in incredibly intrusive monitoring
hardware, now with pincers!
Fooling Alan - if a putative AI mimics its partner during a Turing
Test, it seems more human.
Microsoft - the UK professor advising the EU anti-trust case has a
clear anti-MS bias.
bullying - BT is trying to close down a web site that is complaining
about its service.
- slippers with LEDs and a bunch of electronics; impressive, but somewhat
patent rejected again - Bill's brainchild has been turned down on an
tracker - monitoring how much money you can lose with spam-advertised
Eastern European electronics - marvellous
collections of Soviet-era computers and
Know your enemy - Microsoft is trying to understand Linux and Linux
your pocket - Quake 3 Arena has been ported to the Pocket PC, but it's
not very quick...
case of sonic attack on your district" - something to wake up heavy
sleepers... or the dead.
Unreasonable behaviour - Yahoo gutted a comms company, luring
away 12 out of it's 13 engineers.
No crisis - the MPAA is perpetuating the myth that the movie industry
is dying because of file sharing.
Pots and kettles - music royalties organisations claim that iTiunes
doesn't pay the artists enough!
Last week I linked to an
interesting little site called "Strange eBay", showcasing some of the more
bizarre and unusual items and services up for auction. This morning,
however, I received an email from the site's proprietor, asking me to
change my site to point to the new name and domain -
Way Out Auctions.com -
instead. eBay had complained about his use of their name, he told me, and
so of course he did what anyone else would do when faced with the prospect
of Mr Burns' alcove full of high-priced corporate lawyers - he gave in and
changed the site's name straight away.
I really hate to see this happening, but unfortunately
it's becoming increasingly common. I do accept that companies and
organisations want to protect their trademarks, and that in fact they are
required to protect them to a certain degree in order to retain
them, but there are limits to how far it is sensible to take this. For
example, in the last couple of years we've seen
an extensive series of legal threats made by the movie studio Time
Warner against teenagers who have set up fan sites to discuss the Harry
Potter stories. None of the victims actually had any intention to mislead
visitors into thinking that they were official representatives of the
company, and none of them were trying to make any money from the site -
instead they were just expressing their love for the stories and
encouraging others to do the same, which surely could only be a good thing
for all concerned!
Aside from the corporate bullying by eBay in this case,
a quick search turns up a multitude of such cases -
Apple - once you start looking, the list seems endless, and the only
common factor is that there is no sign of any malicious intention on the
part of any of the victims. The majority of these cases ended up with the
smaller company giving in before the threats, but as there was no real
grounds for legal action nobody really gained anything except for the
lawyers. Maybe that's the real driving force behind this policy?
Oh, and <blush> I bought another gun. It's
a replica of the
M41a Pulse Rifle from the movie Aliens, a set of plastic and
metal parts that wraps around Marui's WW2 Thompson submachine gun to give
it a futuristic makeover. I had it sent to the office in order to avoid
yet another trip to the Parcelforce depot and so had to resist the
temptation to go on a thoroughly bloodless rampage through the department,
instead waiting until I got home before discovering that the M100 power
upgrade that supplier
Zero One Airsoft
fit to their ready-made version gives a wonderfully fast, flat trajectory
in comparison to my stock SR16. I shall have to investigate that further.
I'll post some more details when I have a spare moment
- at this rate, sometime in 2006... Busy busy.
After languishing somewhat for a couple of weeks, the
work on the computer room refurbishment has
resumed with a vengeance. This evening saw six of us manhandling a couple
of leftover server cabinets and our PBX from a little island of the old
raised floor onto the newly built sections, using a pair of long wooden
planks to lift them like a sedan chair! This process was not without its
anxious moments, but in the end it worked out very well - I'm always
impressed with how ingenious and resourceful a team of mixed techies can
be when faced with challenges like this (and with two network geeks, a
couple of the desktop team, a manager and our DBA we certainly were a
mixed bag!) and actually we're getting really good at this stuff.
This weekend sees the installation of the new aircon
systems (sorely needed, after the 30°
temperatures in the room today!), and the weekend after that we're moving
around two metric tons of UPS and battery cabinet across a corridor and up
a ramp into the computer room. That's going to be another interesting
challenge, I think...
There's never an expert around just when you need one,
of course, but one usually turns up in plenty of time to correct your
mistakes once you've published them to the entire world!
One of the programmers at the office is an old-school mainframe guru from
the days when dinosaurs roamed the computer room, and he remembers using
the IBM 40x series punch card tabulators at the end of their lifespan in
the late seventies. Richard Feynman wouldn't have used the model 403 seen
in the movie, he assures me, as it wasn't launched until 1948 - in spite
of the model names, the 405 came first and it is more likely to have been
the model used at Los Alamos.
In fact, the geeks at Columbia University's
history group seem to think think that the model in the movie was
probably a 402,
in spite of the large 403 nameplate on the front. Perhaps whoever restored
the beastie so beautifully couldn't lay their hands on the right one -
when even the computer museums are relying on contemporary photographs and
technical diagrams, a full restoration of any electromechanical
hardware from this period must present a significant challenge.
Matthew Broderick elbow deep in the
plugboard of the tabulator, the sort of DIY installation that IBM
would still be just as annoyed about even sixty years later - he really
does look like a young Feynman, though, doesn't he!
Thanks very much to Chris for the corrections and a
bunch of truly fascinating links.
I've just watched the apparently little-known movie
Infinity, an account of
the early life of the remarkable physicist
and his tragic relationship with his first wife Arline. The movie starts
with Feynman's father explaining inertia to him as a child, one of the
classic anecdotes from the Ralph Leighton book "What do you care what
other people think?", and ends with Arline's death and the Trinity
atomic bomb test in 1945.
The part of Feynman is played by Matthew
Broderick, and he manages it surprisingly well. It has to be said that he
doesn't really capture Feynman's wildly exuberant enthusiasm for
science, but he was so much larger than life that any attempt to do that
might easily have come across more as caricature. He does bear a strong
resemblance to the young Feynman, however, especially in the Los Alamos
scenes towards the end of the movie - that hairstyle! - and all-in-all
it's certainly a fair attempt at the role. Broderick directs, too, and as
his mother Patricia Broderick was the scriptwriter it was obviously a
family project... I have the idea that one or both of them may have been
sufficiently touched by Feynman's life and works that the movie was
something of a homage to a person they respected and admired.
I almost became terminally distracted, though, when one of the Los
Alamos scenes showed Broderick's character working on an
IBM punched card tabulator of a type I'd never seen before. Although
there are many anecdotes about the computing processes Feynman developed
for the Manhattan Project, it had never occurred to me to look into the
actual hardware in use at the time and with an unusual
system that rippled up and down this particular device really
caught my eye. Fortunately a clear model number on the front panel allowed
me to track it down in a few moments, and although I can't be sure that
the IBM 403 in the movie was really a model that Feynman would have used,
it's certainly contemporary and in any case it was marvellous to see such
a wonderful old icon restored to a working showroom condition.
Elsewhere, some quick news links:
Computerised beer mat - a pressure-sensitive mat that automatically orders a
refill when the glass placed on it is approaching empty. Invented by German
scientists, as could probably be expected...
and the Crazy Frog - following their acquisition of ringtone company Jamba!,
they have been finding it expensive to comply with regulations that their
own dubious practices have provoked.
not quite dead yet - apparently there will be a third service pack for
Windows XP, to be released sometime after the Vista launch and probably
containing certain minor features from the new OS.
Demon in the
doghouse - users of the once-respected ISP are foaming at the mouth over
what seems to be unusually poor broadband performance, and have created a
protest site to voice their concerns.
Patent Office upholds Eolas patent - to my considerable annoyance (and
presumably that of Microsoft, too), a re-examination of the controversial
patent has affirmed its validity.
Moore - the Intel founder has revealed that he became interested in
science principally because of the the appeal of blowing things up, which
seems to be rather a common motivation.
file, got to jail - the Canadian music industry association is banging
the drum again, this time claming that file-sharing is a "gateway drug"
that leads to other, more serious criminal behaviour.
A very odd moon - photos of the moon Hyperion, taken from the highly
successful Cassini probe, show that it has a surface structure strongly
reminiscent of pumice stone or a natural sponge.
busy week in space - elsewhere in the news, a Soyuz mission to the
ISS, the installation of SpaceShipOne at the Smithsonian, and a new
offering from John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace.
Retro audio - a car-style cassette player, installed in a 5¼" drive
bay and controlled by a serial connection. Unusual, perhaps, but actually
I think it's rather a good idea.
From the ridiculous to the ridiculous - and talking of retro, just
when you thought you'd seen everything that could be plugged into a USB
port, here's a miniature 1960s glitter lamp... Why, oh why?
And finally (thanks to
for the link), String Spin
is a pair of neat little online graphical toys, rather reminiscent of a
cross between string art and a Spirograph set.
I've been looking for webbing to spruce up the
M134 minigun backpack, and stumbled across
an excellent overseas supplier. Best
Buy Buckle & Button International Ltd is based in Taiwan, and unlike
the majority of Taiwanese companies I've dealt with their name is
perfectly descriptive rather than eyebrow-raisingly whimsical by Western
standards - my previous PC case
was made by Super Flower,
They have an good range of straps, buckles, fasteners
and other oddments in ABS plastic, and in fact the only difficulty was in
trimming down my order to a sensible quantity for a first transaction from
an unknown overseas company. In spite of that restraint, however, I ended
up with forty feet of webbing, twenty feet of Velcro, and ten each of the
appropriate fittings to turn the raw materials into functioning straps and
attachments - which cost me just $50, noticeably cheaper than anything I
could have found in the UK. Shipping was a meagre $11, and considering it
arrived in less than a week (helpfully labelled "commercial sample" to
avoid import duty!) I think that was an absolute bargain.
Needless to say I was very pleased with both the
products and the level of service, and I've emailed the company to tell
Unfortunately I was not nearly so impressed with my
last transaction with US hardware modding specialist
previously one of my favourites. I wrote a little about this
a few weeks ago when the order arrived, but
as the company has declined to reply to my email messages since then I
think an entry on my griping page
is probably in order.
Although I am extremely pleased with the
S12-600 power supply itself, the replacement acrylic cover that
fitted is far from satisfactory. The double-sided tape used to secure it
to the frame was already peeling off when it arrived, part of the cover
itself had fallen off and was loose in the box, the fan screws were
unevenly threaded, and in general the fit and finish were very poor
indeed. A quick examination suggested that significant fiddling would be
required to rectify the problems, and as time was tight I refitted the
original metal cover in order to install the PSU sooner rather than later.
I emailed the company to point out the problems, but
received a reply from founder Hank Baron that can only be described as a
"We don't make the PSU covers", I was told,
"some just fit better then others" and there's "not much we can
do about this".
Now, apart from the fact that the product description
on their web site
directly contradicts this, stating that the covers were specially
designed by the company, in any event it actually seems like a pretty poor
excuse. I don't suppose they make the vast majority of the rest of
their stock, either, but I would still expect it to meet basic standards
of quality and suitability no matter what the source!
Certainly, the description is positively glowing in its
enthusiasm for the product - claims which, in my example at least, seem
thoroughly inaccurate when looking at the hardware in the flesh:
"The foam tape works extremely well and will not
It had on mine... About an inch of it had unpeeled
completely, and that was even before the unit had warmed up to operating
temperature and the glue had softened even further.
"This solves the problem of the sides pushing out
on the acrylic cover and leaving an unattractive gap on the bottom of
the power supply."
But not, of course, if one of the lock strips fall off
even before the unit is even installed...
In fact, I only bought an add-on cover on the basis of
those claims and the equally reassuring picture, having been less than
impressed with the look of the other replacement PSU covers I've seen. As
a pre-installed option fitted by the company, I do feel that could
reasonably expect a similar quality of finish to that shown in the photo,
and that is not what I got.
The smart thing for the company to do, given that the
cover cost a mere $15 of my $260 dollar order (part of a total of over
$1100 that they've had from me in the last six months!), would have been
to issue me a credit note for that amount. It would have placated me
completely, and in any case pretty much guaranteed that I'd order from
them again - if only to redeem the credit. Ignoring my complaint, however,
has instead guaranteed that I won't shop there again unless I have absolutely
no alternative, and given that US competitor
Frozen CPU has an extremely
similar product line and that my favourite UK company,
Kustom PCs, is rapidly expanding
their range to match the American suppliers, it's unlikely that it will
come to that.
As I've said before - on the web, your competitors are only a couple of mouse
I have to admit that I'm disappointed. When I started
rearranging my domain names back in the spring I thought that my stats would
soon build back up to their usual level of around 6000 hits per month, but
instead I seem to be stalled at around a third of that. It's not clear why
this is happening, as Google seems to have re-indexed the new domain name
just as well as it had the old Cix host, and I've resubmitted manually to
the same second and third tier search engines that I did before... It's a
bit of a mystery, and to a stats-whore like me it's also a bit depressing.
I've been posting here for almost four years, now, pretty much as long as
the word "weblog" has been in existence, but right now I'm starting to
Oh yeah, life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin´ is gone...
- John Mellencamp
(Huh! I remember him back when he used to be plain old