Short and sweet, tonight - it's been one of those
The ethics of wireless - although a surprising number of
privately-owned WiFi networks are still open and unsecured, there is
a growing legal threat to their use by unauthorised persons, and
Nate at Ars Technica is ruminating on the implications for
Driver evolution - Anand Tech is looking at the
performance changes brought by several years of development of ATI's
Catalyst driver suite, not only for the current X800 model but also
for the aging 9700 Pro, and has made some interesting discoveries.
Writing CDs - at Tom's Hardware, a comparison of the two
competing technologies that allow text and images to be marked on
the top face of a CD disk, "LightScribe" from HP and Lite-On, and "LabelFlash"
The needs of the few - an Australian copyright agency is
proposing to tax schools for the use their students make of the web,
in spite of the fact that the majority of the pages aren't
Australian, aren't intended for profit, and aren't created by its
Over the last couple of months I've been
experiencing a glitch with the text entry subsystem of my Motion
LE1600 tablet, and although it's hardly critical it's certainly
annoying. When entering cursive text in the tablet input panel, it
attempts to recognise each word as it is written and displays the
result just underneath. If it doesn't correctly identify the written
word (and actually that's surprisingly rare, even with an obscure
handwriting style!) one is supposed to be able to click on the
result and either choose from a list of similar alternative words or
edit the individual letters. However, at some point before christmas
this stopped working for me, probably as a result of installing a
Windows update or some 3rd-party application, although unfortunately
the exact cause was never clear.
However, a few days ago I tracked down a
description of those
symptoms at Microsoft's web site, and some related discussion in
the forums of the excellent
Tablet PC Buzz web site - the fix is to disable the
"Automatically insert text after a pause" setting in the Tablet
Input Panel's configuration options, and J.R. "Bob"
Dobbs is your uncle.
Unfortunately in my case that option was
already disabled, but as I'm no stranger to Windows' little ways
I enabled it, exited the TIP config dialog, then went back in and
disabled it again, hoping that this would correct an incomplete
registry setting or similar. To my delight that seemed to work, but
when I used the handwriting mode again the next day, after
hibernating and resuming the tablet, it seemed to have worn off! I
set and cleared the option again, and once again it seemed to fix
the problem, but by now I'm fairly confident that it won't last
through the next reboot. This needs some looking into...
up at the ISPAs - my ISP, Zen Internet, has won three awards at
the UK's Internet Service Providers Association awards: best
heavy business broadband provider, best uncontended service and best
business ISP. I can certainly vouch for their quality of service,
but given that they charge around four times as much as some of the
more popular ISPs I would expect nothing less!
for the jet set - the latest range of dual-core laptops from
motherboard specialist Asus comes in carbon fibre, aluminium, and
even leather - and another option is designed by Lamborghini and
allegedly based on the radiator grille on the rear of a 1970 Muira.
One assumes that the superficially similar licensing deal between
competitor Acer and Ferrari is purely coincidental...
Hacking the Xbox - at the Xbox Linux project, a fascinating
article on how the security systems in the original Xbox were
bypassed. I was especially taken by the trick of using the antique
A20 Gate feature to bypass the restrictions brought in by
Microsoft's first attempt to fix the system's security flaws, a hack
which has allegedly remained a mystery to the company to date!
The downfall of Skype - users of the popular VoIP service are
noticing that the quality isn't what it used to be, with silences,
buzzing sounds, and repeated sounds. The cause of these problems is
likely to be the Internet providers' growing hatred of peer-to-peer
applications of all varieties, thanks to the significant bandwidth
they can consume, and the traffic shaping they're implementing to
all is not rosy for Mac security - it hasn't been a good month
for the Mac OS, it seems, with a number of exploits for recently
discovered vulnerabilities emerging. Admittedly, the OSX.Leap.A
worm requires too much user interaction to spread efficiently, and
the InqTana worm and its two variants are proof-of-concepts
attacks that are not currently found in the wild, and even though
the Safari and Mail weakness is rather more serious, no examples of
websites exploiting the flaw have yet been reported... However
harmless these particular exploits actually are, however, we're
still looking at five separate attacks created in only a few weeks,
and it's absolutely clear that the glory days when Mac users could
relax in the knowledge that there computers were safe from attack
are definitely over. My advice to them is to patch early and patch
often, and buy some anti-virus software - or they're going to end up
considerably more vulnerable than the justifiably paranoid and
suspicious Windows users.
Well, it looks as if my problems with Mark
Woolley and Special Airsoft Supplies are not going to be as easily
resolved as I had hoped (he's threatened me with legal action even
before I've written anything here, which seems like a fairly
indicative statement of his intentions!), and I'm really sorry that
I didn't see the
warnings about his trading practices on the forums at Arnie's
Airsoft, UK Airsoft Community and elsewhere, before it
was too late.
Unfortunately I have the feeling that, as with my similar dispute
with Area 51 Airsoft a couple of years ago, this one is going to run and run, and when I
have a moment I'll create a specific page in the ever-expanding
Griping section. Watch
this space to see how the saga unfolds...
Meanwhile, something for the weekend:
voltage - at what is apparently one of the premier electricity
geek sites, some marvellous pictures of the sparks created when the
esoteric components of national grids fail.
Pretty PCs - Dan is complaining again, as although he doesn't
want to buy a Mac, he wouldn't mind a PC that looks like
project - at last, another distributed computing project that
has tickled my enthusiasm, an attempt to decrypt three of the
remaining signals from the wartime Enigma code machines.
More power - Wired reports that recent advances in the
microlithography processes used to fabricate silicon wafers will
bring 5GHz processors to desktop PCs within the next few years.
Digital origami - Microsoft Watch speculates that the
"Origami Project" web site just registered by the Seattle giant will
be the home for an iPod-killing ultra-portable multi-function
Woz on Jobs - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has spoken out on
the company's current strategy, and he isn't very impressed by the
obsession with the iPod or the switch to Intel CPUs.
It's been a busy but successful day working on a
friend's PCs, repairing a
OfficeJet scanner/printer, upgrading the wireless network in a
laptop from 11Mbit to 54Mbit, setting up
VNC to allow the laptop to be
controlled from another system when docked, and installing my
surplus 19" Iiyama monitor to replace an old Belinea 15". Highly
productive, but somewhat wearing, so only a few quick links tonight
- the first batch courtesy of the ever-wonderful Boing Boing.
Bent paperclips - at NASA's Ames Research Center, 80 PCs running
artificial intelligence software have "evolved" the unusual design
of the antennae to be used on a series of small satellites.
No second-hand hardware - from April it will be illegal to sell
used electronics that are more than 5 years old in Japan, without a
special license that is only likely to be issued to major retailers.
Quantum weirdness - a quantum computer at the University of
Illinois has solved a problem without running the program
written to solve it, perfectly illustrating the weirdness of quantum
Petri dish gardens - some marvellous patterns of bacteria grown
in changing environments, encouraging them to form some surprisingly
beautiful fractal-like patterns.
The dangers of cell phones - more threatening than the usual
worries over RF, four .22 calibre bullets fired from a concealed
mechanism. It may be as dangerous to the user as the target, though.
A grain of common sense - courtesy of a user at Arnie's
Airsoft, a scan of an article from the Daily Telegraph on
Saturday 18th, which illustrates the complete failure of the UK's
gun control laws.
own Batcave - these Arizona architects specialise in hidden
passageways, revolving fireplaces, and secret doors - opened in best
tradition by pulling a candlestick or pressing in a book.
armour - at shooting site The Box O'Truth, some informal
tests of Level IIIA Kevlar fabric - and it performed pretty much as
expected, completely preventing handgun rounds from penetrating.
Voting irregularities - an investigation of the electronic
voting machines used in elections in Florida's Palm Beach County
during 2004 found over 100,000 anomalies in the logs. Horrifying...
Albert - add your own text to the famous picture of Einstein
writing on his blackboard at the Institute Of Advanced Study at
Princeton in the fifties.
Ergomounts M3 LCD monitor stand arrived today, thanks to
extremely quick service from the supplier
Keyzone - and it's very nice
to be able to praise a company here after all the problems of the
last few months! It arrived in one large, heavy box, which opened to
reveal a series of boxes nesting inside each other like an unusually
rectilinear Russian doll, each one containing an assortment of
oddly-shaped metalwork and little bags full of screws, bolts,
washers and brackets - and another smaller, box.
Assembly was not for the faint of heart, and
there was a surprising number of unused parts left over afterwards -
presumably for the more exotic three and four-screen varieties.
However, everything did fit together very nicely after some
puzzling over the instructions, and the build quality throughout is
excellent. It's all steel (and good quality steel at that, if I'm
any judge), with all the surfaces nicely powder coated - the end
result is both elegant and functional.
In spite of my fears, the desk clamp is
extremely solid - as is the rest of the stand, for that matter,
although some of the components had to be tightened together quite
enthusiastically to achieve this, especially the joint where the
cross-piece attaches to the upright. It took some fiddling to get
the monitors mounted at the angles I wanted, too, as there are so
many degrees of freedom that choosing which ones to adjust in which
direction took some thought and experiment - but I'm happy enough
with the first attempt and there's plenty of scope to tweak the
layout if I need to.
And there it is! The footprint is absolutely tiny
(a few square inches - the base of the stand is hidden behind those
yellow Post-It notes!) and I have more desk space than ever before.
The monitors are absolutely rock solid, with no hint of vibration in
normal use and only a slight movement with even an enthusiastic
shaking of the desk itself. The mount added a couple of hundred
pounds to the cost of the two monitors, but I'm extremely pleased
with the outcome and would highly recommend both the manufacturer
and the supplier to anyone contemplating a multi-monitor
configuration. Good stuff!
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a logo seen on the side of a truck on the M25
motorway yesterday - "The Number 1 for solar protection products". It's
certainly nice to know that somebody out there is doing what they can to
protect the sun...
When it comes to computer hardware, so far it
really has been one of those years... I finally decided on a dual-DVI
graphics card based around the NVIDIA
GeForce 6800GT chipset, but although it arrived incredibly
quickly I think that unfortunately the thing is faulty - I get
display corruption right from power on, with the BIOS and POST
screens marred by odd colours and missing or scrambled characters.
I've tried all the usual things (removing all other cards etc in
case of a peculiar conflict, disconnecting the optical and tape
drives, checking the power supply, you name it) without any
improvement, and the problem goes away completely when I re-install
the old Radeon graphics card... My gut feeling is faulty memory, and
I'm hoping that the supplier comes to the same conclusion and
doesn't insist on a lot of pointless trivia before issuing an RMA.
I'm a bit gloomy about this, tonight, as it's the latest in a long
series of similar annoyances - but still, at least I saw the same
screen corruption on both displays simultaneously, which was kinda
While I sit here and sulk, then, some quick
More nastygrams - an anagrammed version of the famous London
tube map has been removed from it's original site after threats of
legal action from government department Transport For London.
Tinfoil hats - the president of a Canadian university has banned
WiFi from the campus because he is concerned about the health risks
- although no such ban has been enforced on cell phones!
Scanner nears - the half animated/half live action movie of Phil
Dick's wonderfully bleak novel "A Scanner Darkly" is due for
release in July, and to whet our appetites a new trailer has been
X leaking - an "extremely critical" security vulnerability has
been unearthed in the Mac OS, and as before it's exactly the sort of
thing that the fanboys used to rip strips off Microsoft about...
more griping - although, for a change, not from me! A consortium
of IT companies has filed further complaints with the EU against
Microsoft, alleging that it "threatens to deny enterprises and
individual consumers real choice". Now, I'm a consumer, and I
run the IT systems for an enterprise, and I really don't feel that
my choices are being denied at all! If I don't want to use
Windows I can choose any one of several dozen Unix and Linux
flavours, including Mac OS X... If I don't want MS Office I can use
OpenOffice or StarOffice, and if I don't like Media Player I can
install Winamp or an equivalent. For nearly everything I would care
to do with a computer there is a non-Microsoft alternative (and in
the odd cases where an application hasn't been ported to the other
OSes that's hardly Microsoft's fault!) so the question I would like
answered is, exactly how are my choices being denied?
No, what we're seeing here is the IT industry's
current favourite trick when competing on a level playing field is
failing: throwing a legal spanner into the works to soak up
Microsoft's money, attention and resources - especially when you can
convince a government to do it for you! The companies behind this
new action are IBM (still desperately trying to make a profit from
their heavy investment in Linux), Oracle (their database goes head
to head with MS SQL Server, and CEO Larry Ellison is a long-time
enemy of Bill Gates), and Sun (their hardware and operating systems
are the only real competition to Microsoft in the enterprise server
market) so it doesn't take an MBA to realise that they all have a
lot to gain from getting Microsoft into even greater trouble with
the already punitive EU.
It annoys me greatly that these claims are made
under the guise of protecting me and other EU computer users,
though. As far as I can see the consumer has never had more scope
for choice in selecting a hardware platform, an operating system
and a set of applications to run on it, and if said consumer was so
very unhappy with Microsoft then they would go right out and buy a
Mac or a Linux box instead. After all, I keep hearing how perfectly
wonderful both those operating systems are compared to the
buggy, insecure, old-fashioned Windows, so there's plenty of scope
to vote with one's chequebook... What I do not need is IBM,
Oracle and Sun trying to screw the competition under the pretence of
looking after my best interests, and I will keep voting that way
with my chequebook, and with my company's, as long as I
consider that Microsoft's products are the most suitable choices.
The UK satellite television company Sky has just
launched its new
Sky By Broadband service, free for existing customers, which
allows selected movies and sports programmes to be downloaded to
one's home PC. It seemed interesting, so I signed up and installed
the client last night, leaving it to download a couple of trial
Something that I only discovered after
installation, however, is that the distribution mechanism is based
Kontiki software, a peer-to-peer grid not dissimilar to
BitTorrent, so other users downloading a movie that I have
already acquired may be taking all or part of it from my PC,
uploading through the narrow back-channel of my ADSL without
providing me with either notification of this activity or a
convenient way to prevent it. Sky didn't make this at all clear
either on their web site or during the installation process, and I
only stumbled across the truth when I was searching the help files
for something else. I certainly don't like the idea of becoming a
distribution node for multi-gigabyte video files, and in fact I don't
think this strategy is appropriate for many of their other users
Given that the movies automatically delete
themselves after 30 days, can only be viewed on a PC with an active
internet connection so that the DRM license embedded in the Windows
Media files can be validated, and in any case are of fairly poor
visual quality (I played the first few minutes of the Aliens
Special Edition movie, and the compression artefacts were
extremely obvious) the decision to uninstall it again came rapidly.
Having done so, however, I noticed that the Kontiki application
KSERVICE, a Windows background service that provides the P2P
facility, did not actually uninstall - so in theory I could have
been helping Sky to distribute their content in perpetuity even
though I had given up on the facility myself! In the end I had to
remove it manually after a reboot, using the useful SRVINSTW tool
from the Resource Kit - which is not something the average user
would be able to do... [Update: The windows folder
also contains a subdirectory named \KDX, and the KHOST.EXE file that
lives there is called from HKLM\Run, so that also needs removing
And while I'm griping about poorly thought-out
software, my experiences with SAP at the office are proving equally
painful. The thing gives every indication of not having been updated
at any point in the last decade: for example it is unable to address
a print queue with a space in the name, and can't be installed on a
server with a fully-qualified domain name of longer than 31
characters. These are thoroughly antiquated and arbitrary
restrictions, absent from most Windows software since the
mid-nineties, and would be a cause of some considerable merriment if
I was hearing about it from somebody else - but having to change
perfectly reasonable naming conventions on my own network to
accommodate such poorly-written software is definitely not funny. Feh!
Elsewhere, it's link time again...
dead - Sun insists the death of magnetic tape has been greatly
exaggerated, and thinks the market is set to keep on growing; but
the vice-president of the Data Management Group is hardly likely to
say anything else following their $4.1bn
acquisition of tape specialist StorageTek...
from beyond the grave - an enterprising educational toy company
has revived the Digicomp, a build-it-yourself mechanical computer
from the 1960s. I have to admit that I've never seen this particular
beastie before, but apparently it has something of
The many faces of Vista - tech sites across the web are
discussing the news that the next Windows OS will be available in
six different versions (and another two without Media Player for the
European market), but according to Ars Technica they may be a
The fruits of our labours on Friday
evening - a Salicru Dual-Power 50KVA UPS, with separate battery
cabinet (the two weigh about 1400kgs together) and bypass switch
panel. And just look at the size of the cable feeding power into the
UPS - now that's an impressive bit of wire! Of course, all
that juice will only keep the servers up and running for around half
an hour, so if the diesel generator doesn't cut in before then...
well, let's just say it would be bad...
Disasters aside, however, things are currently
looking very reassuring. The existing seventy-odd servers and the
infrastructure are drawing around half of the working capacity, so
even when we add another twenty-odd servers for Siebel next month
there should still be adequate overhead for future growth and for
the unexpected. That will make a nice change - for the last few
months I've been anxious every time I plugged in the vacuum cleaner
in case it was the proverbial last straw that broke the inverter's
back, and that doesn't do my nerves any good.
- the CEO of Sony BMG, Andrew Lack, has been moved down to chairman of the board
after months of criticism, including complaints from stockholders about
excessive fees paid to artists and the high-profile scandal over copy protection
software in audio CDs.
Porn police - two uniformed members of the Homeland Security Department
entered a public library in Bethesda, Washington, and announced that they were
there to prevent the patrons from viewing pornography using the library's
computers. Needless to say, that is not within their jurisdiction.
- a box of twelve bullet-shaped chocolates, one of which contains a concealed
surprise in the form of a hot red chilli pepper. This is a fascinating idea, but
I'm finding it hard to see what their target market is... Hell hath no fury like
a boyfriend scorned?
Use both hands - this demonstration video of a touch-sensitive display
backed by some extremely interesting software is strongly reminiscent of the
wonderful VR user interface in The
Minority Report. It is being developed at New York University, but
apparently has been patented by Apple.
Many Dells -
and talking of computers in films, I saw a trailer for the new Harrison Ford
movie Firewall, and my eye
was immediately caught by the gunmetal wall of Dell PowerEdge servers. I have a
fair few of them myself (eight cabinets' worth) but that server room is a whole
order of magnitude bigger...
- and talking of Apple, this time, the company that used to be
"insanely great" (and is now arguably just insane) has invoked the
DMCA to shut down message boards on a site where Mac OS X
enthusiasts were discussing how they could install the operating
system on non-Apple hardware.
Persistent spam - at Boing Boing, news that the brewing company
Miller searched for and tracked down a user who had given them a
disposable email address for a contest, and sent him spam at his
permanent address! More details courtesy of Brian McWilliams, author
the story of a tourist who lost her camera but was then
contacted by the people who found it - only to be told that they had
taken a liking to it and did not intend to give it back. It's an odd
little story, but what interested me was the range of comments left
at the blog, which ranged from the disturbingly vitriolic ("I am
currently praying for her 9-yr old to die via a slow and painful
death") to the overtly racist ("let's humiliate those Cannuck
scumbags!"), from the needlessly suspicious ("what proof do
you have that it was yours?") to the possibly helpful ("transporting
stolen property through US customs is probably another crime") -
as well as an offer from
Worth1000 founder Avi Muchnick to buy her a new camera! It's
an amazing range of responses and, honestly, you could write an
entire psychology PhD thesis from this one page... <shaking my
In spite of having been a user of the
Audible digital audiobook
service since its inception in the late 90s, I hadn't realised that
a new UK division had launched last year until I stumbled across a
an article on the future of the service in the face of possible
competition from Amazon. I've occasionally encountered licensing
restrictions that preventing me from downloading certain audiobooks
outside the US, and there is a lot of audio content from
organisations such as the BBC that is rarely available outside the
country, so this seemed like an excellent idea, but unfortunately
there are some serious usability issues that may make the idea a
non-starter for me...
The sinking feeling started when
the UK site didn't recognise
my login details, and the FAQ directed me to an "advice for current
US customers" entry which revealed that I couldn't use my existing
account details because the two sites "access the same database".
Now, to me that would seem like a good thing - they both use
the same database, so I can login to either service with the same
details, right? Wrong! Not only would I have to create an entirely
separate account, but in fact I would have to use a different email
address to do so - when I tried to create a UK account I was told
that the email address already existed and so couldn't be used, thus
proving that a) the two services do indeed share the same database,
and b) that this really, really hasn't been thought through
When you consider the transparency that exists
between eBay and PayPal in the two countries, for example, the
strong links between Amazon US and Amazon UK, or the apparently
seamless international ease of Apple's iTunes service, this all
feels very amateurish and cobbled-together indeed. Ideally I would
expect to be able to login to either site with the same account
details, and use the same pre-paid credits to download media from
either. Instead, it turns out that I would need to maintain two
completely separate accounts with different names and email
addresses, and would also need to purchase an additional monthly
subscription for the UK site, thus doubling my costs without (as I
already listen to as many audio books as I can in any given month)
doubling the value received.
Incidentally, I hadn't actually intended to
create a UK account at this stage, as the sinking feeling was
starting to deepen, but when I tried to submit a request for
information and advice about signing up I discovered that I could
only do so if I was already a member! Hmmm.
Meanwhile, it's that time of the year again, so I
re-potted all my cacti. A very appropriate job for a wet Sunday
afternoon, as working with green things (especially after several
weeks of intensive work with decidedly inorganic computer
networks) made me think of spring. Man cannot live by silicon
It was an eventful evening at the office,
yesterday, with a new 50kVA
Sailcru DualPower UPS being delivered to replace the existing
30kVA unit, the latter rendered somewhat inadequate by the addition
of twenty-odd Dell servers back in the autumn at the start of our
SAP implementation and running at 110% of capacity since then. The
new UPS and its external battery cabinet together weigh something in
the order of 1400 kilos, and getting them up the ramp onto the
raised floor of the computer room was an interesting exercise,
involving several types of hydraulic jacks, a ramp, and eight people
pushing. Getting the old unit back out of the room again only took
two people, but as they proceeded to topple it over onto its
front in the process that can be considered as one of the less
successful stages of the operation! We were planning to re-use that
UPS at our disaster recover site, and as the fall encouraged the
heavy rectifiers and capacitors to migrate from the back of the
cabinet to the front it will now need to be rebuilt from top to
bottom, which I think may well be a challenging project -
fortunately one in which I won't be involved...
Equally challenging, however, is the continuing
quest to complete the dual monitor system on my desktop PC at home.
I'm still vacillating between an ATI and NVIDIA graphics card to
support the second display, but in the meantime both are sitting on
my desk with their bases occupying an annoyingly large surface area
between them. The obvious solution is to replace the supplied stands
with a special dual display mount, a fairly easy option given the
VESA standard that specifies the attachment points of LCD and
plasma panels, and given the constant demands on my desktop real
estate a very attractive one as well.
There are a couple of big names in this field in
the UK, the rather confusingly named
Ergomounts, and at the bottom of their product ranges both have
very nice dual screen stands. As if it wasn't hard enough choosing
between them, however, each stand comes with a number of mounting
options, so as well as dithering over graphics cards today I'm also
trying to decide between a free-standing base, similar to one of the
originals, or a mount that clamps on to the edge of the desk like a
giant Anglepoise lamp. The latter will take almost no desktop space,
but I'm concerned that with a pair of 19" panels attached it might
not be quite as sturdy as I'd like - I'm a fairly heavy typist (my
colleagues at the office insisted I switch to Dell's QuietKeys
keyboard design when it came out a few years ago) and the last thing
I want is my monitors wobbling and vibrating as I work! Oh, the
agony of indecision...
Because I've been thinking so much about display
technology, recently, the spectre of colour correction has reared
its ugly head again. I've never been obsessed with
calibrating my printers and displays, but as I spend a fair bit of
time in PhotoShop the techie in me won't let me ignore it
completely, so I use the correct ICC profiles for my hardware and
aim for the rudiments of calibration at least. This is
something of a hit-and-miss process, however, and I've always been
interested in the little optical widgets that assist with the task.
The first such device I came across was the Colorvision Spyder, and
the latest versions are still a leading light at the consumer and
prosumer ends of the market. Recently it has been joined by a new
range from Pantone, the Eye-One, and both brands now have
models ranging from the over-simplified to the over-complex. The
former seem to be somewhat crippled even by my fairly low standards,
with a single fixed gamma value and a limited range of colour
temperatures, and as a hardened techie I would probably prefer the
"pro" models with a few more options to scratch my head over. This
brings the cost to somewhere around
- £180, however, which seems a little steep for something that I
would use once and then put away in a drawer for the foreseeable
future, and as I can normally manage a "good enough" calibration by
hand I doubt that I'll buy one this time, either. Hmmm, maybe I
could form a consortium of friends to share the cost with. Any
I'm starting to despair of ever
finding a PAL version of the ATI X800XT All-In-Wonder graphics card
I'd set my heart on, and so I'm casting the net a little wider. If I
give up on the onboard TV tuner that is only found on the AIW
models, there are a number of alternatives... Many of the X800
series have some degree of video-in/video-out support, which will
provide the majority of the AIW functionality, as do the somewhat
quicker X850 and the noticeably quicker X1300 models, the
latter probably the fastest chipset that will be available for the
now obsolete AGP bus. Abandoning the AIW model also opens up the
possibility of dual DVI outputs rather than the usual DVI and VGA,
which would certainly be tempting given the pair of shiny new 19"
VP930 monitors that are currently gracing my desk - one sadly
black, thanks to the current lack of an appropriate dual display
As dual DVI models from ATI are strangely
concentrated at the lower end of the performance spectrum, I've
actually started looking at cards based on the
6600 and 7800 chipsets as well. This is something of a learning
process, as apart from a brief foray into the Voodoo 2 and 3 series
cards in the late 90s, I've been using ATI chipsets ever since the
glory days of the Mach 64, and thanks to the deliberate obfuscation
in terminology I'm finding it very hard to compare GPU features
between the two manufacturers. I haven't as yet found a single card
that will meet all of my modest requirements - AGP bus, dual
DVI, VIVO support, compatibility with a Koolance water block, and
blisteringly fast - but there are a number of compromise candidates
and as they're mostly a fraction of the price of the X800 AIW I was
planning for I don't mind the idea of buying something as a
temporary measure to get both monitors up and running. Watch this
The War on 'Blogs - as part of the recent Homeland Security
Department exercise "Cyber Storm", designed to test its response to
devastating attacks over the Internet from cyber-terrorists,
anti-globalisation activists, black-hat hackers, and bloggers. Yes,
you heard me, bloggers. Um, OK.
slime - it had never occurred to me to connect a small
six-legged robot to a photo-sensitive slime mould such that the
mould's movements direct that of the robot, so I'm very glad to hear
that a team at the University of Southampton has come up with the
idea on their own.
The Gang of Four - the US Government has been holding hearings
on the ethical responsibilities of US internet firms operating in
China, and there were some strong words - but reformed hacker group
Cult Of The Dead Cow
doesn't think they were nearly strong enough.
The robot vanishes - a spookily lifelike simulacra of SF author
Philip K. Dick has disappeared en route from a commercial airliner,
and given the irony of a PKD replicant apparently making a break for
freedom I have the feeling that fans of the author have somehow
staged a practical joke...
Ripping is bad, M'kay - the RIAA has toughened its stance on
making digital copies of a CD that one already owns in order to
listen to the music on an MP3 player, directly contradicting
statements made in court, and on their web site, that in fact such
behaviour is considered to be fair use.
Niall reports that he is having exactly the same
problem with German hardware supplier NGenX aka
Hardwarearea.com - he
placed an order with them at the start of the month and has had a
disappointing lack of response since then, prompting him to raise a
complaint with PayPal. Given that I have been sending several email
messages per day to all their various addresses and several more via
the contact form on the web site, and attempts to reach them by
phone and fax have been met with a recorded message in German, it
seems highly likely that the company is in the process of going out
Unfortunately, as is
often the case in these circumstances, the web site is still
intact and accepting orders - but based on the current evidence
there seems little chance that these will be honoured and my advice
would be to avoid the company at all costs. I am going to have to
join Niall in attempting to recover my money via PayPal, which
unfortunately is likely to be a long, drawn-out process, and as as
this is the third failure to acquire an ATI X800XT
All-In-Wonder video card I'm starting to think that, as with the
illusive Iiyama monitor, I should give up and look for something
else instead. How annoying!
The truth about ENIAC - Computerworld has interviewed the
co-inventor of the pioneering digital computer, J. Presper Eckert,
and he dispels a number of the myths that have grown up around the
project - including minimising the contributions made by
mathematician John von Neumann.
More in implanted RFIDs - further details are emerging of the
access control devices implanted in a pair of techies employed by
security monitoring company CityWatcher.com, including a quote from
Katherine Albrecht, who considers them the biblical Mark of the
History of the hard disk - courtesy of CNet, a pictorial series
starting with IBM's 1956 5MB System 305 drive and progressing to the
femtoscale heads developed by Hitachi in 2003. Oddly, though, the
latest innovation to hit the market, the capacity-doubling
perpendicular recording, isn't mentioned!
How flame wars start - according to research published in a
social psychology journal, people think they've correctly
interpreted the tone and implication of e-mail messages 90 percent
of the time, but thanks to near-ubiquitous egocentricity in fact
their success rate is only around 50%.
After a busy day interviewing new candidates for
the PFY vacancy (two of whom had sufficiently similar names that
before the interviews we speculated that it might be the same person
trying to maximise his chances) and man-handling three new Dell
server cabinets up into the computer room without significantly
crushing any of my current PFYs, I only have energy left for a
handful of quick links:
Peculiar pens - Dan displays his flexibility once more by
reviewing some of the more unusual writing implements on the market.
As usual, the myriad of links that populate the article are a source
of fascination in their own right.
The evils of aspartame - I've been concerned about the health
risks of the now ubiquitous sweetener since talking to a biochemist
in the eighties, and as it seems more and more likely that the
manufacturer bought its FDA approval I see no reason to change my
mind now. Via
Internal identification - video surveillance company CityWatcher
have demanded that employees who need to access the company data
centre have RFID chips embedded under their skin, a move that has
far more to do with the company's public image than any genuine
increase in security.
Red cross idiocy - at Boing Boing, more coverage on the
threats made by the Canadian Red Cross against companies that use
the famous icon on medipacks in video games. I know that a
charitable organisation like this has so many better things on which
to spend the money donated to it. :-(
laser - the idea of using an optical pickup instead of a diamond
needle to play vinyl records isn't new, but the ELP Laser Turntable
is the first hardware that even comes close to the consumer
market - although at a starting price of around $15,000 only the
truly obsessed need apply...
High-definition disappointment - enthusiasts who have paid the
significant price currently demanded for graphics cards that promise
HDTV support are likely to find that their investment has been
wasted, as only fully-approved OEM-built systems will support the
HDCP copy protection scheme.
New air record - millionaire adventurer
has set a new record after flying 26,389 miles (76 hours and 45
minutes) without refuelling, following an emergency landing at
Bournemouth when the GlobalFlyer plane experienced a serious
electrical failure on the final approach to Kent airport.
The Art of the Brick - Lego guru Nathan Sawaya has some
remarkable pieces on his web site, including a near life-sized "Han
Solo in Carbonite" from "The Empire Strikes Back". Sawaya comments:
"I built the sculpture so it can break down easily into smaller
parts, thus making it mobile. Because, like most people, I like to
take large sculptures of people frozen in carbonite with me whenever
I travel". I have to admit that I'm slightly puzzled as to
why the sculpture is only seventy inches tall, though - if you're
going to make something that large, with 10,000 grey Lego bricks,
adding another few inches to make it truly life-sized would seem to
be almost obligatory! Thanks to
for the pointer.
I'd like to start off by thanking my colleague
not only reporting a dead link on the front page of this site, the Java applet
that illustrates the idea of epicycles so well, but tracking down
new location for me as well. As a reward, I shall try to avoid
crushing you under several thousand kilos of new Dell hardware on
Meanwhile, last night I realised what's wrong
The IT Crowd - they don't have any damn network! Evidently
they have some cunning way of supplying data services to an entire
corporate using nothing more than a pile of eviscerated monitors and
a Commodore Pet, a talent that so far has escaped me. I hope my
finance director doesn't watch it, or he'll start to wonder why we
keep wanting to waste all this money on servers and stuff! The show
does have its moments, I guess (the voice-activated tape deck hooked
up to the phone is classic BOFH humour) but on the whole the appeal
is somewhat elusive and after three episodes I'm not really
expecting that to change. The high point of the last episode, in
fact, was spotting the little cluster of
activism stickers contributed by Boing Boing frontman and
EFF luminary Cory Doctorow.
Elsewhere, back in the real world (unpleasant and
annoying though it is) today's news roundup starts with a handful of
stories from the ever-informative
Microsoft under fire - Vista isn't even close to
shipping, yet, but apparently one OEM (the smart money says HP) has
already registered a complaint with the US Justice Department that
the setup screen isn't sufficiently customisable to let them stuff
it full of adverts for their 3rd party software.
Another standard under attack - in a case eerily reminiscent of
Forgent's grab of JPEG compression technology, AT&T has suddenly
announced that it owns key patents used in the MPEG-4 video format
and has started threatening companies such as Apple and DivX with
lawsuits and triple damages.
Still beating that drum - an MPAA spokesman has revealed that
actually DRM is only intended to help keep us honest, as without
limits on what we can and can't do with the media we've purchased we
would throw our morals to the wind and become hardened copyright
pirates. The insulting bastard...
Wikipedia in the news - or, to be exact, never out of the
news, these days... The latest cause célèbre is that of the family
of German hacker "Tron", found dead in mysterious circumstances, who
have sued to prevent his real name being used in entries on the
German version of the encyclopaedia.
Japanese whale meat scandal - as the "scientific research"
excuse has always been an obvious fabrication I'd always assumed
that they wanted to eat the stuff, but if there's so much on the
market that they're selling it as dog food the only sensible
conclusion is that they just like killing whales.
rift with Sun - I'm starting to have the impression that the
open source movement is slowly but surely tearing itself apart...
With Microsoft less of an evil empire than they used to be their
unifying effect is lost, and that just leaves a lot of strong
personalities and companies trying to make a profit...
The soft fluffy side of the NSA - after the unfavourable
publicity that followed the revelation that they've been spying on
American citizens as if wiretapping was going out of fashion, the
NSA have created set of cartoon characters in an attempt to convince
the next generation that their motives are pure.
vision - an impressive new technology embeds tiny
electronically-controlled lenses within an eyeglass lens, programmed
at manufacture to correct irregularities in the structure of the eye
at a far higher resolution than traditional corrective lenses,
potentially doubling the range of normal sight.
Artificial ball lightning - the phenomena of ball lightning has
traditionally been extremely obscure, but a team working at Tel Aviv
University has used the magnetron from a domestic microwave oven to
create artificial pulses about 3cm across and lasting some tens of
Short of web space -
courtesy of guimp, "the world's smallest web site", a set of
classic video games each implemented in a square 18 pixels on a
side. They're actually surprisingly playable, but after less than a
minute with the pinball game I thought my eyes were going to fall
out onto my desk!
Hard disk scratching - inspired by a set of recordings provided
by Hitachi to illustrate the sounds made by a failing disk drive,
Gizmodo launched a contest for the best music that could be
created from them. The winner is a wonderful two minute trance track
reminiscent of mid-era
I had a call from Scan Computers this morning to
tell me that actually they wouldn't have any stock of the illusive
Iiyama H1900 monitor for at least two months, so I contacted
Iiyama's UK sales office to
find out what the hell was going on. Their reply confirmed the
report from After Hours last week, in that the parent company has
been bought by the Japanese firm MCJ (also known as Mouse Computers,
apparently - not a name I've come across before) and most of the
production lines have been closed down while the acquisition is
taking place. Whether this really came about because of Iiyama's
financial difficulties, as was suggested on the Bit-Tech forums, is
not clear at the moment - but the LCD display market is extremely
cut-throat at present and I really don't think that having your
products disappear from the world market for three months or so is
going to be something they will get over any time soon.
Certainly, they've lost me as a customer - Scan
suggested a consumer-level model that they seemed to think was
equivalent, but a quick look at the specs suggested otherwise and
somewhat reluctantly I started looking at other brands. US
manufacturer Viewsonic seem to be receiving good reviews across much
of their model range, at present, and as it turns out that I really
can buy two of their
VP930 model for only a little more than the price of a single
H1900 I'm giving them a try.
The supplier I chose,
Micro Direct, is
currently claiming that they can deliver the Viewsonic units on
Monday evening - I don't have any specific reason to doubt this, at
the moment, but I don't think I've shopped with them before and I
have to admit that after the last few weeks I am feeling rather
sceptical just on general principles. However, as I still haven't
managed to make contact with
NGenX / HardwareArea as yet (their fax number seems to end up at
a recording in German, which I consider to be unhelpful) about my
missing Radeon AIW X800XT, at this rate there's going to be nothing
to connect the new monitors to anyway! I am muttering quietly to
myself, again, tonight...
However, I do want to thank my original
supplier, After Hours,
for doing their best to keep me up to date and informed, and for
refunding my money the next day (unprecedented speed!) when I
finally decided that I didn't want to wait. I am less impressed with
Scan, of course, as once again they have managed to sell me
something that they didn't have in stock, all the while insisting
that they did. Tsk!
Inventors honoured - this year's inductees into the hall of fame
include the inventors of coaxial cable, the helium-neon laser, the
contraceptive pill, the caterpillar track, fibreglass, and the
- building even a simplified Difference Engine from Lego is a
challenging project, and this design by Andy Carol is definitely
going to be worth paying attention to as it progresses.
Piracy doesn't matter - the BBC's series of questions for media
industry heads continues, and one answer reveals that movie
downloaders actually buy as many DVDs as anyone else! Oops!
Red Cross loons - more intellectual property madness, with the
Canadian Red Cross threatening legal action against companies that
use the famous logo on health-packs in computer games!
Wikipedia detective work - the exposure of the recent Capitol
Hill editing scandal follows some impressively cunning and
methodical investigation by the encyclopaedia's techies.
Copying Sky+ - courtesy of the Digital Spy forums, a utility to
read the proprietary PVR disk format to allow it to be cloned onto a
new drive. It's still in early beta, but the idea is certainly
I was so busy ranting about the three companies
that are currently jerking me about, last night, that I completely
forgot that there are actually four. I often tell Internet
shopping sceptics that I've made at least a thousand transactions
with Internet-based vendors of all sorts with only a very small
proportion of disappointments, and that's true, but I can't remember
a time when I've had so many problems in such a short time.
The latest disappointment is European PC hardware
supplier NGenX, trading as the
site, from whom I ordered an
ATI Radeon AIW X800 XT dual-display graphics card to match the
equally problematic Iiyama H1900 display I'm currently waiting on.
In best tradition, they debited my credit card, sent me a little
flurry of confirmation emails, and then lapsed into the sort of
sullen silence with which I have become extremely familiar over the
last week. Emails to all their various addresses have been
completely ignored, as have messages sent via their web site, and
although there is obviously a fair bit more I can do in an attempt
to attract their attention I'm starting to get a nasty taste in my
My latest requests for an update from Special
Airsoft Supplies have met with an equally disturbing silence, too,
and if you listen carefully tonight you can actually hear me
gritting my teeth...
Meanwhile, in an attempt to distract myself, some
Skype becoming elitist - the latest version of the popular IP
telephony app supports multi-way video conferencing, but only if you
have an Intel CPU, and a fairly spiffy dual-core one at that!
history of graphics - an impressively thorough account of the
development of 3D graphics acceleration technology, from the first
small steps in 1996 to the current war between ATI and NVIDIA.
RMS on online IP - open source figurehead Richard Stallman is a
known opponent of DRM, of course, but recently it has emerged that
he is also less than impressed with Creative Commons.
Bit-Tech on Bill - the UK tech site examines some of the
Microsoft founder's predictions for the future of technology, and
finds that his record is no better and no worse than most other
vs. EU - it looks as if Microsoft may be stalling in the hope
that a forthcoming appeals hearing will rule against the entire
ruling, but the Commission itself does not appear to be playing
New robotic pet - hot on the heels of the RoboRaptor, and
nipping at them as it goes, is the new Pleo from Ugobe. Sporting 38
sensors, 8 processors, and 14 servos, it's a significant piece of
Apple eying up Palm? - the industry is never short of rumours
about Apple acquiring other companies or being acquired itself, but
the idea of it buying the troubled Palm Inc. does make a certain
Airsoft calculator - courtesy of a forum regular at Arnie's
Airsoft, a cunning little utility to calculate all sorts of
useful figures for airsofters - muzzle velocity, projectile
drop, theoretical range, etc.
I've just finished reading "The
Victorian Internet", by Tom Standage, and it was an
interesting and thought-provoking book. He describes the invention
of the telegraph in the middle of the nineteenth century, covering
both the technology itself and the people behind it, and as the
title suggests he sees many parallels with the creation and growth
of the global computer networks 150 years later. The ability to send
messages around the country or around the world in minutes rather
than months transformed all levels of society in many countries,
from the American tycoons doing business across the continent to the
African tribesman who found their country carved up by solders
following orders telegraphed from their governments in Europe. The
epilogue makes the point rather neatly:
Today, we are repeatedly told that we are in
the midst of a communications revolution. But the electric
telegraph was, in many ways, far more disconcerting for the
inhabitants of the time than today's advances are for us. If any
generation has the right to claim that it bore the full
bewildering, world-shrinking brunt of such a revolution, it is not
us - it is our nineteenth-century forebears.
Time-travelling Victorians arriving in the
late twentieth century would, no doubt, be unimpressed by the
Internet. They would surely find space flight and routine
intercontinental air travel far more impressive technological
achievements than our much trumpeted global communications
network. Heavier-than-air flying machines were, after all, thought
by the Victorians to be totally impossible. But as for the
Internet - well, they had one of their own.
Closer to home, I am suffering considerable
annoyance from my own Internet, or more accurately from a trio of
organisations using it for what purports to be business:
First on tonight's sin list is
Scan Computers, who have
annoyed me on a number of occasions in the last few years. I've been
trying to find an alternate supplier of the Iiyama
H1900 monitor, as After
Hours don't expect to receive any more Iiyama units until the
middle of the month, and when I noticed that Scan was listing the
model as available from stock I requested a refund from After Hours
and placed an order with Scan. I should have known better! Just as
before, my order zoomed swiftly through the first few stages of the
process, with a shipping date of the same day, and then it stalled
for the few hours which have now become very familiar.
Sure enough, the next I heard from them was an
email saying that "due to a temporary shortage in stock" my order
could not be shipped until at least 14th February - in other words,
pretty much the same date that After Hours were estimating! I am
extremely annoyed by this, as the site clearly and categorically
showed that the model was in stock - or I would never have placed
the order! It seems very early in the year to nominate Scan for my
Stock Control League again, but as they've done almost exactly
the same thing three times in the last six months I don't see that I
have any option.
Next up is
Admil, with whom I placed an order for tape storage cases back
in December of last year. I was assured that they were in stock, so
I faxed them my credit card details and was promised delivery the
next day. The order didn't arrive however, and the subsequent two
months have been one excuse after another: the courier lost them,
the shipment from the US has been delayed, the moon is in the
seventh house, etc etc.
I wouldn't mind that so much (these things do
happen, after all), but I have had to chase and chase and chase
even to be fobbed off with excuses. Each time I was told "Sorry,
mate, I'll get on it right away" and then there was a sullen silence
until the next email I sent a week later! They have two more days,
now, and if I don't have a set of
Turtle tape cases clutched in my hot little hands by close of
business on Friday then that's another order I'll be cancelling and
another company I will not be dealing with again.
Special Airsoft Supplies,
putative supplier of my SVD replica -
I haven't completely given up hope on them, but right now I have to
admit that the signs are not promising. Last Monday I was told that
the replica had arrived from Hong Kong and was going to be shipped
out the next day. When it still hadn't arrived by the end of the
week I enquired, only to be told that actually they hadn't been sent
the distinctive telescopic sight that is one of the weapon's
characteristics. I really don't understand why I wasn't told this to
begin with, and the fact that I had to chase them before they
admitted it does not bode well. They offered an alternative model
that I was not especially happy with, and having declined that I
have heard nothing at all so far this week. There is a significant
amount of money involved in this deal, however, and I really hope
that it doesn't turn into the sort of experience that ends up being
excruciating detail on this site - but I have prior experience
of small UK airsoft suppliers and I have learned to recognise the
signs that everything may be about to go very, very pear shaped.
Watch this space - and wish me luck!
I have been thoroughly underwhelmed by the new TV
The IT Crowd, but to my surprise I seem to be in a minority.
In spite of the fact that the show was created by Graham Linehan,
justly famous for the marvellous nineties sitcom
it doesn't seem to have any of the wit and sparkle of its
predecessor and the first two episodes, shown back-to-back last
Friday evening, pretty much failed to provoke a smile throughout.
The stereotypes are to be expected of course, as
that's how sitcoms work - the brainless MD spouting
management-speak, the unscrupulous female exec desperate to climb
the corporate ladder at any cost, and of course the techies
themselves, who serve to remind us that anyone who works with
computers is either a maladjusted antisocial nerd, or, well, a
different type of maladjusted antisocial nerd. The show's only
saving grace, so far, is that neither of the geeks bears any
resemblance to me, so to my relief I'm safe from unflattering
Given all this, I've been surprised to see the
show lauded by people like
Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing, who's mention of a
"screamingly funny running gag" (a fire broke out, and nobody really
knew how to cope with it) almost makes me wonder if he was watching
some special American version of the show with extra humour.
I will go on watching it, I expect, if only to
avoid missing out on the references in the office the next day, but
I'm not expecting to be too impressed with the rest of the series.
Still, the first three episodes are available online as streaming
Windows Media, and of course can be downloaded via the various P2P
networks as well, so you can make up your own mind.
The oldest profession - players in the popular online game
Second Life have a reputation for pushing back the frontiers of
gaming, so I wasn't at all surprised to hear that not only are there
highly successful in-game prostitutes but also web sites that review
and rate them. I have to admit that the appeal of any aspect
of online gaming still escapes me somewhat, let alone that of
Playing Wikipolitics - the Washington Post has more details on
the latest Wikipedia scandal, concerning the rash of staffers who
have sanitised their congressman's profile to remove anything
unfavourable. This has generated quite a stir, as usual with recent
stories concerning the site, especially as at the moment Capitol
Hill IP address ranges have been blocked from editing entries.
link - a survey organised by Novell (who have now re-invented
themselves as Linux evangelists) suggests that the lack of ports of
major applications such as Adobe's PhotoShop is slowing down the
adoption of the open source OS on the desktop. I am amused to hear
this, as I'm thoroughly fed up with hearing the lawn dwarves
bleating about how The GIMP is a
the other half lives - I've seen a lot of modded PCs over the
last few years, but I don't remember any modded Mac systems that
weren't either April Fools jokes or fish tanks. However, the "Minitosh"
is a modern G4 Mini motherboard stuffed into an old 68000-era
Mac Plus chassis, complete with that wonderfully retro greyscale
display. I hope this is the start of a movement in its own right.
Print your own meat - definitely one for the "you can't make
this stuff up" department, news that tissue engineers at the
University of South Carolina have managed to print out strips of
bacon using a modified inkjet printer. The ultimate goal is to build
artificial tissues and even entire organs, but the largely two
dimensional format of bacon makes it a useful structure to practice
Things in the office have moved into high gear
again, as even before last year's
SAP system is actually in production we've started to plan the the
twenty five additional servers that will host the company's Siebel
implementation - and one of the small but important details I have to
take care of is thinking of names for them all! Unlike some of
sysadmins I always choose descriptive names, which may be boring but
certainly helps one to determine which server does what - anyone can
tell that PRINTSERVE hosts print queues, STORAGE and DATAVAULT are
file servers, and SYSMAN runs Microsoft's Systems Management Server...
Trying to remember in the heat of the moment whether it's Jupiter,
Jehovah or Juno that runs the malfunctioning Radius authentication
system is a challenge I can do without.
It's been suggested that having such descriptive
names makes it easier for a hacker to map and navigate the network,
but it seems to me that if an intruder is far enough inside the
firewall to be able to browse server names and connect to them at will
then the battle is probably already lost... The risk of making life
slightly more convenient for a hacker is more than outweighed by the
ease with which authorised staff can find their way around, and
with the network growing to over one hundred servers once the Siebel
systems are in place that's a significant factor.
An acquaintance who manages a similarly sized
network is amazed at how we can possibly cope with what has grown into
a honest-to-goodness enterprise-level computer installation - he has a
team for routers, switches and network infrastructure, another
team to drive the servers and applications, and a third to worry about
security and anti-virus. In comparison, I have me and a pair of PFYs,
trying to be jacks of all trades - with the promise of a third PFY to
come, at last, after two years of battling with management. I have to
admit that I find this a touch disheartening, as the SAP team is
hiring consultants and developers as if they were going out of fashion
and yet my colleagues and I are expected to provide all the services
of the outsourced mainframe that SAP and Siebel are replacing, and
more, pretty much in our spare time. We'll do the best we can, of
course, but I can't shake the feeling that if it all goes horribly
wrong (and SAP, especially, does have a reputation for doing just
that) then I will be the one up against the wall with a blindfold and
a last cigarette - and I'd hate to have to take up smoking again.
Musical mapping - the London Underground map reworked as a diagram showing
the creator's idea of the relationships between and influences of the last
hundred years of music. It's an interesting idea, but there are certainly a
whole bunch of grumpy bastards in the article's comments...
- In his house under the bed dead Cthulhu waits dreaming... This exquisite Lego
diorama has the fearless adventurers, an airship, fighter planes, an assortment
of ghastly Lovecraftian horrors and, of course, the Great Old One itself.
Vapourware awards - it's that time again, and Wired have released
their list of last year's products that never came to market. An
Bit-Tech suggests that the tech web sites and magazines are
encouraging vapourware by pestering manufacturers for review samples
earlier and earlier.
Trouble in paradise - I'm hearing all sorts of
unsettling things about the monitor manufacturer Iiyama, recently...
The company who is still trying to source my
ProLite H1900 LCD says that stock is stalled right across Europe
because of a corporate takeover, and postings in
a thread at
Hexus claim that the Japanese parent company is in some kind of
bankruptcy process. This is something of a surprise to me, as Iiyama
have traditionally been one of the market leaders in both CRT and LCD
displays, with regular appearances in the A-lists of most of the major
IT publications. However, many of their models are targeted at the
demanding graphic design markets, with prices to match, and possibly
they've finding that the relatively small sales of high-end units
can't sustain a slump in sales down at the increasingly cut-throat
consumer end of the spectrum. I'm starting to have second thoughts
about my own purchase, too, as apart from the fact that I could buy
two 19" panels from a manufacturer like
ViewSonic for the same price as one from Iiyama, if the company is
experiencing problems their famous 3 year on-site warranty may not be
quite so plausible - and that's a
major selling point for me... It's a tricky decision, but
my supplier has offered a
refund any time I get fed up with waiting, so I have time to vacillate
Zapp: The key to victory is discipline, and that means a
You will practise until you can make your bed in your sleep.
Fry: You mean while I'm sleeping in it?
Zapp: You won't have time for sleeping, soldier! Not with all the bed-making
you'll be doing.
- Futurama, "When
Something has been attacking my garbage bags,
recently, and living on the outskirts of London as I do I had
assumed that it was a rat. I looked up from my desk today, however,
to see the real culprit nosing around, and managed to snap a few
photographs through the window before (as I expected) it noticed me
moving about inside and turned into an orange streak down the length
of the garden.
Taking photographs through a double-glazed window
and a net curtain doesn't tend to produce the best results, as
modern cameras are so intelligent that they are easily fooled into
providing the most bizarre focus, lighting and colour artefacts, so
I reached for my trusty copy of Kai's Photo Soap to see what
could be salvaged. Soap is by no means the ultimate in image
manipulation, but for flawed snapshots it provides the ability to do
a "touch up" job with a few mouse clicks, without the need to spend
an hour tweaking the gamma, saturation and mid-tones in Photoshop.
The best photo turned out to have the worst colour cast,
unfortunately, and is rather beyond the scope of second-tier tools:
Photo Soap is a digital image enhancement
tool created by veteran PhotoShop guru
and was originally published by his specialist graphics software
company MetaTools, later renamed MetaCreations after the purchase of
another old-time software house Fractal Design. Shortly afterwards,
the wave of
acquisitions that swept through the software industry in the late
nineties resulted in the majority of the company's products being
sold to Corel. This happened during the mania for
diversification that also saw Corel acquire a number of great
software applications, only to dump them again soon afterwards, and
sure enough a few years later Corel sold it on to ScanSoft, itself
now renamed as Nuance. Just to
make things even more confusing, MetaCreations has since renamed
itself as ViewPoint, with a
severely reduced product portfolio, and Krause himself has gone into
seclusion in a castle in Germany, heading an organisation named
Byteburg which is a design
school, a software house, or a business incubator depending on who
you talk to. Krause himself is less than forthcoming...
This leaves anyone who is trying to find updates
and support for Photo Soap with a bit of a puzzle, as the original
MetaTools V1 is now long-forgotten and the V2 distributed by
ScanSoft no longer appears in their product listings. A service pack
exists for the V2.5 branded by Nuance, but the actual software is no
longer available to purchase and as far as I can see if I ever
wanted an updated version I would actually have to pirate it!
Stuffing Google - BMW's German web site has been removed from
search-engine crawlers in order to fool them into ranking those
pages more highly. I find the motive for this rather puzzling, as I
doubt that people use Google to choose a new car ("I searched
for 'Mercedes', but it showed me a BMW page so I guess I'll buy one
of those instead") and it's hard to see what they hoped to gain. Ah,
the mysteries of marketing...
Analysing video games - this fascinating experiment involved
recording fifteen runs of the veteran sideways-scroller "Gradius"
and superimposing them, giving a picture of how different people
approach the same game. In many cases the tactics are extremely
similar (nearly everyone took the same path over an obstacle,
for example, rather than the apparently just as attractive route
underneath it) but there were always one or two spaceships that
differed wildly from the fuzzy cloud of the majority.
It has not been a good day for tape drives. I
finally managed to stir myself into investigating the lame duck
Exabyte 690D that I was griping
about last month, only to have the
intermittent power supply problem that had disillusioned me on the
last attempt turn into a fairly permanent one. Right now it won't
actually boot the electronics, let alone the robotic hardware, and so
has gone from a lame duck to a completely limbless one. There's a
vague chance of sourcing a replacement power supply, but even if I do
manage to locate one somehow it's possible that the fault is in the power
distribution PCB (which has a fairly sophisticated brain of its own,
according to the maintenance manual) instead of the PSU itself, so I
could easily be throwing good money after bad - or, more accurately at
this stage, bad money after very bad... And given that there's
still the unknown problem with the robotics calibration even if I do
fix the power issues, I have to admit that I'm starting to lose hope.
Having given up on the Exabyte, at least for today,
I decided to resurrect the trusty old
Dell PowerVault 120T seven slot
library that has been keeping my data safe for the last few years -
only to have the drive crash and eat a DLT tape as soon as I ran an
inventory job. So I am muttering quietly to myself as I type this, and
wondering exactly what it is about tape hardware that I usually
profess to love so much...
Meanwhile, some links:
erotica - a chess program where the pieces take each other in more
than just the usual way, the second version of LoveChess has
pieces modelled on Egyptian mythology instead of the Greek theme of
the original. The target market is rather obscure to me, though, as
serious players tend to be extremely conservative in their choice of
chess programs while players of erotic games would probably prefer
something a little less challenging!
Government inflates ID theft risk - in their desperate hunt to
find some way of justifying the increasingly unpopular plans for a
compulsorily ID card, the Home Office has claimed that ID fraud costs
Britain £1.7bn annually - but an independent investigation by online
business newsletter Silicon.com reveals that the claims have
been significantly exaggerated and many of the figures quoted have
actually nothing to do with ID theft. Busted!
Linus on DRM - I mentioned a few days ago that Linus was refusing
to re-issue the Linux kernel under the new GPL V3.0 because of its
stance on DRM, and since then he has elaborated somewhat: "Notice
how the current GPLv3 draft pretty clearly says that Red Hat would
have to distribute their private keys so that anybody sign their own
versions of the modules they recompile, in order to re-create their
own versions of the signed binaries that Red Hat creates. That's
Music piracy by magic - the RIAA continue to impress with their
degree of competence in targeting file-sharing lawsuits, by suing a
New York woman who has never owned or even used a computer.
Meanwhile Hillary Rosen, former head of the organisation, is joining
forces with another ex-industry figurehead to form a consultancy on
piracy issues, and is likely to advise the RIAA themselves on how to
outrageously inflate their claimed losses in order to better persecute
JPEG patent in question - the controversial patent acquired by
Forgent in 1997, a multi-million dollar revenue stream for them since
then (especially from the makers of digital cameras), is to be
re-examined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Figures suggest
that around 70% of patents that are approved for re-examination are
changed in some way, but it is far less usual that a patent is
actually invalidated completely.
global marketplace - details of the infamous WMF vulnerability
that caused such a scare over the christmas holiday period were being
touted around the Russian hacker underground as far back as the middle
of December, with an asking price of $4000 for full details of the
exploit. Apparently none of the erstwhile vendors really understood
the significance of what they were selling, however, and it took a
couple of weeks for any interest to materialise.
Just an administrative entry, tonight - I'm testing a
comments facility using the ubiquitous
Haloscan service. Leave me a
note so that I can see if it works!
does indeed seem to work, and after some vacillating and some tweaking
I've managed to render it nicely unobtrusive as well. I have to admit to
being a touch nervous, though - I don't get a great deal of feedback from
these pages, on the whole, and given my habit of being
a touch outspoken at times this may well be
opening a can of worms labelled "Extra Wriggly". We shall see...
And I thought yesterday was cold! Brrrr! While I wait
for my C840 to do its work and warm up my lap, therefore, some links to
keep the CPU running at maximum speed...
it old skool - this terminal emulator resurrects the 1970s, complete
with uneven brightness in a choice of green or amber, a warped, flickering
display, and even simulates the lag from a slow baud rate. My only
disappointment is that at present it's Mac-OS only.
Good worms - the idea of beneficial self replicating code is rearing
its ugly head again, and while the theory is interesting I'm extremely
dubious about the implementation: the lesson of
rtm is always
with us, and it's impossible to rule out the unexpected.
No anti-virus in Vista - Microsoft have announced that although the
new OS will contain basic anti-spyware protection and a significantly
stronger firewall, the anti-virus components will only be made available
separately as part of the OneCare security service.
GPL 3.0 for Linux - Linus Torvalds is not fond of the updated GPL
license, it seems, and is insisting that he will only permit the kernel
itself to be distributed under the previous V2.0. The sticking point is
the complete ban on DRM, which Linus considers to be "insane".
kettles - The MPAA is being forced to justify its actions after
reports that it has made unauthorised copies of a documentary about its
own actions, distributing it internally in spite of a specific injunction
from the director and copyright holder not to do so.
Wikipedia scandal - a Maryland newspaper has revealed the extensive
incidence of government workers making changes to unfavourable entries
about the politicians they work for, apparently often at the behest of
20 years of viruses - this month marks the anniversary of Brain, a
boot-sector virus that infected only 5.25-inch 360k floppy disks. I
remember viruses running on the Amiga a year or two earlier, though, which
as far as I'm aware was the first platform on which the idea was
Scratch-built spaceships - take two aspirin bottles, a toilet roll
tube, and a couple of drinks bottle caps, and produce something
reminiscent of the
from the Aliens movie. It's wonderfully knobbly and crenulated, just as a
good spaceship should be, and is really rather impressive.
to booth babes - visitors to the E3 games convention in Los Angeles
later this year will have to survive without the scantily clad girlies
which have been one of the show's regular attractions for years. The
organisers insist that the dress code has always been on the books, but
that it is only now being enforced, presumably in an attempt to avoid
further tarnishing the rather shabby reputation the games industry has
acquired over the last few years. Any company flaunting the rules will be
subject to a $5000 fine - although that's small potatoes in comparison to
the advertising budget for a major league computer game and it will be
interesting to see if the ban is respected.
February started with a bitterly cold day, at least in
the wilds of Essex, and I have the definite impression that it's going to
get worse before it gets better. My lap is toasty warm as I write this,
however, thanks to the pre-Centrino Pentium 4M in my venerable but
Latitude C840, which is one area where it scores over the more recent
technology. While I dread the coming of summer, therefore, some links:
The evils of RFID - the US State Department has postponed its plans
for passports containing RFID chips in the face of significant public
opposition, but one wonders if the way that it posted the personal details
of many of the people who submitted their concerns (including names, email
addresses and phone numbers) on its web site was really an
accident... Some of the posted comments are classic green ink material,
however, especially those from the right wing fundamentalists.
An RFID by any other name - meanwhile, closer to home, the UK
government is falling over itself to avoid using the tainted term "RFID"
when talking about its plans for high-tech ID cards and passports -
although of course the difference between an RFID device and a "secure
smartcard chip with a radio frequency contactless interface" is even less
than the difference between a Home Office minister and a lying bastard.
malware - just when you though it was safe to go back to the PC, news
is spreading of the undesirable habits of the copy-protection software
StarForce, used in games from a number of major software houses. According
to reports the side-effects of this annoying malware can range from
performance and stability issues to actual physical damage to optical
drives, but the manufacturer is denying everything and
threatening lawsuits all round.
AT&T - the online rights group is suing the telecomms giant following
its role in assisting the National Security Agency to execute illegal
warrantless wiretaps against American citizens, including granting access
to its 300 terabyte "Daytona" database of caller information. I support
the EFF in their suit, of course, but I have to admit that AT&T probably
didn't feel that it had too many options when the super-spooks came
Another myth bites the dust - an extensive study of the effects of
mobile phones on medical equipment has found that, as many people have
suspected for a long time, there aren't really any. Following this, the
Singapore hospital that carried out the trial has switched 500 doctors
from pagers to cellphones, resulting in massive savings in time and
resources. At the same time,
a study at the Yale School Of Medicine has shown that medical
professionals communicating via cellphone actually reduces the number of
errors in the care provided.
Somewhat to my surprise, it's been a very good month in
the stats, with an additional 3500 visits over last month taking the numbers
to within a whisker of the current record, set this time last year. As
usual, I have other webloggers to thank - a generous handful of tantalising
references from Avedon Carol at The
Sideshow, a link to my notes on "Atlas Shrugged" from Glen at
A Brooklyn Bridge,
unprovoked appearances in a number of blogrolls (usually way down in the
undergrowth, but it's a start) and even a mention in
article that was briefly on the front page of the popular tech law site
Groklaw. If this goes on I'm going to need to buy a bigger graph -
although it will be interesting to see if it's a momentary spike, as last
January's was, or if the growth will continue.