|It feels like a good day for an angry song...
I dreamed I saw Phil Ochs last night
Alive as you or me
Says I to Phil, "you're ten years dead"
"I never died" says he
"I never died" says he
The music business killed you, Phil
They ignored the things you said
And cast you out when fashions changed
Says Phil "but I ain't dead"
Says Phil "but I ain't dead"
The FBI harassed you, Phil
They smeared you with their lies
Says he "but they could never kill
What they could not compromise
I never compromised"
"Though fashions changed and critics sneered
The songs that I have sung
Are just as true tonight as then
The struggle carries on
The struggle carries on"
With the song of freedom rings out loud
From valleys and from hills
Where people stand up for their rights
Phil Ochs is with us still
Phil Ochs inspires us still
- Billy Bragg, paying homage to the great
I've just started reading "What The Dormouse
Said", by veteran IT journalist John Markoff, an account of the
strong influence that the sixties counterculture had on the nascent
personal computer industry. I'm still only on the first chapter, but
already there have been a number of fascinating sound-bites, such as
this one from the engineering guru
"Consider a future device for individual
use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It
needs a name, and, to coin one at random, 'Memex' will do. A Memex
is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records,
and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be
consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged
intimate supplement to his memory."
That sounds like a fair description of my Palm
Tungsten T3, which hit the market some sixty years after Bush's idea
was published in Atlantic Monthly. At that time (and for many years
afterwards) nearly everyone was
envisioning a mere handful of very large computers to fulfil the
entire world's data processing requirements, and the idea of any
kind of personal computing device was purely fantasy. No wonder they
called him a "futurist"...
Less impressive, however, is "The Iron Maiden",
presumably the final book in Piers Anthony's long-running "Bio Of
A Space Tyrant" series. Regular readers of Epicycle may
remember me holding forth on
the first five books last year, and grudgingly admitting that they
were... ah... interesting, if only for the unusual plot
device in use. This later story is a disappointment even by the
rather minimal standards of the first books, however, being as it is
a complete re-telling of the entire story, as a high-speed précis,
from the point of view of one of the secondary characters. It's hard
to see quite what motivated the author to write this book, actually,
as although it could have brought a fresh new perspective to the
story (cf. Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Shadow", which
re-tells the story of the brilliant SF novel "Ender's Game"
and yet is an extremely worthwhile and successful book in its own
right) in fact it is simply boring. There is little that is new,
much that is simply repeated and re-hashed, and only sheer inertia
has kept me ploughing through.
The only reasonable justification for writing
this book would be a severe financial crisis, but as Mr Anthony's
series continues to sell well (presumably by the yard?) that can
hardly be used as an excuse in this case. All I can say is that I
really hope the "Bio" series doesn't spawn yet another sequel, as
I'm the sort of person who would feel the need to buy it to complete
the series and by this stage I'm sure that I would regret it...
Well, it looks as if in spite of their spirited
opposition over the last two months, the House Of Lords has now
caved in to the UK government over their plans for compulsory ID
cards. Although the decision is being described as a compromise, as
far as I can see in real terms nothing much has changed - until 2010
people applying for a new passport will be able to opt out of having
an ID card, but even so their details (including biometric
information for fingerprint, iris and face recognition technology)
will still be entered into an ID card database!
I have absolutely
no faith in the government's
ability to deliver such a sophisticated IT project at all,
let alone on-time and in-budget, and the likely outcome is a long,
costly partnership with the same incompetent consultancy firms that
have so effectively screwed up all the other government IT projects
over the last twenty years, resulting in a massive and fatally
flawed white elephant that will nevertheless contain (a woefully
inaccurate) list of personal details that will be repeatedly hacked,
leaked, corrupted and misused - without doing anything at all to
protect the citizens of the UK from terrorism, crime and illegal
immigration in any of the ways that the government are claiming it
<long, heartfelt sigh>
A piece of history - what appears to be a genuine WW2 Enigma
encryption machine is up for auction on eBay, and considering that
this particular model is 65 years old it's in extremely good
condition. As I write this the bidding has reached over $13,000
after only three bids, and with another five days to go I wouldn't
be surprised if that figure doubled - although around 100,000 of the
various models were constructed, a surprisingly small number have
Fractal lighting - I'm not sure how common the twin-lamp socket
adaptors are in the UK, but these designs for multiple-branching
chandeliers and table lamps are certainly attractive and innovative.
I especially like the final one, "Nimbus", using 44 adaptors and 48
low-wattage bulbs - very pretty.
too true - one of the best designs I've seen in months, this
"DRM is killing music" T-shirt is based on the vintage
anti-piracy logo from the eighties, a claim that the last twenty
years have proved to be as false as all the current allegations
about media sharing. The shirts are reasonably priced (less than £10
including shipping to England), and I can never resist a geeky
design on a black background.
this! - and talking of copying, I came across a neat little
device to remove the Macrovision protection from DVD and VHS
signals, integrated into a SCART-to-SCART cable rather than the
usual clunky little free-standing boxes - although shortly after
that I came across an even more
elegant design, with all the electronics apparently built into
the housing of the SCART plug itself.
- I hadn't come across US modding company CrazyPC, before, but
although a browse around their site doesn't show anything
particularly new or exciting they do have a good range. It's started
me thinking about the plans I had for acrylic and mesh side panels
for the Infinity4
case, though, and I may well pull my finger out and do something
about that at some point soon.
Just a few quick news links, tonight, as I'm not
feeling very inspired...
Feeding back - Microsoft has opened a new web site to allow the
public to report bugs and make suggestions for Internet Explorer 7,
currently in beta, and future versions. The similar Bugzilla
facility for Firefox etc shows that these facilities are not always
especially useful to the developers, however.
stands alone - and talking of Internet Explorer, apparently the
new version won't be so closely-coupled to the Vista operating
system as previous versions have been. The comments to the brief
DailyTech report are mostly the usual ignorant bigotry,
Apple vs. Apple - the long-running battle between the computer
company and the record label continues, with a third suit reaching
the British High Court this week. The iTunes service firmly links
Apple Computer to the music industry, now, which may contravene the
settlement to the second suit.
under the microscope - a US government agency is calling for an
investigation into the Chinese computer company, following
suggestions that 15,000 PCs that are being supplied to the State
Department could be equipped with some kind of monitoring systems.
Double your fun - industry watchers are predicting that Intel's
forthcoming 64 bit quad-core "Kentsfield" CPUs will hit the market
sooner than expected, probably early next year. With the war against
AMD becoming increasingly fierce, this could provide a significant
gain for Intel.
Buy it later - eBay is facing a Supreme Court case over their
"Buy It Now" facility, a feature which allows vendors to bypass the
auction system and sell for a fixed price, which the small
e-commerce company MercExchange claims is an infringement of
two of their patents.
Download a movie, go to jail - the German government is
considering a law that would criminalise people who download music
or movies, providing for up to two years in prison. As usual, the
media pressure groups are behind the proposal, insisting that the
industry will go bankrupt without it...
Spam Down Under - a new industry code has been adopted in
Australia, obliging ISPs (including global companies operating in
the country) to bear some of the responsibility for preventing spam
- including limiting outgoing mail messages to "reasonable" levels.
So we hit SMS with a stick until it promised to
behave, then started bringing the services on the central server
back online. All seemed to be well, although we noticed later on in
the day that one of the processes we'd started had reached out
across the WAN and re-enabled the services on the secondary servers,
thus confirming our earlier impression that SMS was fixing itself.
We asked the users to leave their PCs powered on, this evening, and
I've just connected in to disable the packet-shaping that was
preventing the SMS services from flooding the network, so hopefully
by tomorrow morning all the clients will have caught up with
themselves. If there still seems to be a high level of traffic, I'll
re-enable the traffic management and repeat the exercise again
tomorrow evening - I think a slow-and-steady approach will be best,
This is only the second problem we've had with
since we installed it hot off the presses in autumn 2003, and as the
first glitch was a database problem caused when the built-in SQL
backup system conflicted with an external agent-based backup I can't
really blame that on SMS itself. It's an extremely powerful,
flexible system, and some of the additional bolt-on modules (such as
the facility for automatically updating the drivers and firmware of
Dell PowerEdge servers) are real time-savers. If your network is
of sufficient size and complexity to justify a management system
this sophisticated, I'd recommend it without reservation - but make
sure that you have some real expertise on hand to install and
configure it, as it is by no means a trivial application.
hardware - Sun's new T2000 server, nicknamed "Coolthreads", is
based around an eight core CPU with a total of 32-threads, drawing a
miserly 72W of power. Full details at AnandTech.
Chopper PC - in my misspent youth I was heavily into the custom
bike scene, and the "Sportster" styling this PC is inspired by was
always one of my favourites. It's an impressive piece of work.
LED fridge magnets - with a seven foot server cabinet in my
kitchen I've never felt the need to add extra electronics to my
appliances, but this recipe for LED-based fridge magnets is
A literal interpretation - a small business asked Dell to supply
a pair of PCs and "something to link them together", and Dell
responded by selling them a PowerEdge server. Marvellous...
DRM interop spreading - following the French governments
announcement about legislation to ensure compatibility between
different audio DRM products, it looks as if Denmark is set to
unconnected - The Movie Timeline is a chart of events
from a large number of different films, from 4,000,000 BC to
865,427,810 AD. It's thoroughly pointless, but fun all the same.
Computer misuse - a new report suggests that 17% UK businesses
suffered staff misuse of web access, and 11% misuse of email.
Personally, I would say that the real figures were closer to 100%...
Silly Walks Generator - I don't think this is new (it probably
dates back to the "Complete Waste Of Time" and "Holy
Grail" CDs a few year ago) but it's a must for Monty Python fans
inspiration for my programmer friend Mike - when the development
manager of Russian software house Cognitive Technologies came across
a market stall selling pirate copies of his company's products, the
resulting altercation ended up in a boxing match - which the manager
won convincingly over three rounds. The Register suggests
that this might be an appropriate solution to other IT industry
disputes, such as the current battle between Microsoft and the EU...
A generous handful of random news links for the
weekend, starting with further examples (as if we needed them!) of
the stupidity and short-sightedness of those in power in the
IP madness - more absurd copyright excesses from the Union
Pacific Railroad, which has threatened to sue anyone who puts their
logo on a model railway, anyone who takes photographs of their
trains, and even artists who paint pictures of them. It's hard to
see what they expect to gain from this...
Music poisioning - proving that they have learned absolutely
nothing from Sony's highly-publicised rootkit debacle, EMI have
released CDs in Brazil that contain DRM software that installs
itself whether you agree to the license or not, and then can't be
properly uninstalled again.
Promoting innovation - a consumer advocate group has sued
Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the popular online
role-playing game World Of Warcraft, after Blizzard invoked
the DMCA to prevent a fan from selling a strategy guide to the game
fool of Tuttle - the city manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma fired off
a series of threatening messages to the manufacturer of the Linux OS
hosting the town's web servers, accusing them of hacking, after a
configuration error by an unrelated ISP resulted in the default
Apache web page being displayed.
DRM - in spite of his outspoken condemnation of the French
government's new legislation on interpretative DRM, in fact it
doesn't seem significantly different from Steve's own stance of a
couple of years ago. It's nice to see that the famous Jobs
Reality Distortion Field is as powerful as ever.
The evils of Wikipedia - the user-edited online encyclopaedia is
in hot water yet again, having found itself in the middle of a
long-running dispute between scientific journal Nature and the
Suing spammers - New York state's bulldog attorney general,
Eliot Spitzer, has sued the promotions company Gratis Internet for
selling the personal details of millions of web site visitors to
three major spam agencies despite a guarantee of confidentiality.
SpaceX test flight fails - the maiden flight of the Falcon 1, a
low-cost semi-reusable launcher developed and financed by PayPal
founder Elon Musk, ended around a minute after launch when the
liquid oxygen / kerosene-fuelled vehicle blew up. The exact cause of
the failure isn't yet clear.
Letters to Dan
- including discussion on whether the authorities can track down
grow-lights being used for illicit horticulture, and getting hold of
mercury and aerogel for use in perverse science experiments. He's
like a straggly-haired version of the Usenet Oracle...
Massively parallel hacking - only a few hours after going live,
part of Sun's much-vaunted commercial grid computing service was
targeted by a denial of service attack. Sun claims that the damage
was "minimal", but other reports suggest that the demonstration
facility was driven offline completely.
Not with a bang - and talking of hacking, in spite of the
Microsoft's announcements of bomb-proof security in the Xbox 360, a
video is circulating showing a game apparently running from a copied
DVD-R disc. The company has broadly confirmed the claims, and will
Survival of the fittest - small programming house Introversion
Software (creators of the notorious hacking game Uplink, and
who describe themselves as "the last of the bedroom programmers")
has won the grand prize at the Independent Game Festival for its
strategy game Darwinia.
And finally, who could resist hardware that
allows one to look like a complete idiot whilst simultaneously
allowing one to make a complete nuisance of oneself? This
eBay auction is for a pair of polymer crash helmets with a
built-in megaphone speaker, made in the 1950s and apparently used in
a music video by The Happy Mondays. As I write this the bidding has
passed £200 (around $350) but with three days to go before the
auction ends I expect the final price to reach at least twice that.
Having stopped and disabled the SMS
Executive service on both the central server and the distribution
points at our regional offices, yesterday, I was considerably
surprised this morning when I discovered that at some point during
the night the services had been re-enabled and re-started, and that
SMS was now functioning nearly normally again. None of us could
track down any external mechanism that could have caused this to
happen (such as a service state definition in a group policy that we
might have forgotten) so the only sensible conclusion is that some
low-level component of SMS itself must have noticed that the
services had stopped, and deliberately rectified what it interpreted
as a fault. Microsoft have been talking about self-healing
technology in applications such Office 2003, of course, but this is
the first time we've seen anything like this behaviour and I have to
admit that I was both disconcerted and impressed. It made me think
of the movie Wargames,
where the computer phones Mathew Broderick back to remind him that
they still haven't finished the game, and as the SMS server lives in
the same cabinet as our email and fax servers I'm half expecting it
to contact me over the weekend to complain...
Apart from our adventures with such unusually
resilient network management systems, it's been somewhat of a trying
week elsewhere at the office. We're taking on a small army of
developers for our imminent SAP and Siebel systems, and in order to
make space for them we've had to give up the department's store room
and work room, relocating several tons of assorted hardware to a
pair of smaller rooms five floors down and the full length of the
building away. I have to admit that I'm somewhat demoralised by
this, as when we moved into the current office area less than a year
ago my team and I expended significant time and effort
designing, building and arranging a complete
storage system for the room,
and to have to rip the whole thing apart and move it so soon is
far from ideal... Unfortunately the company's internal politics
have had a strong influence, and although a large office just across
the corridor is empty and unused for all except a couple of days a
month, offending its nominal occupant is evidently less desirable
than placing some of the company's busiest staff pretty much as far
away as possible from the resources they need to do their jobs. Ah,
well - these things are sent to try us...
In order to fit all the hardware and accessories
into the smaller space, however, we've had to have an unusually
enthusiastic spring-cleaning session, and this afternoon that
resulted in a stack of a dozen or so obsolete
3Com switches and hubs. I sent an email out to the local users
offering them free to anyone who wanted them, and almost immediately
the vultures started to descend. A mere ten minutes later the whole
lot had been eagerly seized and carried away, and there were still
plenty of disappointed visitors - we could have disposed of two or
three times as many as we actually had!
I'm somewhat puzzled by how keen our staff were
to acquire this sort of hardware, as my advertisement clearly warned
that they were large and noisy, so not really suited for a home
network... Given that neat little
Netgear unmanaged switches can be picked up for a few tens of
pounds, something like that ought to be far more appealing to the
average home user than these rather industrial, fully-managed
(and so potentially rather problematic) 3Com units - but I guess
that whatever it is, to many people the lure of free computer
hardware is surprisingly strong! We did flirt with the idea of
offering a small stack of Bay ARN routers in the same way, but as
even the techies in the department couldn't think of a use for
something like that we decided not to expose ourselves to the
inevitable lectures on exactly what an IP router does, and
why the questioner really couldn't use one with their Xbox,
so in the end they found a new (if temporary) home in the skip. It's
always a pity to throw out hardware like that, but sometimes there's
just no real alternative.
Even after a week so full of computers, however,
the weekend promises to be more of the same - tomorrow I'll be
installing an Iomega Rev drive to backup a friend's laptops, and
after that I have to replace a failed hard disk in the array on my
desktop PC. Last time I had a disk
failure I bought a pair of extra drives to sit in the case as
cold spares, so at least the hardware is ready at hand, but
replacing a drive in the middle of the
water-cooled stack is far from
trivial and I'm not looking forward to it. When it comes to
computers, it really has been one of those weeks...
Our SMS installation continued its attempts to
own the entire WAN, today, but two of my PFYs put their heads
together and came up with a cunning way of firmly throttling back
the unwanted traffic with our
Allot NetEnforcer packet-shaping appliance. It's been a tense
few days, as it's currently the business month-end period and the
users were on the point of burning me in effigy out in the car park,
so their solution was extremely welcome. An approach like that has
only brushed the problem under the rug, of course, but our support
company is working on a plan for gradually re-awakening SMS after
the weekend, and directing the clients back to the correct local
distribution points, so hopefully all well be well after that.
Pots and kettles - Apple has released a scathing response to the
proposed French DRM interoperability law, describing it as
"state-sponsored piracy", but their own stance on music piracy and
copy protection is hardly whiter-than-white and this hypocrisy
rather smells of sour grapes...
their ears - BT has joined the growing list of UK ISPs to
penalise customers who make excessive use of their broadband
connections, but rather than capping them in some way the monopoly
has chosen to disconnect around 4000 users permanently.
Dell levels the playing field - "I liked it so much, I bought
the company". Dell's own range of gaming PCs hasn't yet made
much impact on the market (is it surprising, with prices as high as
$10,000?) so their acquisition of gaming specialist Alienware
is one way of reducing the competition.
Speaking out - a Microsoft blogger has criticised Apple for
their approach to security following the recent
chain of patches to fix problems with other patches. Microsoft has
made great progress in their products' security, of late, but this
is bound to cause something of a stir amongst their opponents...
Career-limiting moves - another MS blogger has turned his
attention inwards, however, with strongly-worded suggestions to to
slim down the Redmond giant, end the frequent delays to software
ship dates, reduce bureaucracy and management in-fighting, and get
the back into focus again.
Private lives - via
has started using permalinks at last!), news of an annoying little
bug in Firefox which makes private data from one user of a PC
available to others - and which seems to have had
fatal effect on the relationship of the person who discovered
hardware - UK telco O2 is recalling the first of their own-brand
phone handsets, the X1, because of a risk of them catching fire
while recharging! Users will receive the later X2i model free, and
interestingly calls made from the faulty handsets will actually be
blocked in another few days.
Cruel and unusual - gamers who misbehave in the online
role-playing game Roma Victor face having their characters
crucified and displayed in public spaces for other players to mock
and throw things at. I have to say that raised an eyebrow or two,
- I've never felt the need to fire an entire toilet roll from a
home-made propane cannon, but it's always good to know that, should
the urge take me, full plans for this and a selection of other
implausible but impressive weaponry are available online.
It's been a tough couple of days. Yesterday was
merely busy, but today was perplexing as well. For some reason our
SMS 2003 installation, hosted on seven servers scattered around
the country, decided to capitalise on its highly distributed nature
by bringing the entire network to its knees. As far as we could see,
the remote servers decided that they had been held back for too long
by only being permitted to distribute updates to clients on their
own local subnets, and so took the bold step of servicing the
central site as well - over the narrow channel of a set of ADSL
links, which flooded the entire WAN and soon had the helpdesk phones
lighting up like a christmas tree...
It took a while before we realised what was going
on, but as cancelling an SMS distribution can be extremely difficult
once it is in full spate it seemed to me that the best bet would be
to allow the process to continue to completion, but throttled back
by some traffic shaping on our WAN links so that it didn't interfere
with the business too much. Unfortunately, in spite of the
best efforts of my PFYs this approach was only partially successful,
so just before I left (long after most users had given up in
frustration and gone home for the day) we disabled the bandwidth
management and left SMS to its own devices. I'm hoping that it will
sort itself out overnight and that the remote servers will be
somewhat more amenable to management tomorrow, but if we're still
having problems at least it's nice to know that expert advice from
the company that
designed and implemented the SMS infrastructure for us a couple of
years ago is only a phone call away. I always sleep easier knowing
Secret lives - In an article claiming that a disproportionately
high number of Goths go on to become highly paid and highly skilled
professionals in later life, advice on spotting whether your
managers and colleagues used to wear a cape and eye-liner...
link - Dating from 1975, the Faber-Castell TR3 has a traditional
slide rule mounted back-to-back with an electronic calculator.
Designed to ease the transition between the analogue and digital
worlds, it nevertheless came too late to save the company.
Cool robots - Via a link from
Dan's Data, a trio of
The only problem is deciding whether to buy them one at a time or
all at once, but Dan has promised to post a review of the centipede
imminently so I guess I'll force myself to wait.
Decline and fall - for several years it has been an article of
faith amongst much of the PC tech community that Intel's processors
are beaten hands-down in performance, power requirements and price
by AMD's offerings, but since the launch of the Pentium D the
situation has started to change.
Hot or not - at The Register, a review of an elegant twin
drive external SATA enclosure from LaCie, offering an impressive
terabyte of storage space, and one of the first
Blu-ray optical disk writers from Samsung, a pre-production
version which rather fails to impress.
In two minds - via Boing Boing, more on the media
industry's current obsession with copyright, with the revelation
that sometimes a company's marketing department will be uploading
video clips to the popular sites at the same time as their legal
departments are suing to have them taken offline again...
And finally, found by accident while I was
looking for maps of Middle Earth,
Tolkein's Lost Sequel to Lord of the Rings - which for some
reason makes me think of this wonderful cartoon in the Bob The
Angry Flower series, portraying
the day after
the end of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged...
A few quick links after a busy day... Mostly via
the always excellent Boing
Truth and beauty - if you ever wondered what a Shakespearean
sonnet would look like when converted into the obscure programming
language ActionScript, then look no further...
Revenge is sweet - gamers torturing their in-game character get
their come-uppance in real life. It's neatly done. :-)
Theft of language II - following the furore on the attempt by
Marvel and DC Comics to steal the term "super-hero", fantasy author
Will Shetterly has created a weblog for his new hero Supervman.
Dada law - and talking of fantasy authors, Neil Gaiman has
received a bizarre and deranged nastygram, allegedly from a lawyer,
complaining that he has illegally linked to a web site...
forgotten - and, still talking of fantasy authors, who knew that
the great medieval writer Geoffrey Chaucer is alive and well and
hanging out at Friendster.
Outrage - an update on the mother who lost custody of her son
after participating in an event organised by the Church Of The
Subgenius has new legal representation, and things are looking
ping -n 1 vasili
A few months ago the tech news was full of
eye-catching pictures of the
keyboard, a spectacular prototype with miniature OLED displays built
into the keycaps to allow it to be completely customised with full
colour animated images. The buzz has faded recently, but the Russian
design house behind the concept has been busy in the meantime and
they're about to launch a
button keypad using the same technology, probably mostly
intended to bring in some working capital for the main event. At
around $100 it's extremely expensive for a keypad (and the price is
set to increase after launch, too!), but the mock-ups on the web
site are certainly appealing and I found it impossible to resist
pre-ordering. The release date is scheduled for June 15th, but that
has already been postponed by a month since I placed the order a
week ago and I suspect that it may be quite a while before I see
anything concrete. Watch this space - but don't hold your breath...
Meanwhile, a quick plug for a pair of my
favourite science fiction authors,
McDonald and Iain M Banks.
In actual fact I've only read two of McDonald's 15-odd novels, the
linked pair Desolation Road and Ares Express, but I
found both of them to be thought-provoking, highly innovative, and
thoroughly captivating. In contrast, I think I've read pretty much
everything that Iain Banks has written, in both his SF and his
"mainstream" genres (and even his treatise on the distilleries of
Scotland) and although not all of them are literary gems, the
majority of them are exceptional works in their own way. For the
last two decades Banksie has has written one book per year, loosely
alternating between the SF and the non-SF, which is an exceptional
achievement for any serious author. (In fact, I'm told that actually
he only takes a few months to write a novel, which must be a great
annoyance to fellow authors who sweat blood over each and every
page...) Unfortunately, he has decided to slow down a little,
currently, so following the publication of his latest SF novel (The
Algebraist, another truly remarkable book) in 2004 we can't
expect the next SF story until next year - although presumably there
will be a non-SF novel sometime before then.
Theft of language - comics publishers Marvel and DC are staking
their claim to the word "super-hero", having jointly filed for the
right to use it as a trademark. I am assured by my local experts
that they did not invent the term, and trying to monopolise
it at this late stage is amoral and greedy.
The Comedy of IP Overkill - as if on cue, an article at the
progressive investigatory magazine Mother Jones lists some of
the more absurd effects of the corporate stance on intellectual
property rights, which would indeed be funny if they weren't
gradually eroding the rights of the consumer world-wide.
Alternatives to software piracy - equally timely, UK hardware
site Bit-Tech is looking at how much money a hardened
software pirate would have to shell out if he decided to clean up
his act overnight. Would free software suffice to replace the big
names? The author thinks so, but I'm not convinced.
Holding hands - the AlphaGrip is the latest in a series
of alternative input devices, this time combining the functionality
of a keyboard and a mouse in something that looks like a games
controller on steroids - and like its predecessors it is probably
destined to be forgotten inside the year...
Outside the box
- slightly more likely to succeed (although probably not much!), is
an external ATX power supply that connects to the PC's components
via a pass-through mounted in the PSU bay. It has large heatsinks to
allow it to run silently without a fan, though, which may be of some
- the chip giant has never been very innovative when it comes to
cooling their CPUs (somewhat surprising considering how hot
the Pentium 4 series runs!) so although their entry into water
cooling is something of a surprise at least the hardware is
reassuringly conservative. :-)
A handful of random news articles tonight,
starting with a few on the evils of DRM and the media conglomerates
that demand it:
the RIAA, MPAA, BSA et al have categorically rejected a
proposal to let the public break DRM that "threatens critical
infrastructure and endangers lives", clearly illustrating once again
exactly where their priorities lie: they want to make money and
preserve their monopolies, no matter what harm those policies cause
to the consumer or anyone else.
meanwhile, a representative of the MPAA came under heavy fire from
delegates at the SXSW Interactive music and media conference in
Austin. Criticism came from end-users, independent media companies
and artists, who raised extremely valid points about the
inflexibility, lack of common sense and sheer bloody-mindedness of
the current industry policies.
The truth - meanwhile, the Canadian Record Industry Association
has released a study in which they conclude that P2P music
downloaders are actually very good customers for commercial
recordings, and that the P2P networks don't actually cause any
significant harm to the industry. This is not the first report to
reach this conclusion, but it's unusual to find the viewpoint coming
from inside the industry...
Shadow knows - the EFF has issued further warnings about the
Google Desktop personal search software, as the "Search Across
Computers" feature will store copies of the user's documents on
Google's own servers to allow searching from a number of PCs. Given
the recent attention paid to the search company's data by the US
Government, this can hardly be considered to be secure.
On again, off again - in spite of the fact the that House of
Lords has just voted again to stand by amendments that would have
made Identity Cards voluntary in Britain, MPs have voted again for
compulsory cards. This is the third time that the Commons has
decided to stand against the will of the Lords, and the scene is now
set for a constitutional debate on the future role of the Lords
Very tiny machines - researchers at Caltech have created a 3D
map of the North and South American continents, a few hundred
nanometres across, using a single strand of viral DNA folded back
and forth over rows of double helices in a template shape. The shape
is maintained by DNA "staples", short strands linking across the
long length to stop it unravelling.
Times past - magnetic media specialists Memorex and Verbatim
have launched a new range of flash memory sticks, apparently
intended to be the final nail in the coffin of the venerable floppy
disk. The look is decidedly retro, inspired by a 1970s mainframe
tape reel, but the capacity is a miserly 16Mb and I doubt that's
going to make much headway in a market crammed full of gigabyte
Links, from the sublime to the ridiculous - and
all points in between:
early years - I told one of my PFYs to mount a scratch monkey,
yesterday, and realised from his blank look that most people these
days have never heard that grisly little story. There are two
versions extant, but I can't track down the NASA space suit
testing variation right now...
Rear entry - The UK government has threatened to cancel an order
for US-built Joint Strike Fighter aircraft unless the contractor
releases the the source-code for the jets' firmware, as there are
concerns about the risk of back-doors that would allow the US to
remotely disable them!
Security weakness - the US House Government Reform Committee has
issued its most recent scorecard for cyber-security among government
agencies, and apparently the Department of Homeland Security has
received the lowest possible score for the third time in its
Power-hungry DRM - listening to music protected by DRM draws
more power from an MP3 player's batteries because of the additional
computation necessary to decrypt the files and verify their
licenses, and can shorten battery life between charges by as much as
spotting - a new hand-held telescope from astronomy specialist
Celestron uses GPS location detection and digital image processing
to automatically identify celestial bodies, give directions to
particular stars, and provide appropriate information via both text
Decoding fruit - I'm not sure that this applies in the UK, but
in America the little sticky labels found on fruit bear numbers that
identify its provenance: conventional fruit has four digits; organic
fruit has five digits starting with a nine; genetically engineered
has five and starts with an eight.
More on Blackstar - the Aviation Week article on the mysterious
US government space plane has aroused considerable controversy, with
accusations that the author has pretty much made it all up! One such
Review, certainly doesn't pull any punches...
matter of time - the tech web sites are buzzing with the news
that an enterprising pair of anonymous hackers have managed to
persuade an Intel-based Mac to run Windows XP, modifying the boot
loader to allow it to coexist with OS-X. Thanks to my colleague
Chris for the pointer.
Money for data - a new virus encrypts a user's documents and
then directs the victim to pay $300 into an e-cash account in return
for the password that will unlock the files. This is a clear sign of
the increasingly commercial orientation of malware, compared to the
previous purely malicious motives.
Breaking Apples - Apple has released the third security update
so far this month, apparently to fix problems caused by the second
update - which was designed to fix problems caused by the first!
Wasn't this exactly the sort of thing that earned Microsoft such
vicious opprobrium in the nineties?
Next-gen DVDs to boom - even before the format has shipped,
Warner Home Video is expecting sales of next-generation media to
amount to $750 million in the last quarter of this year - rather in
contravention to the many prophecies of doom and gloom emitted by
the MPAA and their ilk...
Blu-ray too expensive? - others are less optimistic, however,
with the CEO of one of the minor media companies claiming that the
cost of re-releasing movies on the new disc format is going to be
prohibitively expensive for all but the largest industry players.
And finally, pretty things both large and small:
little men cunningly fabricated from the wires inside CAT5
network cables, and a wonderful nebula twisted into the shape of
a DNA double-helix by the magnetic fields from the super-massive
black hole at the center of our galaxy. Cool! :-)
I managed to fix the problems with the wireless
LAN, but I'm still not sure why I needed to! My 3Com OfficeConnect
router took a dislike to the wireless video sender that beams the
digital TV signal from my Sky+ box up to the television in the the
bedroom, which was causing a complete failure of the network as well
as some annoyingly loud interference on the television. It's not
unknown for devices like these to argue with each other, as they
both use the unlicensed 2.4GHz band, but as in my case the two have
been happily coexisting for over a year it's something of a mystery
why the router decided to hop to a slightly different channel than
it has always used before. At least, I think that's what
happened, as when I switched the video sender and receiver to the
other end of their limited range of frequencies both systems started
working perfectly again! However, after all the fuss and bother of
the last few days I'm glad just to have it working again - now all I
have to do is work out why the USB TV interface I installed last
week has suddenly stopped producing any sound. It really is one
thing after another, right now...
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Enigma codes falling - the second of the three Enigma coded
transmissions intercepted during WW2 has been decrypted by the M4
project, and turns out to have been a routine observation report.
The remaining message may be harder to decode, however, as it seems
to be in an unknown cipher.
Now you see it - following rumours that the US military's
semi-mythical "Blackstar" two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane
project has been cancelled, Aviation Week has published what
little is known about the vehicle, together with some informed
speculation. Thanks to Mike for the pointer.
Dan on stuff
- it's very nice to see Dan's Data being updated rather more
frequently, of late, with a new batch of letters, an article
discussing the ticking
time bomb that is lurking within our external USB disk
enclosures, and a review of one of the components of that bomb, a
USB to IDE adapter.
of the rich and famous - and talking of USB gizmos, another in
the short but growing list of wildly extravagant geeks toys is this
gold-plated USB memory stick. Available in either 14 or 18 carat
gold, with optional diamonds, prices start at £2000 for a gigabyte.
I'll take two...
Microsoft seeks openness - in what appears to be a perfectly
reasonable request, the beleaguered software company is asking for
the forthcoming anti-trust hearings to be carried out in public,
rather than the closed sessions the EU is insisting on. What have
they got to hide?
At the Core - Intel's new microprocessor architecture has
already become something of a talking point thanks to its inclusion
in the forthcoming Sony PS3, and UK hardware site Bit-Tech has an
approachable but informative overview of the technology.
Zimmermann's new toy - the electronic privacy guru has designed
a new system to allow any SIP VoIP voice stream to be encrypted,
avoiding, as Boing Boing puts it, "three-way calls with the
NSA". Given the fuss that PGP caused in the nineties, I expect this
will also cause something of a stir... :-)
Malta dubious about CCBill - the company responsible for
managing the billing for countless adult web sites is registered in
Malta, a country that takes institutionalised religion to a level
rarely found in the Christian world. As can be imagined, this is
raising some questions... [Note: link not work
Survival of the fittest - via an hour-long video, news of a new
concept from Will Wright of simulation specialists Maxis. "Spore"
starts the player out as a protozoa, which can be evolved and
developed into a complex multicellular organism in a rich
environment populated by the creations of other players. If the
species proves successful it can mate and evolve further, and
eventually can become sentient - at which point the game becomes
something more along the lines of The Sims and Sim City.
Ultimately the player's tribe can compete with tribes of other
organisms in a manner reminiscent of world builder games such as
Civilization, and then terraform, colonise and even invade
new worlds and solar systems! It's a fascinating idea, and appears
to have massive scope and flexibility, and I will certainly be
checking it out when it launches, presumably some time later this
Back from the dead... I borrowed a little
Netgear DSL router to carry out some further tests, and to my
considerable annoyance it connected without problems, so I ripped my
regular Zyxel 660R out of the infrastructure and plugged it into my
laptop for a debugging session it would never forget. Extensive
tests proved that I could connect perfectly with the router in any
one of a number of variations on the conventional routing mode, but
when I switched into the bridge mode I've been using for the last
year (basically the unit acts only as a DSL modem, with the
Smoothwall firewall providing PPPoE authentication and routing
services) it was as dead as a dodo. Given that I hadn't done
anything at all to my configuration for weeks or months before the
problem occurred, this pretty much has to be a change made either at
my ISP, Zen, or by BT themselves. Neither seem willing to admit
anything incriminating, of course, so I'm left here scratching my
I don't mind using the Zyxel in router
mode, really, but it's kind of messy, uses an extra IP address in my
jealously-hoarded legal range, and leaves the router itself a little
more open to attack than in the slimmed down bridge mode - and all
in all it just doesn't sit comfortably with my techie nature... I've
been meaning to pick up a dedicated DSL modem for a while, however,
and this seems like a good opportunity - I can experiment with the
modem without losing connectivity for longer than it takes to move a
CAT5 cable from one device to the other, which after the data
drought of the last four days has a strong appeal.
Now I'm off to take a look at my wireless router,
which seems to have started sulking since the temporary introduction
of the Netgear wireless device to the network, and is currently
doggedly insisting that everything is perfectly OK while completely
refusing to allow any clients to connect. I'm starting to feel like
the Dilbert episode where he
Still no DSL, tonight... BT are running various
tests, and I've been swapping out cables and rebooting routers just
in case, but so far without improvement.
However, as a change from griping about online
suppliers, I want to mention a couple that go a long way to
restoring my currently rather shaky faith in e-commerce. Over the
last few months I've placed a fair number of orders with
Lindy, two well-established UK
suppliers of computer peripherals and comms hardware. They don't
carry the kind of range that the big consumer-oriented suppliers
such as Misco or Dabs do, but they cater extremely well for network
professionals and serious hobbyists, and their catalogues include
many components that are rarely seen elsewhere.
Their prices are reasonable, often surprisingly
so, and their online stock indicators so far seem to be 100%
reliable - if they say something is in stock, it is, and
following my rather disappointing experiences with Scan over the
last year (to name
this is a real bonus. They are also impressively fast: if I place an
order mid-morning, it is usually on my desk by mid-morning the next
day, and that's without paying anything extra for express shipping -
and considering the minimal time from placing the order to receiving
it, they send out a generous number of status messages in between to
keep me up informed of its progress.
Based on my experiences to date, I would have no
hesitation in recommending either of them. There are other similar
springs to mind, and also comes recommended) but I tend to check
Lindy and Videk first and I'm rarely disappointed.
A quick update on the problematic online
transactions I was griping about last month. The computer web site
Hardware Area (the store
front for German retailer NGenX), who accepted my order for a
graphics card, took my money, and then settled into a long, sullen
silence, is now displaying a message claming that they are offline
for "maintenance work on the server". The dates given are 3rd March
to 15th March, and although as a sysadmin myself it's not at all
clear exactly what sort of maintenance work could take almost two
weeks, I will be very interested to see what happens on Wednesday
when they are due to reopen. My purchase came with an additional guarantee from European
Commission-sponsored "safe shopping" organisation
but at the moment they are as unresponsive as Hardware Area itself
and it's anyone's guess what will happen for
the other people who have been affected by this apparent
disappearance. Right now, I would advise anyone contemplating
dealing with either of these two organisations to weigh up the
possible risks very carefully...
Unfortunately Mark Woolley, proprietor of Special
Airsoft Supplies, is proving equally hard
to get a response from. I returned the unwanted ATOZ replica a
couple of weeks ago, and the ParcelForce online tracking service
shows that he signed for it on Wednesday 1st March. It's been almost
two weeks since then, but there's still no sign of the refund I
asked for and no response to my subsequent email enquiries either.
It's hard to see what he expects to gain from ignoring me like this,
as I'm certainly not going to write off a debt of almost £700, and
unless I hear something reassuring from him very soon I shall have
to consider legal action. It's all very annoying.
Also annoying is the recent failure of my DSL connection - it
dropped the line around midday yesterday, and now my Smoothwall
firewall is failing to establish the PPPoE link. According to the
diagnostics from my ISP, Zen Internet,
the BT hardware at the exchange is sending out cells but not
receiving any reply from me, and according to my own diagnostics the
Smoothwall is timing out while waiting for PADO packets from the
exchange - this is the sort of problem that has both sides blaming
the other, but I've tried everything I can think of at my end and
now it's up to BT. Unfortunately they're likely to move at their
usual fairly glacial pace, and with a less than clear-cut problem
like this it could be a couple of days before they even get around
to taking a look! I still have dialup access, of course, but it's
not the same and updates here may be a bit more sparse than usual
until we've tracked the problem down. Wish me luck!
|A generous handful of random news items to end the week.
They're not too quick, but they're not too slow, either. Think of it
as Goldilocks and the three links...
- installing Linux on an iPod and using its tiny screen to play an
emulation of the classic Pacman game might seem thoroughly
pointless, but that leaves us without an appropriate word to
describe building an equally tiny arcade machine cabinet to hold the
iPod while you play...
Better than life - satellite TV channel Sky One has long been
the best source of The Simpsons in the UK, and their new advert
promoting the show has just leaked onto the net. It's a re-creation
of the opening sequence, using actors to portray the famous animated
characters, and works rather well!
More on Origami - in spite of the unusual level of speculation
and hype that has surrounded Microsoft's new GUI for ultra-compact
tablet PCs, the company is firmly behind the project, although
analysts don't expect it to have any real impact until 2008.
High hopes - the space elevator is one of the classic science
fiction concepts (see
Epicycle passim), but every so often an otherwise reputable
scientist calls for the establishment of a project to actually build
one. Interestingly, the projected cost seems to shrink every time I
see a reference, though.
Adding insult to injury - following the success of the lawsuit
it helped to bring against Sony, the EFF has set up web pages to
help the victims of the infamous rootkit-bearing CDs clean their
computers and get their fair share of the class action settlement.
"But you need the special lap" - the new gaming laptop from UK
manufacturer Rock has a 19" screen (yes, you heard me!) and a pair
of GeForce 7800 graphics cards running in SLI. Unsurprisingly, it
weighs 6.5Kg, which doesn't include the presumably equally beefy
external power supply...
new twist - The Register brings news of the latest
development in advance fee scams, in which the more familiar
locations of Nigeria and Eastern Europe have been replaced by
Manchester, where deceased contractor Fred Williams has left £50
million in the First Union National Bank UK. Indeed.
I've just stumbled across a wonderful resource, a massive online
database of faults and solutions for televisions and VCRs. Simply
choose make and model, then the problem, and it will tell you that
there is a dry solder joint at resistor R23 or a blown capacitor at
Water, water everywhere - the extremely successful Cassini
spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn's moon Enceladus, has sent
back clear evidence of liquid water spewing from geysers on the
frozen surface. This is a fascinating development, and of course
raises the possibility of life once more.
Another milestone for Microsoft - the company has just
registered its 5000th patent, granted for technology which allows
spectators all over the world to watch other people playing video
games, and it's quite possible that in future this could become as
popular as watching sporting events is now.
Concern over iBill data - speculation is rife that adult web
site payment clearing house iBill has lost personal and financial
details of seventeen million subscribers, following the discovery of
what appear to be customer lists on phishing-orientated web sites.
The company is denying the loss.
Too damn fussy - and finally, talking of adult web sites, the
webmaster of the popular fetish site Bondage.com was surprised when
manufacturer Texas Memory Systems refused to sell him a solid state
memory array for his SQL server because it didn't approve of the use
to which the hardware would be put. It must be nice to run a company
with such solid sales figures that you can afford to turn away an
order worth $36,000 - especially in a segment of the market that has
proved to be extremely tenuous over the last twenty five
years... [Note: link probably not work safe...]
We've had far too many quick links, recently, so
here are a handful of somewhat slower ones instead:
Mozilla makes money - the Mozilla Corporation is making money
from the Firefox open source browser, apparently, although getting
the company to admit it apparently requires chains and crowbars to
prise the information out of them. Initial reports claimed that the
company made a profit of $72 million last year, but although this
figure was denied by a board member, he did reveal that it is
the right order of magnitude. How all that money was actually
earned is equally unclear, considering that the software is free
to download and use, but it seems likely that a significant
proportion comes from the built-in Google search box. In one of
those processes that seems to create money from thin air, when a
user activates the search box a code is generated allowing Google to
track the user's clicks on their site. Clicking on a paid
advertisement from the Google results page not only brings revenue
to the web site, but also the source of the search box which brought
the user there. Are these clicks enough to generate tens of millions
of dollars? Mozilla aren't saying, and in fact they seem decidedly
embarrassed and defensive to be making money out of open source
software at all - certainly, the purists would frown on this kind of
sound business practice, and of course there is already anxious
speculation that the Mozilla codebase will eventually be reverted
back into a commercial product. With the imminent launch of
Microsoft's IE7 (already looking fairly slick even in beta form)
it's going to be an interesting year for Firefox.
Z Machine runs amok - researchers working with the remarkable
plasma fusion generator at Sandia National Labs had something of a
surprise when they changed from using the usual tungsten wire core
to one made from steel. The plasma temperature soared to more than 2
billion Kelvin, far hotter than the interior of a star, and the
exceptional temperature was maintained even after the plasma would
usually have stagnated and begun to cool. Most surprising of all,
the energy released by the reaction was actually greater than
the 20 millions amps of current used to vaporise the core sample,
and it is believed that as the plasma forms it is soaking up energy
from the separate magnetic field that compresses it. Unlike the
tungsten-sourced plasma, the steel sample seems to vaporise
unevenly, causing vortices that absorb additional energy from the
magnetic field that is smoothing them out. This additional energy,
over and above the that of the current that creates the plasma in
the first place, is what is pushing the temperature up so high and
sustaining it for so long. This could be a real breakthrough in an
area that, in spite of its great promise, has been somewhat
frustrating of late.
How the mighty fall - an over-confident Mac fanboy exposed his
OS X PowerPC Mac Mini to the Internet and issued a challenge to all
comers. The inevitable result was that the system was thoroughly
hacked and 0wned after a mere six hours, although the hacker claims
that actually it only took him around twenty minutes to obtain root
access to the system, using a privilege escalation on top of a
little-known vulnerability in the SSH subsystem. Of course, the
other fanboys are blaming the system's owner for making the system
insecure by configuring various features that aren't enabled by
default, but in the real world Internet-facing systems
do have various apps and services running on them (that's rather
the point, yes?), and in
my opinion that's a spurious defence. In any case, it should serve
as yet another warning to the Apple zeo rest on their
perceived (and largely illusory) laurels - although I have a
definite feeling that they'll learn less from this than users of
other operating systems, most of whom already know that it's a
dangerous, scary network out there...
WiMAX coming closer - the new 802.16 wireless standard is
already badly overdue, having been initially ratified back in 2001,
but Intel have announced that they will have laptop network
interfaces ready to ship by the end of this year. It's not clear
whether they mean PC-card devices, however, or mini-PCI modules for
use internally - but as no similar announcement has been made about
chips for the matching WiMAX access points the question may be
A random handful of links:
- rather than using a bunch of PC-damaging copy protection, small
indie record label Matmos is enclosing a heartfelt note asking
people not do do anything bad...
Corporate bastardry - anyone who wants to add Intel's DTCP-IP to
their application (it's DRM by any other name, by the way) had
better read the small print of the agreement very carefully
Homeland Absurdity - the excesses of the US DHS continue, with a
report that a retired Texas schoolteacher is now under investigation
for paying more than usual towards his credit card bill.
Staying one step ahead - as usual the Internet scammers are at
the leading edge of technology, with redirection techniques designed
to keep phishing pages online even when web sites are shut down.
Caveat emptor - another of those nasty little eBay scams,
designed to trap the greedy and the unwary... This may look like a
20" LCD monitor, but actually it's just a list of retailers that
Dangerous to know - the infamous Captain Crunch, one of the
original phone phreakers from the wild days of the seventies, has
started a video weblog covering hacking and computer security.
Mystery solved - Microsoft's Origami project, about which much
there has been so much speculation of late, turns out to be a new
GUI for Intel's ultra-miniature tablet PC. It's rather
Another nail in the coffin - the phantom of cold fusion remains
elusive, it seems, with widespread and complete failures to
duplicate the work of the latest proponent after four years of
Microsoft vs. The World (again) - MS has accused the
newly-formed OpenDocument Format Alliance (lead by the usual
culprits, IBM, Sun, Red Hat, Oracle and Novell) of stirring up a
standards war to hide the fact that their OpenOffice and Star Office
applications have fallen badly behind in terms of functionality.
Having looked at Star Office briefly last year, I'm inclined to
agree - and tonight I'm wondering how long it will be before the
Gang Of Four launches some kind of legal action complaining that
Microsoft's Office XML file format is harmful to the consumer.
Blissful silence rules again... I didn't feel
like going into the office and slaving over troublesome computers,
today, so I stayed at home and slaved over them instead. The noise
from my new GeForce 6800GT dual-DVI graphics card has been bugging
me since I installed it at the weekend, as in best NVIDIA tradition
that one small fan is louder than the
four 120mm fans
elsewhere in the case put together! I'd already ordered a
Koolance water block to suit the new card, so with a few hours
unexpectedly available it was time to void that warranty.
Removing the stock heatsink and fan assembly from
the card wasn't complex, but there was certainly a surprising number
of small screws to undo! The review of the Koolance unit at
System Cooling had a useful step-by-step guide, though, so there
were no surprises. The only head-scratching was due to the
right-angled aluminium strip running along the top edge of the card
in the XFX version of NVIDIA's reference design. This keeps the card
from flexing, which is an excellent idea with a relatively long,
heavy card like this, but would have fouled on the connectors for
the coolant tubing in my configuration.
I had originally intended to cut a slot out of
the strip with my trusty Dremel, but while I was measuring the
section to be removed it occurred to me that simply reversing it so
that the protruding side was on the rear of the card instead would
be a better idea - it was far less fuss, works just as well, and
this way I haven't done anything permanent if the card happens to
expire while still in warranty!
Installing the Koolance unit was as easy as
removing the stock hardware. This model actually uses the same
low-profile water block
that I was using on the previous Radeon 9800 card, with the addition
of a chassis holding one of those new-fangled heat pipe things
running from each memory chip to the next. The two are connected
together in some arcane manner inside that blue alloy duct, and the
coolant enters and leaves via a pair of the freely-rotating screw-on
connectors that are one of the Koolance trademarks - the latter
always feel disconcertingly loose and wobbly, but the ones in my
system have been 100% reliable in spite of that. The assembly
tightens down onto the card with the usual four thumbscrews, and the
end result seems reassuringly solid and businesslike.
Although the low-profile Koolance design leaves
the first PCI slot free for use, mine is occupied by an Adaptec
DuoConnect USB2/Firewire interface card with unusually long
component pins on the reverse side, and as I was a little concerned
that the metal shield over the water block would short something out
I slipped a rectangle of thin card into the gap. It may be a touch
Rube Goldberg, but it works nicely and it was free... :-)
The longest part of the project was draining
enough of the coolant to avoid a small blue flood, and weaving the
tubing in and out of the maze of data cabling inside the case. I
decided to use completely new segments of tubing to avoid any risk
of leaks where it had deformed inside the connectors, but as usual
dipping the tip of the poly tubing in hot water for a few seconds
softened it up and allowed it to slip over the barbs without fuss.
Having plumbed everything back together I refilled the reservoir,
then disconnected the main power feeds from the motherboard and used
the neat little bit of insulated wire that Koolance supplies to
start the PSU up manually, allowing the air to work its way out of
the system while I double-checked for leaks.
Having reconnected the power supply the system
booted up perfectly, and in a few minutes I was anxiously watching
the temperature monitoring graph in the NVIDIA control panel. These
on-die thermistors are notoriously inaccurate in real terms, but as
I only really wanted to compare the performance of the new unit to
that of the stock cooler it was good enough. In fact, I am extremely
pleased with the results - as well as the blissful silence, the card
is running at only ten degrees above ambient temperature when idle,
and is around twenty degrees cooler under load than it was before.
The airflow over the old heatsink must have been fairly poor, as my
case design is not really intended for air cooling of the critical
components, but even so it does illustrate the significantly greater
efficiency of water cooling in general. The reviewers at
System Cooling found almost identical results, and their tests
showed that with the Koolance unit in place they could over-clock
the card to an impressive degree, well above the timings of the
top-of-the range 6800 Ultra model... It's certainly something to
In the meantime, though, I'm happy to have the
best of both worlds, again - although to achieve both performance
and silence I've had to sacrifice the multitude of audio-visual
inputs and outputs to which I have become very accustomed during
many years of using ATI's Radeon All-In-Wonder models. To replace
this functionality, an external USB TV tuner and video capture
module is on its way to me as I write this - but that's a story for
It's been something of a long, annoying day at
the silicon face, so you'll have to survive on a few snatched links.
NIFOC - a survey from firewall manufacturers SonicWall claims
that 10% of teleworkers do so nude, and that a further 9% feel
guilty for being away from the office...
Strange Lego - old favourites like the frozen Han Solo and the
Difference Engine, together with newcomers such as functional model
of an air conditioner and a working harpsichord.
3DMark - an article discusses the latest version of the
benchmark, Futuremark as a company, and the changes facing consumer
3D graphics now that Windows Vista is imminent.
Lords reject ID cards - Tony Blair's intrusive, costly, and
pointless compulsory ID cards scheme has been defeated by a majority
of 61, returning the bill to the Commons for further debate.
Robotic burro - engineering company Boston Dynamics is
developing a quadrupedal robot to act as a work-horse for the
military, powered by a petrol engine and capable of trotting at over
The word from
Down Under - Dan is back, with letters (he's dissing the health
kooks again, something at which he is enormously good) and a very
odd looking light bulb.
Rear entry - Microsoft has denied that it is building secret
back doors into the encryption mechanism of Vista, and one of their
senior crypto developers has confirmed the official stance on his
And finally, "President" Bush may have mastered
the iPod (he can
pirate music with the best of them, even if he
can't talk about it coherently) but apparently Tony Blair is
technological no-hoper who relies on his daughter to download
songs for him. <sigh>
|It's that link again:
The Woz is not for turning - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak
recently gave an interview which contained some criticism of Apple's
current direction, but once it had been published he denied having
done so! The interviewer insisted that his transcript was correct,
however, and released a recording that supports his claims, leaving
the fanboys arguing bitterly over what Woz actually meant.
DoJ to probe music download prices - possibly inspired by the
investigation launched by New York State Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer, the US Department of Justice has started to examine the
download pricing policies of the major music labels. There is
suspicion that the labels have colluded by imposing terms and
conditions on the download companies to prevent significant
Symantec under attack - users of the Norton Firewall and Norton
Internet Security products can be evicted from IRC channels just be
typing the words "startkeylogger" or "stopkeylogger"
into the channel. These keywords are used by the botnet client
Spybot and, as the software cannot recognise the harmless context,
when it detects these strings it severs the connection immediately.
Microsoft attacks EU conspiracy - following recent complaints of
anti-competitive behaviour from Microsoft's main rivals, Sun, IBM,
Oracle and Novell, the company has criticised EU staff for having
"inappropriate contact" with representatives from the companies. My
well-known pro-Microsoft stance aside, I'm
inclined to agree - there's far too much money at stake to take
any of this at face value.
PCs not dull, admits Apple UK - television adverts for the new
Intel-based Macs have been modified for the UK market, removing a
pejorative reference to Wintel-type computers. Apple has a history
of problems with the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, most
recently over its claim that the G5 was the most powerful personal
computer on the market, and it looks like they're playing safe...
AOL defies the opposition - the giant ISP is determined to
continue with its "GoodMail" pay-to-send-mail service, in spite of
universal criticism from other ISPs and Internet organisations, who
consider it a first step towards balkanising the global email
system. An AOL spokesman has dismissed these fears as "balderdash
and piffle" - it's always nice to see a reasoned and
Telescopes will be worthless - a senior Cambridge astronomer has
warned that astronomical observations from ground-based telescopes
will be impossible by the middle of this century, if cloud cover
caused by climate change and the high altitude condensation caused
by the boom in cheap air travel continues as predicted.
And finally, T-shirts inspired by
The IT Crowd,
Arcade has gone over to the dark side...
They say that books
Are the way that
Talk to the living
Now that's more like it. Unlike
the first one, the second XFX GeForce
6800GT card I was sent worked perfectly, and I was up and running on
dual displays quicker than
one could translate the Book of Macabies from Hebrew into
Lithuanian. I bought the card from an eBay vendor that turned out to
be a front for Propellerhead, the
support company for XFX
products in this country, and they replaced the faulty card without
a quibble - which is just as well, as from what I read on the forums
XFX do not have the best quality control when it comes to
their memory chips...
Ripping out the last remnants of the ATI Catalyst
drivers was a fairly smooth process, as was installing the NVIDIA
ForceWare suite. I still haven't quite decided which of the various
dual display modes will suit me best, and there's a lot of fiddling
with window sizes and positions to come, but the additional real
estate is marvellous it's already proving to be a highly worthwhile
The new graphics card certainly is noisy, however,
really living up to my expectations of the stock coolers fitted to
NVIDIA's hardware. Fortunately this is only temporary, as the
manufacturer of my water cooling hardware, Koolance, have
a water block specially designed for the 6800 series of cards,
and the review at the excellent specialist site
System Cooling suggests that it is as well made and efficient as
the rest of their products. Unlike the initial batch of hardware I
bought a year ago, this time I don't have to order direct from
Koolance in the US - one of the familiar UK suppliers,
Tekheads, is a major distributor
and has them in stock around as cheaply as they can be found used on
eBay. One is on its way to me now, and is likely to lower the
operating temperature of the GPU (my case isn't really designed for
air cooling, and I'm surprised that the fan is keeping the card as
cool as it is at present) as well as restoring my blissful silence.
I've obviously become spoiled in the last six months, since the
replacement power supply removed the last significantly noisy
In the meantime, I put on the classic folk-rock
album Sedgemoor, from seventeenth century military music divas
Strawhead, and drowned
the fan noise with blaring brass horns. Marvellous stuff.
Sound the trumpet, sound the charge!
Now Monmouth's come to Lyme, boys
And James' men in fear will flee
With Monmouth and God with us!
- Strawhead Monmouth Landed in the West
It's time to post a picture of
I like Steve. He's kind of the corporate
equivalent of Hannibal Lector. Offend him, and he'll eat your
liver... Although he probably wouldn't bother with a Chianti, nice
Closer to home, some random links:
Vista - apparently it's going to be possible to switch from the
basic version of the upcoming OS to one of the more advanced
variants, just by popping in the original CD and entering a license
key purchased online. It certainly sounds convenient.
Xbox 360 crisis over - and talking of Microsoft, apparently the
annoying shortage of the new games console is ending, and the
company is now on track to sell between ten and twelve million units
by the end of the year.
unholy match - AMD is dubious about the strengthening ties
between Skype and Intel (when the VoIP product launches on a Pc with
an Intel CPU it permits 10-way conferencing calling, but with an AMD
CPU it only enables five-way) and is
contemplating an anti-monopoly suit.
New toys from Apple - with emphasis on the word 'toys'...
MacWorld 2006 saw the launch of two new Mac Mini units, now running
Intel processors, and leather cases, remote controls and hi-fi
speakers for the iPods that now seem to be the company's main focus.
new Bamboo Curtain - China seems to be taking steps to place
itself even further outside of the mainstream Internet, creating
three new Chinese-character top-level domains and the independent
hierarchy of DNS servers required to support them.
Browser patent scuffle - Microsoft has released an update to
Internet Explorer that changes the way that the browser handles
ActiveX controls, hoping to limit liability in a long-running
dispute with Eolas Technologies, a company created solely to earn a
fast buck from the suit.
Anti-cellphone paint - and talking of earning a fast buck, a new
development in nanotech paint will enable organisations to
selectively block RF transmissions from cell phones and wireless
networking devices inside their buildings, allowing them to make
staff or visitors pay to receive connectivity.
Crumpled paper - with rumours about Microsoft's somewhat
mysterious Origami technology flying thick and fast, and an almost
complete absence of hard facts, some MS watchers are starting to
worry that the hype will doom the project long before anything can
The ins and outs of Vista - in contrast to Origami, however,
there's a lot of hard information about Vista circulating,
and a long article at ExtremeTech discusses the improvements
and new features. It looks great, and I'm already planning the
development of my main home system with Vista in mind.
Good grief, it's March! The year is racing along.
A few quick links, as I'm busy again...
Emergency surgery - at Mobility Guru, a useful and fascinating
guide to replacing a damaged laptop LCD screen. It's a fiddly job,
certainly, but could save hundreds of pounds if you're brave enough.
Free light - a Japanese construction company is planning an office
building designed to save running costs by collecting light energy with
solar panels and emitting it at night via banks of LEDs.
- a seventeenth century design for a musical instrument featuring cats,
carefully selected to emit a different note when "stimulated" by a sharp
object. I definitely approve... :-)
Power drain - at the increasingly useful X-bit Labs, a survey of the
power demands of a wide range of modern graphics cards, from the excessive
to the downright absurd!
Viruses plague business - the majority of security incidents
encountered by UK companies are still caused by viruses, and even now some
seem woefully unprotected.
The plural of virus - and talking of which, I always used to use the
word "virii", but a fascinating article at the ever-wonderful Wikipedia
confirms the error of my ways.
Not a bad month in the stats, again, especially
considering that it was such a short one - just a whisker less than January in the number of visits, and a little more in the number of page hits,
the latter being a new all-time record. Given that the traffic over the
month has been very steady at around 300 visits per day, I think I've
found my natural level again - at least until I finally get
Slashdotted for my
rants about Apple and Linux!