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EPICYCLE

 

30th November 2006

Many apologies for the unexpected disappearance - long enough, in fact, that several friends have been moved to phone to make sure that a fully-loaded server cabinet hadn't fallen on me or something! Thanks for that - the thoughts have been very much appreciated...

In fact a nasty 'flu bug had sneaked through my body's firewall, and laid me low to an unprecedented degree - I didn't even look at a computer for three days at the start of the week, which is probably a new record for me in recent years. I'm still somewhat reminiscent of a freshly-exhumed corpse, but I'm definitely on the mend and I hope that normal blogging (or what passes for it) will resume tomorrow.

 

23rd November

This time last week we started noticing serious problems with our Internet connectivity, and some research determined that we could no longer contact any of the multiple DNS servers provided by our ISP, PSINet/Telstra. Worse, our own external host names held on these servers were equally unavailable, meaning that as well as our corporate web site disappearing from the net none of our external users could connect to any of the various remote access services we provide. The outage persisted all afternoon, and although Telstra were not particularly forthcoming with either information or a solution we managed to work around the worst of the problems by diverting our users to IP addresses rather than host names, and by Friday morning everything seemed to be back to normal.

The obvious explanation, given the apparently high level of redundancy of the servers themselves, was that the ISP had been a victim of a large-scale denial of service attack levelled at the entire DNS infrastructure. They would by no means be the first ISP to be targeted in this way, but as could be expected their official statement didn't exactly admit to any hostile activity:

"The issue was caused by an elevated level of apparently legitimate DNS queries coming from a very large number of sources. DNS servers became overloaded and unable to be contacted via the network"

Reading between the lines, however, it's pretty clear. That description fits a DDoS attack to a T, and whatever Telstra say I know what I think... The only remaining questions are "who did it, and why?", and "will they do it again?". Telstra themselves aren't saying, and only time will tell...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

A clean bill of health - the US government team examining Microsoft's Vista and IE7 products has decided that there are no antitrust issues with the new products, and that Microsoft's legal commitment to documenting protocols and middleware layers in both Windows XP and Vista is being adhered to. The EU, of course, is rather less convinced - but that's more because they view Microsoft as a significant source of income rather than for any genuine anti-competitive reasons.

Another step forward - the judge in the suits brought by the EFF against the US Government and various telcos for warrantless wiretapping has again rejected the Justice Department's motion to dismiss the suits because of alleged "state secrets", and instead has consolidated the cases into five main suits against the five major telcos involved. So far Judge Walker has been surprisingly cooperative in blocking the government's demands to brush the whole issue under the carpet; how long can this continue?

Nowhere to hide - a nasty little flaw in the password management system built into the Firefox browser could allow malicious web pages to retrieve ID and password details without the consent of the user. Embedding appropriate tags in, for example, a MySpace page, causes the password manager to automatically insert stored details into hidden form fields on the page, from where they can easily be transmitted onwards. Ouch!

Pots and Kettles # 437 - a bug in Apple's OS X allows malformed disk image downloads to crash the
operating system or, according to some reports, to allow execution of arbitrary code. The comments at Ars Technica are interesting, however, as unusually for that site there are as many critics as fanboys and I do wonder if the ever-increasing number of Mac security flaws (along with Apple's rather poor track record in discussing them openly) is starting to bring a sea change of opinion.

Megapixels don't matter - Dan has written about this several times in the last few years, and now the New York Times has joined the fight. They printed a 16" x 24" photograph of the same scene taken by three different cameras, one with a resolution of 13 megapixels, one 8, and the third 5, and then challenged passers by to tell the difference. Only one person out of many dozens could - and apparently she was a photography professor...

The law is an ass - television "place-shifting" specialist Sling Media has partnered with UK telco 3 to allow subscribers to watch television on their phones via a Slingbox attached to their home media system. There are a number of problems with this, however, in that the terms and conditions of the Sky satellite service, for one, forbid watching its media outside the home, and UK broadcasting law requires a television licence if the handset is connected to a mains supply during viewing.

Don't give up your day job - an Indian student has developed an optical storage technique he calls "rainbow data", which uses coloured geometric shapes to store information on ordinary paper. He claims that a piece of paper four inches square can hold up to 450Gb (although the report at The Register casts doubt on this figure) and is intending to develop the technology in both directions, downwards into cellphone-sized scanners and upwards into petabyte-scale databanks. I have to admit that I am extremely dubious...

 

22nd November

Links for the middle of the week:

Playing dirty - after considerable pressure from the PDA community the software distributor Handango has agreed to compensate Omnisoft for evicting them from its product catalogue, but is still refusing to sell their products. It isn't clear how the rift arose, but loss of such a major sales channel could present real problems for the small developer.

Liberating post codes - after the privatisation of the Italian post office, the new owners have removed the freely available post codes database and replaced it with a commercial product costing several thousand Euros. Following a public outcry, however, the old database has now been recreated as an open source project, along the lines of the NPEM project I linked to the other day.

No new tricks for old dogs - virus writers have run out of good ideas, according to Russian AV specialist Kaspersky Lab, and these days it's just one boring old worm after another. The present stalemate between the malware creators and the anti-virus software companies can't last, though, and Kaspersky's Alex Gostev thinks that one or the other will gain the ascendancy soon.

The popular vote - photo site Flickr has updated its statistics on the cameras used to take the photographs it hosts, and once again Canon is a clear winner in both the high-end and snappy categories. I do wonder whether these figures are skewed by the failure of some other manufacturers to encode the EXIF data that Flickr uses for its analysis into the photos, though.

Flawed legislation - in spite of clear warnings from experts in the field (now where have I heard that before?), the UK government have persisted with misguided clauses in the newly published Police and Justice Act that could make it illegal to distribute network analysis tools such as NMAP, or release information on security vulnerabilities, on the grounds that they could be used by hackers.

Like it or lump it - a Washington DC-area TV station, part of the Fox group, has created an online blogging tool to allow viewers to respond to their broadcasts. Typically, however, it has a wonderfully fascist set of terms and conditions clauses such as "If at any time you are not happy with the Forums or object to any material within the Forums, your sole remedy is to stop using them".

Sublime to ridiculous - an Oakland teenager has become the eighteenth amateur physicist to achieve nuclear fusion, following the success of his deuterium gas-fuelled Inertial Electrostatic Confinement system. Amusingly, he only turned to fusion research after his mother forbade him to build a hyperbaric chamber - so I hope she's pleased with herself!

Pots and kettles - as if in answer to the media industry's spurious claims that music piracy funds international terrorism, it has now been alleged that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been using copyright licences to launder money - apparently with the willing complicity of the MPAA members and the estranged husband of the British government minister responsible for copyright...

Circular references - a new service pays bloggers to write reviews of products and services - but as these are largely limited to other web sites The Register suggests that the inevitable result is more of the depressingly tail-chasing blogging model so familiar from LiveJournal et al, but with considerable potential for blatant perfidy thanks to the addition of the root of all evil...

 

21st November

I'm still waiting for the fan tray to cool my Acoustirack server cabinet (shown below flaunting some of its many green LEDs after dark), and as in its absence I've had to leave both doors wide open I've been more than usually aware of the noise levels. Some experimenting last week showed that the four 40mm fans in the Netgear gigabit switch and the Raq web server appliance were responsible for much of the annoying, high-pitched component of the noise in spite of their diminutive size, as the big 120mm units in the PowerEdge server and Clariion disk arrays are far less intrusive in spite of the massive airflow they provide. Although the sound from the little fans is far less noticeable with the doors (briefly!) closed, every little helps and my goal is to reduce the ambient noise in the house as far as possible.

With this in mind I picked up a handful of Rasurbo 40mm fans from specialist QuietPC. The first attempt to install them was unsuccessful, as the Raq web server turns out to use extremely slim models that fit into a precise space in the power supply casing and CPU heatsink shroud - I can modify both, but only with more effort than I have time for right now. In the meantime, though, I've ordered a pair of suitable replacements from Strongbolt Linux specialist OSOffice.co.uk, and although they probably aren't as quiet as the Rasurbo models they are apparently an improvement on the originals.

Opening up the Netgear switch looked more promising, and in fact I actually replaced one of the two side-mounted fans with little fuss. At that point, however, I powered up the switch to check the airflow direction, and although the fan was indeed as silent as advertised, unfortunately there turned out to be a good reason for that... The airflow is quoted as 4.7CFM, but I wonder about the accuracy of even that modest figure as the movement of air is barely noticeable on one's fingers only a few centimetres away from the blades. It suffered very badly in comparison with the remaining one of the original Sunon units mounted beside it, and such insignificant airflow is completely inadequate for the switch.

I'm also going to have to remove the single Rasurbo model that I had actually managed to install, on the heatsink of the Via CPU powering my Axis 262 network camera recorder. Those Pentium compatibles run far cooler than Intel's originals, but having felt the meagre performance of the Rasurbo units I'll be happier replacing the off-the-shelf Akasa fan I used to replace the failing original. I can't say that I would recommend these fans for any but the least demanding applications, and in fact it's hard to imagine any component that wouldn't be served just as well by a good passive cooler.

 

20th November

In the US the locations of zip codes are in the public domain, but in England the Royal Mail jealously guards their postal codes database and charges a significant licensing fee to companies who wish to access it. A pair of web sites are attempting to reclaim the information, however, which I think is definitely a worthy cause. New Popular Edition Maps allows you to pinpoint your own postcode, or any others you know, using copyright free street maps from the 1940s, and Free the Postcode! is doing the same thing using latitude and longitude readings extracted from the increasingly popular GPS navigators. Both sites are off to a good start, but will only become worthwhile with continued contributions from members of the public - so add your own codes and spread the word!

The cost of Nigeria - Internet scams, credit card fraud and money laundering operations originating in Nigeria cost UK companies and individuals millions of pounds a year, claims a report from the Chatham House think-tank, but neither country is taking any meaningful steps to address the problem. The classic advance-fee scam is as popular as ever, it seems, with an estimated £275 million being lost in 2005 alone. The report suggests that the success of the scam is based on the stereotyped Western view of Africans as simple-minded and unsophisticated:

"A European who believes in this might find it unremarkable that a Nigerian holding tens of millions of dollars would be clueless about what to do with it. In such circumstances, what could be more natural than to turn to the clever white person for help?"

If this is indeed the case then the victims of these frauds are certainly paying the price for their antiquated, racist opinions, and there is definitely an element of poetic justice in that. In this day and age one doesn't have to be terribly "sophisticated" to know that sending all your bank account details to an anonymous overseas email address is a bad, bad idea...

Experts in the field - the Bush government has dismissed a draft of a classified CIA report that found no significant evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program in addition to the civilian operations already declared to the IAEA, according to journalist Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. A senior intelligence official revealed that the White House had been "hostile" to the report, serving as yet another illustration of how closed the administration is to the truth. The CIA are not notorious for their liberal viewpoint, of course, and would seem to have little incentive to cover up the existence of such a program should it exist, but just as with Iraq's phantom WMDs the White House would much rather have a clear threat in order to maintain the perceived threat of Islamic terrorism that has allowed them to get away with so much over the last six years.

Oh, the humanity - Boston mayor Thomas Menino is planning to send Sony a bill for the police that had to attend a near-riot at the city's Sony Style store on the day of the PS3 launch, one of a number of similar disturbances that happened across the country. Supplies of the console were extremely limited, with some stores only receiving a few units - but this didn't stop large crowds assembling and as many retailers ores hadn't devised measures for handling the demand there were a number of ugly incidents. Aside from the 500 people that mobbed the Boston store, a Wal-Mart in California had to be closed to avoid injuries and a Wisconsin man was hospitalised after being trampled in the rush. The most serious incident happened in Connecticut, when two gunmen tried to rob a group of people waiting in line for a store to open, shooting one of them when he refused to hand over his money. Is all publicity really good publicity? I wonder if Sony thinks so this week...

A novel defence - one of victims in the RIAA's seemingly endless series of file-sharing suits is claming that the legal settlement between the industry and Sharman Networks, the manufacturer of the Kazaa P2P software, exonerates him from paying any damages. The RIAA's claims that Sharman was liable for any copyright infringements made by Kazaa users were upheld, and defendant David Greubel's lawyers say that that this means that the recording companies have already been fully compensated for whatever music he may have traded. Greubel is also attempting to cap the damages claimed by the RIAA, insisting that the sum of $750 per song sought is completely excessive in comparison to the 70¢ that they would have received from a legal music download. Both are very reasonable claims, on the face of it, and it will be very interesting to see what a judge and jury make of them.

 

19th November

Diamond Geezer - firstly, tonight, a quick plug for an excellent London 'blog. Diamond Geezer has a wealth of fascinating information about London and its surroundings - little-known facts, lots of photographs, culture, the environment, gossip, you name it. A fascinating resource for locals and tourists alike. He's been posting since 2002, and I'm not sure how I'm missed him for so long!

To the max - Ron Toms is well known amongst gadget junkies for his marvellous "back yard artillery" sites, now joined by a growing number of spin-offs. The latest of these, Extreme Exercise Equipment, is offering the AquaSkipper, a sort of aquatic bicycle which has to be seen to be believed.

A new twist - the classic cup-and-string telephone is given a new lease of life with a concept from avant-garde designer Duncan Wilson. The form is instantly recognisable, but this time the cups conceal a short-range radio transceiver with the antenna concealed in the stub of the string.

Trouble in paradise - popular virtual world Second Life is struggling with a wave of drive-by clonings following the release of a tool that allows in-game artefacts to be copied, whether the item's "owner" approves or not. Needless to say, this is having a terrible effect on the game's virtual economy...

Voting with their feet - news that an innocent victim of cheque fraud was arrested by the police on the instigation of the Bank Of America has caused a massive PR backlash, and across the country many thousands of customers are withdrawing their money and closing their accounts.

Stretching the law - consumer information site BlackFriday.info was sent a spurious DMCA take-down notice after publishing details of sale prices on offer at retail chain Best Buy, on the completely spurious grounds that their prices were copyrighted information!

Biting the hand - in the wake of the latest wave of Home Office legislation, a Welsh chief constable has attacked the government's approach to law and order, saying that their constant introduction of new laws was more to respond to tabloid criticism than part of any planned strategy.

Too good to last - after being available for a little over a month, both the Chinese and English versions of online encyclopedia site Wikipedia have once more been blocked by the Chinese government's net censor. How long can they hold back the tide, one wonders - and how long will they keep trying?

It's not theft - the MPAA is flexing its muscles again, filing a lawsuit against a company that sells both DVDs and personal media players, and obligingly copies the former onto the latter if a customer purchases them all together.

Outrageous - the hype over Sony's PS3 has reached new levels of absurdity, with a pre-order for the console having just been sold on eBay for the unbelievable figure of $9000 - plus $65 shipping. It's hard to believe that anyone wants a games console so very badly...

Innovative use of technology - a Manchester man has been convicted of theft and imprisoned after using an MP3 player to copy card details from free-standing ATM machines in shops and bars, then cloning fake cards from them to purchase around £200,000 of goods and services.

Cry foul - the carefully orchestrated election fraud in Florida was a key factor in allowing Bush to steal Al Gore's presidency in 2000, and now it appears that the state has been the site of another serious irregularity that allowed the Republicans to retain control of a hotly-contested congressional seat.

Wolves at the door - I'm wondering if Google is regretting its purchase of YouTube yet, with the news that a company that manufactures pipe making machinery, Universal Tube, is to sue the search giant over the similarity of the domain names. Sounds like another thoroughly spurious suit, to me...

A support vacuum - Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, has finally admitted that Apache is actually rather a weird and wonderful application to support, with a distinct lack of standards and conventions between distributions. And I thought it was just me...

And finally, at online comic strip Questionable Content, Quantum Fetish Mechanics. I won't comment, except to say that I have suspected the existence of such a phenomenon for some time...

 

17th November

Today's big news is the release of Windows Vista Business Edition to MSDN and Volume Licensing subscribers. It's a 2Gb DVD image, and as could be predicted Microsoft's servers were a touch busy this afternoon and transfer speeds are fairly poor - but I've left it downloading over the weekend, and doubtless it will be ready to burn to disk by Monday morning.

Unusually, for someone who was using pre-release versions of Windows 95, 98 and 2000 well before their official launch, for various reasons I've avoided installing any of the public Vista betas and my only experience with the new OS so far is a few minutes poking at a colleague's laptop running RC1. I'm really looking forward to installing it at home, however, and will take the opportunity to do a complete rebuild of my main desktop system as well - the environment I'm running now is almost six years old, originally an installation of Windows 2000 on a dual CPU Pentium III back when both were new, then upgraded in stages over the years to Windows XP on the current dual P4 Xeon system. Needless to say, in spite of careful housekeeping its performance is probably far from optimum, and by now even a clean install of XP would be a breath of fresh air! I have to admit to some misgivings about the hand-holding (some would say "nagging") features of the new OS, but all-in-all I'm expecting great things when I finally take the plunge.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

2D data revisited - the ultra-flat CAT6 network cable I blogged about in September of last year still isn't on the market, but Videk are offering a CAT5e product that, although it isn't quite so wafer thin, is at least distinguished by not being vapourware...

The word on the street - the increasingly fanatical Sony PS3 evangelists will be disappointed to hear that although the iSuppli's now legendary component cost evaluation reveals that the manufacturer will be losing heavily on each console sold, thanks to falling component costs Microsoft's Xbox 360 has turned the corner into profitability considerably sooner than expected.

New maps of hell - a report commissioned by the US Justice Department suggests that contrary to popular belief only 1% of web pages contain sexually explicit material, a figure which will certainly assist the ACLU in their suit against the pointless Children's Online Protection Act.

Fisher Price technology integration -  at the recently revamped Daily WTF, a fable that warns against complaining about a lack of work, and provides an innovative solution to avoiding the trauma that inevitably resulted. Link courtesy of the inestimable Dan Rutter. He's my hero...

Damned if they do - Microsoft is receiving extensive criticism over the possibly excessive degree of hand-holding provided by the new security features in Vista, but at Bit-Tech Chris Caines says that they're just responding to the changing market for operating systems and can't really be blamed.

High street software - UK supermarket chain Tesco has launched its own range of budget computer software, rebranding offerings from some of the smaller yet still well-known manufacturers. The portfolio includes sound and image editing, antivirus, personal finance and an office suite. Trusted Reviews has the details.

Hacked again - to nobody's great surprise (except, apparently, the Home Office's), one of the 3 million newly issued UK biometric passports has been hacked in a blaze of publicity by The Guardian. In fact the exploit is the same basic design flaw that has been exposed several times before, but even on its own it is enough to render the entire scheme worthless.

 

16th November

Seasoned techies often have a soft spot for John Brunner's classic 1975 science fiction novel The Shockwave Rider, thanks to the author's remarkable prescience in describing a global public computer network several years before the birth of its real world counterpart, and also for imagining self-replicating viruses to infect it (as well as the now commonly-used term "worm" to describe them) well over a decade before rtm decided to implement one.

Thirty years later, however, it seems that one more of Brunner's ideas has leaked out of the novel and into the public eye, largely thanks to the publication of another book, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. The new book's thesis is the idea that an average of the opinions of a large number of people can be surprisingly accurate, and more so than any one of its individuals - an idea traditionally exploited by those in the know to win the popular "guess the number of x in a jar" competitions.

Although many reviews credit the original work in the field, undertaken by the RAND Corporation in the Cold War era, I have yet to find one that mentions the "Delphi Pool" of Brunner's novel in spite of the fact that his was probably the first description of the technique outside of academic papers and classified military documents, and certainly the only depiction of such a concept being employed every day by most of the population of the earth! In Brunner's dystopia the Delphi Boards are used as a form of entertainment, a means of gambling, a way to solve personal problems and gain advice, and by governments to form policy and gauge the mood of their citizens.

It's a fascinating idea, and deserves to be highlighted now that Surowiecki's own book is suddenly all over the media. The Shockwave Rider was a remarkable work when it was first published, not only because of its unusual vision but also because it is a damn good read, and it's very nice to discover that even three decades later it still has something to contribute to the real world.

Meanwhile, back in our own dystopia, another of Brunner's recurring themes, that elections would be widely manipulated by the governments of the day in order to retain power, has taken another step closer with the ever-increasing reports of significant issues involving electronic voting machines in last week's US mid-term elections. The Sideshow points us to Bruce Schneier's accounts of problems in Florida, The Yellow Doggerel Democrat links to the news that in California you might have been able vote as often as you liked, and Ars Technica has an overview of the whole gloomy affair. Whether you agree with suspicions that the right wing government-corporate alliance is behind these bizarre security weaknesses, or if instead you'd rather believe that it's just down to incredible incompetence in the design, manufacture and testing of these systems, by now nobody can deny that a) they don't always correctly record the voter's intentions and b) there's no way of confirming after the election what those intentions really were. With the current state of the art, these machines have no place in a genuinely democratic election, and any government that adopts them as enthusiastically as has happened in the US and Europe deserves to be viewed with considerable suspicion.

Elsewhere...

Tesla lives - transmitting electrical power without wires has been one of the twentieth century's equivalents of the Philosopher's Stone, but it looks as if a team at MIT have laid the groundwork for a practical method of doing just that. If their computer simulations are accurate, this will be huge...

The Prestige - for some reason I've only recently noticed a novel by the venerable UK science fiction author Christopher Priest, and even before my surprise at having missed a work by a favourite author had faded, I was even more surprised to find that it had been made into a major Hollywood film!

The cult of "i" - Apple's dominance of the MP3 player market may not be as permanent as Steve Jobs likes to think, following publication of a survey suggesting that 58 percent of iPod owners were either "somewhat likely" or "extremely likely" to switch to a Zune as their next player. Time will tell.

Hands-on Zune - as could be expected, Microsoft's new portable media player is creating a blaze of argument around the web, with the usual suspects damning anything by "Microsucks" unseen, and people who have actually used the thing tending to be considerably more favourably towards it.

And, finally, vengeance from beyond the grave - Chris Dawes, the controversial founder of network management software house Micromuse, died in a car crash in 1999, but the High Court has just ruled that his estate will pay £259,000 in damages to a woman who Dawes imprisoned for three days, during which he repeatedly assaulted and raped her, in the year before his death - shortly after interviewing me for a job with the company, as it happens! I was aware at the time that Dawes was somewhat odd (he's one of the few people I've ever met who wears more black than I do, which should definitely have been a warning sign) but I somehow managed to miss the news of his attack on Amanda Lawson and yesterday's report in The Register certainly brought a raised eyebrow.

 

14th November

Last week I swapped my old HP OfficeJet 6110 multi-function printer for a later, spiffier OfficeJet 7410, and although the prints are both fast and very high quality, there was a small glitch... One of the main appeals of this model was the second paper tray, so I was somewhat dismayed that I didn't seem to be able to select this tray in the printing dialogs. Fortunately a quick search of the web turned up the information that the problem is caused by a bug in HP's driver installer, which is easily cured by a registry patch. In the key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SYSTEM \ CurrentControlSet \ Control \ Print \ Printers
HP Officejet 7400 series\ PrinterDriverData

the chances are that the entry HPDJEnableSecondTray is completely missing. If so, create it as a REG DWORD and assign it the value 1. You don't even need to reboot - the next time the printer dialog opens various options for both upper and lower trays will be available right away. It's a good fix, but several thumbs down to HP for having neither documented nor corrected it after all this time...

Meanwhile, elsewhere, let's kick off by tonight criticising a few governments:

The menace of biometrics - the Future of Identity in the Information Society project, an EU-funded policy research group, has warned that current plans for biometric passports and ID cards will dramatically decrease security and privacy, and increase the risk of identity theft.

Eerily familiar - meanwhile, a remarkable similar report on RFID-enabled ID documents from the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee of the DHS has just been dismissed by the US Government, proving that unfortunately politicians are the same the world round...

Feature creep - meanwhile, again... The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a year-long project to investigate the UK government's determination to document the DNA of every person in the country, on the ever-popular and ever-spurious grounds of fighting terrorism and illegal immigration.

Somebody else's fault - a cross-party parliamentary committee has strongly criticised the UK government for repeatedly blaming the Human Rights Act for their own failings in policy and strategy, when in fact none of the recently highlighted cases have been caused by weaknesses in the law itself.

Canadian sleaze - controversial Heritage Minister Bev Oda is still soliciting and accepting significant amounts of money from media industry companies that she is supposed to be regulating, in what appears to be a clear conflict of interest.

Universal vs. the Zune - and talking of the media industry, Universal Music Group has twisted Microsoft's arm into paying them a percentage for each device sold, in addition to the standard fees for downloads and subscriptions, on the tired old grounds that it will pay for music piracy.

Saunders Syndrome - Hewlett Packard's CEO Mark Hurd has the sort of convenient failings of memory that business tycoons caught with their pants down often seem to develop, and also a curious naiveté about gaining access to confidential information about one's enemies "off the web".

 

12th November

A Newsweek poll suggests that George Bush's approval rating has sunk to a new low of 31%, and that a significant majority of those polled approved of the legislative priorities cited by the Democratic party leaders following their gains in the mid-terms. Strong support for policies such as lowering Medicare drug prices, raising the minimum wage and cutting the interest rate of student loans suggest a genuine groundswell of traditional liberal values, and I find that very encouraging.

However, at the same time, more than two thirds of those polled expressed concerns that the new Congress would spend too much time investigating the administration and Republican scandals, which puzzles me somewhat. Although polls like this can be, and often are, worded in such a way that respondents are manipulated into a particular answer ("would you rather that terrorists killed an American soldier or a puppy?"), considering the coverage given by a decidedly right-wing mainstream press to even a small proportion of sleaze, crime and unconstitutional behaviour that has been highlighted by the independent media, there is obviously a lot worth investigating.

Eight years ago we saw a full three-ring circus because one Arkansas wide-boy couldn't keep it in his pants, but today it seems that the President can lie, cheat, steal and bribe, doling out largesse to his cronies in the form of fat government contracts in a degree that hasn't been seen since the days of Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed parcelling out 19th century New York. Oh, yes, and he's really, really bad at his job, too, even aside from all that...

Clinton was impeached, thanks to the witch-hunt stirred up by Kenneth Starr, but in spite of the fact that Bush has clearly broken the law on many occasions and acted against the US Constitution on many more, I have the horrible feeling that he will escape action against him. The American people just don't seem to have the heart for another impeachment hearing so soon after Clinton, however richly it is deserved.

Meanwhile, closer to home, my colleague showed up with Land Rover as scheduled, and between us we man-handled not only the spare server cabinet but also an obsolete tape library and my old Pioneer CD library into the trailer and off to the skip. I was sad to see the latter go, especially, but it's always been something of a white elephant and right now I'd rather have the space. I'm sufficiently eccentric to have a medium-sized network installation in my kitchen, but it does still have to serve as a kitchen as well!

Having freed up some space I put the doors and side panels onto the new cabinet, and stood back to enjoy the silence. It's by no means completely noiseless, I have to say, and the testimonial with the customer not realising that the hardware had already been powered up is somewhat hard to believe... Everything is completely inaudible from the adjoining room or upstairs, though, which is a great improvement and even though the reality doesn't quite live up to the PR I'm certainly happy enough overall.

One thing that is clear, however, is that I really do need the fan tray for the roof that is currently back-ordered from Kustom PCs. In spite of the significant quantity of large fans moving air through the cases of the servers and peripherals themselves, the long vent in the rear door doesn't seem to be achieving much and the temperature inside the cabinet is a little higher than I like. I'm quite confident that six 120mm fans will change that, however, and hopefully I'm not going to have to wait too long before they arrive.

 

11th November

The work to migrate my home network infrastructure into the new Acoustirack cabinet went very well, today, and although there's some tidying of cables and tweaking of settings still to do, I'm very pleased with the results so far. A colleague from work is coming tomorrow with a Land Rover and large trailer to take the old cabinet away, but until then the kitchen is still hip-deep in hardware!

As well as installing the new cabinet, I was also upgrading from my old CompuAdd server to a Dell PowerEdge 4400 found on eBay - this is an old system, by today's standards, but still a real workhorse: dual 933MHz PIII Xeon CPUs, a gigabyte of RAM, eight 36Gb drives internally and more PCI slots than you can shake an interrupt at. The latter is one of the reasons I chose such a heavyweight system, as with a pair of Adaptec 39160 SCSI cards and a pair of QLogic 2200 fibre channel HBAs, as well as the Intel gigabit network card and a sound card (to play audio books while I'm working in the kitchen!) I needed not only the physical expansion capacity but also a motherboard with sufficient firmware address space to cope with such a large number of large, complex images being executed on boot time. The latter was often a problem with the old server, requiring some black magic tricks such as rearranging the cards in their slots to change the loading sequence, but as I'd hoped the 4400 swallows them all without complaint.

I used Symantec Ghost to clone the old system onto the new server, expanding the partition from 72Gb to 240Gb as it went, then immediately re-installed Server 2003 over the top to take the new motherboard and peripheral hardware into account. This is one of my staple techniques with desktop operating systems, but I've never actually tried it with a domain controller before and I was gratified to find that it worked just as well.

While the disk partition was ghosting across I installed the requisite shelves and cable management oddments, and fitted the firewall, Axis camera recorder, RaQ web server and gigabit switch into their homes at the top of the cabinet. Once the old hardware is out of the way, I can tidy the rest of the cables and then get the side panel back on - if only temporarily, as I'm expecting the second disk array early next week so I'm not going to bother with the finishing touches until that is in place.

I am itching to find out how quiet it all is when buttoned up, though - hopefully tomorrow, so watch this space!

 

10th November

The Register has a couple of well-written and informative articles online, today. The first, by Thomas Greene, discusses US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's fall from grace in the wake of the Democratic gains in the mid-terms, and the ramifications of his likely replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates. The second, by George Smith, covers the hype that followed the US government's publication of what has been described as a "cookbook" for constructing nuclear weapons. As usual, the mainstream media has had a difficult time separating the fact from the fiction, but Smith's article manages to defuse a proportion of the fuss.

Speaking in tongues - DARPA is to fund a massive project to develop software that will transcribe, translate, and summarize text and speech in languages such as Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, without training or human intervention and with a target of 95% accuracy in both transcription and translation. It's an extremely ambitious goal, but if they succeed the civilian spin-offs could literally be world-changing.

See-sawing - the EFF's lawsuit against telecoms giant AT&T, over their complicity with the US government's illegal domestic surveillance programme, has hit another snag when an appeals court ruled that the defendants could resubmit their arguments that the case must be dismissed in order to "protect state secrets". Given that the story has been all over the left wing media this year, it's hard to see exactly what secrets need protecting - except maybe the names of the people responsible?

Pattern recognition - ALIPR, or Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures, is an online system that attempts to analyse the subject of a photograph and choose appropriate words to describe it. This has great potential for automating the indexing of images both at home and commercially, but my tests suggest that it still has a long way to go - not least that the company should check compatibility with the IE7 browser, which seems to have problems submitting additional keywords to an image.

Float like a lepidoptera, sting like a hymenoptera - as someone who has always been irresistible to mosquitoes and other "biting" insects, and who has lately developed some kind of spectacular allergy to their bites, news of scientific investigations into what makes some people more attractive than others is of great interest. Hard facts seem scarce at present, however, and the few tentative theories
don't seem at all accurate in my case!

 

9th November

Links at the speed of light...

PC World not all that - a survey by the Computing Which? consumer magazine has given a resounding thumbs-down to the repair service of high street chain PC World.

Biting the hand - UK tech industry organ The Register has had its first experience with a DMCA "take-down notice", and it didn't like it one little bit.

Undercover of the night - in spite of a recent deal with the Federal Trade Commission, copies of the Zango Cash adware are still finding their way onto unsuspecting PCs.

Damned if they do - the PatchGuard feature that protects the kernel of 64bit Windows is here to stay, says Microsoft, whatever the anti-virus companies think about it.

Gone but not forgotten - the annoying Mac dude from Apple's current ad campaign is out on his ear, it seems, leaving just the enormously talented John Hodgman as the PC.

Bad news from the Vatican - in the wake of yesterday's shake-up in the House of Representatives, the new chair the subcommittee on Internet and IP may be in the pocket of the media industry.

It's alive! - the Vista OS has been released to manufacturing, so it should be available Volume License business customers to download within the next couple of weeks. Weee!

Oops, apocalypse! - Sony's imminent PS3 will require a software update as soon as it's launched, it seems, to add compatibility with the PlayStation Network online service.

The inevitable conflict - ahead of the copyright lawsuits against new acquisition YouTube, Google's own Google Video service is being sued for copyright infringement.

How to win friends and influence people - and talking of the search giant, apparently they've just sent out a worm to all 50,000 subscribers to the Google Video mailing list.

Questionable science - the Pope has reminded scientists that they have "a moral obligation to accuracy", a requirement from which religious doctrine is apparently exempt?

A vicious attack - an updated designed to sabotage Xbox 360s with mod chips seems to be affecting unadulterated consoles as well, to the considerable annoyance of gamers...

A surprising twist - the Hong Kong privacy commissioner has ordered a school to stop fingerprinting its students, in the hope of discouraging other schools from similar actions.

Strange bedfellows - more details of Microsoft's deal with SUSE Linux owner Novell are emerging, and I'm surprised at the breadth and depth of the relationship implied.

Lies and damn lies - a leading authority on usability and ergonomics has criticised the methodology behind Apple's recent claims about the benefits of large monitors.

 

8th November

A few random links...

The purloined letter - Dan's new weblog, How To Spot A Psychopath, goes from strength to strength, but I'm very glad to see that the main Dan's Data site is not languishing in comparison. His latest idea, as usual perfectly workable but decidedly off-the-wall, suggests that home users could back up their important data by concealing it within the sort of media popular on the P2P networks and letting loose. I think I'll stick to a nice LTO tape library, myself, but elsewhere Dan recommends a couple of neat little Windows utilities: Driver Cleaner Pro expunges the remnants of device drivers for video cards and the like, so often left lying around after a hardware update, and WhoLockMe reveals exactly which applications are responsible for those annoying "this file is being used" messages that prevent deleting or renaming files.

It could be worse - the US mid-term elections have resulted in a clear win in the House for the Democrats, and although the Senate is a close race there is still hope. As expected, though, a significant number of "irregularities" connected with electronic voting machines have been reported, along with a whole army of more traditional election fraud techniques, and its safe to assume that in fact we are looking at something of a landslide in both Senate and Congress.

But will it play in Peoria? - Ars Technica has been testing the final beta of Vista on a range of garden variety PCs, including a standard low-end corporate laptop, an old Gateway desktop, and a SFF Shuttle home system. Unfortunately the results were not terribly impressive, especially with the in-place upgrade of the corporate system and its VPN software, something that will be a common technique as big companies start to adopt the new OS next year.

Drowning, not waving - reports of a massive upturn in spam volumes this year are coming from all corners of the web, and the figures provided by filtering service Postini are fairly typical - a 120% increase over the last year, and 59% in the last two months alone. The cause is a combination of ever-expanding 'botnets used to pump out messages, and a new set of techniques to slip them through spam filters - and right now the outlook is fairly bleak.

Open sesame - I tried my hand at lock picking last year, and I had an unexpected success just when I was starting to feel that the whole exercise was pointless. Had I been armed with the lavishly illustrated LockSport guide, however, I would either have succeeded much sooner or just forced the lock with a large screwdriver right away. It's available here as a PDF - grab it now before some busybody decides that it's too subversive...

 

7th November

With two of my PFYs out of the office this week, and an evening spent upgrading a printer for a friend, it's been something of a long day. On days like this I shamelessly borrow links from the bigger weblogs, and the first part of tonight's news snippets are courtesy of the always-excellent geek site Ars Technica:

Oh, the vanity - Wikipedia is in the news again, following the discovery that an entry on a fringe scientific theory, written mostly by the man proposing the idea and so in violation of the site's strict rules, had escaped notice for several months. Entries like this are always controversial, as although a new theory's proponent is often actually the best person to write about it, this risks propagation of some highly questionable science until the peer review process catches up with it.

Selling out - only six months after releasing their DisplayPort next generation video interface, capable of carrying high definition video with a bandwidth of 10.8Gbps, the VESA group has proposed a 1.1 update that includes high bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) support. This was inevitable, I suppose, thanks to the long reach and deep pockets of the media industry, and unless a miracle happens we have to face the fact that future technology is going to be lousy with DRM.

Still battling on - Forgent Networks, one of the web's least popular companies following their lawsuits over use of the JPEG image compression algorithm, has announced that all outstanding claims have now been settled, netting the company around $8 million in compensation. This is considerably less than they had originally hoped, I'm sure, which may explain why they have just announced a new round of lawsuits involving basic patent which may cover digital video recorders.

A knife in the back - Patricia Santangelo is one of the few people targeted by the RIAA who have fought the charges all the way to court, and as expected the industry group is making life as unpleasant for her as possible. Their latest attack is on two of her children, aged 16 and 20, who are being sued for copyright violations which were allegedly revealed during the case against their mother. It all sounds like a purely punitive measure, and is typical of the industry's attitudes overall.

The truth will out - a report prepared by researchers at the Australian Institute of Criminology says that the software and media industries claims of losses due to piracy are "self-serving hyperbole," "epistemologically unreliable," and "absurd". No links were found between piracy and organised crime, as is often claimed, and the report was especially critical of the use of unverified piracy statistics in court cases - I'm sure Mrs Santangelo would agree...

PS3 fans - Sony's journey to bring the PS3 to market has been long and arduous, it seems, with repeated delays and significant difficulties with flagship technologies such as Blu-Ray. Enthusiasts testing the console at Sony's recent Expo in Honolulu seem to be smitten, however, and with stores already having filled their pre-order quotas and promises of a console being sold on eBay for thousands of dollars, the company may stand a chance of recouping its massive development losses.

Java excuses - one of my colleagues has been having all sorts of difficulties using Java on the final beta of Windows Vista, and in his quest for answers he unearthed a long post on the Java.net weblog explaining that developing for the new OS was very difficult, and offering what are basically a bunch of excuses. In spite of what the article says, though, my colleague was only able to find a working version as an entire development kit, rather than the usual (and much smaller!) runtime.

Strange priorities - Time Magazine's Invention Of The Year for 2006 is the controversial video sharing service YouTube, in spite of competition from alternative energy and ultra-efficient vehicles, water-repellent nano-fabrics, a vaccine against cervical cancer, a robotic system to rehabilitate stroke victims, and many others. Given those, and the fact that YouTube was by no means the first site of its type, merely the one that grew fastest, I do think that the choice was rather whimsical...

A blast from the past - scientists have extracted the complete genetic recipe for a dormant "fossil" retrovirus from the human genome, and have recreated it in the lab. The Phoenix Virus is still capable of infecting human cells, but it seems that we have resistance against such ancient attackers and it is not especially virulent. I had no idea that our DNA was populated by remnants of these "human endogenous retroviruses" (HERVs) and have to admit that I find the whole thing a little spooky...

And, finally, Guess The Logo - web users see the famous logos for Amazon, eBay, Google, MySpace and others many times a day, but how well can we actually remember them? In my case, it seems, very badly indeed, and given the cunningly substituted colours and fine details in the quiz I suspect that many others would have similar problems...

 

5th November

Having a single 42U server rack in one's kitchen is eccentric, but having a pair is probably crossing over the line into tinfoil hat territory. Fortunately it's only a temporary measure, and by this time next week I'm hoping that the old cabinet will be back in the office and my servers and network infrastructure will be safely nestled in the Acoustirack. I've already moved the new domain controller and the fibre channel disk unit into place, and I'm just waiting on a set of rails for the black APC UPS so that it can be slid into place at the bottom of the stack. With an equally black tape library destined for the gap between server and DAE, too, I think it's going to look great...  :-)

My concerns about the rigidity of a flat-packed self-assembly cabinet were groundless, fortunately, as even though the frame is held together only with a stronger equivalent of the cam bolts commonly found in Ikea furniture and the like, the end result is perfectly solid and stable. The cabinet is by no means perfect overall, however, and although the flaws are relatively minor taken in isolation, in a unit that costs at least five times as much as a regular server cabinet I have to say that I didn't really expect any problems at all!

To begin with, the bolts that attach the door's inner panel to the outer panel could do with being about 5mm longer... They only just engage with the screw threads in the brackets, and in fact one bolt out of the 24 on both doors will not engage at all - presumably the captive nut in the bracket has a poorly-machined thread. If they were just a little longer there wouldn't be a problem at all, and would give greater confidence in the strength of what is actually an extremely heavy module - but as they are it's very much a case of spoiling the ship for a halfpenny 's worth of tar...

Next, there is a straight-through sound path at the top and bottom of the door baffles, which I would certainly like to think was not in the original specifications... The entire door assembly has been cunningly designed so that sound waves must take a U-shaped path between two layers of foam, and under those circumstances very little noise should escape. However, the inner panel is a few centimetres too short, and when attached to the outer panel you can actually look diagonally through a significant aperture at the top and bottom of the door. I wasn't very impressed with that, but I can't decide whether it's a bizarre design oversight or a sign of sloppy manufacturing.

Another small but annoying flaw is that the sound-proofing foam is not actually that accurately cut to fit the metal panels. It's noticeable on the door panels, especially, where the rectangular cut-outs for the brackets that join the inner and outer panels don't really match up with the brackets themselves - although, in fact, it's debatable whether those cut-outs are really necessary at all, as all they expose are permanent rivets that don't really need to be accessible!

When combined with the inaccurate location of some of the earthing tags, these aberrations in the shapes of the foam make for some head-scratching moments. On the left, above, a tag on a side panel is almost outside its cut-out - and on the right, you can see that the cut-out would indeed miss the tag completely when the foam was moved down into place. In the latter case, I had to flatten the tag down against the door panel to allow me to attach the foam. The tags are just spot-welded on, and so these are surely manufacturing defects caused by lack of attention to the proper placement.

I purchased the optional castors, and it turns out that they attach using the same fittings and mounting holes as the jacking feet. Given the significant weight of the cabinet itself, let alone when full of server hardware, it would be nice to be able to wind down a set of stabilising feet when it is in its final position as I do with my Dell cabinets at the office. This is especially relevant as the castors are attached an unusually long way under the chassis of the cabinet, making the brakes attached to the front pair almost inaccessible by a foot - and they are much too stiff to operate by hand!

There are a few other quirks, such as the folded edges of one door panel and one floor panel not having been formed properly into a right angle, but those can be corrected with precise application of brute force and won't be an issue in the long run. I'm also a little concerned that the two parts of the roof assembly aren't held down very tightly by the plastic cams that attach them, but any vibration there can easily be fixed with a layer of foam tape and in any case things may fit differently when the fan tray arrives to replace one of the existing components.

All-in-all, I'm extremely pleased with the cabinet, and if it manages to reduce the apparent sound levels in the house as much as the manufacturer suggests it will be well worth the money - but it was unbelievably expensive for a server cabinet (for that money I could have bought four of the already rather over-priced Dell models I have at work, which aside from the acoustic foam are actually very similar overall), and given that I really didn't expect to be writing several pages about its flaws. It's actually rather a shame...

 

3rd November

I've been thinking of buying a new printer, recently, and having decided on HP's do-everything OfficeJet 7410 I started shopping around. As usual, I looked on eBay first, but all the recent offerings had some strange and worrying clause half-hidden in the small print (They've tested the printer, but not the scanner? Why is that, exactly?) so I cast the net further afield. A search on Froogle UK turned up a listing for a company named e-Xcessories, who looked no worse than any of the other box-shifters in the market, and an order was duly placed and acknowledged. However, by the middle of this week I had started to wonder where my printer was, and on checking the order status on their web site I was surprised to see a note appended to my account to say that the item was not in stock and the order had been cancelled. I was particularly annoyed not to have been informed of this immediately via email, instead of having to chase the status myself after waiting several days, and also annoyed that the printer was still very much shown as being in stock - just as it had been when I placed the order. An enquiry about this resulted in a rather surprising response:

"Please also note that at this moment our UK warehouse is not able to store the printers and hence all printers are only for the US market. We shall be having them soon down the line. Meanwhile the products that we carry at this moment for the UK market are 1. Printer toner / Cartridges and consumables, 2. Digital Camera and Accessories, 3. Memory Cards."

Now, there was never any clear indication on the web site that e-Xcessories is anything other than a UK-based company - the front page of their web site has several prominent references to a "UK Sales Hotline" - and there is certainly no suggestion that they can only supply part of their catalogue range to the UK market. "Down the line" is a wonderfully indeterminate timescale, so as usual I'm voting with my feet and won't even consider shopping with them again - and I have already started to leave appropriate reviews at sites such as Reseller Ratings. Caveat vendor, indeed.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

A palpable hit! - following pressure from the online community, Microsoft has agreed to relax the Vista license terms that restrict transferring the OS to newly-purchased or built computers. This is a highly significant decision, as aside from removing a significant issue for hardcore PC enthusiasts, it proves that the Seattle giant is finally willing to listen to its customers.

A palpable miss! - unfortunately, all is less than rosy elsewhere in the Vista license, with a newly-discovered clause forbidding publication of information about bugs in the OS, or performance figures, except under terms set by Microsoft. This is very familiar from other companies, of course, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Excessive growth - according to recent figures from analysis firm Netcraft, the Internet now contains 100 million web sites, of which around half are actually active. The study doesn't reveal how many of those sites actually contain any worthwhile content, of course, but I would expect that it is a vanishingly small proportion...

Levels of incompetence - the US Department of Homeland Security were desperate to conceal the chaos caused to the already flawed "US-VISIT" border screening system by the Zotob virus last year, and their ineffectual response to the threat, to the point where Wired News had to take legal action to force the Department to abide by the Freedom of Information Act.

Blast from the past - Boing Boing provides a pointer to a set of slides from a NASA presentation at the start of the Apollo programme, around 1962 or 1963. As well as some impressively accurate depictions of the Apollo CSM, there is also a chart showing the growth of the destructive power of weapons over time!

The inside skinny - an article at Tom's Hardware Guide explains "How notebook batteries work and why they blow up", a marvellous title that, fortunately, is matched by some useful advice on the care and feeding of NiMH and Lithium-based batteries. For my money, though, the best guide of all is still "Dan's Quick Guide to Memory Effect, You Idiots", courtesy of the inestimable Dan Rutter.

All the same in the dark - also at Tom's, an interesting chart comparing the maximum throughput of domestic broadband routers, together with the methodology used to test them. The figures are enlightening, with a range from 94 MBps for the latest Netgear hardware to less than 1 Mbit for an old SMC Barricade. Hmmm...

 

2nd November

News with a political bent, tonight.

Quis custodiet - two services from the News Sniffer project monitor corporate news organisations to uncover bias, and the results are both fascinating and worrying. Watch Your Mouth monitors the BBC's 'Have Your Say' website and detects when comments are censored, and Revisionista tracks the articles at news websites and detects when changes are made. Both have a surprising amount to report on, it seems, and some of the Beeb's comment censorship is very puzzling.

A stand - with the trendy, ethical Web 2.0 companies like Yahoo and Google apparently happy to roll over on demand at the whim of the Chinese government, a breath of fresh has arrived from an unlikely source. Fred Tipson, senior policy counsel at Microsoft, said concerns over persecution of bloggers and other repressive activities might force the company to reconsider its business in China. "Things are getting bad... and perhaps we have to look again at our presence there", he said.

Bare-faced - on the other hand, a representative of the Chinese government speaking at the same UN Internet Sumnmit at Athens has categorically denied that his country is practicing any form of internet censorship, and that nobody has been arrested for blogging criticism of official policies. Needless to say, reports from private individuals inside the country and from organisations such as Amnesty International, say otherwise, and I know who I believe...

I told you so - suddenly there is a generous handful of reports of serious problems with electronic voting machines in Florida and Texas, with incorrect votes being recorded in spite of numerous attempts. A spokesperson in Miami admitted that this isn't uncommon, but it seems that little or nothing is being done about the faulty hardware. Sheesh, anyone would think that techies and civil liberties groups hadn't been warning of just this kind of danger for several years...  :-(

Big brother - Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has warned that Britain ranks alongside Russia and China as an "endemic surveillance society", thanks to pervasive CCTV monitoring and extensive data gathering by both government agencies and businesses. Two years ago he warned that the country was in danger of "sleepwalking" into a culture of habitual surveillance of the individual, now he has suggested that we are already there... And, unfortunately, I think he is right.

Fatally flawed - MySpace has announced that they will use the Gracenote music recognition database (once the free CDDB service until stolen by Escient in 2001) to identify and block music uploaded by community members to their profiles. Unfortunately the technology is far from reliable, and there are already stories of indie bands and amateur musicians having their own music banned when they try to add it to their MySpace pages!

Echo chamber - Apple's quality control failings have been in the limelight, recently, thanks to explosive batteries, virus-riddled iPods, and more problems with MacBooks than you can shake a single-button mouse at. An article at Wired suggests that the number of problems is no greater, but that they're just getting a lot more coverage thanks to Apple's recent growth - I've read a lot about the company's history, recently, and in fact their reputation for quality is largely the product of user hype and good PR.

And finally, choas rules - a small furore is brewing over a recent publication of the classic counter-culture work Principia Discordia, once firmly in the public domain. However, Ronin Press has reprinted a bastardised "cut-and-shut" version of the original, and is now claiming copyright on the work. The Discordians and their ilk are up in arms, of course, but the last word has to go to Amazon reviewer Ivan "Axebaud" Saunter:

I have not bought this book, since I don't need another version of the text. However, I am readily giving it five stars, for it has thrown upon modern discordians even more Chaos and Confusion than they deserve.

True words, indeed.

 

1st November 2006

November, already? The year has positively flown by! While I muse on the passing of time, therefore, and agonise about the imminent arrival of christmas, some quick links:

Jumping the gun - Microsoft's Vista OS hasn't even shipped to corporates, yet, but there is already a tips and tweaks guide available at ZDNet. Most of them are fairly prosaic, though, I have to say.

Eggs on faces - beleaguered importer Lik-Sang's parting shot is to reveal that several executives from Sony Europe bought grey market PSPs before their official launch. Sony say that it was research...

Condemned - high street retailers PC World and Dixons have announced that they will not be stocking Rockstar's controversial game "Bully", for some reason renamed as "Canis Canem Edit" in Europe.

Heads in the sand - Dutch authorities are undeterred by the revelation that yet another model of electronic voting machine can be compromised, in spite of previous reports from the CCC.

Form over function - Microsoft detractors insist that the entire concept of Vista is lipstick on a pig, but pictures of the new retail packaging at the Vista blog show that at least the pig is well made-up...

The source if the problem - my company's mail filtering service has been whining about a massive increase of spam from 'botnets, recently, and the news is finally starting to make the headlines.

Do no harm - Google's reputation for ethical business practices has taken something of a beating, recently, and new claims that they are secretly assisting the CIA and NSA are not going to help...

Snake oil - electromagnetic radiation from laptops and cell-phones is aging our skin, according to cosmetics company Clarins, but fortunately their 3P Screen Mist is at hand to protect us.

Music, non stop - free music player Amarok is an exact open source equivalent of Apple's iTunes, only without the unpleasantly restrictive DRM and without locking you into a particular player. Marvellous...

Corporate bastardry #437 - the US music industry has managed to include a whole raft of DMCA-like restrictions in Australia's new copyright legislation, which is currently being rushed through parliament.

Foiled again - another candidate for the next big thing in data storage is disk drives with platters made from ultra-thin metal foil, giving noticeably improved performance and storage capacity.

And finally, at the Nielsen-Hayden blog Making Light, the terrorists who don't count. Reminiscent of my recent comment about the anthrax attacks, Patrick points out that virtually no media coverage is being given to a significant and long-running campaign of terrorism happening inside the continental United States:

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism.

The perpetrators of this catalogue of crime? Right-wing Christian fundamentalists protesting abortion in what they openly admit is a "holy war." Am I wrong to believe that the US government should be paying more attention to this than to ineffectual no-fly lists and pointless surveillance of anti-war protestors? It's the War On Some Terror, Patrick says, to match the long-running and equally shameful War On Some Drugs.

 

The count of visitors is a new record (just!) at around 9100 last month, and at almost 16000 page hits that figure isn't far behind either. The ratio of less than 1:2 shows once again that most visitors read one page before clicking off elsewhere, and as the vast majority come via Google or one of the other search engines that is to be expected. Still, as I keep telling myself, it could be worse: I could be writing in LiveJournal instead...

 

 

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