A generous handful of random snippets of tech
news... I hope you feel suitably informed.
of the future - I've seen various videos of computer interfaces
using multi-touch touch-screens over the last twelve months, but
none of them have come from Microsoft and I have to admit to being
surprised to hear that they have just launched an actual product,
now available for purchase. MS Surface is a more than just an input
device, it's an entire working environment, and it looks really
A technological dead end - Palm has drawn back their customary
veil of secrecy to reveal the answer to a question nobody asked.
Their latest product, the Foleo, is essentially a dumb terminal that
interfaces to a Treo PDA to provide a larger screen and keyboard,
but the pair of them together do nothing that a laptop, tablet or
sub-notebook can't manage, and I'm struggling to identify the target
Another key bites the dust - a new AACS processing key was
released on the Doom9 forum yesterday, and only a few hours later
it's already been published on at least a quarter of a million
pages. This reinforces the idea that the crackers are releasing new
keys faster than the licensing authority is able to revoke them, and
I really can't see how they can catch up when they're already this
The mongoose and the cobra - a silly little article at Wired
discusses the imminent D technology conference organised by the Wall
Street Journal, at which it says Steve Jobs and Bill Gates will meet
for the first time in a decade, and speculates about the tension
that will arise. In fact, they met, and shared a table, at the same
conference in 2005, and photographs
taken at the time suggest that actually they got on rather
The thoughts of Chairman Bill - meanwhile, Bill seems to have
ascended to cult status amongst the budding entrepreneurs of China,
who apparently view his business success, his influence on the
modern world, and his philanthropic works as a shining example of
what can be achieved. Books on the Microsoft founder are
best-sellers even in the most remote, low-tech areas of the country,
as is Gates' own book "The Road Ahead".
Distorting reality - "This is the first time users can easily
browse, find and watch YouTube videos right from their living room
couch", said Steve Jobs. proudly announcing an upgrade for the Apple
TV product - conveniently ignoring the fact that for several years
people have been doing just that via their Xb0x 360, PS3, home
theatre PC, or any one of a number of media appliances such as my
(admittedly upgraded) Pinnacle Showcenter...
The harder they fall - arch spammer Robert Soloway has been
arrested in Seattle after being indicted by a federal grand jury on
charges of identity theft, money laundering, and mail, wire, and
Active between November 2003 and May 2007, Soloway used botnets to
send out tens of millions of marketing emails, and faces a maximum
sentence of more than 65 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
They never learn - in spite of the fact that every other state
to have passed a law restricting the sale of video games has had
their legislation struck down as unconstitutional, this hasn't
stopped New York state from clambering onto the bandwagon as well. A
new bill proposed by three Democratic assembly-people, with the
support of Governor Eliot Spitzer, would introduce new felony
offences for people selling violent or explicit games to minors.
What are they trying to hide? - the UK government is evidently
desperate to conceal the behind-the-scenes workings of their ID card
proposals, appealing against a recent order by the Information
Tribunal that it must publish documents that assess the
justification for the scheme, on the vastly spurious grounds that it
is more in the public interest to keep the information secret than
to publish it. I'll say it again - what exactly are they trying to
hide from us?
Games not blamed - the Essex "hero" who intervened in a security
van hold-up and was shot in the chest for his pains was apparently a
keen player of the first-person shooter CounterStrike, and the irony
is not lost on online gaming fans. If he had been the criminal
instead of a victim, the press would be alive with condemnation of
"violent video games" once more, but as it is there has been little
mention outside of the gaming sites and their ilk...
The plot thickens - I mentioned HP's sneaky spying activities a
few days ago, and as if on cue details of further shady activities
are emerging. It is alleged that HP tried to obtain the phone
records of ex-vice president Karl Kamb through pretexting, and that
while he was still an employee of the company he was used to spy on
arch-rival Dell during its entry into the printer market in the
early part of this decade.
Wringing their hands - Cable And Wireless, the former owner of
troubled UK ISP Bulldog, has blamed a sacked employee for the loss
of 100,000 customer records, leading to customers receiving
international phone calls trying to obtain credit card details. C&W
insists its use of outsourcers was unrelated to the crime, but it's
one of a growing number of frauds that have emerged from call
centres in India and Pakistan and the security implications are
A teeny-weeny problem - meanwhile, another UK ISP, Tiscali, has
finally admitted that the "minor problem" affecting "some customer
outbound email" this week was caused by the ISP's entire address
range being blacklisted because of their poor record addressing
spam. Their only suggestion to their increasingly irate users has
been to use Hotmail or another free email service, and somehow I
doubt that advice has been well received...
still not ready for the desktop? - if Microsoft sponsored a car
in the Indy 500, and it was the first to crash and the last to
finish, the open source crowd would be crowing endlessly and posting
jokes about "if M$ built racing cars"... This is exactly what
happened to the Chastain Motorsports car sponsored by
a group of Linux evangelists,
however, who had hoped to attract donations of $350,000 in order to
become the primary sponsor of the car and gain valuable publicity
for the OS. In the end they only managed to raise a meagre $18,000
(I always said open source users were cheapskates!), which according
to their FAQ shouldn't even have been enough for the tiniest of
sponsorship logos, but evidently someone took pity on them as on
race day the car was
undoubtedly emblazoned with a large, dramatic Tux on the
bodywork. I hope the "investors" feel that they got their money's
worth from the penguin's abortive outing...
Although my company is autonomous when it comes
to day-to-day operations, we're actually a subsidiary of a parent
organisation in France which oversees the grand strategy for
all the branches around the world. This mostly has little impact on
my work and that of my department, but occasionally a technical
decision is made at the highest levels and then I have no option but
to implement it - no matter how ill-conceived and pointless it is.
Today just such an edict was issued, in spite of pressure from
myself and my IT director, and so we are going to have to adopt a
new convention for our external email addresses, allegedly to bring
improved clarity and conformity between the various parts of the
group. Unfortunately, in my opinion it will actually serve to make
life more confusing for customers and staff alike, and I have
protested against this plan ever since it first reared its ugly head
a year or so ago - evidently without success.
At present we use one of the most common forms of
addressing, firstname.lastname@company, but the new standard
will be initial.lastname@company instead. Our current format
is one of the most forgiving for duplicate names, which is one of
the reasons it was adopted. If we have two people named Bill Smith
working for us, then we have to use bill.smith1 and
bill.smith2 - but the new standard will demand numerals for
any Smith beginning with B, so if we have Belinda Smith, Bob
Smith and Barbara Smith as well, we'll end up with b.smith1,
b.smith2, b.smith3, b.smith4, and b.smith5
in our address book... I would be interested if someone from the
team that made the decision could explain to me exactly how that is
Fortunately Exchange 2003 has considerable
flexibility when it comes to email aliases, so I can keep the
existing format as the primary address (thus avoiding the riot that
would occur if we asked every one of seven hundred-odd users to
inform all their contacts of the change!), and add the new format as
secondary addresses to use for incoming email only. However, doing
so is going to be an intensely manual process, as I can't see any
way of automatically appending the appropriate numeral to the many
duplicate names without more programming abilities than I or my team
possess - and our real programmers are so busy with the
ongoing SAP and Siebel implementation that even attracting their
attention for long enough to offer them a coffee is almost
impossible, let alone persuading them to take on bulk Active
Directory imports. All-in-all, I am not very happy about this...
Meanwhile, for various odd reasons I've been
installing NT4 Server onto an old Dell laptop, with the intention of
creating a portable print server that can drop into a customer's
network and allow tests of a print processing application without
traumatising their existing server. I don't usually work with actual
customers, but in this case I was flattered into assisting
our technical services department - the manager of which, in his
previous incarnation in the marketing department, was extremely
reassuring and helpful when I was in the midst of the PR circus that
surrounded our brief spell as a reference site for the
afore-mentioned Exchange 2003 and culminated in my presentation at
the official launch of the product, so I felt that I owed him a
fairly big favour.
It's been many years since I actually installed NT, although I have
to confess that we do still have a couple of servers running the
venerable OS on our network, both of which ought to have been
replaced several years ago but which have lingered for various
complex legacy reasons. I managed to persuade our desktop support
team to cough up a fairly contemporary laptop, which avoided the
pain of trying to find NT drivers for widescreen accelerated
graphics adapters and the like, and fortunately Dell's web site
still provides drivers for hardware that was current during the
lifespan of the OS. Although I was gritting my teeth in frustration
at times (installing a 3rd party network driver during the
installation process is no fun when you have to manually type the
short path to the directory containing the drivers instead of just
being able to browse to it!), it is charmingly retro in some
ways and certain operations are surprisingly nippy! When I installed
the first service pack for Server 2003, back in the autumn, it was
taking about 45 minutes per server - but SP6a for NT4 slipped on
almost before I could turn around, which was a refreshing change!
However, it remains to be seen if I'm still as fond of it once I've
written documentation that will enable a non-server specialist to
insert it into an existing domain and configure it as a print server
talking to HP JetDirect boxes via LPD. Watch this space for the
PC keyboards really aren't what they used to
be... The keyboard I was using when I started writing Epicycle
in 2002, a mid-nineties AT workhorse built for AST by Cherry, lasted
around seven years and was only retired because for some reason it
wouldn't work with a new PS/2 KVM switch. Since then I've been using
a succession of Logitech media keyboards, and unfortunately each one
has had to be retired after only a year or two! Gone are the days
when the captions were actually black paint filling moulded
indentations in the keycap - these days they're just transfers, and
my rather heavy typing style (often combined with unfashionably long
fingernails!) starts to wear the more commonly used letters off
after only a few months. It doesn't tend to be a problem for me
until around half the keys are completely anonymous, as after all
these years I'm something approximating a touch-typist, but it
confuses partners, friends and colleagues no end - and I have to
admit that I have problems too when I'm looking for a particular key
rather than typing English sentences in full flow.
Fortunately there is no shortage of the models I
favour on the second hand market, and this week I've picked up a
unit that is malfunctioning but still cosmetically excellent for a
few pounds including shipping. I'll swap the appropriate keys to the
existing unit, and that will keep me going for another year - but I
wish I could find something both elegant and hard-wearing.
This one certainly looks nice, but it seems to use
laptop-style key switches and I don't find their short travel
conducive for hammering out email and blog entries - and as the keys
still seem to be labelled with transfers it's an unappealing
expensive proposition to replace every year or so! The search
the line - I received an email at the office telling me that HP
even having read through very carefully, there's nothing in there
hiring private detective agencies to lie about their identity in
order to illegally obtain confidential phone records of journalists,
employees and their family members. How odd!
Whac-A-Mole - the recent song and dance over the cracked AACS
high-definition encryption keys has proved that the pirates are
still one step ahead of the media industry, and an article at
Wired suggests that future DRM will need to be protected by
technical methods instead of legal ones - although this rather
suggests that the writer is as out-of-touch as the the AACS
Fair use on fair use - a short film created by Stanford
University's Documentary Film Program uses a multitude of Disney
characters to illustrate the concept of "fair use", and given the
corporation's traditionally fierce defence of their copyrights the
film seems to push the concept it is conveying as far as is legally
defensible. It will be interesting to see if there is any objection
from Disney itself...
The old places - an online representation of Australian landmark
Uluru or Ayres Rock, created by telco Telstra in their PR area of
Second Life, has aroused the ire of the traditional owners, the
aboriginal Anangu people. The rock is sacred to them, and in the
real world they have banned tourists from photographing and filming
ancient paintings on the northeast face - in SL, however, virtual
tourists can do just that with impunity and the Anangu are not
Angry penguins - as could be imagined, the Linux movement is
frothing and foaming at Microsoft's assertion that key open source
infringes hundreds of Microsoft patents without actually
detailing which ones, and a pugnacious press release from the
director of the Linux Foundation threatens "touch one member of
the Linux community, and you will have to deal with all of us".
I'm sure Steve Ballmer is quaking in his boots...
Indefensible - the state government of Illinois spent $1 million
trying to defend a clearly unconstitutional law heavily regulating
violent and sexually explicit video games, and when their case was
rejected by both federal and appeals courts they had to raid state
funds to cover their costs. Departments looted included public
health, state welfare and economic development, and now the news has
broken the Illinois taxpayers don't like it one little bit.
Dismissing hysteria - at the always excellent Bad Science
web site, Ben Goldacre is rebutting the recent BBC "documentary" on
the alleged health risks of wireless networking. With highly emotive
language throughout, independent experts who were anything but, and
test results biased in order to confirm existing prejudices, it was
an excellent example of how not to present science on television.
A question nobody asked - apparently the Home Office are in
earnest discussion with cell phone manufacturers over the
possibility of making handsets "thief proof", in spite of the fact
that only a few weeks ago they
proudly announced that mobile phone theft had almost been
eliminated. The possibilities discussed range from the stupid to the
infeasible, but that probably won't stop them wasting millions of
pounds of taxpayers' money on investigating them anyway...
A new attack - at The Register, Mark Whitehorn describes
encountering a set of eBay listings that, when opened, redirected
his browser to a phishing site. The auctions in question were still
accessible two hours after being reported, thanks to eBay's usual
glacial service, and although it is not known if the security flaw
that makes such dangerous activity possible is still present, I'm
betting that it is...
Three strikes and you're out - at the blog of Sun employee Alec
Muffett, support for my opinion that the practice of locking a user
account after a number of invalid logon attempts has definitely
passed its sell-by date. The idea is still entrenched in the minds
of some management, so I've had to retain the general concept on my
own systems at the office, but at least I've raised the threshold to
ten failed attempts instead of the traditional three.
tale of two PDAs - Palm and RIM, two of the biggest handheld
manufacturers, both had investor conferences a few weeks ago, and at
ZDNet Larry Dignan is ruminating on the huge differences between the
two companies. As I've commented here before, Palm seem to have lost
their way in the market and are clouding any future releases in
secrecy, whereas RIM just keep on releasing exactly the sort of
products that people want to buy and aren't shy of discussing
their plans for the future.
a blast from the past (or perhaps the future) - I linked to
these wonderful steampunk rayguns back when they were still prototypes, but the finished products are now for sale at New
Zealand design house Weta for the only slightly outrageous price of
$690 each. With all the furore about "realistic imitation firearms"
in UK law, these days, if I wasn't on an economy drive right now
they would be the obvious choice for the start of a new collection.
It's been a very pleasant long weekend away from
the office and computers (except for the inevitable support call
from an end-user who couldn't connect via our SSL gateway) so here's
a quick handful of tech links before I plunge back into the chaos
that is always waiting after a bank holiday.
A precedent is set - the long-running legal dispute between
Google and the porn site Perfect 10, who alleged that the
search company was infringing copyright by displaying thumbnails of
their pictures in its search results, has been settled in favour of
Google with the thumbnails deemed as fair use.
out of the woodwork - the latest target in the increasingly
controversial "Month of xxx Bugs" series of security exposés
is the online search engines, many of which have already been hit by various
embarrassing and highly-publicised flaws.
Sniping - UK tech journal The Register is still taking
pot shots at veteran journalist Bob Cringely, who recently announced
that IBM was to lay-off 150,000 workers, a claim that for some
reason Register hack Ashlee Vance seems to have taken as a personal
Kicking them when they're down -
Stanford University is to charge students who have had their net
access cut off following DMCA takedowns or media industry threats
$100 before reconnecting them to the campus network. I wonder if I
can adopt the same sort of policy with my own users?
The blind trusting the blind -
a new study from Danish security firm CSIS suggests that the social networking
sites are one of the fastest growing areas for harvesting email addresses to
spam, establishing bogus trust relationships, and hosting phishing scams. This
is hardly a surprise!
Encrypted theft - a new version of the Russian trojan horse
Gozi seems able to read information from SSL streams established
by an infected PC, and has already been fingered in the loss of
confidential online banking and payment information from some 2000
home users worldwide.
Not all they should be - Apple is the target of yet another class action
suit, this time alleging false advertising about the displays in their
Intel-powered MacBook laptops. Apparently the LCD panels use 6 bits per channel
rather than the usual 8 bits, and many customers are less than impressed.
Monobloc laptops -
meanwhile, the company has filed a new patent for the structural
design of laptop PCs, involving an outer casing bonded to an inner
structural frame to give strength without either excessive weight or
excessive bulk. It will be interesting to see what finally makes it
The next big thing -
in spite of unprecedented public opposition via the government's
e-polling site, plans for road pricing in the UK are to go ahead
anyway - and as usual we're expected to believe that it's more than
just a massive boondoggle to raise pots of money for the treasury
and spy on us all...
Convictions are based on this -
as if there weren't already enough errors in the various databases used by the
UK police forces, it has emerged that the National DNA Database has around
100,000 "unreconciled records" in spite of government assurances that the
problems had been solved.
The circle is
unbroken - I can remember when British Telecom was spun off from the Post
Office in 1981, selling the country something that it already owned,
so the news that the latter has signed up as the first supplier of
BT's new managed broadband services just has me shaking my head
The President's lair - last month I linked to a picture of Microsoft CEO
Steve Ballmer's tiny, almost monastic
office, but a photoset of Al Gore at Time magazine includes one showing a
very different working environment - although his three widescreen LCD monitors
are certainly an impressive sight!
- one of the latest offerings from roll-your-own T-shirt company
Threadless givs away the plot twist of eighteen movies ranging
from Citizen Kane to The Usual Suspects, and is
guaranteed to ruin the movie-going experience for at least one of
It has long been an article of faith amongst Apple enthusiasts
that Microsoft has copied all the best bits of the various Windows
GUIs from Apple's products, and that said products were invented in
house by the company's own home-grown geniuses. Any suggestion that
the design of the first Macintosh was anything other than 100%
original meets with angry retorts from the fanboys, for whom "Xerox
PARC" is apparently something of a swearword and
declaration that nothing original ever came out of Microsoft is
evidently written on the stone tablets he carried down from the
first West Coast Computer Faire.
Having watched the evolution of
microcomputer interfaces over the last twenty five years or so,
however, I'm a far better position to comment on these accusations
than many of today's
twenty-something Mac fashionistas, and as can be imagined I've
never had much sympathy with their dogma. Both Windows and the Mac
OS clearly owe tremendous amounts not only to the Alto and Star
systems created at Xerox PARC, and their development environment
Smalltalk, but also to the earlier work of
Engelbart's Augment project at the Stanford Research Institute.
invented the mouse, bit-mapped GUIs, windowing systems, hypertext,
video conferencing and groupware, while both Steve Jobs and Bill
Gates were still in high school... It is also inevitable that later
versions of the Mac OS were influenced by the increasing number of
other GUIs that came onto the market in the eighties, including Rob Pike's Blit terminal, Atari's TOS, Digital Research's GEM, Commodore's
Workbench, IBM's OS2, and the Athena project at MIT that eventually
became X Window. Major computer software is rarely created in a vacuum,
after all, and only the most arrogant and foolish of developers
would ignore the competition's work completely: much as I hate to
quote Steve Jobs (even if he in turn was quoting Pablo Picasso),
"great artists steal"...
This week, however, I've been reading Andy Hertzfeld's account of the first years of the
Revolution In The Valley, a collection of short essays on
different aspects of the project, and the people involved. [These can
also be found on Hertzfeld's
folklore.org website, which has the added benefit of tagging
and hyperlinking as well as the promise of future updates.] It's a
fascinating read, whichever side of the perennial Apple vs.
Microsoft war one is on, but it would prove especially informative
to those who refuse to acknowledge the debt that the first Mac OS
owes to its predecessors:
Bill Atkinson remembered an interesting
prototype that he saw at M.I.T. called Dataland, where data
objects could be spatially positioned over a large area. He
adapted the idea for Lisa, allowing icons representing files and
directories to be positioned on a scrolling, semi-infinite
plane. - Andy Hertzfeld, on the origin of the "Filer"
This is obviously the biggest single jump
in the entire set of photographs, and the place where I most
wish that Bill had dated them. It's tempting to say that the
change was caused by the famous Xerox PARC
visit, which took place in mid-December 1979, but Bill
thinks that the windows predated that, although he can't say for
sure. - Andy Hertzfeld on the Lisa's GUI, later
ported to the Mac.
Still, I was used to the Smalltalk user
experience, and wanted to do whatever I could with the Finder to
approach the friendliness, flexibility, and ease of use that
Smalltalk provided. - Bruce Horn, who came to Apple
direct from Xerox PARC.
Alan's speech was revelatory and was
perhaps the most inspiring talk that I ever attended. I grew
increasingly excited as he made one brilliant, insightful remark
after another, and took out my notebook to write as much of it
down as I could. - Andy Hertzfold on a lecture by PARC
luminary Alan Kay, inventor of Smalltalk and the Alto.
Xerox aficionados will note the use of
Cream 12 as our first system font, which was the default font
used by Smalltalk. - Andy Hertzfeld, on an early demo
of what would eventually become the QuickDraw program.
We were influenced by ideas from the
Architecture Machine group at MIT as portrayed in a program
called "DataLand" that allowed users to manipulate graphical
objects in spacial arrangements. - Andy Hertzfeld, on
the origin of the "Finder" tool.
There are others, but I think the point is made.
As is perfectly reasonable, and perfectly expectable, the Mac and
Lisa teams borrowed both general concepts and fine details of their
GUI from wherever they saw a good idea - which is exactly what
Microsoft and every other GUI designer has also done in the
subsequent twenty years. I certainly can't criticise that, as it's
good business sense as long as it doesn't land your company
but I wish that the Mac zealots would at least occasionally
acknowledge that part of the Apple legend they hold so dear is
simply a by-product of the infamous Jobs Reality Distortion Field...
[Note: a colleague at the office reminded me that
as well as Doug Engelbert, I should mention
Sutherland, another pioneer of graphical user interfaces and
virtual reality systems, and creator of the ground-breaking
Sketchpad software, an acknowledged influence on Engelbert's
On-Line System. Among Sutherland's students at the University of
Utah was Alan Kay, inventor of the Smalltalk environment that was so
influential on the Mac and Lisa development teams. Thanks, Chris!]
I'm repeatedly baffled and annoyed by the way
that certain enterprise software companies seem completely incapable
of designing their products to run on any reasonably modern server
platform, and today's installation of a live test of the Canadian
helpdesk system HelpSTAR,
currently being heavily promoted in the UK, is the latest
application to cause me to grind my teeth. Although we had built a
server to the exact specifications provided by the sales rep, when a
more technical staff member arrived to install the trial software
today I was less than impressed to be told that the system also
required Microsoft Outlook 2000 to correctly integrate with our
Exchange email server. Installing a seven year old Office component
is bad enough, but then he told me that it would be best if I didn't
install any of the three service packs, either, leaving us
potentially exposed to any number of heinous (and long-ago patched)
Even having (reluctantly) passed that milestone,
the software seemed to be expecting a far older operating system to
run on in general, with all sorts of problems emerging that were
finally traced to incompatibilities with the IIS V6 that ships as
standard with Windows Server 2003 - itself hardly at the bleeding
edge of technology! The final straw was that when it came time to
install the software, instead of a nice, safe read-only CD, the rep
produced a USB memory stick and asked me where to plug it into the
server. I normally prefer not expose the core of my LAN to storage
devices that have been connected to any number of unknown networks
in the course of previous demos and installs, but my request to run
a virus scan across the thing was met with a decidedly puzzled look
- and if, as that strongly suggests to me, none of the previous
recipients of the device have been that security conscious then it
is even more important that I am!
The software itself seems competent enough,
certainly, and is currently significantly cheaper than the
competition, but the installation process has left a nasty taste in
my mouth and if we do decide to go ahead with the purchase I am
going to have to spend some significant attention on locking down
that poor server again!
Not for turning - the litigious creator of the "popular"
seventies dance The Electric Slide, notorious for firing off
DMCA notices at people uploading videos of themselves performing the
dance, has had something of a change of heart following pressure
from the EFF. Not only has he agreed to stop hassling people, but he
has also licensed the dance moves under the Creative Commons, making
them freely available for fair use.
Taking on the giant - evidently the crusading anti-games
attorney Jack Thompson has been completely undeterred by a long
string of failures to have his bizarre opinions ratified by the
courts, and has now decided to go for broke by threatening Microsoft
(and Bill Gates personally) over their recently launched Halo 3
game. Anyone care to place a small wager on the outcome?
bleedin' obvious - a new study by US ISP Pew Internet suggests
that although the overall volume of email spam is still rising,
people are starting to adapt to it and are generally complaining
less. It seems likely that the gradual switch from porn spam, which
is more eye-catching and potentially offensive, to stock scams and
phishing attempts instead, is also partly responsible.
go to jail - a man arrested for regularly parking outside a
Michigan coffee shop in order to use their unsecured wireless access
point to check his email, has been fined $400 and sentenced to 400
hours of community service. This seems vastly out of proportion to
the offence, to me, and the local police chief who "had a feeling a
law was being broken" should probably spend his time looking for
real criminals instead...
And, finally, for the geek who has everything,
a heated keyboard... It has two heat settings, "normal hand
temperature" of 85F to 90F and "normal body temperature" of 95F to
100F, is powered from the mains, and is as ugly as a wart. Not
something I'll be putting on my christmas list, I suspect...
Ditto, and ditto...
Starved for air - controversial Russian online music store
AllOfMP3.com is close to expiring, it would seem, thanks to
ever-increasing difficulties in actually receiving money for its
services. PayPal and the credit card companies bowed to pressure
last year to withdraw their payment facilities, and now the UK
police have arrested a man selling "vouchers" for the site via eBay
and the now-defunct AllofMP3vouchers.co.uk.
A new terror - although last year's publication of the results
a Danish study on more than two decades of cellphone use failed
to show any health risk, the tinfoil hat brigade are still
unconvinced - and worse, recently they have turned their sights onto
Wi-Fi as well, as evidenced by overly-hysterical and factually
inaccurate segments on last night's Panorama TV documentary.
The Register is evidently as unimpressed as I am...
The bleedin' obvious - Microsoft says that not a single
manufacturer has chosen to license the crippled version of Vista
mandated by the European Union's anti--trust bully boys in the name
of protecting the consumer, and in fact the retail version is
"sitting on the shelves" as well. Does anyone still think that this
ruling was anything to do with fair trade instead of just making a
shed-load of cash for the EU?
The gospel according to Bill - And talking of Microsoft, the
company's founder has never been backward in coming forward with
opinions on the future of IT, and an article at the Seattle PI
examines some of his predictions to see how well they stood the test
of time. As could be expected, some are well off the mark - but a
significant proportion seem to be close enough for government work.
Gates is one smart cookie...
The tablet strikes back - industry pundits have roundly
dismissed the tablet PC, which has always baffled me as within its
niche I find my Motion LE1600 to be an absolutely marvellous device,
but at Ars Technica Ken Fisher suggests that the improved
experience provided by Windows Vista and Office 2007 will cause
renewed interest in the concept, especially as Dell are preparing
their own tablet for release later this year.
The worms turning - opposition against the government's ghastly
ID card scheme is slowly spreading, it seems, with a recent report
from the LSE calling for parliament to investigate the entire
project following the increase of the official cost estimate
(especially given that the scope of the project has now been cut
back somewhat!) and a statement from a police chief constable saying
that claims of the technology fighting terrorism are "fatuous".
It's been one of those days, in spades, so
I'm just going to toss out a few quick links and run...
Microsoft vs. India - 350 Indian computer dealers have joined a
nationwide strike to protest the outrageous behaviour of Microsoft,
who have asked them to stop selling pirated copies of Windows and
threatened to fine them if they don't comply. This policy shouldn't
apply in India, the dealers say, and consider their provision of
free unlicensed copies of the OS to their customers as a selfless
Still banging that drum - although the adware company Zango (who
changed their name from 180solutions to avoid the latter's
terrible reputation) have already been censured by the FTC for it
unscrupulous business practices, they are still trying to convince
the courts that their software is not malicious, and are currently
suing PC Tools for their classification of said software as spyware.
Goodbye 32 - Windows Server 2008, the OS currently known as
Longhorn (and just released as a public beta which everybody and
their dog are apparently
trying to download),
will be the last version of Windows to support 32bit hardware. Given
that the OS is expected to last well into the next decade, its
reasonable to assume that the majority of servers will be 64bit
platforms by then.
Silicon snake oil - Dan of Dan's Data has always been
unimpressed by the fraudulent pseudo-scientific gizmos that cross
his desk, but this time he has directed our attention to an equally
scathing "review" at the excellent
usual, the Q-Link operates by means of previously unknown physical
laws, and is allegedly endorsed by no less than Cherie Blair and
An impressive fake - a memo purporting to come from an Apple
insider proved convincing enough to fool major league tech site
Engadget and, although Apple denied it later that day, warnings that
the iPhone would be delayed until October and the Leopard OS update
until January were deemed plausible enough to knock around $4billon
off the value of Apple's shares in the market!
- Russian design house Studio Art Lebedev has taken
pre-orders for the first batch of its infamous Optimus Maximus
fully-customisable keyboard, and even at a jaw-dropping $1565 the
entire batch of 200 were snapped up in 12 hours. The lucky few won't
see their hardware until December at the earliest, and given my
experience with the Mini 3 I suspect that may slip further...
From the sublime to the ridiculous -
the level of technical knowledge amongst British judges varies
widely, it would appear, with Judge Peter Openshaw at one end of the
spectrum, admitting in court that he "doesn't really understand what
a website is", and at the other a list of un-named judges who have
been caught by the Lord Chancellor's office browsing for Internet
porn on their judicial PCs...
I'd assumed that the PayPal electronic payment service, now an
offshoot of eBay, had dominated the online auction payments market to the point where
competition was fairly pointless, so I was surprised to discover
after winning an eBay auction last week that the seller wouldn't
accept PayPal and was instead using a system previously unknown to
me, PPPay. As with the other electronic funds transfer systems I've
used, PPPay requires a credit or debit card to be validated before
it can be fully used, and although the mechanism by which it does
this is almost identical to the others, there is a small but
in my opinion rather important difference.
When PayPal validates a card it makes two very
small deposits into the target account, of only a few pennies each,
and the card holder has to check the account statement and enter the
exact amounts of these transactions in order to confirm that he or
she has legitimate access to the account - or, at least, has stolen
the real account holder's identity comprehensively enough that there
is no practical difference!
PPPay has a slightly different take on this, in
that instead of making a deposit they actually make a debit - and,
at least in my case, a surprisingly large one, too. The final
total for the auction was £26.94, to which PPPay added a transaction
charge of 49p. The security verification amount in my case was a
further 71p (and from the format of the field where the amount is
entered to confirm the card I assume that it could be as high as
99p) giving a grand total of £28.14 for a purchase that nominally
cost £26.94 - in other words, I paid £1.20 for the privilege of
using the service, or almost 4.5%. Given that PPPay also charges the
seller 3% to receive the money, which I gather is very
similar to PayPal's single fee, it is now clear why they feel that
they can break into the online auction market in spite of the well
established competition! With margins this high there's certainly
money to be made, but I do have the feeling that as word spreads
they may well find a distinct lack of people willing to use their
service - and after this first experience I'm certainly one of
Meanwhile, back at the Interweb, my friend
Graham was visiting this weekend
and pointed me to another web site I hadn't come across before - but
unlike PPPay the experience was completely pleasurable.
Bash.org is a collection of
amusing snippets culled from IRC, and although there are currently
more than 20000 quotes in the database, a quick browse through the
Top 100 revealed enough gems to guarantee that I'll be flipping
through the rest as well. This one certainly raised a smile - and if
it's not genuine then, well, it could be and certainly should
<Ben174> : If they only realized 90% of
the overtime they pay me is only cause i like staying here
playing with Kazaa when the bandwidth picks up after hours.
<ChrisLMB> : If any of my employees did that they'd be fired
<Ben174> : Where u work?
<ChrisLMB> : I'm the CTO at LowerMyBills.com
*** Ben174 (BenWright@TeraPro33-41.LowerMyBills.com) Quit
One born every minute - Didider Stevens created a Google Adwords
advert that no sensible person would click on, apparently offering
to infect PCs with a virus, but during the course of the six month
experiment 409 people did just that. This will come as no surprise
to anyone responsible for supporting non-technical computer users,
of course, many of whom seem perfectly willing to click on anything
that pops up in front of them...
Trouble in paradise - following the military coup in Fiji last
December, the new government has followed the example of China,
Thailand and India by cracking down on free speech on the Internet.
The IP addresses of dissident weblogs are already being blocked by
the country's only ISP, and there are reports that one of the
country's few IT specialists has been detained and assaulted by
police who thought him responsible for instigating some of the
Long after the horse has bolted - in the wake of the first crack
of the AACS processing key in February, the movie industry began to
create updated HD-DVD disks with the key in question revoked - but
even before their official release later this month a second key has
been cracked and made available! By this time it should be obvious
even to the DRM evangelists that the basic idea of the technology is
fatally flawed, and it will be interesting to see how long they
continue to cling to the concept. My bet is quite a long time yet,
Testing fans - Silent PC Review has re-evaluated the way
in which it tests PC case and heatsink fans, and after a number of
failed experiments they hit upon a method that seems to be
considerably more accurate - and one which suggests that in spite of
the grandiose claims by manufacturers for their latest exotic blade
shapes, most 120mm fans provide the same end result when it comes to
actual cooling ability.
I hadn't intended to rant on quite so
voluminously, yesterday, and as it's been one of those days
again you'll just have to survive on the handful of links that were
earmarked for last night's edition. If you don't like it, sue me.
The biter bit - The Register reports that notorious
torrent site The Pirate Bay has been hacked, and a copy of
its user database stolen. The site admins insist that the email
addresses and passwords themselves are heavily encrypted, and claim
to know who is responsible for the intrusion.
The end of the movement - Microsoft's Platform Strategy
Director, Bill Hilf, is responsible for keeping an eye on Linux, and
in an interview at The Bangkok Post he claims that the free
software aspect of the OS is no more, with all significant Linux
development now being undertaken by corporates.
Electronic laundry - a panel organised by the UK Institute of
Chartered Accountants has recommended that governments should
prepare to apply the same financial regulations to virtual
currencies in online worlds such as Second Life, as they do to real
money in the real world.
worse - US Attorney General and all-round lying bastard Alberto
Gonzales is proposing a new law that will extend the extend the
reach and penalties of the DMCA significantly, and among other
things it would make it illegal to even attempt to infringe
copyright. This one needs watching...
Downhill all the way - ailing UK ISP Bulldog, now a subsidiary
of the perpetually troubled Pipex group, is closing its call centres
within the next few months. Given how the already poor quality of
customer service from both ISPs, this is likely to be yet another
nail in the coffin.
And talking of which - as if to prove my point, it looks as if
PlusNet has committed another of the cock-ups for which they are
becoming justly famous, after spammers stole a quantity of customer
email addresses via
serious and fatal flaws in the ISP's shiny new webmail service.
Better late than never? - the once-mighty PDA manufacturer Palm
has announced that it is developing an update for its Desktop
software to provide Vista compatibility - although I have to say
that mine is already working perfectly, including the Quick Install
Tool which is not supposed to be functional!
The birth of gaming - Wired has published a pictorial
history of the first forty years of computer gaming consoles,
starting with Ralph Baer's pioneering "Brown Box" and travelling
forward via the Sega and Nintendo systems that dominated the
nineties to today's XBoxes and Playstations.
When dinosaurs roamed - computer history is evidently the
flavour of the month, as a new book from
In the last year or so I've become decidedly sour
about the entire UK airsoft "community", and the industry that
supports it, so when I received an email a few days ago asking me to
link to a new airsoft forum I found myself with decidedly
Even before the misguided and ineffectual Violent
Crime Reduction Bill was passed into law earlier this year, I was
wearying of the endless bickering and abuse that characterised the
two main forums, and although the general tone at the alternative
site, Arnie's Airsoft,
was considerably less juvenile and remains well worth a visit even
now, every time I ventured into ASCUK or UKAN I would
find myself gritting my teeth within a few minutes. The
amalgamation of the two under a
single banner only lead to further
stupidity and invective, and having just checked both forums now
seem to have been effectively wound up - presumably having imploded
under their own weight of bad feeling...
demise of major UK retailer Airsoft Dynamics was another
contributing factor in my growing disillusionment. It was well known
that there were both financial and social links between the company
and some of the big names in the airsoft community, but when ASD
disappeared without trace literally overnight, leaving hundreds of
customers frantically trying to find out what had happened to their
money and their goods, there was a collective step back on the part
of those big names and a set of increasingly rude denials - by the
time any kind of official explanation actually emerged you would
think that they had never even heard of the company! And, of
course, my experiences with the notorious Dee Sheldrake of
Area 51 Airsoft and the
unbelievably infuriating Mark Wooley of Special Airsoft Supplies,
the latter still unresolved in
spite of taking him to court, have also done little to inspire
confidence in the general quality of the retail establishments in
The last straw, however, and the one that pretty
much drove me away from the hobby this time last year, was what I
can only describe as the betrayal of the fringe areas of the
community by its core in the final stages of the fight against
another of the government's recent knee-jerk reactions to violent
crime, the appropriately named Violent Crime Reduction Act.
written a lot here about this appallingly ill-conceived
legislation, one of the main clauses of which has essentially banned
the import and sale of the so-called "realistic imitation firearms"
around which the hobby of airsoft is based. This was a terrible
threat to the airsofters, of course, but it was just as much of a
blow to collectors like myself, many of whom were shooting
enthusiasts back in the days before the tragic murders at Hungerford
and Dunblane ushered in the first component of what has become the
gun control legislation anywhere in the western world, and who
since then have relied on airsoft replicas to provide the only way
of continuing with target shooting in the UK. The VCRA has a lot in
common with the two Firearms (Amendment) Acts that followed the
murders, in that they were provoked by tabloid outrage that followed
genuine tragedies but completely failed to solve the real problems
that caused them... It is not clear to me, or to many others, how
the VCRA will prevent the use of genuine firearms to commit genuine
murders by banning the sale of imitation guns that are
dangerous as a blunt instrument, but nevertheless the law is
with us now and only the fine details remain to be decided on before
it goes into effect - but one of those fine details is the cause of
my growing dislike of the entire hobby.
When the various types of enthusiasts on on the
forums realised how much the VCRA was likely to affect the ownership
of replica guns, the collective shock caused a temporary cessation
of hostilities in the name of protecting the hobby, and the initial
months of the campaign that resulted did actually serve to make the
previously feuding "community" more closely knit that I have seen in
the five years since I first became involved. When collectors and
WW2 re-enactors expressed concern that their numbers were too small
to mount any successful lobby against the law, we were
repeatedly assured that as long as we added our support to the
collective fight we would not be forgotten when it came time to reap
the benefits. Given this, I and others willingly threw ourselves
into the campaign, and I suspect that some of the letters to
politicians and newspapers written by more mature and thoughtful
people outside the main stream of airsoft,
such as myself, had more
weight than the incoherent emails from hot-headed adolescent
skirmishers I often saw re-posted in the forums...
A year later, however, when the government
finally started to acknowledge the not insignificant pressure being
applied and indicated that they were amenable to suggestions, it was
a different story altogether. When collectors posted on the forums
asking for information on their own status, they were met at best
with a shrug and a smile from the forum regulars, and at worst
sarcasm and insults. We were told that we "should have been here
two years ago", when in fact we most definitely were, and that
"all we had to do" was organise a protest group ourselves and
have the law changed - just as the "real airsofters" had
done, but by now it was far to late. With a possible way out in
sight, at least for the core of the hobby, the impression that we
were all in this together had completely evaporated and the old
bickering and abuse was back with a vengeance.
Eventually, the idea of an exemption for "genuine
airsofters" was accepted by the Home Office, and given that one of
the most vocal of the equally-bickering trade associations that had
been formed in the meantime was founded by the companies running the
skirmish sites, it was largely inevitable that the qualifications
for being classed as "genuine" involved regular attendance at one of
said sites... Now, I have no desire to crawl around in the mud with
a bunch of teenage boys who are pretending to be Rambo (a feeling
that I know I share with many of the other fringe elements of the
airsoft hobby) and as at present the distressingly vague nature of
the skirmishing exemption means that it is unknown whether the
somewhat less juvenile offshoots such as airsoft "practical
shooting will be considered sufficient, we're all left twisting in
the wind somewhat... And if that wasn't bad enough, of course,
there's a real risk that when the new law fails to reduce gun crime,
as it surely will, a subsequent amendment to the Act will prohibit
the ownership of realistic replicas as well as their import
and sale - leaving me with several thousand pounds worth of illegal
hardware, all of which is traceable to me thanks to its frequent
appearance on the Internet in
So the arrival of an email asking me to sponsor a
new airsoft forum, Airsoft
Haven, as anyone who has read this far will see, has stirred up
some buried emotions. I was tempted to delete the message and forget
it, but a quick look at the site suggests that the proprietors
intend for it to be far more like Arnie's Airsoft than
UKASC, and there's no doubt that we need a lot more of the
former and a lot less of the latter. I doubt that I'll participate
in the new forums, as Arnie's itself is still going strong,
but it's nice to know that it's there nevertheless. I wish them the
very best of luck!
A handful of random links to start the week...
Thanks, as always, to the excellent Boing Boing from where
many of these stories were culled.
Bear-baiting - it is estimated that the cracked AACS encryption
code has now been published around 1.65 million times on the web,
and it's becoming increasing hard to find
new ways of presenting it.
Demanding money with menaces -
DRM vendor Media Rights Technology is threatening legal action
against Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Real for not using their copy
protection software - truly bizarre!
Still afloat - the Cryptome document archive has moved to a new
home, and it is speculated that their publication of documents
relating to the "Deepwater" defence scandal caused the fuss at Verio.
BT extortion - the UK telco is screwing every last penny out of
its customers, increasing its penalty for late payment and imposing
an annual fine of £18 on those who elect not to pay by direct debit.
The truth behind Operation Ore -
thousands of the alleged "paedophiles" exposed by the
increasingly-flawed international police operation could simply be
the victims of stolen credit card details.
Spiralling out of control - with the official cost of the UK
government's ID card scheme having grown by over £600 million in six
months, it's hard not to believe that the real cost would be
Hand in the cookie jar - Bev Oda, the Canadian minister
notorious for being in the pocket of the media industry, lied about
returning money she should never have taken in the first place.
A giant leap backwards - Thailand has joined the select group of
countries who seek to censor the entire Internet, with legislation
being passed at high speed following the recent YouTube fracas.
Peace in our time - at Boing Boing, a link to an article
discussing gun control legislation around the world has brought some
interesting contributions from readers as well.
The loyal opposition - a broad coalition of technology
companies, consumer groups and telcos are lobbying the US government
to reject the WIPO's hated Broadcast Treaty. More power to them!
Throttling - UK broadband provider Virgin Media has quietly
started traffic shaping on its nationwide cable network, as usual
restricting the 5% of high-bandwidth users to reduce congestion for
Mergers and acquisitions - with Google still leading the way in
search engines, portals and the like, renewed speculation on whether
Microsoft will try to buy Yahoo was probably inevitable.
Turning a buck- the president of the Microsoft division
responsible for the Xbox 360 and Zune thinks that it will achieve a
profit next year, which is good going for such traditionally
Severed head - graphics specialist NVIDIA are showing off the
processing power of their 8800 Ultra hardware with a spookily
realistic human head rendered in real time.
Theme music - the latest project from legendary musician Pete
Townshend is a program that creates a unique musical composition
based on a portrait, a voice sample, and a clapped rhythm.
A closed cycle - a marvellous new piece of installation art by
Bill Shackelford collects spam email sent to honey pot addresses,
blacklists the senders, prints it out, and shreds it ready for
Home, home on Lagrange - NASA are promoting their plans to
return to the moon with a neat little CG video - although some might
say that it's long on Hollywood style and rather too short on
All the RFCs that are fit to print - books that publish Internet
materials are often a pointless waste of time, but this anthology of
the April Fools' Day RFCs is probably well worth shelling out for.
for our time. Verity Stob has updated three traditional fables
for the Information Age, following in the footsteps of Thurber and
Aesop to bring us "The mouse who had broadband", "The
prince and the straw man", and "The boy who told plausible
but dull lies". As usual with Ms Stob, they're gems...
I was a huge fan of the
space combat games that were one of the mainstays of gaming back
in the eighties and nineties, starting with the seminal Elite
on the BBC Micro and progressing through the long-running
Wing Commander series as well as their less
campaign-oriented siblings such as Descent and Hellbender. For some
reason the genre seems to have withered over the years, though, and
recent offerings such as Freelancer and Starshatter
have proved decidedly lacklustre in spite of significant
improvements on the graphics of their predecessors: Freelancer,
for example, doesn't even use a joystick; something that I find
thoroughly bizarre for a 3D space simulator!
I was pleased to discover a few months back,
therefore, that although most of the mainstream games publishers
have cooled on space sims, not only is there is still an keen
fanbase, but a number of the games are still being actively
developed by enthusiasts.
Wing Commander Standoff
is a reworking of the WC: Secret Ops game that was released
in 1998, with an updated graphics engine, new ships and a new
missions for both the training simulator and the game itself. Three
complete campaigns have been released so far, and work is
progressing on a fourth and fifth.
More recently, following the release of the 1999
Descent sequel Freespace 2 as open source, another
group of enthusiasts has been modernising and enhancing the game
into a sort of Freespace
improvements to not only the graphics but also the AI and gameplay,
and including many of the fan-produced mods that appeared over the
years. Both of these resurrected games look
impressive than the originals did (although in their day, of
course, they were undoubtedly ground-breaking in their own right)
and the promised gameplay improvements are very tempting. I'm hoping
to find time to try them out, one of these days!
Thumbnailed images courtesy of
Freespace 2 Image Gallery - the full-sized originals are far
more impressive, go take a look!
Meanwhile, in a frame of mind for antique
software, I went back to visit The Underdogs, one of the
abandonware sites - but to my dismay the entire site has been
polluted by advertising. In the course of a visit lasting only a
minute I had pop-ups, pop-unders, in-page ads, adverts between one
site page and the next, and finally the entire browser was taken
over by an extremely aggressive advert for some bogus "registry
scanner" that almost certainly does more harm than good. I can
appreciate that the admin of a popular web site may find himself
struggling to pay his bandwidth charges, but anyone who goes over to
the dark side to the extent that this particular admin has is likely
to find that the bandwidth problem sorts itself out in fairly short
order. I doubt if I'll be going back, for a start...
one hand washes the other - hot on the heels of the news that
the BBC are to use Microsoft-based DRM to "protect" the archive
content that they always promised to make freely available, comes
the news that they have hired a former Microsoft exec from the
Windows Media division to help keep their content securely locked
away from the people who have already paid for it. Nice one, the
Activation virus - a new trojan closely modelled on the Windows
product activation dialogs attempts to fool people into providing
their credit card information, but although it looks quite plausible
and will probably fool a number of people, I think the creators got
greedy... One box on the form asks for the victim's ATM PIN number,
and that's sufficiently unusual that I think it will start alarm
bells ringing even amongst the more gullible of computer users.
the death of cassettes - high street electronics chain Currys is
to abandon the music cassette format altogether, joining several
other UK retailers who have already made the same decision. The move
has been blamed on the way that digital downloads have changed how people use and listen to music, and given that it's impossible
not to remember the anti-piracy slogan emblazoned across LPs
throughout the eighties and exclaim "music is killing home
Around the web in eighty seconds...
Another nail in the coffin - it looks as if the notorious theft
of customer data from T.J. Maxx was facilitated by a poorly-secured
wireless network, still only protected by WEP even in July 2005.
A private number - with the AACS still frantically trying to
close the stable door well after the encryption horse has
bolted, canny individuals are laying claim to all the other 128bit
Used CDs - the grasping hands of the music industry are reaching
out to second hand shops, with new legislation being proposed that
will make selling 2nd hand CDs impossible or at least very hard.
Quis custodiet - the US Transport Security Administration has
managed to lose an external hard disk containing the personal and
financial details of 100,000 of its employees.
A shield for bloggers - the US House Of Representatives has
amended the Free Flow of Information Bill to include provisions for
bloggers to protect their sources in the same way that journalists
Going too far - a new wiki run by the Washington Watch
public information site has been threatened by a director of the
Library Of Congress for simply using its name in a press release.
Extortion - although the behaviour of the RIAA is undoubtedly
shameful, counter-productive, and at times even illegal, it seems
that they don't actually have to be scared of a RICO prosecution.
Privacy czar - US think-tank the National Research Council has
released an extensive report on privacy (or the lack of it), and is
recommending a top-to-bottom review of government policy.
Forseeing trouble - Uri Geller's flagrant misuse of the DMCA is
to be challenged in court by the EFF, who are keen to make an
example of people who are using the law as a form of electronic
The McCracken wakes - the departed editor of PC World magazine
must barely have had time to open his leaving card before he was
back on the staff again, following the relocation of his nemesis.
The word on the street - a US government worker has filed an
appeal against his dismissal, alleging that his ex-employer's use of
Google to investigate his previous employment record is unethical.
IBM layoffs - The Register has roundly dismissed Robert
Cringely's claim that IBM plans to make at least 100,000 staff from
its global services division redundant by the end of the year.
Wednesday flower 'blogging... Ok, so there's
always a first time!
Arum Lily, and although the blooms are huge and startlingly
white, they never last more than a week or so - especially when an
unusually warm spring lulls the plant into a false sense of security
that is rudely dispelled by the traditional bank holiday rain...
Still, they're beautiful while they last.
Today has been something of a whirl, so here's a
few tech links I prepared earlier...
Publish and be damned #2 - PC World magazine has published the
"10 Things We Hate About Apple" article that allegedly
provoked the resignation of editor Harry McCracken last week. The
article itself contains no surprises, and really needn't have been
the cause of
much controversy, but needless to say I'm expecting the comments
to be filled with fanboy venom by the time you read this...
Bloated plutocrats - and talking of Apple, a report at Forbes
magazine suggests that Steve Jobs was the highest paid CEO in
America last year, having earned a staggering $646 million. I use
the word "earned" advisedly, as I don't believe anyone is
actually worth that much money... It's a far cry from the days when
Steve's reality distortion field only cost the company
a single dollar.
One law for some - car manufacturer Volkswagen have been padding
their web pages with hidden keywords designed to improve their
Google rank, in contravention of the search engine's guidelines and
potentially an action that can get a site banned from the database
altogether. This is exactly what happened to sites run by
subsidiaries in Germany and the US last year, but in the the
case of Volkswagen Google staff contacted them to help them remove
the offending content instead!
A slow-moving target - Google and YouTube are fast replacing
Microsoft as the company
everybody loves to sue, it seems, with the latest action coming
from the government of Thailand over video clips deemed insulting to
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. If this suit proceeds and is
successful, of course, it will re-open the whole can of worms
concerning publication of defamatory media first made popular by the
A great disappointment - Boing Boing reports that the BBC has
reneged on its promise to make its archive media available without
DRM, and in spite of overwhelming feedback from the British public
(even I voted against a proprietary solution!) they will
instead use their proprietary
iPlayer technology based around the Windows Media format. As
well as being an intrusive and obstructive piece of software, this
is likely to restrict access to this content to Windows systems
only, which is hardly in the spirit of the corporation's stated
support for open standards.
Missing the point - the Digital Forums site has a helpful guide
on how to hack the registry to enable the new ReadyBoost feature in
Vista even if the OS has decided that your USB memory stick is too
slow to support effective caching, and so I am unsurprised to see in
the comments that many people are reporting that memory hacked in
this way is not making any appreciable difference. <sigh>
In the frame - [H]ard|OCP has tested a
handful of contemporary games on both Windows XP and Vista, and as
others have reported in some cases the frame rates delivered by the
new OS are noticeably lower. Whether the main cause is immaturity in
the video drivers from the hardware manufacturers or a slower
graphics subsystem in Vista itself is still not clear, but it seems
likely that improvements will come in time, just as with Windows XP
five years ago.
from the past - a virus unpleasantly reminiscent of those that
swept entire corporates in the nineties has emerged, spreading not
only on floppy disks but also via a hidden AUTORUN.INF file that it
creates on USB memory sticks. Given the increasingly cavalier use of
these devices in modern offices, and the reliance on border security
to protect against the more common varieties of malicious code, I
expect this one to make quite an impact.
After the collection of rather rather serious,
heavyweight links I posted yesterday, something a little lighter for
the bank holiday. Enjoy!
It all comes round again - I vividly remember my first jobs in
PC support in the late eighties and early nineties, when floating
point maths was only used by specialists and the
387 co-processors cost an absolute arm and a leg, so to see an
add-in floating point accelerator in the form of a PCI Express card
is wonderfully nostalgic - especially as at $8000 they're
Bath time computing - and talking of nostalgia, The Register
has apparently rediscovered "the original UMPC", Epson's HX-20
portable computer. I remember the adverts for this, with advertising
showing it being used while sat in the bath - although actually I
think it was more the inspiration for the laptops that followed it
than for the media-focussed UMPC format...
there in the sky! It's Nabil Fawzi! - Boing Boing reports on
little-known translations of 1970s superhero comics for the Middle
East, complete with appropriately Arabic "Thwocks!" and "Pows!".
It's a reminder that it wasn't so long ago that the region was
becoming more and more Westernised as the oil economy started to
flourish, in clear contrast to the recent rise of Islamic
Does whatever a
spider can - the article doesn't mention if there was an Arabic translation
of the Spiderman comics, but in any case this robot created by researchers at
CMU in Pittsburgh uses a dry elastomer adhesive that can crawl up the wall and
onto the ceiling at a rate of 6 cm/sec. A subsequent version will use an
ultra-sticky fibre reminiscent of the spines on a gecko's foot pads, it is
Bigger than Jesus - it looks as if I was wrong when I posted
that the infamous AACS key that is infesting the web wouldn't make
any real difference to HD content security - the informed opinion is
that it will probably make future decryption attempts significantly
easier, opening the way for a so-called "third-generation" hack that
will render the entire disk naked and vulnerable. Excellent!
Photoshop Phriday - courtesy of Something Awful, a Photoshopping contest on
the theme of history's great telegrams. As always with these competitions, some
of them are pretty limp while others are real gems - the first one, to Abraham
Lincoln, is a good example of the latter, as is the third, which could easily
have spared a certain newspaper an embarrassing headline that haunts them to
- with shades of Dan Brown's annoying novel The Da Vinci Code,
two musicians (one with a background in military cryptography) have
managed to decode a musical cipher carved into the stones of a 15th
century church near Edinburgh. The chapel's arches contain 213 cubes
bearing geometric patterns, which have now been translated into
a piece of
music from 600 years ago.
waffley versatile - for the geek who has everything, especially
in the way of kitchen gadgets, a waffle iron that creates edible
keyboards - and, in fact, the whole design has a retro air that
makes me think of 1970s office equipment, which seems rather
Even after Columbine and Virginia Tech, the
levels of paranoia about school kids going on
sprees cannot sensibly be justified. The latest
knee-jerk reaction follows the discovery that a Texas teen had
created a map for the popular first-person combat game Counterstrike
based on the layout of his own school. There is no suggestion that
this particular teen had access to weaponry (or, at least, no more
access than anyone in Texas does!), and he had no record of
disciplinary problems or violent behaviour. Nevertheless, he was
immediately suspended and sent to a "special school", and the case
is currently causing strong disagreement amongst members of the
local school board, some of whom are protesting about the obvious
over-reaction awhile others are are insisting that they can't "take
things lightly anymore".
Back in the seventies my friends and I often
created Dungeons & Dragons maps based on our school, homes and
neighbourhoods, and I certainly don't recall anyone finding that
particularly disturbing even in the midst of the first backlash (it
was linked to the alleged
heavy metal suicide outbreak in some way, from what I remember)
against the game. It's exactly the sort of thing that children
always do, it seems to me - as a child another friend used to make up
school stories based on real life, with equally detailed maps and
descriptions to support them, and creating a combat game scenario
based on the large building with which one is most familiar with
seems equally harmless. What is undoubtedly harmful, however, is the zero
tolerance policy that seems to be applied to children's imagination
these days, with any slight deviation from what is deemed normal
(often by conservative middle-class adults, who are hardly the best
people to judge!) being met by police, courts, special schools and
all that comes along with them. It's a damn shame.
Back from the grave - just when you though you'd heard the last of Tim
O'Reilly's absurd blogger code of conduct proposals, British MP Tessa Jowell,
the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport, and Pointless Things has
apparently decided that the country should learn something from such a rare
"good lesson from American politics". Indeed.
truth will out - last year the LibDem MP Mark Oaten made Freedom
Of Information requests to the Office Of Government Commerce for
details of strategic reviews relating to the controversial identity
card scheme, and following the OGC's refusal to comply the
Information Tribunal has given them 28 days to make the information
available. What exactly are they trying to hide?
An honest politician stays bought - congressmen Lamar Smith and
Howard Berman, long-term mouthpieces of the RIAA and MPAA (between
them they received at least $44,000 in campaign contributions during
the last election), are delivering on their promises by threatening
universities with congressional investigation if they don't crack
down on "online piracy" amongst their students.
The evil that is Jobs - at Tom's Hardware, Rob Enderle is speculating
over whether Steve Jobs will be forced to leave Apple over the stock
options backdating scandal that is pointing an ever-increasing
number of fingers firmly in his direction. However, I am greatly
amused that the author's current consultancy firm, the grandly named
Enderle Group, appears to be just him and his wife...
Green Apples -
and talking of Jobs, [H]ard|OCP reports
that he has finally responded to ongoing criticisms from Greenpeace
over the company's
2.7 out of 10 score for use of harmful chemicals in its
manufacturing process and poor recycling policies. As could be
expected, El Stevo insists that the tree-huggers are deluded and
actually Apple is ahead of most of its competitors in these areas.
Publish and be damned - Harry McCracken, the editor of PC
World magazine, has resigned following pressure from the magazine's
publisher International Data Group to avoid printing stories that
were critical of major advertisers. The last straw seems to have
been a article entitled "Ten Things We Hate About Apple",
which was killed by CEO Harry Crawford while still a draft.
standard - the US Department Of Justice has indicted the proprietors of the
E-Gold online payment system, alleging that they have knowingly allowed the
service to be used for money laundering, financial scams and child porn sites.
The service allowed users to convert currency into honest-to-goodness gold, thus
breaking the audit trail that follows most electronic transactions.
Without substance -
rumours that the self-declared independent principality of Sealand
was to offer asylum to the hacker Gary McKinnon are completely
unfounded, it seems, which is probably just as well as the British
government has always insisted that Sealand remains firmly within
their legal jurisdiction and would probably have no hesitation in
grabbing him should the situation arise...
Several years ago I acquired a nice
Bay Networks 100 Mbit ethernet
switch which my company's R&D department were throwing out (for
reasons I never established!), and in order to obtain updated
firmware and management tools I had to register at their customer
support web site. Bay were absorbed into Nortel a while back but,
although my account was apparently preserved in the acquisition, by
that time the switch had been replaced by Netgear and Dell gigabit
units and I had no further use for the service. However, over the
last six months I have been regularly barraged by email messages
from Nortel informing me that my password was about to expire and
needed changing, and although I have been ignoring these as far as
possible, when yet another message arrived this morning I decided to
do something about it.
There isn't a specific
"Delete my account and stop bugging me dammit" link on the
Nortel web site, but I filled in the contact form that seemed most
appropriate and sure enough within an hour or so one of their
support staff had mailed me back. They asked me to provide the
address and telephone number I used when registering, presumably to
prove that I wasn't maliciously trying to close someone else's
account (do people really do this, I wonder?) and although I'm
generally reluctant to provide personal details to giant foreign
corporates with murky policies on personal data in this case at
least it was an outdated address.
This soon resulted in a notification that a
support case had been opened, and almost immediately afterwards by
the news that it had been closed - and this is where everything
becomes a touch ironic, as the emails were just status notifications
and in order to read the actual messages I would have to -
you guessed it - log into my account... Although it would be easy to
write this off as just a standard procedure applied to a slightly
non-standard requirement, in fact the header of the emails show that
they had been assigned to the particular case category of "inactive
account", so evidently it was actually designed this way! I
assume that my account has now been deleted, but I won't really
know until a month or so passes without further anxious
communications about the imminent demise of my password... We shall
Meanwhile, back on the Interweb, the widespread
publication of an AACS encryption key that protects HD-DVD media has
caused all sorts of fun and games. The key was originally posted at
the popular meta-tracking site Digg, and the site admins' attempts
to remove posts because of the very real risk of
heavyweight legal action under the DMCA, lead to
a full-fledged user rebellion. Eventually the founder Kevin Rose
announced that he would allow the keys to remain on view, but of
course by this time it had been spread far-and-wide across the web
and although the AACS Licensing Authority is rushing around like a
headless chicken trying to stuff the worms back into the can, they
are obviously far too late.
In the meantime, the 16 digit key has become
something of a cultural icon, spawning
a gallery of Photoshop images at Wired,
a colour palette based on the numeric values,
steganographic poem (very clever!) and, of course, numerous
T-shirts. Even thought the key is now thoroughly compromised, and in
fact doesn't really change the security of existing media very much,
I would be very surprised if the AACS LA don't press ahead with
legal action, and with the precedent of the extremely similar
lawsuit brought against 2600 magazine following their
publication of the DeCSS DVD protection algorithm back in 2000, one
of the DMCA's first successes for the media industry, it would be a
hard case to defend. One thing is sure, though - whatever
happens, this one will run and run...
A few snippets of news from around the web: I've
blogged them, so you don't have to...
UAC for all - the new and somewhat controversial User Access
Control security feature in Vista is so good, says Microsoft, that
other operating systems should work towards adopting similar
technology: not only because it protects the end-user from malware
but also because it encourages developers to avoid triggering the
UAC alert by avoiding what are often unnecessary attempts to make
use of administrator-level privileges. I expect a degree of dissent
in the online forums over this one...
The gauntlet thrown down - meanwhile, security researcher Joanna
Rutkowska is to run a training session at the Black Hat event
in Las Vegas this summer where she will demonstrate techniques to
compromise Vista, including new rootkit technology and an attack on
the BitLocker file encryption.
Photoshop oops! - and talking of security flaws, several
versions of Adobe Photoshop, including the recently-released CS3,
have a critical flaw in the PNG format plugin that can be exploited
remotely to run malicious code. This is
the second such flaw in only a week, and Adobe must be
Pots and kettles - we've seen before that the RIAA and MPAA are
curiously elastic over respecting copyright when it comes to media
that they want to use, and Boing Boing brings news of
another anti-piracy group with no compunctions against stealing
material when it suits them.
The usual suspects - the US government has announced that it is
"targeting" twelve countries that fail to respect copyrights held by
American producers of music, movies and software. The list is headed
by China and Russia, of course, and it will be interesting to see if
they pay any attention!
A solid defence - Google has finally filed its initial statement
in the Viacom vs. YouTube bunfight, and as could be expected they
will be relying on the Safe Harbour provision included in the DMCA
and on the general concept of fair use. Many legal experts thinks
that Viacom is fighting an uphill battle, here.
More money grubbing - Ars Technica reports that the small
software house Savvysoft has settled with Microsoft over the name of
their TurboExcel product, as although Excel itself was launched nine
years earlier it seems that Microsoft didn't get around to
trade-marking the name until April 2004!
and nude chicks - a PR event organised by Sony in Greece to
promote the game God Of War II involved a decapitated goat
and a number of topless women feeding grapes to guests, and as could
be predicted both the animal rights and the anti-gaming lobbies are
foaming at the mouth.
A good reason for a recall - Apple is the latest company to be
hit by a batch of faulty laptop batteries, this time in the latest
Lithium Polymer Ion technology used in the Intel-based MacBook
range. Apple is playing down
actual danger to users, but the swollen, bloated batteries are
Is it hot in here? - a study by software company Aperture
Technologies claims that "ignorant" data center managers who
installed high density blade servers without understanding the
demands the technology would place on power and cooling systems have
caused frequent and costly outages.
More cores than you can shake a stick at - Intel's 80 core
technology demonstrator has been making the rounds again, and
although the latest version obviously needs some careful babying,
nevertheless it can provide two TeraFLOPS of processing throughput
at a mere 192W of heat output. Gosh!
Cryptome on notice - the infamous repository of free speech,
cryptography and leaked documents has been given notice by its ISP
Verio that it is no longer welcome at their hosting service, and
although the site has already been offered a number of new homes
Verio is being unusually cagey about exactly why they have chosen to
evict the site. Some consider that the founder John Young sometimes
take things a little too far, but personally I'm glad that he's out
there keeping an eye on people who really need to have an eye
kept on them...
a speech at Infosecurity Europe, the Chairman of the
government's All Party Parliamentary Olympic Group, Derek Wyatt MP, has
revealed that only companies which have heavily sponsored the 2012
London Olympics will be eligible to supply IT security technology for
the event. I can't begin to express my contempt for people who
would make such a wrong-headed decision, and in fact the entire Olympics
is clearly becoming the boondoggle that its detractors said it would
from the very start. The predicted cost to the taxpayer has already
increased from the £2.35 billion documented in the official bid in 2005
official estimate of £9 billion (which you can bet your ass is a
conservative figure in any case!) and we're not even a third of the way
there yet... To hear that instead of best-of-breed IT systems provided
by the winner of a straight-forward tendering process, companies can
simply bribe their way into the security contracts, is just outrageous -
and the fact that the main contract has already been "won" by Visa,
acknowledged masters in the art of permitting widespread identify theft,
losing vast amounts of confidential information, and enabling electronic
crime on a massive scale is exactly the likely outcome of such a flawed
selection process. Meanwhile, Derek Wyatt himself had demonstrated once
more the clear qualifications he has for advising the government on
issues of Internet security and the like, admitting in his speech at
Infosec that he has little idea of the source of potential threats to
the event: "who are the enemy? I wish I knew”, he admitted...
“Don’t ever underestimate the intelligence of the opposition, whoever
<long, heartfelt sigh>
Meanwhile, back at the stats... Not quite such a
surprising set of figures as last month, but I put that down to having
failed to attract so much attention from my friend Avedon Carol at her
political blog The Sideshow. In
spite of the fact that we started blogging within a few weeks of each other,
back in the heady pre-Web 2.0 days of 2002, her blog receives three or four
times as much traffic as mine even on a bad day - the majority of which are
real visitors, as well, rather than random drop-ins from Google. This
just goes to prove that people would much rather read about politics than
computers (ahh, just you wait until the
technocracy of the nerds takes
over the world - things will be different then, I promise you!) but
nevertheless I'm always very grateful for the occasional bump of interested
parties when she links to something I've written here. We shall see what the
next month brings.