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31st December

Holidays notwithstanding, I've been in the office all this week, alternating between the sort of useful but  annoying tasks that are best done in the absence of users, and plain old killing time... During one of the latter periods I came across a very interesting graph purportedly representing OS usage percentages, culled from data collected from Google's visitors. If the figures are accurate, and given Google's lack of OS affiliation it seems quite likely, then far from an increase in the numbers of desktop Mac and Linux systems out there, in fact the last year's data shows no significant growth at all - and maybe even an overall decline compared to the number of Windows systems!

Oh, yes, and apparently something is up with the current crop of iBooks, too... What with the melting PowerBooks, the cracking Cubes, and the recent alleged battery problems with the iPod, Apple's reputation for high-quality engineering is definitely taking a bit of a beating, these days. Their recent OS releases have been far from ideal, too, it seems, with a number of bugs causing loss of functionality and corruption of data... Insanely great, or just insane?

And talking of annoying computer systems... Only three years after acquiring the company for $2.1 billion, Sun has closed down the last of the Cobalt RaQ server appliance product line. As well as marking the last Cobalt system, this move also finalises their involvement with Linux and the x86 architecture - all current server systems will use Sun's own OS and hardware platforms. All is not quite lost, however, as Sun have apparently released the Cobalt source code, and it will be interesting to see if the 3rd party Open Qube initiative produces anything of use.

It has to be said that I came across the news about Cobalt's demise when checking for security updates for my own RaQ 4r, and I was rather annoyed to see that a further six updates have been released since the last time I performed this chore back in September. This does leave me scratching my head, rather, as appliances like the RaQ are supposed to be such simple systems - all it does is web, ftp, email and some internal housekeeping, and the hardened, cut-down Linux employed for these basic chores should surely be mature and stable by now! To find that it has been afflicted by an additional half dozen assorted buffer overflow vulnerabilities in the few months since the last batch, is really rather a shame...

Oh, and when I rebooted after installing the last patch, the RaQ suddenly decided to scan its disk drives (for no readily apparent reason - it's on a UPS so is never shut down dirty!) and was offline for around ten minutes while it slogged through the 80Gb mirror - glacial, to say the least, compared to the far speedier NTFS disk checks I'm used to on my Wintel PCs...   <sigh>

Elsewhere, camel toes - fast becoming a cult icon, it seems:

The Camel Toe Report           Camel Toe Racing        Cameltoe.Com

The Camel Toe Song             Rate My Camel Toe      Cameltoe World    

Plus a whole raft of commercial sites. Mmmmm...  :-)

My hunt for an affordable Aliens Dropship kit continues to be thoroughly fruitless, but just to add insult to injury I've just come across a spectacular pair of resin models by Canadian firm SMT. Made to 1:48 scale, the APC is almost 8" long, and the matching dropship is a staggering 22". The pair would set me back over $230 once shipping charges were added on, and I have no idea where I'd display models that large, but they're certainly rather tempting. Must...  resist...

 

30th December

Midweek links...

The Alien Technology store - apparently created mostly to tease a stranded time traveller.

Kite aerial photography - I tried a little of this myself, ages ago, but the technology has evidently moved on somewhat since then.

10 adverts America US won't see - they're a mixed bag, and some of them definitely won't be missed... But Honda's "Cog" ad is a real winner, I've always thought.

Meanwhile, in spite of the lacklustre reception given to the recent official sequel, UFO Aftermath, fans of the old X-Com strategy games are keeping the genre very much alive. As well as a wealth of fan pages, there are now a number of open source re-writes and 3rd party equivalents of the games in various stages of development! Worth a look are: Project Xenocide, UFO 2000, EDF, Invasion 2021, and Talon. There are even the embryonic stages of an online Flash version of the original game, which looks like it ought to be rather neat.

 

29th December

So the London Underground system has suffered a significant reduction in reliability since being part privatised at the end of last year, according to a report in the Guardian. Train failures increased by 23 percent in 2003, track problems rose by 20 percent and points failures were up 38 percent, the newspaper said, citing internal London Underground documents.

"Some of these figures are a surprise to me and to us", said recently appointed chief programmes officer Bob Janowski. "I thought they would have been better".

So it's nice to see that he has his finger firmly on the pulse, then...

In general, it's quite obvious that the Public Private Partnership responsible for managing the London Underground system's track, rolling stock and infrastructure has had a disastrous first year... Created in direct opposition to the wishes of both the Mayor and the specially imported Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley, the private consortium behind the PPP was granted 30 year contracts for the management and maintenance of the tube system. Although Tube Lines and Metronet, the management groups which took over the network, have so far received £1.2bn of public money to invest in the infrastructure, at the same time they have been fined £32m for failing to hit performance targets! Tube Lines (owned by a consortium of engineering companies, one of which is chaired by the ex Conservative mayoral candidate and PPP advocate Steve Norris) has a particularly poor record, failing to reduce delays on six of the eleven tube lines for which it is responsible.

It all sounds like another massive scam, to me - but this time there's far more at stake than public money... When accidents happen on underground rail systems, people usually die, and giving responsibility for the safety of the system to a greedy corporate, backed by a greedy government, can only be a bad thing.

Elsewhere, still no signal from Beagle II - but a close examination of the proposed landing area by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has revealed a large crater, previously unknown and  possibly hundreds of meters deep, right in the middle of the targeted landing area! It seems quite possible that Beagle II has either landed in the depths of the crater, and so cannot establish line-of-sight radio communication, or has been damaged or prevented from deploying correctly by the unexpectedly rough terrain around the crater's rim. The search continues, however, and a number of extremely cunning measures are currently under way. I remain pessimistic, but you never know...

 

28th December

Still no word from Beagle II, but the Mars Express spacecraft is now in orbit around the planet and is now best placed and best equipped to receive the missing lander's signals. The Beagle II website gives a timeline of opportunities for detecting a transmission from the craft over the next few weeks, and an explanation of how the two systems will attempt to locate each other. The lander may actually be in perfect working order, according to the program's directors, but simply have touched down out of its planned target area, or perhaps not have opened up fully, or might just be facing in the wrong direction - but only time will tell, and I have to admit that I'm feeling a touch pessimistic about the project, now...

Closer to home, the Real vs. Microsoft farce proceeds slowly through the legal bureaucracy. Nobody seems to have a particularly high opinion of the orchestrator of the lawsuit, Real's founder and CEO, Rob Glaser, and I was interested to note that many of the denizens of the Ars Technica forums, not a community known for its unconditional love of Windows and Microsoft in general, are equally unimpressed by the company's software and policies as I am... It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in the courts.

Meanwhile:

A gingerbread PC... How festive!

Anti-bubbles - in beer, of course!

Apple security flaw patched - yet another cockup for the Cupertino prima donnas... It has not been a good year for Unix security in general, it seems, and that applies equally well to Apple now that they're riding on the Unix train. The sooner that various communities climb down from their collective high horses and acknowledge that any networked computer system is inherently insecure, whatever the OS and applications in use, and will always need careful management and support to prevent unauthorised access or data loss, the better it will be for the entire global community of computer users.

 

27th December

So I put my Father on the Interweb today, with one of my surplus Pentium II systems to replace his old 486, and Ros and I have spent several hours trying to cram him full of all the information he'll need to drive the rather more up-to-date hardware and software systems. It goes against the grain, but it seemed that for net access the best combination of value and ease-of-use would be AOL, so I swallowed my geek pride and installed the software - the first time ever on a computer I've had anything to do with! I'm sure that there will be a number of confused and confusing support calls until it all settles in, but he's been using computers (if rather tentatively) for even longer than I have and I'm sure that won't take too long.

Meanwhile, there is still complete silence from ESA's Beagle II Mars lander, and in spite of the up-beat comments from the mission controllers the outlook is rather bleak.  However, with NASA's Spirit lander due to touch down in seven days (and their second vehicle, Opportunity, three weeks after that) the chances of at least one successful Mars mission are still fairly high. If the Martians are shooting the spacecraft down, this sudden barrage of probes will certainly be keeping them busy!

Elsewhere:

"Does this make my boobs look crooked?" - not from where I'm standing...

Chinese Laser Cannons - why "cannons", I wonder? It's a highly emotive term, and I'm sure was deliberately chosen as such...

PowerQuest acquired by Symantec - shouldn't somebody investigate them for monopolistic practices, these days?

"Open Source" IE patch is no damn good - you mean... Microsoft were right...?

Sony's dancing robots - they still look like Huggy Bear, to me...

The 21st Century approach to unwanted christmas presents - thanks to Downhill Battle, a worthy organisation campaigning against the RIAA's legal bullying and general excesses.

Censoring satellite pictures of US government buildings - although some suggest this does more harm than good...

Print your own TV screen - just what Ros has been waiting for!

 

26th December

It's been an excellent christmas here at Epicycle, and we're all stuffed with huge quantities of delicious home-cooked food and buried under copious christmas presents... One of this year's most photogenic was a wonderful piece of kinetic sculpture (well, Ok then, a marble run!) called Rollerscape. Starting with a framework of interlocking spheres and struts, one intertwines a double length of thin, flexible plastic tubing to provide a track for the plastic marbles to negotiate. This is definitely the most complex and ambitious marble run I've seen, and it takes some thought and some careful fiddling to provide a reliable, interesting route, but the result is definitely worth it. My second attempt is shown below - standing about three feet tall, the marbles take over five seconds to navigate about three meters of trackway.

Mine is the largest of the three sets available, and comes with two ten metre track tubes and a generous quantity of the struts and spheres needed for the supporting structure. It's a little short on some of the components that connect the track to the frame, though, and I was only able to run the track down around two thirds of the structure above - I think for the very best results I'm going to need to acquire some extra parts!

Elsewhere, the European Space Agency's Mars probe Beagle II is still missing, and although ESA will be continuing the search with all available resources, the likelihood is that the Red Planet has claimed yet another victim. After NASA's failures over the last couple of years, and the loss of the Japanese Nozomi spacecraft only a few weeks ago, that would be a damn shame - so I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

 

23rd December

In the occasional spare moments between fiddling with computers and fiddling with airsoft replicas, I also like to build space models, and as I live in constant hope of finding the time and energy to resume this hobby again I've recently been stocking up on eBay. New acquisitions are the Babylon 5 space station, Testor's "Area S4" UFO, and the Sulaco spacecraft and APC vehicle from the movie Aliens. To go alongside the latter pair, I would very much like the matching Colonial Marines dropship, but this one is proving rather harder to track down - at least at a price I'm prepared to pay!

Halcyon's kits from the Aliens movie are now out of production (although another company owns the moulds and rights, I gather, so this may change) and the remaining items are being marketed to collectors rather than modelling enthusiasts. They're not actually especially rare at this stage, as a search on eBay will show an assorted handful of the half dozen different kits at any one time, but they're being well-hyped and what they certainly are is expensive! The average closing price on eBay is currently at least £40, which I find uncomfortably high for a plastic kit that cost less than a tenner when new only a few years ago - but having realised that, I'm kicking myself for turning down the first one I spotted, which I could have had for closer to £30... Many of the kits are being purchased purely as investments, I'm sure, as a genuine modeller doesn't usually care if the box is mint and sealed as long as the contents are intact, and as usual this has lead to both an artificial shortage and a serious case of inflation - which is not only a waste, but also rather hard on people like me who actually want to build the kit!

I shall keep looking, though, and in the meantime - for all things to do with Aliens collectibles, the aptly named Aliens Collection site is a first rate resource. Some of the full-sized replica weaponry and hardware they showcase is absolutely marvellous...

 

21st December

So RealNetworks is suing Microsoft for one billion dollars, with the usual claim that the company has abused its monopoly to gain an unfair advantage in the digital media market.

It's the same old story, and I'm so fed up with it now... It seems to be a standard business practice in the IT industry  these days - if your product sucks and your company can't hack it in the marketplace, blame everything on Microsoft and sue them for anti-competitive behaviour in the hope of winning big and jumping onto the gravy train for life.

In the case of Real, thought, this is especially galling - firstly because as the vast majority of my own digital video media collection is in their RM format (compared to a tiny proportion in Microsoft's own WMV format!) it seems impossible that they have actually failed to achieve the market penetration they need, and secondly because their bizarre and alarming approach to the design of their media players means that any genuine failure would quite definitely be of their own making!

If Real made a player that didn't insinuate itself so far into your PC that it needed to be uninstalled with Vaseline and a crowbar; that didn't come with a download manager, a systems agent, a mini-browser, a radio player, a CD burner, a dedicated advert screen, and who knows what else; that didn't constantly display adverts for it's own products and services, and act as a conduit for extra 3rd-party adware; that didn't monitor and record your browsing habits and media choices before sending the information off to god knows where... If they made a file format that was even slightly open, so that you could use a third-party player without expressly violating the format's conditions of use, indeed, if they didn't change the format every time some 3rd party company even tried to make their player compatible, and sometimes gratuitously just so that that they can force an upgrade on their unwilling users... Well, maybe if they hadn't done all that, people wouldn't bitch about their player so consistently and avoid it like the plague wherever possible, and the company wouldn't be in the economic doldrums that they apparently believe themselves to be in...

Even the "Lite" version of the current RealOne player (just like all its predecessors!) that I use carries so much intrusive bloat that it can bring a slower PC to its knees - if it doesn't crash it on the next reboot, of course, which I've seen happen on a number of occasions. I've worked very hard to disable everything possible in my own installed copy, and even so I would much rather do without it completely except that the nearly all of the online media I want is only available in Real's proprietary format!

Their lawsuit is bullshit.

 

20th December

So the British Board of Film Censorship Classification is running an open survey on the levels of sex, violence, drug use, swearing etc portrayed on UK screens. Censorship in all its forms is something I get pretty steamed up about, and it's good to see that, in spite of their wild vacillations over the last few years, the BBFC is still at least paying lip service to reflecting the desires of the population they claim to be protecting. Their series of public meetings a couple of years ago helped towards the relaxation of the guidelines on sex and nudity in films, and (following considerable pressure from the invaluable anti-censorship group FAC among others) the creation of the R18 certificate, and so I think the survey is well worth spending a few minutes on - just go to their website and either download it as a PDF or fill it out online.

Meanwhile - it's amazing what making a bit of a fuss in public can do to encourage a company to fulfil their obligations, isn't it! Only two days after I started making my feelings known on Area51's bulletin board rather than in private email, the first part of my shell-ejecting airsoft replica arrived bright and early this morning. I was told that it had definitely, positively been sent out ten days ago, but as the parcel was dated yesterday that obviously wasn't the case. Still, progress is finally being made, and I'm not going to bother complaining about that now. Area51 have just announced that they won't be dealing directly with the public, in future, and I have to say that I think that's probably for the best...

The replica is a complete paperweight at the moment, unfortunately, as I'm still without the BBs, shell cases and gas charging rig (and also the manual and the two extra Bushmaster-style front ends, one 16" and one 20", to provide some cosmetic variety) but the shells and charger are promised for early next week so maybe I'll be able to see in the new year by firing wildly into the air in the traditional manner of the disaffected around the world. Actually, having watched the scenes that followed the capture of Saddam Hussein earlier this week, I was struck by how similarly young men in the Middle East behave when they're both celebrating and protesting - either occasion seems to demand much shouting and firing of AK-47s into the air, and on most of the news reports I just couldn't tell which was which!

 

19th December

Work has been a bit soul-destroying recently, and in an attempt to distract myself earlier this week, I was browsing at geek site Tom's Hardware Guide. One of the features that caught my eye was a review of the ShowCenter, a new multimedia set-top box from well-established video hardware company Pinnacle, and a few paragraphs into the article I was already searching for UK suppliers in another browser window. I've been interested in the idea of a media server for a few years, now, and have been tempted by the Turtle Beach Audiotron among others - but their audio-only functionality has been too limiting and the ShowCenter's support for audio, video and still images was just what I had been hoping for.

The ShowCenter doesn't hold any media itself, but acts as a client to stream music and video from a PC acting as a server. The server application can deliver video in the common MPEG, DV, Windows Media and DivX formats, audio in MP3 and WMA formats, and JPEG, PNG and GIF images. Most of these formats are streamed natively, others are transcoded into a suitable intermediate format before being sent out to the player. The onboard 100Mbit wired LAN connection is more than capable of sufficient bandwidth for the most demanding video formats, but the optional wireless LAN interface only supports the 11Mbit 802.11b standard at present, which is definitely inadequate for high-resolution video. It seems highly likely that 11g cards will be supported by an future firmware update, but in the meantime I'm perfectly willing to run yet another CAT5 cable to support the wired interface...

Although the device is slim (especially once I'd removed the rubber feet to squeeze it into an already stuffed hardware rack) it has a solid, weighty feel - especially surprising when a look inside the unit reveals mostly empty space! The design is 100% solid state, with a network interface at one end and an S-Video / RGB television interface at the other... Somewhere in the middle is Sigma's REALmagic EM 8551 media processor chip, which decodes the audio and video streams and also displays the user interface. Interestingly, the latter is a standard web client connecting to a set of PHP scripts running from a cut-down web server on the host PC system, which suggests that fiddling and tweaking should be quite easy - well, assuming that one understands PHP, of course, which unfortunately I don't...

The potential for customisation is probably just as well, actually, as some investigation of the discussion boards at AVS Forum and Pinnacle's own tech support suggests that the neither the firmware or the server scripts are quite 100%, as yet... Pinnacle have already responded with a firmware update, though, and as I gather there is already a SourceForge group working on an open source replacement for the entire suite, it looks like there will be a 3rd-party options available even if the manufacturer doesn't deliver the goods themselves. [Update: I've just confirmed that the streaming server for a competing product, the Neuston Virtuoso MC-500, will also work with the Pinnacle hardware - and has some definite advantages...]

A quick test suggests that the basics are working well, though, so I'll leave the server application indexing my vast collection of audio and video overnight, and have a more extensive play with it over the weekend. It has the makings of an interesting and useful new toy, I think, and as always there's the additional cachet of having one of the very first units in the UK.   :-)

 

18th December

According to an article in the Dayton Daily News, the US FTC is considering recruiting an army of 18 year old computer nerds to acts as bounty hunters in the fight against spammers... As an enterprise mail system administrator I hate spam and spammers with a passion, but am I alone in finding this idea rather chilling in itself? The last thing that IT professionals need, I'm sure, is a task force of spotty e-vigilantes with puffed up self-righteous egos throwing their weight around from the relative safety of their bedrooms...

Elsewhere, and fortunately quite a long way elsewhere, a PC case built from entirely from unwanted AOL CDs. Is there any other kind of AOL CD, though, having said that?

Hmmm... Not actually a gun that shoots around corners, per se, but instead a kind of stock and holder that reaches a pistol out around the corner and allows you to watch where you're shooting on a little monitor screen... The article waxes all enthusiastic about how wonderful it is, but it does seem to me that the practical applications are limited to say the least - and it costs up to $5000, too, even before you factor in the cost of the handgun itself!

Meanwhile, following their reviews of self-heating food cans, UK airsoft forum Arnie's Airsoft brings word of a self-cooling beer keg - what will those cunning German engineers think of next?

On the subject of airsoft, though, I'm becoming increasingly exasperated with the failure of Area51 Airsoft to actually deliver the shell-ejecting M4 replica I ordered from them over two months ago. I've had an apparently endless succession of "it's ready to ship" and "it will be sent out tomorrow", and at one point I was even given a tracking number (which the Royal Mail refuses to acknowledge as being valid!) but in spite of many email messages politely asking for explanations and updates, no real information is forthcoming and there is still no sign of the replica some six weeks after the promised delivery date. I'm always very tolerant when it comes to small, specialist companies, but enough is enough and I've now lost all patience with this particular one - and I'm obviously not alone, either, as their forum at Arnie's is suddenly filling up with unhappy customers, their attitudes ranging from the angry to the resigned... Enough is enough, though, and they don't have much more time to sort this out before I start getting really stroppy. Kate and DeeDee, you have been warned...

 

17th December

The real cost of christmas revealed - soaring bird prices reflect economic recovery, says PNC Bank.

Multiple-stage vapour-phase cooling - how does minus 100ºC sound...?

Google knuckles under to Sharman's DMCA notice over links to Kazaa Lite sites... Talk about pots and kettles!

Another broadband speed testing service, courtesy of UK ISP Nildram.

Coo! Finally, a company in the UK selling the so-called "Model Gun" replicas from Japan, the highly realistic shell-ejecting blank firers often used in movies. I really do prefer something that actually fires a projectile (target shooting is a bit dull, otherwise), but if I wasn't so keen on airsoft I'd have a whole rack of these...

And talking of which, this arrived today:

With a metal slide and frame, it's tough enough to take the high pressure "green gas", and coupled with weighty .36g BBs it's quite a beastie to shoot, causing serious damage to my heavily reinforced target holder. It needs a touch of cosmetic work, and the aftermarket Sheriff sights need a little fiddling (I'm shooting four inches high at less than ten yards, which is just plain silly!) and as always it won't really feel like mine until I've stripped it, cleaned it thoroughly and rebuilt it again... but I already have a soft spot for it and even the pretty pink Infinity trigger is growing on me.  <blush>

[Later] This just in, thanks to Mike - apparently it was a test message posted to the weather alert service run by NOAA, the US National Oceanographic And Atmospheric Administration, before they belatedly noticed that it was in a publicly accessible area...

NON PRECIPITATION STATEMENT URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE KANSAS CITY- PLEASANT HILL MO
1055 AM CST WED DEC 17 2003

...TEST...TEST...TEST...

UNUSUALLY HOT WEATHER HAS ENTERED THE REGION FOR DECEMBER... AS THE EARTH HAS LEFT ITS ORBIT AND IS HURTLING TOWARD THE SUN.

MOZ012-021-172251
ANDREW MO-CLINTON MO
1055 AM CST WED DEC 17 2003

...EXCESSIVE HEAT WATCH IN EFFECT FROM THIS AFTERNOON TO LATE
TONIGHT...

UNUSUALLY HOT WEATHER WILL OCCUR FOR AT LEAST THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS AS THE EARTH DRAWS EVER NEARER TO THE SUN. THEREFORE... AN EXCESSIVE HEAT WATCH HAS BEEN POSTED.

STAY TUNED TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO AND OTHER LOCAL MEDIA FOR FURTHER DETAILS OR UPDATES.

Remember - you heard it here first...

 

16th December

Wow - now this guy was genuinely ahead of his time: four pictures sent into geek site [H]ard|OCP show a unique home-modded Apple II from around 1983. Built into a suitcase, it even has perspex windows...

Just as innovative, perhaps, if rather more up to date - very, very tiny PCs from Japanese company Personal Media. The press release is mostly in squiggles, unfortunately, but the tech specs can be seen quite clearly - a 400MHz CPU plus full support hardware in a 5cm cube...

This is rather neat, too - a new video conferencing camera from Logitech, which zooms and tracks automatically to keep your face centred in the frame. It's very elegant, and reasonably priced, but I can't help thinking of HAL 9000...

Meanwhile, someone who has obviously completely run out of patience with the human race is trying to sell the knackered chassis of a Honda CB500T motorcycle on eBay... His description is a wonderful rant, but as I was reading through his increasingly fervent complaints about the brain-dead types who inhabit eBay, something he said about an odd repair to the frame's top tube struck a chord - and having taken a closer look I'm fairly sure that I owned that bike, briefly, sometime around 1987! The previous owner, my mate Andy, had virtually destroyed it on a surprisingly tight bend in the South Wales valleys, and after it had been kicked, bodged, bashed and bent back into shape I ran it for a month or two before selling it onwards - from what I remember very cheaply indeed, so considering that the bidding currently stands at £5.50 I think it has held its value rather well! It's a small world, though - it really is...

 

15th December

Hard disk noises identified - not for those techies of a nervous disposition.

Dan tackles the knotty problem of Power Factor Correction - one day I'm hoping to understand power factors, but evidently it isn't today...

The rather wonderful EcoSphere - including a rather gushing review by Carl Sagan.

Dave Barry on taking command of your computer.

"Lindows" name banned in Finland and Sweden - and more to come, too...

Kenyan Internet users apparently like downloading pornography and music... so much for the digital divide!

This article at the NY Times suggests that a PowerPoint slide was partly responsible for the Columbia disaster - although, as Kyle at [H]ard|OCP comments - "Then again, maybe it was just the jackass that made the slide?"

Google now searches for, well, everything - apparently you can even do phone number reverse lookups, too...

Neat X-Ray posters of the inside of stuff. Coo!

Sony's QRIO walking robot - which, unaccountably, reminds me eerily of "Huggy Bear" from Starsky and Hutch...

And finally - probably the biggest digital photograph in the world?

 

13th December

Today's EPICYCLE is brought to you courtesy of Tom Waits' Rain Dogs album and Laurie Anderson's Moby Dick. I had to turn the volume way down for the latter, as on the first couple of tracks Ms Anderson's hi-tech digital violin is so incredibly bassy that it threatens to destroy my speakers - when we saw her play it live at The Barbican a few years ago, it shook the entire hall... the sound has an amazing power, depth and presence, and always makes me shiver with pleasure.

Earlier today Ros was looking for the home page of television self-sufficiency eccentric Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and when she mentioned that she'd found it at http://www.rivercottage.net, I started fuming. I've always had a bee in my bonnet about misuse of the top-level domain names, especially in the ORG and NET hierarchies, and this is another fine example. According to the original ICANN specifications, the NET domain was restricted to organisations in some way connected with the fabric of the Internet itself, such as ISPs, backbone providers and the various regulatory groups; while the ORG domain was purely for the non-commercial community - museums, charities, action groups etc. It's not that I blame Hugh, of course, as his expertise seems to lie in pig breeding rather than computers, but a .NET domain is completely inappropriate for his site and ideally he should never have been allowed to register it. Unfortunately, while checking the exact terms of the TLD specification I was disappointed to note that even the ICANN has now relaxed the rules - the names have been so widely misused that I suppose there's no point in flying in the face of such common practice, and by now it's a thoroughly lost cause. Oh, well...

Meanwhile, this morning I finally had the opportunity to do something that really tested the new motherboard's processing power, and it was certainly impressive! Apart from the odd game, the vast majority of my computer use is fairly banal, with the usual email, letters and web surfing - and under this sort of load the four CPU cores are barely ticking over. Because of this I tend to forget that I have so much oomph under the hood, as it were, so when I needed to splice together several dozen short segments of video (using the extremely useful freeware Real Join utility) I queued them in and then started to leave my desk to get on with other chores while it worked. As I was standing up, though, a flicker onscreen caught my eye, and I sat down again to realise that the operation had finished - the jump from 1GHz PIII CPUs to 3GHz HyperThreading P4s is exactly what this sort of CPU-intensive operation is crying out for, and when coupled with the pleasingly fast S-ATA disk subsystem to move the files around, what used to take several minutes now takes several seconds, instead. Cool!

Elsewhere - the evolution of Michael Jackson. Not cool... Not at all...

 

12th December

<yawns hugely>  It's been one of those weeks - but at least the SMS server still seems to be happy.

And now, the news:

DoS attacks on SCO continue... Or do they?

First spammers busted in the US, and a deluge of complaints in the UK.

A nasty new Mac security vulnerability - and a wonderful sound-bite from someone as annoyed as I am by the misguided elitism of non-Windows users:

I was tired of the "We use Macs because they don't get attacked by viruses and hackers" refrain from Mac nuts. I generally counter with what is apparently a secret carefully hidden from Mac zealots: "That's because only a fraction of the world uses Macs. What's the point of attacking a niche market? No one will notice!"

But the mindlessly superior retort is always the same, "No, it's because the Apple OS does not have the same holes as Windows. OS X is just a better operating system."

Given this recent development, my question is, "Will you be stuffing that superior attitude in your crow or eating it separately, sir?"

But anyway, PC insecurity is not all Microsoft's fault, at least according to this article!

Elsewhere in the tech news - a tale of a free-falling laptop (and the "after" picture - the apparent damage is remarkably light, considering!), a new mission to Jupiter's moons, a Homebrew Cruise Missile, a further development on the way to Bob Shaw's "slow glass", and how to "tune" a standard VW compact to something capable of 14 second standing-quarter-miles using only a hammer, a Sawzall, and a large screwdriver... It's not a pretty sight.

Meanwhile, the ICANN president was evicted from the UN Internet summit when they suddenly decided to exclude observers - and he's hopping mad, as you'd expect. As an organisation ICANN is far from perfect, but expecting a bloated bureaucracy like the UN to control something as fluid and nebulous as the Internet seems like a bizarre idea, and I can't see that this latest development is in any way a good thing...

Oh, and I just heard that JenniCam is closing down - the original and arguably greatest cam girl is pulling the plug at the end of the month, after seven years of life under the Internet microscope. I remember when she first started, long before "The Truman Show" and "Big Brother", and it was really exciting to be involved (even peripherally, as a voyeur!) in something genuinely new and adventurous... I wish her all the best in her new, off-camera life.

 

11th December

My new SMS 2003 server at the office has been giving us a real headache, over the last couple of weeks... Although everything seemed to be running extremely well for a while, a brief loss of network connectivity apparently ended in a database corrupted almost beyond repair, and it's taken many hours of diligent research and inspired hackery on the part of our support company, SynTech, before things started coming right again. The system finally seems to be stable and functional again this evening, thanks to all that hard work, but I have to admit that my confidence in the product has been shaken somewhat... Considering how stable and successful this year's Server 2003 and Exchange 2003 products have been, we were expecting the same from the new SMS - but after all this trauma I don't think I'll really be happy with the product until the first service pack.

Meanwhile, a salutary lesson for those who still think that Apple are the good guys - in these days of universal corporate greed, it seems that there are no good guys, anywhere:

"For example, Allen has discovered that Apple uses a sophisticated video-monitoring system to automatically count the number of customers who enter the store, and to document their behaviour once inside. According to Allen, Apple uses a ShopperTrak system to count the number of people passing the store, the percentage who enter, and the percentage of those who make a purchase. Allen declined to state his source. An Apple spokeswoman confirmed that the company carefully tracks consumer traffic and buying patterns, but wouldn't discuss its methodology".

So "insanely great" is now just insanely intrusive... Oh, well...

 

10th December

Now here's a strange thing indeed... Someone claiming to be the creator of the original MS Word macro virus, Concept, has written a letter to UK computer paper IT Week claming that (in best RTM tradition) it was all a terrible mistake:

"... I was employed to develop a Windows script to retrieve data from a back-end database and incorporate it into automatically-generated letters  ...  I wrote a set of Windows routines that would execute when a document was opened or created, run a payload routine, pop open a dialog box and copy the code modules to newly saved documents or templates. The dialog box was labelled "Concept", and later became known as the Concept virus. Of course, I know the effects it has had over the years and that the code probably escaped into the wild when a document was created on my development PC and used on other, less isolated systems. But it was legitimately written for one specific task, for one specific client. That it could cause damage just by replacing my own payload is undeniable, but its spread was just as clearly due to the vulnerability of Microsoft Word at that time and was in no way intentional."

I have to say that I'm dubious - a quick check at the McAfee Virus Information Library has confirmed what I dimly remembered, that the very first version of Concept, which replicated without causing damage to its host systems, contained a payload of only one line - the comment "REM That's enough to prove my point". Now that sounds like someone writing code to see how well it could spread, to me, and not a legitimate business application...

Meanwhile, the RIAA has appointed a new anti-piracy czar in the shape of Bradley A. Buckles, until recently the director of the US Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Buckles took over the directorship of the ATF after the house-cleaning that followed the disastrous raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, and has been at least partly responsible for creating the procedural changes resulting from the subsequent inquiry. Nevertheless, he has a reputation as a tough cookie, with considerable influence in government circles, and I have no doubt that this appointment represents another stage in the RIAA's apparently endless quest for power. The EFF and others are opposing them, and ably, but the RIAA has enormous wealth and influence and unfortunately it's an uphill struggle...

Finally, something that only a programmer could love - we gave our friend Mike a binary clock for his last birthday, but if this hexadecimal clock actually existed outside of the web I'd definitely get him one for christmas, to match...

 

9th December

Midweek... Just links...

Inland revenue may abandon EDS - but is this possible? Doesn't EDS own the hardware, the software and all the techies?

NHS threatens defection from Microsoft - but as this comes right in the middle of negotiations for a reduced license fee, I think it's just a bargaining tactic.

Last call for Wndows 98 and Office 2000 - nominally under Sun's "Stop Polluting Java" suit, but probably a welcome excuse for Microsoft to sweep away the old dead-wood.

Kazaa Lite driven offline - Sharman ups the ante again, changing the protocol and insisting that ISPs remove Lite mirrors. How long will it last? Days, not weeks, I'd say...

The RIAA strikes yet again - today's victims, the parents of a thirteen year old girl... "It's not like she murdered someone", says mother...

A USB memory stick shaped like a rubber duck - yes, really, a rubber duck. Would I lie to you?

Microsoft gets bullish over "Lindows" trademark infringement suit - and Lindows muddies the waters by alleging anti-competitive attacks on Dutch computer retailers, which is not really the point...

Display a 500 foot SMS message on one of the world's landmarks - go on, I dare you...

 

8th December

I've just watched the first program in the BBC's "Guns and Gangs" season of documentaries, and as expected I'm fuming. This particular program was concerned with the movement of arms around the world, and concentrated on how weaponry from the Balkan states illegally found its way into West Africa. As part of the follow-up to this, the documentary explained how the wars in the Balkans have made guns and violence endemic to the society, and illustrated this ingrained "gun culture" by footage of UN raids on farming communities in northern Albania.

"This one farmhouse alone produced a massive haul of high-tech military arms", the voice-over announced - while the screen displayed a tin biscuit box half-full of a mixture of ammunition which can only be described as junk: tired shotgun cartridges with visible creases in the plastic bodies, beaten-up rifle ammunition with so many scuffs, dents and scratches that I wouldn't actually expect to be able to chamber it into most firearms let alone eject it afterwards, and antique revolver rounds which appeared to date from approximately the 1930s. A subsequent visit to a "hidden arms cache" showed a small, broken heap of sorry-looking AK-47 assault rifles, so covered in mud, straw and rust that they were more reminiscent of scrap metal than the "high-powered military arsenal" described in the commentary.

Next the program revealed how these self-same weapons were making their way into the hands of criminals in Western Europe, showing a few short sequences of gangsters in Paris and London waving what purported to be AK-47s - although as we were only shown fuzzy, monochrome footage shot from a great distance by police helicopters, they could equally well have been table legs! To prove the point, though, we were treated to more police footage, this time showing guns allegedly seized from criminals and terrorists in Holland, probably intended for sale in the UK - and this time it was a selection of thoroughly obsolete World War II weaponry, predominantly the German MG-42 machine gun and MP-40 "Schmeisser" submachine guns! The former, especially, is chambered for an antique calibre of ammunition that must be completely impossible to obtain these days, and as both models are at least fifty years old there's very little chance that they'd be in working order even if current shell cases could be resized to fit. In fact, the only modern weaponry shown during this entire second half of the program were the genuinely high-tech HK G36 assault rifles in use (apparently in great numbers!) by the Bedfordshire police.

Most viewers, though, couldn't tell the difference between a MG-42, an AK-47, and the aforementioned table leg; and most don't realise that guns are actually quite fragile, temperamental devices, which are very likely to malfunction if stored on the water-logged floor of a ruined house in the Albanian mountains. I can't help but think that the documentary's producers are very much taking advantage of this ignorance, too... Just as in America, the media seems determined to keep sales and circulation high by scaring the living daylights out of the populace, and creating the impression that a heavily-armed criminal lurks on every street corner (right next to the ubiquitous paedophile, presumably!) is a very good way of achieving this.

I'm sure that the police and Home Office are more than happy, too - in spite of all David Blunkett's protestations, a thoroughly scared and cowed population is significantly less likely to realise that all their civil liberties are being gradually eroded, or to object even if they do... and the current government seems determined to have their way whatever it takes - so while I'm not really suggesting that they're controlling the media in this respect, they're certainly making the most of all the opportunities nonetheless...

Meanwhile, I was browsing the online shop of well-known firearm accessory manufacturer Hogue, looking for a replacement grip screw for a new replica I've just picked up, and discovered to my amazement that they also make toilet seats! I know that any sensible company tries to diversify, these days, but this is just silly...

The replica is equally implausible, too - at some point in the past it was a metal-framed Western Arms SV Infinity, but has been modified by persons unknown to take an aftermarket metal slide originally intended for a WA Para Ordnance. It has a few minor issues - the trigger set screw is missing, as is one of the (purely cosmetic) grip screws - but some rummaging in the spares box and a little fiddling will take care of that, and as it needs some attention it was extremely cheap for a full-metal replica. I'll have to do something about that pretty-pink Infinity trigger, though... Eeurgh!

 

7th December

This article in The Register, commenting on the recent ban on the use hand-held mobile phones while driving, is really rather worrying...

Using mobile phones while driving may not be much more dangerous than driving if your brain is infected with toxoplasmosis according to this 2002 report, which finds that you are two to three times more likely to be involved in a car crash than unaffected individuals. One in three Brits, one in two Americans and eight out of ten French (undercooked meat is the usual point of entry) have toxoplasmosis, a parasitical disease which slows down the responses of its hosts and which is thought to change the behaviour of the infected so that they engage in more risky practices. Should we screen people for toxoplasma, and stop positives from getting behind the wheel?

The report, Increased risk of traffic accidents in subjects with latent toxoplasmosis, really ought to be read only by those of a strong disposition... The infection rates are scarily high, and the combination of decreased reaction times combined with increased risk-taking makes me shudder!

Also in The Register, a rebuttal of the phone scam hoax that has been making its way around the Internet in the last few days. As usual, it's rubbish... [Update - and further details here]

On a lighter note, I came across an extremely amusing set of Lord Of The Rings parodies, hosted at a fan-site for Orlando Bloom, the heart-throb actor who played Legolas in the movies. Written as the secret diaries of the main characters, they should definitely to be avoided if you take LOTR as seriously as many seem to, these days:

THE SECRET DIARY OF ARAGORN SON OF ARATHORN

Day One:
Ringwraiths killed: 4. V. good.
Met up with Hobbits. Walked forty miles. Skinned a squirrel and ate it.
Still not King.

Day Four:
Stuck on mountain with Hobbits. Boromir really annoying.
Not King yet.

Day Six:
Orcs killed: none. Disappointing. Stubble update: I look rugged and manly. Yes!
Keep wanting to drop-kick Gimli. Holding myself back.
Still not King.

Elsewhere, another excellent South Park Episode Guide, this time with extremely comprehensive synopses of each episode - including the delayed second half of Season 7, yet to air in the UK.

 

6th December

Good grief, another Linux security flaw, and once again it's been used to compromise servers run by a Linux distributor, this time the Gentoo Linux project... Now, I don't really believe that the Windows evangelists are poring through the Linux source code for vulnerabilities to exploit (and if you believe the Lawn Dwarves, they wouldn't have the skills anyway!), so that must mean that there is a growing body of disaffected Linux users who would rather crack than hack! Well, well, well...

Meanwhile, something that wasn't an intrusion, but certainly looked like it - a prankster using the name "Mr Host" acquired an obsolete domain name previously belonging to communications company Bell Canada, and after some cunning network jiggery-pokery used it to host a server named "bells-network-has-lots-of-security-holes-to-exploit"... Owing to a lapse of attention on the part of Bell's techies, it seems that this domain was still associated with a large block of IP addresses used on their internal network, and any TRACERT or reverse lookup operations showed these servers as part of the path. This emerged when network problems affecting some of Bell's broadband users prompted them to examine their network routing, and when these bogus server names were spotted it seemed highly likely that that the issues were due to Bell's systems having been severely compromised! This is not the case, however, and Bell and the ARIN are currently clearing up the registration mess - but rather to their annoyance, I think, the trickster hasn't actually broken any laws and there's probably not much they can do about it.  :-)

Elsewhere, SCO's CEO Darl McBride is still foaming at the mouth... His latest stance is that the General Public License (GPL) that underlies all distributions of Linux is unconstitutional because it violates copyright and patent laws established by Congress. Not content with this, he has also virtually accused the Free Software Foundation and Red Hat of what amounts to un-American activities because of their arguments against U.S. intellectual property law! SCO's behaviour is becoming more bizarre by the week, but it's quite obvious that there's still a lot of ranting and raving to come. Their financial backers have invested so much time and money, and SCO themselves have alienated so many of their customers and peers within the industry, that there's simply no going back - they're finished as any kind of an IT company, so their only possible salvation will be to win big in court, and having gone this far they have to see it through to the bitter end. This one will run and run.

Lastly, the long-running CD overpricing suit has finally been settled, offering a timely reminder that it's not just Microsoft who can behave anti-competitively, and on a related note the RIAA have once more proved that there is no limit to their arrogant stupidity by suing a 79-year old man for file sharing - when he doesn't actually own a computer. It really is about time somebody did something about them...

 

5th December

I came across a marvellous snippet this morning, extracted from an article in African Hunter magazine (Africa's premier sport hunting magazine, I am assured!) on choosing the ideal weaponry for hunting tigers...

"Always carry a handgun when following up wounded cats. Pistoling a peeved pussy on top of you is infinitely easier than trying to throttle it. If you are a complete chicken like myself, fit a bayonet to your rifle. You can then keep kitty at a reasonable distance while drawing your revolver - much better than giving it an arm to chew on."

Sound advice indeed, and I shall be sure to bear it in mind next time I'm dealing with a peeved pussy - although however strong the temptation, I should probably restrain myself from bayonetting the cats belonging to my friend Ali the next time they jump on me in the middle of... well, in the middle.   :-)

Elsewhere, today I discovered rather belatedly that I've been linked by the infamous security geek and Unix evangelist Alan Bostick, who was evidently less than impressed with my take on the state of the desktop OS wars last month... Unfortunately, Alan seems to have chosen to reply with an ad hominem attack rather than intelligently disputing my opinion, and seems to be attempting to undermine my credibility with sarcasm instead:

"You don't have to browse very far in Thomas's blog to determine that he thinks Windows r00lz and that Linux is teh suck. ... Keep drinking that Kool-Aid, Dominic."

Apart from the fact that he's just plain wrong (I subscribe to the Three Dead Trolls viewpoint when it comes to computers - "every OS sucks, and blows, at the same time") I'm really not the sort of person who thinks in such black and white terms - and anything more than his obviously extremely casual inspection would have shown him that... As much as he'd evidently like to think of me as a teenage wannabe posting from my bedroom, with no real clue about real world computing and so perfectly safe to ignore or ridicule, in actual fact I have twenty years working experience in the IT industry on top of my misspent youth as B1FF and so I do consider myself qualified to comment on operating systems with a significant degree of authority. I have to say that I'd expected better from an established industry figure like Bostick. It just goes to show...

Meanwhile, Ros has just had a very odd email... It appeared to be a credit card receipt for an online purchase of an Apple iPod (which she hadn't bought), from a company referred to as "UK Cards Ltd" or "Huntingdon Mail Order" - but when she phoned the attached telephone number to check up on it she reached the Cambridgeshire police! They immediately knew what it was about without asking, and revealed that they've had hundreds of calls about this over the last few hours - so someone has obviously attempted a denial-of-service attack against them, presumably with some considerable success! I'm guessing that it will be from a UK-based malcontent, as it seems like an odd target for an overseas grudge, and if so I don't think it will be very long before they find him and throw the book at him - the various data snooping laws introduced over the last few years will very make sure of that...

 

4th December

So, speculation is rife that Dubya is soon to announce a fresh start for NASA, with a completely new philosophy and ambitious new projects including manned lunar landings, new lunar and planetary probes, and development of a "flexible" manned spacecraft based on the proposed Orbital Space Plane. Glory days, indeed, but the rumours are not being universally greeted with such rose tinted glasses - the Orlando Sentinel, for example, predicts a programme "long on rhetoric, but short on new goals and money", and I have to say that given the history of NASA funding levels over the last two decades unfortunately there is bound to be an element of truth in even the most cynical of opinions. It will be interesting to see what emerges, though - and in any event it seems unlikely that a shiny new NASA could manage less, or manage it worse, than the current flavour has...

Meanwhile, an article in the MIT Technology Review claims that the perceived difficulties with long-term data storage are probably exaggerated - in spite of the salutary lesson of the BBC's 1986 Domesday Project, trapped until recently on an obsolete video disk format for which players no longer existed, writer Simson Garfinkel doesn't seem to think that the situation is as bad as all that... One thing is sure, though - this is literally a case where only time will tell!

Elsewhere...

A rather elegant modding project in the form of a PC built into a boom box stereo

The contract for the US Missile Defence kinetic energy interception system has been awarded

The full skinny on déjà vu at HowStuffWorks

The ACLU representing a student in a piracy case brought against him by the RIAA. Now that's an interesting development...

And, finally, something else to blame Microsoft for... Who would have thought that an Xbox would stop a 9mm round, though!

 

3rd December

I'm tired after the midweek rush, as usual, and was only intending to post a few links tonight - but Ros showed me a letter that she'd received from the Royal Mail and I just can't let it pass...

Dear Customer,

I would like to apologise personally to you for the delay in getting your post due to the recent unofficial action in your area. Now our postmen and women are back at work, we are working together to ensure that your postal service is maintained in future. We are sorry that our customer compensation scheme does not apply when services are disrupted due to industrial action. However, we have decided to make a gesture of goodwill on behalf of our customers. Working with Postwatch, the customer body for postal services, we plan to make a £1 million donation towards London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Again, on behalf of everyone at Royal Mail we are very sorry for any inconvenience caused to you and your family during the recent dispute.

Yours sincerely,

Allan Leighton, Chairman.

Now, I'm actually pretty cross about this... To begin with, considering that the strike action came about when the Royal Mail's management refused to increase the London Weighting for its staff due to a claimed lack of available funding, suddenly being able to pull £1 million out of thin air for no particularly good reason is rather surprising. After all, that £1 million represents £50 each for every one of the 20,000 postal workers who went out on strike...

Secondly, they have obviously failed to take into account that by no means everyone in the London area is even slightly in favour of the Olympic bid! Personally, I consider it to be a massive boondoggle, likely to cause years of traffic congestion and general disruption for tens of miles around my home in the East End, not to mention the huge increase in council tax, estimated at anywhere from £20 to £80 per year for up to twelve years - and payable by Londoners only, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained when a successful bid would allegedly bring benefits to the entire country. Besides, I'm convinced that most of the oft-mentioned new jobs and improvements to local facilities and infrastructure will turn out to be just as nebulous and implausible as those that were claimed for the Millennium Dome project - another massive scam, as we now know, and one for which London taxpayers are still paying out in one way or another...

In short, then, I fail to see how the Royal Mail's donation to the Olympic bid will benefit me in any way at all, and in fact I suspect that it will do exactly the opposite! If they really wanted to throw £1 million around, they should have given it either to the underpaid postal workers or to the customers affected by the strike action - funding the Olympic bid is completely irrelevant to anything related to the Royal Mail or the recent strike, and is purely and simply an attempt to buy themselves some sorely-needed good publicity - with taxpayer's money, as usual. Shame on them...

 

Anyway - those links:

Animated Epicycles! Oooh!

Homebrew PC water cooling setup - with fifty feet of copper tubing buried underground in his back yard to act as a heat sink!

Wired's Holiday Geek Gift Guide - I was amazed by the toy DNA sequencer at the top of the third page... It was only twenty years ago that the entire concept was science fiction, and now the hardware is available as a children's toy!

Another nasty security hole in Linux - found by the hackers first, and used to compromise the Debian servers a few weeks ago... which rather puts the lie to the claim that the public scrutiny of open source software will prevent just that sort of nasty surprise!

New-style RAID controller - claims to beat conventional RAID-5 into a cocked hat, but isn't really that new or interesting when examined carefully...

 

2nd December

It appears that UK Customs & Excise are in the throes of a major crackdown on importation of airsoft hardware. According to reports at Arnie's Airsoft and Area 51, any accessories that might conceivably be fitted to a real firearm, such as fore-grips, silencers, flash-hiders etc, are being refused customs clearance or, in some cases, even destroyed out of hand. Similarly, any internal components that could be used to raise the power output of an airsoft replica to in excess of the loose one Joule limit, especially high-power springs intended for upgrading AEGs, are being treated with equal suspicion. There are suggestions that this crack-down stems from discussion on various UK airsoft forums that could lead to replicas being illegally modified, but if so I haven't seen any sign of it. Whatever the cause, though, it's clear that this is not a good time to be importing replicas or accessories from overseas, so if you can't find it in the UK, it will definitely be best to wait awhile in the hope that the fuss dies down...

Meanwhile, and talking of hardware modifications - high on the list of computing projects that fly in the face of creation's plan is this, a conversion of the wretched "Big Mouth Billy Bass" talking wall ornament into something that Man Was Not Meant To Meddle With... The site is a touch busy at present, presumably because of [H]ard|OCP's own minor equivalent of the Slashdot Effect, but it's well worth a look when the fuss dies down in a couple of days - although I would recommend having garlic and holy water to hand before you do...

 

1st December

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has edged out Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chris Patten to win the Plain English Campaign's "Foot In Mouth" award  for the following gem, uttered at a press briefing during the Iraq War earlier this year:

"Reports that say something hasn't happened are interesting to me, because as we know, there are known unknowns; there things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

The Campaign spokesman, John Lister, commented "We think we know what he means. But we don't know if we really know." Yes, indeed... Thanks to Ros for the pointer.

Meanwhile, the new law on using hand-held mobile phones in cars has come into force today, and the police have already handed out the first fines. As someone who has only ever used a phone in a fully wired-in car kit, I have to say that I have no sympathy for these people at all - watching someone juggling a phone from ear to ear while trying to steer and work a gearshift makes my blood boil, and one doesn't need to read the studies to know that it just isn't safe... And as careless, overconfident habits while driving usually tend to go together, when I see these morons they are often in the process of overtaking me on the inside, on a blind bend or in the middle of road works, and the risk to other road users is just plain unacceptable. Given that, I rather think that the £30 fixed penalty is probably too low, especially when you consider that at double the cost the £60 fine for speeding, equally dangerous according to most official opinions, is often no deterrent at all!

Elsewhere -

Google removes adverts for unlicensed online pharmacies

DIY household robots

Fight back at spam with Unsolicited Commando - at your own risk...

More letters at Dan's Data, and review of an interesting web accelerator

And lastly, it seems that Dell builds the best off-the-shelf mass-market PCs - according to Information Week, at least. I have to admit that my own experiences with Dell's servers and workstations have been very favourable, though, and would I generally recommend them to most home and business users.

Not a bad month in the old stats, again, but I'm afraid that not enough of you are voting at the Tweakers Australia Top 50, and I'm currently languishing in the doldrums around number 30. I warned you last month, and this time I'm really serious - vote now, or I'll post a long treatise on the ins and outs of wiring PC cases... And you'd better believe I'm serious, too - I have a full set of Molex pin extraction tools, and I'm not afraid to use them!    [Eyeballs roll, foams gently at the mouth]

 

 

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