30th January

The quantity of interesting news stories today far exceeds my energy to discuss them, so here are the links:

AMANDA ready to start looking for neutrinos

Internet "matrix" scams exposed

RIAA hacked... again...

Honda to start shipping humanoid robots

Caffeine-impregnated soap for geeks...

Easyinternet chain busted for music piracy

Significant breakthrough in organic LEDs

Airlines to weigh certain passengers

"Smart Dust" only five years away?

Think of it as a DIY weblog...

28th January

So, the RIAA and MPAA will be back in court again soon, but this time on the receiving end. Having had their recent appeal overturned, Sharman Networks, the reclusive Australian owner of the Kazaa P2P client technology, is apparently suing the recording and movie industries for not being hip enough... Neither Hollywood nor the record companies understand digital technology, Sharman claims, and so are holding back the development of hi-tech media. That's probably true, but it doesn't really sound like grounds for a lawsuit either - and unfortunately Sharman's second claim, that when the big media groups act in concert they form an effective monopoly, is a far more reasonable approach but will almost certainly become lost in the noise generated by the first...

27th January

No Cisco switches to worry about, today, but instead it's been seven hours of SCSI - extending the arrays on our cash-cow Oracle servers to cope with the new data about to arrive from an acquired company, hooking up the SCSI subsystem for the optical disk library that arrived last week, and wrestling with an obsolete RAID controller in one of our older servers. The latter has been especially perplexing, as when I replaced the failed array controller last week it exposed a further problem elsewhere in the SCSI chain without really being specific as to where... This system is middlin'-complex, with a pair of Adaptec 2944 LVD SCSI cards driving a pair of redundant Metastor RAID controllers, each in turn hooked to a rack of big-ass hot-swappable disks. There are many cables...

Unfortunately it was installed three or four years ago by our supplier, and caused so many problems that Metastor themselves were called in to sort it out.. After three or four different techies had finished fiddling with it the documentation had lost all connection to the reality of the configuration, and as the hardware is now out of support I'm working pretty much unaided. I can successfully boot from the array, now, but NT periodically stalls for thirty seconds while it's polling the failed component and isn't really very useable in its current state. I shall start swapping all the SCSI cards and cables around tomorrow, and with luck will finally be able to nail down the faulty component, at least.

Closer to home, I noticed during last night's full backup of INFINITY that one of the pretty blue disk activity LEDs has stopped working - and, oddly, this has revealed some peculiar behaviour in the other drive LED as well. It looks like I'm going to have to open everything up and dive in, at some point, and although it's overdue for a thorough clean (many fans + no filters = much dust) I hadn't really counted on poking around in the wiring as well.

Another annoyance is that I seem to have lost part of the airsoft Beretta's magazine. I was oiling the gun on Saturday night, having showed it off to a friend, and vented the magazine without remembering that it was half-full of gas... A few minutes later I noticed that the top seal was conspicuously absent, and I guess it must have been fired off somewhere close to the speed of sound by the sudden gas discharge. Unfortunately these trivial little parts are often impossible to find outside of Japan, so unless it turns up in the vacuum cleaner or whatever at some point the magazine is probably a write-off. Tsk!

Elsewhere, at the exceptional Virus Myths site, Rob Rosenberger has published an annotated transcript of a segment from last autumn's Virus Bulletin conference... the death of the Internet and e-commerce is virtually assured, it seems, and sooner rather than later. As usual, Rosenberger is not impressed...

25th January

Well, it's been a bad couple of days for the Internet... Problems with our external email servers yesterday afternoon brought the issues with the UK's root DNS servers to my attention, this morning there was news of a new worm attacking vulnerabilities in SQL Server 2000, so aggressive in its probing for targets that it brought many ISPs and corporate networks to their knees, and then this afternoon I hear that South Korea has virtually dropped off the Internet following a concerted attack on the major ISP's domain name servers - as well as a handful in the US, too. Co-incidence, a symptom of heightened tensions in general, or cyber-terrorism? Rob Rosenberger certainly has a lot to say on the latter, but I guess the next few days will reveal more...

Also at the indefatigable Rosenberger's VMyths site, be sure to check out his latest rant - apparently anti-virus vendor Sophos have identified and fixed significantly more security weaknesses in their single product, over this last year, than Microsoft have for their entire market range. Makes you think, doesn't it...

24th January

As some light relief from the last remnants of the Cisco installation frenzy, this evening's little adventure has been moving from one cell-phone handset to another. My Motorola Timeports have their own onboard memory for storing the samples used by the voice-activated dialling feature, and because I'd originally intended to make use of this (I never did - every time I sat down to make the recordings, something loud would start to happen in the background!) I'd stored all my numbers there rather than in the SIM. There weren't that many, and re-entering them manually wouldn't have been the end of the world, but I was really hoping for a technical solution...

My first stop was the TrueSync software originally bundled with the phone, but this proved as eccentric and obstinate as when I first tried it three or four years ago, and investigation online showed that all tech support had subsequently been transferred from Starfish to Motorola - who then appear to have mislaid it, making the idea of further experimentation somewhat unappealing... But I had the name "SIMedit" floating around in my mind, and further investigation brought me to the manufacturer, the impressively-named Compelson Laboratories. Though evidently a powerful tool, it's designed for use with a hardware SIM card reader and didn't likely to support in-place editing over the phone's infrared link.

At this point I changed tack, and rather than trying to make a connection between the phone and the IR-enabled laptop, wondered if something was available to interface to the Palm instead. A search at Handango turned up PhoneMan, and then a negative comparison in one of the user reviews pointed me onwards to finally settle at the excellent GSMTool.

Using the free demo version, I managed to make a backup of the phone's internal memory to the Palm's Memo app, edit it slightly while it was there, and then restore it to the other handset in five minutes of Look, Ma! No helpfile! hackery. I was particularly impressed with how easily it found and identified the phone, especially after a succession of fruitless attempts with TrueSync, and although the configuration screen is a touch confusing at first sight there's obviously a lot of functionality encoded there... It could synchronise the phone with the Palm (and therefore with Organizer on the PC) rather than just copying records and there seems to be a comprehensive SMS facility too, which has got to be easier than using the phone's keypad in spite of the claimed advances in predictive text processing. Registration is only $20, and I think it will be well worth it - another little shareware gem.

23rd January

I haven't seen much discussion of radio frequency interference from PCs with case windows, but I think it's certainly something to consider... I've noticed a little crackling on some non-cable TV channels since I moved to a case built of more Perspex than aluminium, but it wasn't a serious problem and I hadn't really investigated. However, today I found that the connection range of a wireless device I was playing with decreased rapidly as I got closer to the PC, falling from twenty feet or more down in the basement to a couple of feet when sat at my desk, and with its gigahertz processors and fluorescent tubes the PC seems to be the most obvious culprit.

I'll need to do some tests, but if my suspicions prove correct I might think of lining the windows with a fine metal mesh - if adequately earthed, it should make a good Faraday Cage without noticeably detracting from the look of the PC... and might even give a hint of the industrial look I rather favour.

[Later]  I've just watched the widely-derided movie Wild Wild West, and it certainly wasn't as bad as I'd heard... Silly, and requiring considerable suspension of disbelief, but definitely fun all the same. There was a definite flavour of the "steampunk" SF genre, and if the idea had been tackled by a writer rather than a movie script team it could well have been the equal of China Miéville's marvellous and spooky Perdido Street Station, or Gibson and Sterling's classic The Difference Engine.

22nd January

Cisco, Cisco, and yet more Cisco! The end is in sight, with only five more to install, but I'm going to be thoroughly fed up with network hardware by the end of the week...

The saga of the cell phone car hands-free kit continues, unfortunately. I managed to get the donated handset unlocked (thanks to Gizmo Repairs in Finchley for doing the job fast and painlessly - I posted it off on Monday lunchtime, it was delivered back this morning) but it still refuses to play ball, with exactly the same symptom as the other handset. So, the installation company seems to have damaged a phone, destroyed the first car kit, and incorrectly installed the second one! I'm torn between going back and arguing with them yet again, or just cutting my losses and finding somebody else who can do the job properly.  <sigh>

Elsewhere, the bastardly Digital Millenium Copyright Act has been further strengthened by today's legal decision in the RIAA vs Verizon test case. The RIAA petitioned the court to compel ISP Verizon to release the name and address of a subscriber who has allegedly shared "hundreds of music recordings" via the Kazaa network.

Wisely, perhaps, Verizon didn't attempt to challenge the DMCA on the usual First Amendment grounds (with the best will in the world, distributing other people's music can't really be described as free speech...) but instead questioned the DMCA's relevance to the entire case. However, the judge has decreed that it's extremely relevant indeed - which is hardly surprising, I guess, as the wording of the DMCA was heavily influenced by the RIAA and MPAA during its draft stages with exactly this type of prosecution in mind! When challenging the subpoena, Verizon argued that the section in question does not apply to ISPs that are merely acting as conduits for peer-to-peer users and which are not hosting potentially infringing material on their own servers. It's a variant of the old "common carrier" defence, and pre-DMCA this often worked in the US if not in England - but evidently no longer.

It seems fairly certain that the RIAA will now proceed to track this villain to his secret lair and nail him to the wall with the self-same DMCA, and I'm sure that this will only be the first in a long series of similar prosecutions - but I confidently expect new advances in identity-masking techniques to compensate...    :-)

21st January

I've spent most of the last couple of days configuring and installing Cisco Catalyst 2950 network switches, to replace the last of our aging 3Com SuperStack II hardware. The first batch arrived from our supplier already configured, last summer, but this time they were factory defaulted and I've had to dive deep into the complexities of Cisco's IOS embedded operating system. I'm told that IOS is well-regarded and powerful, but I mostly find it obscure and puzzling - even something relatively trivial (disabling auto-negotiation and fixing a port speed, for example) seems to involve an almost endless maze of modes and sub-modes. Part of the problem is the documentation, though, which although voluminous seems disjointed and poorly-indexed, but I do rather feel that after all these years I've served my time with unfriendly command line interfaces - in general, these days, a GUI interface should be more feature-rich than a command line, anyway, and not less!

Fortunately we have a GUI as well, in the shape of the CiscoWorks network management system partnered with WhatsUp Gold to provide a clickable overview of the LAN and WAN status. Quite reasonably, it can't be used to configure a blank switch out-of-the-box, but they do have a relatively accessible auto-configuration dialog on the first boot and it doesn't take too long to enable management via TCP/IP and SNMP so that the fine details can be assigned with the GUI.

When it works well, it's beautiful... I can connect to switches hundreds of miles away, spot a flashing warning light on a graphical representation of the switch's front panel, and reconfigure a port on the fly to allow a user to connect. Great stuff! Unfortunately the rest of the time it's an absolute bitch - it refuses to remember passwords and SNMP community strings, periodically takes an irrational dislike to certain devices and forswears ever talking to them again, and frequently crashes in new and interesting ways forcing a complete reboot of the management server. It's interesting to note the the web server component of WhatsUp, one of the more problematic subsystems on our server, is the much-vaunted Apache - and if my Microsoft-hosted intranet server behaved half as badly as Apache does on this system the users would have strangled me with a length of CAT5 long ago! However, in spite of careful application of service packs and much puzzling and tweaking, it's still behaving as badly as ever and I think a complete rebuild is on the cards as soon as I have the time.

I've been managing Ok today with a combination of the command line, CiscoWorks when it occasionally agreed to behave, and a large set of crossed fingers - but it makes me nervous not to have checked the configuration over myself and there were a few intermittent error lights on the new switches as I was moving the users over late this afternoon - I won't be at all surprised to find a small woodland's worth of anguished Post-Its stuck all over my monitors tomorrow...

Elsewhere, apparently this organisation is collecting unwanted AOL CDs with the intent of delivering a million of them back AOL's head office in reprisal. They only have 127,893 of them so far, unfortunately, and may now be facing stiff competition from this man, who merely wants to collect his way into the Guinness Book Of Records. Oh, the agony of indecision...

19th January

Ros and I are fond of games in the real-time strategy genre, and the latest acquisition is another member of the venerable Command & Conquer series, Red Alert 2. This one is annoying, though, as to enable the head-to-head network play it demanded the IPX protocol on both PCs in addition to the LAN's native TCP/IP. I've got nothing against IPX for a large Netware-based LAN, but it's annoying to have to run a second protocol just for a game and I had to dredge down into the depths of my memory to remember all the tricks with internal and shared network numbers before the PCs would connect... Yeuch! It will be uninstalled as soon as we've played-out the game.

There seems to be a new sequel in the offing, too, with a fully rendered battlefield and the full 3D scrolling and zooming that I've come to appreciate in Warzone 2100. I'll be keeping my eyes open for reviews when it launches in February.

Elsewhere, Verbatim is now offering blank CDs for those who bitterly regret having made the jump to digital media... Dubbed "Digital Vinyl", they have a black disc surface with a brightly coloured "label" at the center, all-in-all extremely reminiscent of the traditional 45 single. Retro chic, indeed...




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