30th March

More news from the continuing shuttle investigation, courtesy of The Washington Post:

Flaws Found on Foam Insulation Of Shuttle Fuel Tank at Factory
Pre-flight Testing Of Shuttle Faulted
Possible Role of Aluminum in Shuttle Disaster Probed
Columbia's Last Seconds Recorded

As expected, and just as with the Challenger disaster, the early signs are pointing to massive failures in quality control and pre-flight inspection procedures, together with criminal levels of complacency and ignorance on the part of NASA's management. It's a damn shame...

Closer to home, although not for much longer, I suddenly realised that it's only around three weeks until Ros sets off on her US trip! I've been acquiring the odd cables and adaptors and converters that she'll need to hook all her tech hardware together in the US, and now I'll actually have to start building the laptop at the heart of the system. As well as a full Office installation for the business chores and a bunch of games to while away the long train journeys, she wants full local email, web browsing, P2P, video conferencing and remote control, and will need to be able to connect via serial, infrared, Ethernet links to land-line modem, cellphone, satphone and DSL... and it must all be easily useable by someone who isn't a comms guru! It's a tall order, but as the object of the exercise is to keep Ros and I in touch while she's away you can bet that I'll be throwing myself into it with a will! News, and tips, as they emerge...

29th March

NASA announced today that future shuttle missions will be watched over in orbit by whichever spy satellites are in a position to get a good look. One can't help but assume that this, and presumably other similar half-assed measures yet to be announced, will take the place of the completely new spacecraft and launch system that the US space programme so badly needs.

Frazzled techie Beaker, from The Muppet Show. This time next week I'll be looking like that, I expect,  in the midst of the Active Directory installation at work. We're opting for a really gradual, gentle introduction, with a pair of new 2003 servers hosting AD and DNS/DHCP/WINS functionality to replace the existing PDC (kept safely on one side as an instant recovery measure) and performing an in-place upgrade on the two BDCs. We'll retain the same NetBIOS domain name and run the AD in full-on compatibility mode, leaving all the member servers on NT4 - and with luck by Monday morning the users will hardly notice the difference. I certainly will, though - even in compatibility mode I'll have almost full AD management capabilities right away, and as the member servers are gradually upgraded into the directory over the next few months (culminating in the upgrade of the mail server from Exchange 5.5 to Titanium in the early summer) my powers will grow and grow! Mu har har har etc!

[Admin Note: I'm gradually spreading the new formatting throughout the site - the smartened-up index page is now online, complete with sparkly new digital fan and LED counters, so take a look if you normally bypass the home page...]

28th March

I've seen a generous handful of movies by maverick Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, recently, thanks to Ros's whimsical tastes and an excellent service from the online rental company DVDSONTAP. In the last few months I've watched his "Trilogy of Life", The Decameron, The Arabian Nights, and The Canterbury Tales, and have enjoyed them immensely. Funny, extremely bawdy, and only recently certificated by the BBFC, the movies are a loose trilogy, each composed of many short segments, barely connected but somehow intertwined at the end of the film. The plotlines are very loosely based on the classic works of the titles, and are stories of human emotions in the raw - love and lust, principally, but all the other deadly sins are present in abundance.

I find them confusing, to say the least - Pasolini re-uses actors liberally within a film, it's hard to tell where one story ends (at least for the moment!) and the next begins, and to make matters worse Ros tells me that the subtitled translations often fail to capture the emotion of the original Italian... but the natural lighting is gorgeous,  the medieval towns and villages his characters populate are wonderfully scruffy and sleazy, and the characters themselves by turns love-struck, scheming, villainous, tricked and put-upon. The often inexplicable twists and turns only add to the charm - I watch open-mouthed at the strangeness of it all, captivated even beyond the point of heckling! They're available cheap on DVD, now, and are thoroughly recommend as an antidote to Hollywood gloss.

Meanwhile, tech site [H]ard OCP has some fascinating images of the next thing in PC memory, "stacked DIMMs" with additional DRAM chips piggybacked onto the board to provide extra-high density modules. Many motherboards seem to be designed with fewer memory sockets these days, and where the hardware is the limiting factor this may be the best way of making the most of the support for 8Gb or more in modern operating systems.

27th March

I've just placed the most expensive telephone call I've ever made, given the ludicrously short distance - we needed to check that our cheap (in comparison to BT's £3 per minute and T-Mobile's £10 per minute!) satellite dialling service was in place by calling the satphone, so Ros went a few feet out into the garden while I called her from the land-line. The Iridium satellites are in an extremely low orbit, a mere 780 kilometres as compared to the 36,000 kilometres of most communications satellites, but there's still a very noticeable delay in the conversation. In data networking terms this will definitely count as a high-latency connection, and it's no wonder that the PC comms suite uses a bunch of clever spoofing and buffering tricks to help keep a TCP/IP connection alive and healthy... It will be interesting to see how well it all works in practice.

Elsewhere, the techies are getting all political again: Caesar at primo geek site Ars.Technica is writing about the spectre of media consolidation (more noticeable than ever during the war, it seems to me, on both sides of the Atlantic) and suggests that many of the recent pro-war rallies were actually organised by Clear Channel , a major owner of radio stations in the US. It's worrying stuff...

26th March

[Admin Note: I've been fiddling with the text formatting, here, and everything is now neatly sized and justified. It should fit just right on a 1024x768 display, which seems to be the current baseline, but isn't too cramped at 800x600 and isn't too empty at 1280x1024, so I think I have the most common configurations covered. It took a while to get the layout right, as there seems to be a formatting glitch between FrontPage's GUI and the HTML it creates, but I dusted off my idiot's guide to HTML and corrected the code by hand. If in doubt, hack it yourself...]

I've just spotted a new gadget for the PC, a neat little multi-format memory card reader that slots into a 3½" drive bay and hooks up to an internal USB2 port - and comes complete with an extra black bezel for the more fashionable cases. It would be far more convenient than my current external reader, which tends to get lost in the clutter of gadgets beside the monitor, and it would be nice to use one of my many USB2 interfaces to its full potential at last. And while I'm planning on fiddling inside the PC again, maybe I should pick up one of those 3½" rheobus units that I've had my eye on, too - after all, [looks around furtively, whispers behind hand] I wouldn't actually have to hook it up to anything straight away to enjoy the pretty blue lights...

25th March

So, last night I'd just sat down to write an entry here when the power failed again, staying off for most of the evening as before. It's becoming a real annoyance, but at least the new UPS subsystem worked faultlessly - we could have run both PCs with full network access for around an hour, but instead elected to shut down the network and hook up some lamps to read by. Under such a light load, the total battery capacity of the two UPSes will last far longer than any of the power outages we've had so far, and it looks as if my half-assed understanding of Watts, Volt Amps and power factors (coupled with an educated guess and then doubled just in case!) has provided a very nicely sized solution. Oh, and while I was browsing APC's site for the links above, I found a classic document title - General Receptacle Wiring Practices - which somehow appeals on levels both geeky and kinky...

Now, where was I? Ah, yes, the satellite phone:

This is Motorola's latest handheld, the 9505, connected to the re-launched Iridium network. It's big and chunky, similar in size to an early-nineties cell phone and completely dwarfing Ros's contemporary Nokia, but it isn't nearly as heavy as it looks even with a high capacity battery fitted - there is a fair bit of empty space inside the casing, I think, to accommodate a cell-phone module (not yet available) and an ultra-capacity battery. Everything seems to be scaled up from a modern cell-phone, actually - even the charger is larger than it probably needs to be.

Apart from the size, in operation the massive antenna is the only notable difference - and quite a difference it is, too, so it's no coincidence that Motorola's PR photos hardly ever show the phone with the antenna extended... In full-on data mode, the handset clips into a rather flimsy plastic tripod stand, and then a serial interface attaches to the usual sort of multi-purpose connector on the base. I shall buy a long extension cable for this, I think - satellite phones pretty much have to be outdoors during use, but there's no reason for Ros and the laptop to be out there as well...

Elsewhere, I've just started re-reading Fred Pohl's marvellous docudrama Chernobyl, having recently made the acquaintance of a Ukranian girl. When she mentioned that she grew up in Kiev (the only place in Ukraine, I'm told, that is worth paying any attention to) during the eighties, I started to think... The ill-fated Chornobyl nuclear power plant is only a few hundred miles to the north, and there was significant contamination right across the region. In the event she was lucky to escape without serious effects, but is apparently banned from donating blood or organs... The book, however, is highly recommended - Pohl was in Ukraine (it feels odd to abandon the "The", but apparently that's now preferred) when the explosion occurred, and spent months afterwards interviewing anyone who would stand still for long enough - with glasnost still new and exciting there was apparently no shortage of bean-spilling; to the point where, as the old saying has it, the names were changed to protect the innocent - even perestroika had its limits... Although Pohl clearly identifies the book as a novel, it is a factual account of the accident and its causes, and of the heroic acts that prevented a national disaster from becoming a global one. Around this, Pohl has worked fictional characters representing, I suppose, an amalgam of the people he met and talked to - the best of both worlds!

Further elsewhere, an equally thought-provoking read in the shape of an article by Alan Ramsey in The Sydney Morning Herald, "Ink dry on war script a year ago." Take a look...

22nd March

Well, the first anniversary of this weblog seems to have come and gone mostly un-noticed - although I've been writing here since January 2002, I only started pimping myself around the search engines in early March and since then over 4000 visitors have found me. It's nothing compared to the big tech sites, and absolutely infinitesimal compared to the best political 'blogs, but I'm still quietly proud - "If you write it, they will come..."

Originally planned as a journal covering the construction of my INFINITY2 PC, it has grown and expanded somewhat, and tends to serve as a mirror of my hobbies and interests at the time - cars, digital art, science fiction, space models, an occasional brush with political issues, the recent obsession with airsoft replicas, and always my defining passion: computers, computers, and computers...

The troughs are when I did something to the site which temporarily offended Google's index, but the overall trend is steadily upwards. [Aside: most of my non-regular visitors come via Google, actually, and by far the most common query is on how to quieten Dell's screaming PowerEdge 2650 servers. I can't believe that they're still shipping with all the fans on maximum volume...] I don't have any big plans for the next year, so expect more of the same - but mail me and let me know if you give a damn either way...

21st March

Out with the old and in with the new... This evening I spent a sweaty hour or so in the cable tunnel re-arranging an industrial-sized portion of electrical spaghetti, and now the brain-dead Back-UPS 1400 is powering the network hardware, while the two PCs and their monitors are fed from the shiny new Smart-UPS 2200. I've powered the USB hubs and the land-line phones from the new UPS too, but even so I'm using only around 25% of the rated capacity and the predicted runtime in the event of a power failure is slightly over an hour - very respectable, especially when you consider that we'll have full LAN and Internet connectivity as well. Everything that isn't on the UPS is now connected via Belkin's excellent SurgeMaster mains filters and the utility company can do its worst - hah!

I've also spent a while today playing with the new M1100 shotgun, and have added a page to the airsoft section. All I have to do now is to learn how to say "I'll be back" in an Arnold Schwarzenneger voice...

Elsewhere - Dr. Graham Douglas' Nigerian Fraud Masterclass. It's interesting, but complex, and I'm still trying to work out who is scamming who... Meanwhile The Boston Globe brings you everything you never wanted to know about Twinkies, celebrating their 73rd birthday this year. Twinkies are truly bizarre things, in my opinion, but the article proves that their fans are even more so...

20th March

It was a long, dreary day at work, enlivened only by the news that we've been accepted onto the Rapid Adoption Programme for Titanium, Microsoft's upcoming new version of their Exchange mail server. This should kick-off around the start of the summer, by which time there should be a nice, stable Active Directory all ready for it to plug into - excellent timing. We'll be on the RAP-1 programme for Titanium, too, rather than the current RAP-2 for Server 2003, which means even more hand-holding from Microsoft themselves. Neat!

The day ended at last, though, and I arrived home to find an absolute plethora of deliveries - cables for the new UPS, Ros's satellite phone, and <dramatic chord> the shotgun and all the various bolt-ons. After a tough day at the silicon face and all that unpacking and playing, I'm too tired to take pictures, but the shotgun is certainly a remarkable chunk of metal. Updates at the weekend...

19th March

CNet brings news that Apple will finally stop manufacturing the original iMac, after five years on the market. I never used one, and I really never wanted to either, but one has to admit that the iMac was undoubtedly one of the most successful computers of recent times - PC companies often retain the same branding for just as long, but a Dell Dimension built in 2003 bears almost no resemblance, either internally or externally, to one built in 1998. Although the iMac sprouted upgrades from CD to CD-RW to DVD, for example, and from USB to FireWire, it remained basically unchanged throughout its lifespan and only last year's launch of the LCD-on-a-stalk version has significantly dampened sales.

Elsewhere, MSNBC has an article about a "mysterious object" that fell from the space shuttle Columbia after it had been in orbit for about a day. The foot-long debris, which re-entered and burned up completely, was tracked and logged automatically by the Air Force's missile warning radar systems but apparently didn't ring alarm bells and wasn't noticed until the accident investigation teams started gathering in any data that could possibly be of interest.

“It was something that more than likely came loose,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Duane Deal speculated last month. Deal, a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, is also commander of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base.

What an astute observation! The more informed opinion is that the object was likely to be a carrier panel, a section of the thermal protection system from the leading edge of the wing, broken free by the impact during launch but held in place by air pressure. Watch the finger-pointing shift into high gear, now...

18th March

So, we've set a date for the Active Directory migration at work - the weekend of the 5th and 6th April, a little over two weeks away. I'm half excited and raring to go, and half paralysed with fear - which is fairly normal for a major network upgrade. We have an excellent fall-back path if it all goes pear shaped, but after all the fuss I've made that isn't an attractive option - this one has to work well, and straight out of the box. However, for virtually the first time in my twenty year career in IT I have some major league hand-holding available in the shape of consultancy Eurodata and Microsoft themselves - and they have as much to lose as I do. It's a reassuring thought.

I always forget how bad I actually am at soldering until I'm sat there with solder and hot iron in hand... It's not something I have to do very often, and it usually takes me four or five joints to regain the knack -unfortunately, I usually only have to make two or three joints, and often at an awkward angle on some subsystem in situ. I opened up the PC at the weekend to replace a blown disk activity LED, and it was a painful experience indeed - and if it had been a data-bearing connection rather than just secondary monitoring, I would not have been satisfied with my work. I'll be making some power distribution cables for the new UPS system at the weekend, so I'll have to remember to practice a little before the real thing.

Elsewhere, and this time from an offline source, Essex local paper The Recorder, which this week treats us to another classic tabloid headline - "Woman meets Queen and dies". The Queen was on an official visit to the Romford area last week, near where I work, and during the walkabout she stopped for a moment to chat with an elderly woman in the crowd. Unfortunately, the three hour wait followed by the sudden excitement was too much, and as the Queen turned away she keeled over and died from heart failure. Ah, well - there are many worse ways to go...

17th March

The new UPS arrived today, so I'll just toss a few news links out and go back to thinking about cables...

CD price-fixing suit nears payout - 3.5 million US consumers to get $13.60 each

SETI@home to start doing something useful with all that data.

Secret city beneath Tokyo - journalist shunned

15th March

Airsoft Retreat has published an excellent article on converting a stock Marui SR-16 to a Knight's M5 match rifle - full of useful techy details and comparisons between different manufacturers' components, and provides an interesting counterpoint to the M4 assault rifle conversion performed on my gun. Oh, and I ordered the damn shotgun, too, which really must be the last one for now. I'll need to bolt on some real-steel cosmetic oddments before I have quite the look I'm after, of course, and then buy an extra gun case, and a sling, and some lightweight BBs for the faux shotshells, and more gas, and... but after that I'll stop!

Elsewhere, via my friend Graham's sometime-blog Ting! - which Infamous Criminal are you? Apparently I'm the Marquis de Sade, which should come as no great surprise to anyone who knows me...  [Aside: I disagree that de Sade counts as a criminal, though - history has successfully blurred the boundaries between his imagination and reality, but most experts now agree that his behaviour was far less outrageous than is commonly thought]  I was at Graham's site to check out his new airsoft pistol, though, having infected him with the bug last time he visited. But, "Dude, you're getting a Glock!"  <shakes head>

Further elsewhere - in this case so far to the left that it's almost right - no punches are pulled in an article at The Propaganda Matrix on allegations that Prime Minister Tony Blair has been protecting an "elite paedophile ring" catering for senior government officials and Freemasons. I don't know quite what to make of this - the articles cited from the mainstream press are certainly interesting and thought-provoking, but some of the conclusions drawn by pulling those articles together (for example a link to the Dunblane shootings in 1996) seem waaaay out there... Read it, check the references, and decide for yourself.

14th March

A story on AP today says that measurements made by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft show that the high radiation levels on the surface of Mars would make manned exploration especially dangerous - but ironically the same report suggests the presence of massive amounts of water! At the North pole, apparently, frozen water makes up as much as 75 percent by volume of the top 3 feet or so of soil. "We're talking ice with a little bit of dirt mixed in it", says JPL mission scientist William Boynton, "and not the other way around".

Elsewhere, Dan of Dan's Data has posted what must surely be the definitive guide to lighting up one's PC -  fluorescents, electroluminescents, LEDs, illuminated fans and drive cables, bubble tubes, you name it... when Dan tackles a subject, it goes down hard. I'm extremely fond of Dan's writing, actually, as much for his wonderful geek-humour style as the rigorous, in-depth technical content, and I often dip back into the huge list of articles online for fun - I'm currently giggling over http://www.dansdata.com/topten.htm.

The first draft (and an hour later the second draft, too) of the airsoft collection pages is now finished and, in spite of my good intentions, while I was checking details online and ferreting out links I came to within a few millimetres of buying a shotgun. A few days ago I had a sudden change of heart, switching my affections from the pump-action M870 to the auto-loading M1100, and that meant that buying 85% of the weapon in one go was now possible. Unfortunately, the remaining 15% of the all-important look will need to come from "real steel" accessories imported from the US, and I think we will have to utilise Ros's upcoming grand tour to spirit them in via the back door. Chances are that I'll have the gun within the next few weeks, though - I can feel myself wavering - but this really will have to be the last one for a while! There's a lot I want to do with the PCs, suddenly, and I can't wear both anoraks at once!

13th March

Yesterday evening I was just thinking about starting a weblog entry when we had another power cut, apparently the same problem that plagued us for several days over the new year. This was annoying enough in itself, but when the power was restored sometime overnight the surges and spikes killed off our ADSL router - one of the few hi-tech devices in the house that isn't protected by some kind of filter or UPS. BT turned up and replaced it without too much fuss, but I guess I'll have to buy that third UPS I promised myself after all...

Elsewhere, I discovered something most odd - covers of AC/DC's rock classics Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap) and Have A Drink On Me, performed in a decidedly bluegrass style by a group of obvious reprobates named Hayseed Dixie. Contrary to all my expectations, it actually works rather well, and some investigation shows that there is an entire album of AC/DC covers as well as several others... Recommended - if cautiously.

11th March

"For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable. And we're going to do something about it."

      - George "Dubya" Bush

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know... Well, definitely the latter, at least, from what I read elsewhere...

I think that I have all that would be needed to significantly raise the fatality rate, now, if they were real firearms - an assault rifle, a machine-pistol, two handguns, and all the gun cases, holsters, slings, magazines and knick-knacks that enthusiastic online use of a credit card can provide. I feel a touch embarrassed about it all, really, especially over purely cosmetic touches like the shaped leather shoulder holster that arrived today for the Beretta - I can't claim that it's anything to do with target shooting, it's just cool to dress up in!  I think I have most of what I really want now, though - the massive variety of AEG assault rifles are really just the same concept wrapped in different clothes, and one gas pistol is a lot like another, so unless I find my perfect shotgun or some new innovation hits the market, I'm intending to spend less time researching and acquiring and rather more actually shooting the damn things. But, boy, can you spend a lot of money on this stuff in only a few months! Parts of the collection page are up, now, so take a look...

10th March

Today I finally managed to solve an annoying problem that has been nagging at me since I first noticed it last summer. We have a little radio receiver that synchronises one of the main servers with the atomic clock time signal from Rugby, and this time is then distributed to the other members of the network - the desktop PCs via a NET TIME command in the login scripts, the NT servers with Doug Hogarth's excellent TIMESERV service, the new Server 2003 systems through the built-in W32TIME, and various other network devices via industry standard SNTP.

This had all been working very nicely for three or four years until, for no readily apparent reason, it all started to fall apart... When I noticed a one minute discrepancy between the time server and the other NT servers, I restarted the appropriate services and didn't think too much about it - but the next time it caught my eye the difference had risen to two minutes, and then shortly after that to three, and it was plain that something, somewhere was badly wrong... The clock and the time server stayed in perfect synchronisation, and every other server slowly drifted further and further out of step.

I've been fiddling with this on-and-off all through the winter without success or even insight, but without too much urgency as I knew that the complete change of architecture due with the imminent Active Directory installation would almost certainly take care of the problem. The difference wasn't really visible to the users, but of course eventually someone in my department noticed, although fortunately it was the junior department manager and not the (considerably less tolerant) senior one. Either way the cat was out of the bag, though, and I had to do something about it.

To be honest, I'm still not sure what was actually causing the problem, but some experimenting with NET TIME soon showed that querying the time at the domain and querying the time at a specific server yielded the two different values... although the primary time source in the client configuration was set to the time server itself, the NT servers also had a secondary source set to the default domain, and for some reason they were synchronising with the latter.

My work-around was simply to remove the secondary entry and leave only the time server, and while I was updating the configuration files around the network, I used the opportunity to distribute the latest version of the TIMESERV service as well. All now seems to be working well (although I'm sure various log files will show a peculiar absence of data in the middle of the afternoon as the time jumped forward) and it's another thing to cross off the mental list of worries.

9th March

I've found a marvellous little PC gadget in the shape of the MoJoMeter from remarkable newcomer Retrosystem. It connects to the motherboard header in place of the usual LED, and displays disk activity on a cute little analogue VU meter - illuminated by blue and red LEDs to show medium and heavy disk activity. I would have ordered a pair in a second if I was still in case-modding mode, but now I think they'll have to wait until the novelty of airsoft has worn off a little. Meanwhile modding site GideonTech, where I found the link, has an article on making the DIY equivalent. As usual at GideonTech, it's an excellent guide - if you have sufficient electronics cojones...

Elsewhere, Microsoft accidentally shut down Windows news site Neowin when a "routine" takedown notice under the DMCA was mistakenly sent to the site's upstream service provider rather than the admins themselves. The issue was over a Neowin forum user's posting of the newly-released WinXP P2P SDK, and although Microsoft were apparently quite happy for a link into MSDN to be published, they didn't want NeoWin to host the files themselves. Now, this is a reasonable request even in these DMCA days, and all should have proceeded without interruption - but upon receiving the notice Neowin's upstream provider, WillTel Communications, panicked and deleted the site completely. Unfortunately, due to problems with the SQL backup service, this action has lost most of the last month's data - mostly reviews and news articles covering Microsoft's products. Microsoft have offered to assist in any way that they can, and it's not out of the question that at least some of the data can be restored from the hosting server's disks. I shall cross my fingers for them...

8th March

More gun porn at Epicycle today, with the arrival of the new Para-Ordnance P15-45. Even with the low-powered HFC134a propellant it's quite a beastie, and with HFC22 it should be an absolute monster... [Later: It is - the poor man's chrono test suggests at least 300fps with AE winter gas, which is quite respectable for a handgun.]

The rubberised Hogue grips fit very nicely into the hand, and the entire gun is very solid and weighty - heavy enough, in fact, to stand upright balanced on the base of the magazine. I've decided to use the webbing combat holster for this gun (in spite of the all-in wrestling with industrial-strength Velcro that reconfiguring it will involve) and move the Beretta into a rather elegant shaped leather shoulder holster now on its way from Dowlings - another of the handful of UK companies facing extinction under the proposed (and highly misguided) ban on Brocock air cartridge replicas.

This is my fourth gun, now, and I've decided that the airsoft replicas deserve their own area of the site. Work is in progress, so watch this space...

7th March

Ahhhhh, the end of the week at last. Phew!

The relentless drive to empty my bank account and transfer it to various Pacific Rim gun companies continues - this week has brought (finally, after many delays in transit within the UK) the silencer for the M11 and (finally, after many failures in a certain company's ordering process) the first of three aluminium cases to store the collection.

The silencer is purely cosmetic, of course - most of the noise with airsoft is from the internal mechanics, in an AEG, or from the exhaust as the slide moves back in a gas gun... no significant sound energy is emitted from the muzzle of the gun, so there is very little to silence! However, this Tanio Koba model certainly looks the part, doubling both the weight and length of the weapon and making a wonderful steel-on-steel grating sounds as it screws on... I need to replace the foam lining of the case, however, as the M11 is rather fatter than most handguns and the lid is a struggle to close, but a quick trip to a foam rubber stall at the local market tomorrow will probably suffice - I anticipate having to modify the rifle case I bought for the assault rifle, as well, to accommodate the bulk of drum magazine and side-by-side lo-caps.

Meanwhile, I'm still looking at shotguns. I've always assumed that I'd buy the old-favourite Franchi SPAS-12, but when it came down to I didn't like the Tokyo Marui replica's spring-powered mechanism and as usual the lure of a gas action has won out. I've found a replica with the same badass combat look as the SPAS, though, in the shape of Maruzen's many copies of the Remington M870. What I really want, it seems, is the M870 grip version with the folding metal stock apparently only sold with the less pleasing M1100 replica, and a magazine extension tube from the real gun. The stock from the real-steel weapons will fit the replica too, apparently, but it seemed to me that with the current state of the world importing genuine shotgun parts (and the sort of parts you'd use to make a concealable shotgun, at that!) might not be very wise! If I want one, then, I think that my best bet will be to have the whole thing custom-made in Hong Kong as I did with the M4CQB.

6th March

All I seem to have done here, recently, is to bitch about work - so:

With most of the lawsuits resolved in one way or another Microsoft are attempting to corner every remaining market niche - the last few months have brought the acquisition of Connectix's virtual machine technology, the release of their first entries into the potentially lucrative human resources and customer relationship management markets, a smart new release of the Picture It image editing app intended to go head to head with Adobe's Photoshop Elements and the venerable PaintShop Pro, and a new "youth-orientated" instant messaging app which is probably as bad as it sounds. Go, Bill, go!

However, Microsoft are still embroiled in several non-government court cases, including one they brought over use of the name "Lindows" for a commercial Linux distribution. These proceedings suddenly became very peculiar yesterday, when the defendant, Lindows.com, was granted the right to bring various internal Microsoft documents covering the historic 1988 Apple vs. Microsoft case over ownership of the graphical user interface itself. I really don't think it's relevant, as the heart of the case was whether fundamental concepts such as the waste bin, pull-down menus, and overlapping windows could be actually copyrighted themselves. Apple lost their claim that they could, and Lindows.com evidently hopes to show that the word "window", as well as the concept of one, is a generic term and therefore cannot be trademarked.

It's a clever defence, if not a valid one - but anti-Microsoft feelings still run high and with Bill's habit of telling it like it is in email there may well be enough background material to guarantee a prejudiced trial - and Bill is selling shares, this week...

Elsewhere, The Register brings news of a free browser security test service, provided by Belgian security company ScanIT. Their entire site seems to be down as I write this (evidently The Reg has grown enough, by now, to ape the Slashdot effect) but the article suggests that even their fully-patched version of IE6 SP1 showed two significant vulnerabilities on a Windows 98 platform, and I will be very interested to see if that proves to be the case with Windows 2000 as well.

5th March

Another day, another dollar - well, 70¢ after tax... It turns out that our soon-to-be-defunct R&D department was hosting some fairly important IT services for another department of which I was barely aware, and once R&D is dissolved I'll have to take them into my network. It will only be another thirty-odd users, which is not a problem in itself, but they mostly seem to be some kind of electronics design engineers and have all sorts of awkward requirements - fat pipes to the main R&D facility in France, unfamiliar high-end CAD software, their own email domain, and several other little annoyances. I'm sure that I can integrate them well enough, but only if I'm given the time to do it - and time is something that I'm extremely short on right now. Oh, well...

Meanwhile, R&D themselves have apparently been fiddling the log files on their modem gateway servers to make it look as if the services have crashed less often than they actually have. My DBA became suspicious during a routine check of the system, and a little poking and prying with an undelete utility revealed the original, undoctored files. Silly buggers...

4th March

The work on revamping the computer room air conditioning started today, a year after the system was installed and immediately shown to be inadequate. True to form, the company is employing the usual pair of cowboy builders to cut vent holes in the armoured wall, and although they built a small tent of polythene sheeting to prevent a repeat of last year's IT dust bowl adventure, they didn't do it very well and a surprising quantity of concrete dust mixed with metal filings leaked out at one side. Unfortunately it mostly leaked on to the shelf where I store manuals and installation CDs, so I have some careful vacuuming and washing to do in the morning. Mea culpa, though - after all the experiences I've had with that pair over the last few years I should have known better than to trust them.

Meanwhile, I seem to have bought myself another gun. This is the Western Arms gas replica of the Para-Ordnance P14-45, the current incarnation of the venerable Colt 1911 auto. The blowback mechanism is rated for the high-powered HFC-22 propellant, and is widely considered to be one of the toughest gas pistols on the market. This one is second-hand, but the original owner is a collector rather than a skirmisher and has carefully shoe-horned on a pair of "real-steel" Hogue rubberised grips, adding considerably to the appeal. Hopefully it will be clasped in my hot little hands (Weaver Stance, by preference) before the weekend.

2nd March

Neowin brings news that the RTM date for Server 2003 has slipped from the 12th to the 19th of March, but the correct date for the launch seems to be April 24th, a week earlier than the date that was circulating last week... So, we'll have around four working weeks to implement a basic AD and migrate the users to fulfil the terms of the RAP agreement - I think that's still quite achievable.

1st March

STOP PRESS: Apple computers not perfect, after all!

It amuses me greatly to read that Mac G4 owners have been as plagued with fan noise as I was by the previous incarnation of my main PC. I was pleased to realise yesterday how generally trouble-free my PC has been since the transplant and rebuild - with the heating and noise problems apparently banished for good, apart from the ever-shrinking free disk space the only things of concern right now are a blown disk activity LED and the steady accumulation of dust on the windows... It could be worse!




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