We're trying to tidy up a lot of loose ends before
christmas, at the office, so it's been a more than a little frenzied... So
here's another handful of random links - for which I make no apologies
Via my space-guru friend Mike (and as he says, some
people really do have too much time on their hands - in this case, four
years) full instructions for building your own working reproduction of the
Block I Apollo Guidance
Computer. As well as being the flight computer for the moon landings,
the AGC was also the world's first integrated circuit computer. It's a
Proving that there is definitely no more Mr Nice Guy in
Apple are suing person or persons unknown over leaked information
about an as-yet unreleased product. It's not clear which particular leak
has aroused their ire, but it's likely to be rumours about either a
flash-memory iPod or a port of iTunes to Motorola cellphones. The source
of the leak isn't known, either, but Apple are firmly resolved to seek
damages from anyone they can pin it on... As an aside, I was terribly
amused to see veteran geek site Ars.Technica
describing Apple as "the iPod maker", though - and given the subject
of the rumours that caused the fuss, is this a sign that their computers
are becoming thoroughly sidelined in the face of a pocket jukebox? Heh!
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the
computer room -
the return of Hans Moravec! The veteran proponent of "downloading",
copying your mind into a computer system, is back - and this time he has
his own company. Seegrid Corporation will design robotic "drones" for
moving stock in warehouses, based on low cost off-the-shelf hardware
components backed up by what is apparently some extremely clever software,
It's hard to see the connection with scanning and copying a mind, but
presumably, like the rest of us, Hans has to eat... At least until he
successfully downloads himself, that is!
A California lawsuit involving Microsoft, Symantec,
Adobe, CompUSA, Best Buy, and Staples has
in a legal settlement, with an agreement that the infamous shrink-wrap
licensing scam is no longer acceptable. You know the dodge - by opening
the package you are deemed to have agreed to the licensing terms, but you
can't read the terms until you've opened the package - and by that time
it's too late to return the product if you don't like the look of them!
It's first class weaselling on the part of the manufacturers and
retailers, and it would be very nice if the California ruling was the
start of a real backlash against it.
As it's that time of the year:
Biotech christmas trees
12 bugs of christmas
Top 11 worst gifts for geeks
And, finally, the winner of this week's Tenuous
Marketing award, a range of
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
The little blue SFF PC in the picture below is running
the SmoothWall Express open
source firewall - which is based on the Linux kernel.
Together with the equally blue Cobalt RaQ web appliance
above it, that now makes two Linux installations on my home network, and
as the hardware has thinned out a little since Ros and I parted, there are
only three Windows systems currently in use! If you add my Axis
network camera, which is also based on a Unix kernel of some kind, then
the score is tied - and if I'm not careful, I'm going to be thrown out of
the He-Man Linux Hater's Club...
Apart from the implicit loss of credibility as a
Windows evangelist, though, I have to say that so far the SmoothWall has
been an extremely pleasant system to get to grips with. I've only just
scratched the surface, as yet, but it's obviously a really powerful IP
security toolkit. As well as the stateful packet inspection firewall, the
package includes the SNORT intrusion detection system (which can be linked
into the firewall rulebase to give a fully-adaptive firewall facility), as
well as the usual DHCP, VPN, CRON, logging and reporting services. It's
all wrapped up in a relatively self-explanatory GUI for the basic
functions, with access to the Linux shell for anything more cunning. Only
time will tell as to how good a firewall it actually is, but it certainly
seems to have an excellent reputation and testing with Steve Gibson's
ShieldsUp! port scanner
suggests that this is well deserved. Watch this space for updates when I
start stretching it a little more in the new year.
Meanwhile, a handful of random links.
Penny Arcade on why
anti-BitTorrent strategy is like the over-use of antibiotics... or
like a whack-a-mole game, you choose...
A USB vacuum cleaner - does it suck as badly (pun definitely
intended!) as every other mini-vac I've seen? Find out in the review at
Ben's Custom Cases.
christmas tree lights - although I'm not sure why everyone seems to be
making so much fuss about what is actually a very trivial (and quite
sloppily performed, in my opinion!) modification... Hardly a "stroke of
Now this is much more impressive: via premier UK
modding site Bit-Tech, an
excellent case inspired by the
Cube 2: Hypecube
Gingerbread computer hardware. Mmmmm, PCI cards... :-)
reclining chair with built-in full-motion capability - just the thing
for flight sim enthusiasts, especially when partnered with
Samsung's new 102" plasma display. 102" - that's an eight and a half
feet diagonal. Gosh!
Yet another security flaw in Google's desktop search service - this
thing is really not ready for corporates, yet... Which is rather a pity,
considering the enthusiasm that corporate users apparently have for it.
I've fended off a number of enquiries about it, in the last few weeks, but
I'm sure that some people have gone ahead and installed it anyway. I must
check up on that in the new year...
Via Ros... AIBOHPHOBIA - the fear of
And, finally, from the SF novel I've reading at the
"Larry Chao had destroyed the Earth. And somehow,
Simon Raphael was going to see to it that it came out of Larry's pay."
- Roger MacBride Allen - The Ring Of Charon
Boy, is that one hard-assed manager! I think I used to
work for him...
The week before christmas, and although most of the
company is starting to wind down somewhat, as usual the IT department is
working flat out... These quiet holiday periods are an excellent time to
do all the maintenance and upgrading that can't usually be done during
working hours, and as we're in the middle of another significant phase of
expansion and migration, it's all hands to the pumps and
$1 billion from spammers - a US District Court has found in favour of
a small Iowa ISP who's mail servers received up to 10 million spam e-mails
a day. The unusual size of the award was based on Iowa legislation that
allows damages of $10 per spam message, which was then tripled under the
terms of the Federal RICO legislation. Actually collecting the
award, of course, might well be a very different matter.
Microsoft may have bought a pig in a poke - their recent acquisition
of anti-spyware technology from Giant has prompted an announcement from
another company, Florida-based Sunbelt Software, that they are actually
co-owners of the code and so have the rights to any and all future
updates. Microsoft dismisses the claims, of course, and it will be
fascinating to see how this one plays out!
Penny Arcade's christmas strip (the first page of which is currently
hosted at Slashdot due to overwhelming demands on their bandwidth) has a
distinctly Lovecraftian motif.
[Warning - comic may contain
Cthulhu] And talking of which, for that unique blending of
saccharin sweetness and nameless dread, try
- but please note that the management of Epicycle accepts no
responsibility for outbreaks of vomiting or the urge to ingest of one's
Elsewhere - and, fortunately, quite a long way
elsewhere, at that... Tom's Hardware Guide reviews
Technology Enabled Clothing. It makes me think of
the Dilbert strips, of course, and I already have enough worries about
my increasingly pear-shaped silhouette and a tie that is definitely
starting to turn up at the end...
T-shirts from GameSkins - I don't really see myself as a hardcore
gamer, but even so they have some elegant designs... I rather liked
WASD, for example - they both bring back memories...
The MPAA appears to have started
concerted war against BitTorrent link sites, seen as the major source
of pirated movies. The last couple of days have brought the complete
disappearance of Suprnova, TorrentBits, TV Torrents and Phoenix Torrents -
and there may be more.
And finally, the US army has unveiled their new,
ultra-realistic combat simulator. Comprising a number of different
environments, such as a parked Humvee overlooking a computer generated
desert landscape or a rubble-strewn apartment with a window looking out on
a war-torn city, it is designed to train soldiers to observe enemy
activity and accurately call in air strikes and artillery fire. The
quality of the simulation is unprecedented, with high-resolution
projections and hidden speakers producing everything from subtle
background effects to cataclysmic explosions. As just one of a number of
specialist training systems now in use, it shows the army's increasing
reliance on technology both on and off the battlefield.
"But there's still one thing I don't understand..."
My new ISP and RIPE are making me go through
the usual song
and dance to get a decent range of valid external IP Addresses, and
while my application grinds through the machinery I've been trying to get
proper 1:1 NAT working on
my little Zyxel router to allow me to bring the rest of the network
online with respectable levels of connectivity. I've run into problems
when I've tried before, so this afternoon I've been making a concerted
effort - but unfortunately have met with an equal lack of success!
I can set up all the 192.168.0.x local addressing
without problems, and the translation table between the local addresses
and the meagre range that Zen have allocated (Five? Who can survive
with only five IP addresses?) but although everything seems to be
configured correctly, I can't get any traffic at all out onto the WAN.
Now, I've managed to set up NAT without problems on the
more complex and sophisticated Nokia / Checkpoint FW-1 NG system at
the office, so it's a complete mystery why I'm having so much difficulty
on something with a 10th of the feature-set. It's a little embarrassing,
actually - as a hard-core network techie, setting up a home DSL pipe is
not something I feel that I should have any difficulty with!
One possibility of saving face remains, however -
although I bought the router almost as soon as it was launched, according
to Zyxel's documentation
the firmware version seems to be positively antique, and the release
notes for the later versions do seem to suggest some issues with NAT.
However, all attempts to update the firmware (whether by the web
interface, an FTP client, or a command-line telnet session) have proved
just as fruitless as with the NAT problem, resulting in a selection of
unusual messages (The uploaded file is too big? Really? But it's
exactly the same size as the existing one!) and nothing else except a
slight increase in my blood pressure.
I've given up for the day, now, having fired off a
series of email messages to the technical support address of anyone who I
think might give a damn - so we shall see what transpires later on in the
week. The way things are going at the moment, though, I'll get a working
solution the day after RIPE decides to cough up my additional IP
addresses.. . <mutters darkly>
I've just finished watching the movie
I've frequently seen recommended to anyone with an interest in firearms.
It turns out to be a cross between Fahrenheit 451 and The Matrix
- and although it is not as good as either, the
fire-fights are definitely fun to watch. By no means one of the best
science fiction film of recent years, but worth a couple of hours if
there's nothing else on...
Elsewhere, thanks to UK modding magazine
Custom PC, I came across a
new graphics package called SketchUp 3D,
which seems to have found popularity amongst
builders as a quick and easy way of designing the layout of components
in a custom case. There is the beginning of a
library of ready-made objects
at an enthusiast site, too, which promises to become a very useful
resource if the users keep contributing.
weirdest games of 2004 - balls, bowls, blobs, bugs and more balls.
that tracks gunshots - other variants will listen for chainsaws and
people climbing over fences!
to the RIAA, courtesy of Downhill Battle - a worthy investment
if ever I saw one.
And, finally, as if on cue - Wired is calling for
nominations for this year's
Vaporware Awards. I've suggested the iBIZ Virtual keyboard, of course,
and I very much doubt I'll be the only one!
The end of a long, busy and frustrating week. Just
don't ask me about car wheels, Ok?
Really, don't even mention them.
In an attempt to compensate, I spent a few hours this
evening starting to bring the server and network infrastructure online.
There's still some work to do, but it's a start... From left to right -
SmartUPS 2200, PowerVault tape changer and Sun disk array; the server
itself, on top of the mini-cabinet holding the RaQ web server, the switch
and (imminently) the DSL router and CloudWall firewall appliance; and
finally the Pioneer DRM-5004X CD library. For some reason everything seems
louder in the new house than it did in the old one!
Meanwhile, earlier today, I was doing my regular checks
for false positives in the spam filters at the office, and came across a
large batch that have obviously come from the same source - the forged
"From" field has a distinctive style, and one that I found rather
appealing. The best ones I spotted were:
Embalmed Q. Facetious, Spigot H. Breakwater,
Incubate O. Standpipe, Slackening B. Prim and
Stochastic O. Precedent
I don't usually get much entertainment from the endless
flood of spam that comes into the company, so I'll make the most of what
little there is!
Elsewhere, The Guardian has announced the
results of their annual
Bad Science Award.
This year's winners include shrinking molecules, giant tomatoes, fake
doctors and absurd marketing - well worth a look, if you don't mind being
annoyed while you're being amused...
And, finally, a link courtesy of Arnie at the excellent
Arnie's Airsoft site - a
parody of the
store front page from multi-talented UK journo David McCandless, which
really tickled me. Apple evangelists famously have no sense of humour at
all, though, so be warned...
So I heard today that IBM is
leaving the desktop computer manufacturing business, selling their
entire PC division to a Chinese company called "Lenovo". I have to admit
to being slightly traumatized by the news, as it does rather feel like the
end of an era for me - I vividly remember IBM's launch of their original
PC back in 1981 and, indeed, briefly fondled the first one to reach
England at their Temple Meads customer centre in Bristol. I've never
really been a fan of the hardware itself, especially since the PS/2 series
and the MCA bus, but their departure from the market is another milestone
short but oh-so-busy history of personal computing.
Just to add to my feelings of angst, half an hour later
the new Dell Optiplex GX-280 I was working on turned out to have no PS/2
ports for mouse and keyboard, with only a stack of six USB ports instead.
It still had a conventional parallel and serial port, however, so the
long-heralded "legacy-free" PC is not quite here yet - but the evident
passing of the PS/2 ports that takes their name from IBM's fourth
generation of personal computers is still very much a sign of the times.
Meanwhile, so up-to-date that it's not actually here
yet, the iBIZ Virtual keyboard that launched in
blaze of publicity back in the spring is still as vapour-like as ever.
iBIZ have blamed the delays on
manufacturing problems (and have initiated a lawsuit against the company
in question) and have
now announced that they have abandoned that particular design and will
be working on a completely new product instead. Starting work on V2
without ever bringing V1 to market is quite a trick, in my opinion, and I
look forward to seeing the company in the upcoming
Wired vapourware awards.
Closer to home,
reports that the Royal Mail is considering a ban on posting sporting
firearms and other weapons, including replicas, as apparently they keep
having to evacuate sorting offices and call the police firearms unit every
time something dubious shows up in the x-ray scanners. I'm a little
puzzled to hear that they are involved in shipping actual firearms
anyway, as it is thoroughly illegal - no reputable firearms dealer would
ever do this, I'm sure, and any criminal who actually expects to receive
an unlicensed gun via the post is just begging for a visit from
armed police officers in the small hours of the morning instead! The
situation with replicas is of far more concern to me, of course, as
although one can usually choose alternate carriers within the UK, the
Royal Mail is the UK partner for a number of foreign mail services,
including the Hong Kong SpeedPost service that ships so many airsoft
replicas into this country. Something else to worry about, then, it
And, finally - I've mentioned the "Girlfriend's Lap"
pillow from Japanese company Trane before, but this is the first
time I've seen
such a clear picture of the product. As a lonely bachelor, these days,
I have to admit that it actually looks rather appealing...
has resigned in the face of ever-increasing allegations of sleaze and
malpractice, and this can only be a good thing. It's too soon to tell if
his departure will affect the plans for compulsory ID cards, of course, as
although Blunkett was the architect and main force behind the proposals,
they do have considerable support from a significant number of both Labour
Conservative politicians - but without Blunkett we can hope that a
nail has been driven into the coffin, at least.
On a more annoying note, I have been wrestling with
hardware firewalls over the last few days, without achieving anything more
than raising my blood pressure. As mentioned in my first entry from the
new house, my SOHO2 appliance initially refused to negotiate an Ethernet
connection with the DSL router, and although it suddenly started to behave
a few days later, I was a few minutes away from finishing the
configuration when it suddenly died completely. I haven't yet been able to
check whether it is the power supply (a 5v transformer rated at an
unusually high 2 Amps) or the appliance itself, but at the moment it is
performing an excellent impression of John Cleese's parrot.
When it failed I reached for my spare, an obsolete
Sonicwall Pro (which although powerful is now completely unsupported and
so potentially vulnerable to future exploits) only to find that it appears
to have corrupted its firmware while in storage and now won't boot up at
all. Attempts to re-flash it met only with various confusing error
messages, and so in desperation I've actually resorted to the Windows XP
SP2 software firewall - how the mighty have fallen!
Steve Gibson's marvellous Shields Up!
scanner gives me a clean bill of health, or you wouldn't be reading this,
but I'm generally rather uncomfortable about it nevertheless...
I could just fork out for a replacement
Sonicwall of some kind, of course, but although I love the hardware I have
become less and less pleased by the
company's support policy over the last few years - and given my general
preference for voting with my feet I'm loath to give them any more of my
money. Some browsing on eBay revealed an interesting product, though, and
so I am trying an experiment...
The Cloudwall is a new product from what appears to be a one-man-band
company, a small form-factor Compaq desktop PC sprayed a fetching shade of
blue and running Linux and a suite of best-of-breed open source security
software - the SmoothWall
firewall, the Snort intrusion
detection system, and a bunch of IP utilities, all wrapped up in a
How user-friendly it actually is remains to be
seen, of course, as I was somewhat disappointed by the similar concept of
my Cobalt RaQ web server appliance - but I will be an excellent test of
the concept as my knowledge of the Linux command line is virtually nil...
So watch this space next week to see if it was £50 well spent, or just a
large, blue paperweight.
Meanwhile, half a world away, Dan has been busy -
letters, a review of
a rubber-band gun that
fires full auto, and Dan's own plan to
save the online gaming
industry. His answer to one of the letters links to what can only be
described as a first
generation light sabre, a 532nm green LED with power output guaranteed
to be in excess of 100mW (and maybe up to twice that!) and capable of
burning holes in thin plastic. Needless to say, they will be illegal in
most civilised countries - but they sound like impressive toys, for sure!
So I survived the second day of the audit training,
somewhat to everyone's surprise, and so apparently I'm now qualified to
design and perform ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 process audits within the
company. Unfortunately this means that someone is probably going to expect
me to actually audit something at some point, and it remains to be
seen how well I can translate theory into practice!
On a lighter note, a quick plug for the
Simpsons guide at TV
Tome - this is a massive and comprehensive resource, and came in very
useful yesterday when
an episode I was watching included some rather funky music playing
during what was obviously a pastiche of a cinematic sequence from
elsewhere. Thanks to the site's fully detailed episode guide I discovered
that it was actually the opening titles of The Sopranos, complete
with its theme music "Woke Up This Morning" by
Alabama 3. It has to be said that
The Simpsons is amazingly rich in cultural references, and even as
a long-time viewer I must miss a fair proportion of them - the TV Tome
guide reveals another fact from that same episode, for example:
Fat Tony passes by a billboard reading
"Superintendent Chalmers: Now More Than Ever," parodying a campaign
poster used by Richard Nixon in the 1972 election.
Clever... Elsewhere, more random links:
Chicks, spectacular cyberpunk sculptures in resin and metal.
A handful of lurid
science fiction covers from the era of pulp paperbacks.
At McSweeney's Internet Tendency,
Gimme Shelter, the classic documentary on the
Rolling Stones' 1969
at Altamont, has been restored and remastered onto DVD. Definitely one
for the wish-list...
Meanwhile, it appears that the children who sang the
chorus on Pink Floyd's 1979 hit Another Brick In The Wall
received royalties for their work, and moves are now afoot to claim
the outstanding fees. And talking of classic rock, I was thinking about
Echo Beach by Martha And The Muffins, a few days ago - and it turns
out that she
wasn't actually an office clerk, but that "wallpaper quality control
checker" was too hard to fit into the lyrics. Selah.
I've spent my first day back at the office in a
training course to learn ISO 9001 quality auditing and ISO 14001
environmental impact assessment, so as you can imagine tonight I have no
brain to speak of. Some links, then, to get back into the swing of
warning from ADSLGuide.org - keep your christmas tree lights
well away from your telephone wiring...
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the
teletype - ASCII babes make the
transition from line printer to flat panel LCD.
Highly improbable weaponry from
- paintball mortars, RPG launchers, explosives, and even a howitzer.
The circuit boards from a cold war era Minuteman ICBM -
cooled by immersion in liquid Freon, these state-of-the-art transistor-era
truly things of beauty.
And talking of bizarre antique hardware, via Boing
Boing, this IBM radar analysis computer console comes with
built-in cigarette lighter and ashtray.
screwdriver - with a learning facility and the ability to record
macros (yes, you heard me, macros), apparently it will make a big
difference even to the novice. Um.
Porn before the age of the Internet - a marvellous
collection of "Tijuana Bibles",
the hand-drawn underground sex comics popular in the era of the second
And, finally, for the geek with too much time on his
hands (and nothing better to do with his PC) the
virtual bubble wrap simulator. Would I lie to you?
Back online again, and beginning to settle into the new
house. The run-up to the move was incredibly stressful, with all sorts of
crises, let-downs and unexpected events - but on the day itself the
movers, East London-based
Services, were absolutely brilliant... They handled everything
with tireless energy and consummate skill, and I would have no hesitation
in recommending them unreservedly.
It was strange to see the big lounge-cum-study of the
old house so bare and empty the evening before the move - but the stacks
of boxes in the basement and bedrooms made up for it. Who knew I had so
much stuff? It was round about then that I started to wonder if I
had made a serious mistake in buying a two bedroom house rather than
stretching to something with three bedrooms...
However, in spite of that all the chaos was
miraculously transplanted to the new house and squeezed in somehow - and
although there are still far too many boxes on the ground floor to make
things as neat or accessible as I would prefer at this stage, in the
absence of a convenient basement I've had to stack everything else in the
second bedroom - which is stuffed literally from wall to wall.
There is still a lot of work to do in planning, unpacking, and organising,
and with a busy time at the office when I go back on Monday, and christmas
coming up in only two weeks, unfortunately I don't think I'm going to make
that much headway until the new year.
Still, I have the rudiments of the computers up and
running again, today - the server and all the network infrastructure is
still in a large pile next to the kitchen, but some Rube Goldberg IP
bridging between the two network interfaces in my desktop PC has enabled
me to bring the new Zen broadband
connection online with one and the wireless router for the laptop
online with the other. It's a little eccentric, but it does work -
although I've had to forgo my trusty Sonicwall SOHO2 firewall appliance as
it doesn't seem to want to negotiate an Ethernet connection with the new
Zyxel Prestige 660R DSL router. I spent many hours last night
fruitlessly banging my head against the problem, but in the end I've
swallowed my pride and fallen back on a classic solution of NAT at the
router and the usual 192.168.x.x internal addresses. It's not the way I
like to do things, and won't scale well enough to bring the rest of the
network online, but it will do until I can work out why the SOHO2 is
suddenly being so truculent.
Meanwhile, last month's stats clearly show that it
doesn't really matter if I write anything here or not, as most of my hits
come from Google and other search engines. The new record numbers were
caused by a strange spike in traffic towards the end of the month, with
visitors to the site suddenly doubling for around a week and then
reverting back to the current average again. A careful examination of my
referrers failed to show any good reason for this, so I'll just put it
down as one of those strange web things. There are a lot of them