31st July

I've finally tracked down the source of an annoying problem with the Backup Exec application on my home PC. Although the external SCSI-hosted VXA autochanger is still working well, at some point over the last few months BE seemed to become annoyed with the internal IDE-hosted VXA drive and refused to initialise it. The logs show the message "Event ID: 58053 - Backup Exec cannot use this tape device because it has detected a mismatched tape device serial number", but until recently there was no documentation on this message at the Veritas support site, and much un-installing and re-installing of drivers has proved completely fruitless. However, while searching for something else, today, I thought to check for updates on that error, and fortunately there is now a tech note describing the issue. Unfortunately, there isn't actually a solution as yet - the problem is caused by a bug in Hotfix 19 that affects systems with both SCSI and IDE drives, and although Veritas have promised a further hotfix at some point in the future, at present their only advice is to remove the IDE drive from the system. Ah, well, it's some progress, at least...

I have to admit to significantly mixed feelings about Backup Exec Version 9, overall... Although it is without a doubt the most powerful and flexible of the long-running family, it is also the most fragile, pernickety, awkward and downright annoying of applications, especially in the multi-server enterprise environment I use at the office. I can't say that I'd change to anything else, as from what I've seen the competition is no better (and often significantly worse!), but sometimes it really makes me want to stamp my foot in frustration!

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Exotic PSUs at FrozenCPU - the latest hi-tech modular power supplies have sockets on the casing to allow tails with different combinations of Molex connectors to be added and removed as required. it's a very neat idea, and the units are beautifully put together... Frozen have an incredible range of power supplies and accessories, actually, including a lot that I haven't seen elsewhere. Recommended.

Tracking the way we use language- the WORDCOUNT online application uses a clever graphical representation to illustrate the relationship between words the their frequency of use. I have to admit that I don't quite understand what it's telling me, yet, but it bears some closer investigation.

War of the iPod cases - two competing manufacturers of rubber iPod cases are locked in a heated battle for market share, and are using every dirty trick in the book to gain the upper hand, including threatening their distributors and trading tirades of personal abuse in public forums. Gosh!

The Etherkiller and friends - classic BOFHware, various innocent looking data connectors fiendishly mated to mains power cables. Probably the best collection I've seen, so far, including a network hub wired for Power Over Ethernet in a way that the end-users won't soon forget...

Dan's Data letters #120 - more letters from the perennially wonderful Dan... This time he covers hard drive cooling, dead modems and dead Roombas, more scams, and a disagreement with someone who is presumably a representative of a manufacturer whose product has received a less than favourable review.

The next big thing? Skype permits P2P telephone calls over TCP/IP, and seems to be gaining significant support in the  few weeks it has been available. The latest addition is the ability to call an overseas landline or cellphone at a local call rate, using the Internet to provide the long-distance component of the call. It's not an especially new or revolutionary idea, but it seems to have captured the public's imagination and it will be interesting to see how the product develops.

And, finally, Microsoft have released the long-awaited patch for the IE browser vulnerabilities discovered last month, including the ADODB issue that caused so much fuss when it was exploited by the Download.Ject and JS.Scob trojans. Install it now or rue the day...


30th July

Friday at last, and this week it couldn't come soon enough for me - especially as for the first time this month, I don't have to work at the weekend! Here's a bumper bundle of fun-packed links to celebrate:

Court order blocks decoder chips - video processing hardware from semiconductor giant ESS has been used in some kind of DVD-copying hardware, and apparently the manufacturer isn't on the Hollywood Kombine's approved list...

Electronic voting completely fails to live up to promises - as has been widely reported elsewhere over the last few years, it's clear to anyone who is paying attention that not only is the current state of the art in electronic voting systems completely inadequate, but that the various problems that exist are being manipulated by the right-wing to fix, fake and falsify as many elections as they can manage. It's a damn shame.

Privacy policies not binding - A Minnesota federal court has just ruled that website privacy policies aren't binding, because nobody actually reads them! The fall-out from this could be huge - I can actually feel my personal details being sold even as I type...

"This land" satire under fire - the current holders of Woody Guthrie's copyright seem to have forgotten that he was staunchly left-wing and in no way a supporter of the kind of repressive legislation that is being used in his name. The EFF are advising the beleaguered satirists, and as always they're an excellent organisation to have on your side.

PayPal class action - PayPal has reached a preliminary settlement with customers who accused the eBay subsidiary of illegally freezing their funds. Claims can be made online - although as I write this, the site is extremely busy...

Microsoft delays... everything - As well as the notorious delay in Windows XP's SP2, the Service Pack 1 for Server 2003 and the 64bit server and desktop OS versions have all been delayed until the first half of 2005. And as for Longhorn - well, I'm not holding my breath...

Intel CEO slams... everyone - in the wake of falling production and falling morale, Craig Barrett has decided that being "blunt and direct" with the company's 80,000 workforce will somehow help matters. However, given that profits doubled in the last quarter and forecasts suggest record revenue for the current quarter, I think this approach is a very big mistake.

Lycos sold at a $12 billion loss - Once a major player amongst portals and search engines, now a lame duck to be disposed of in any way possible. How the mighty have fallen - and in only four years, too.

Worms, worms, worms - the latest flavour of the MyDoom worm left a back door in infected systems that can be exploited by further malware - and the first few exploits are already with us.

DDoS attack on advertising kingpins DoubleClick - another victim of the MyDoom.O worm, their DNS servers were flooded off the net for several hours earlier on this week. I guess I shouldn't laugh, but - Har-de-har-har...

First contact within two years? - according to the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, advances in processing power and radio telescope technology will allow us to detect any extraterrestrial transmissions that exist within two decades. Personally, I think that's a wildly optimistic claim...

And, finally - I've only just noticed that today is System Administrator Appreciation Day. As usual, I forgot it - and presumably so did everybody else, as my users were no less demanding, ungrateful and annoying than they are for the other 364 days of the year. Bah, humbug!


29th July

Hot, hot, hot! Work kept me at my desk, today, rather in the cool of the computer room, and I feel at least half-baked tonight. Here's a handful of links...

Seagate bucks trend and lengthens hard disk warranty period - after all the big manufacturers cut their warranty period from the usual three years to a paltry one year, Seagate is attempting to claw back sales in an increasingly cut-throat market by extending the warranty period to an impressive five years. It seems likely that the other companies will follow suit sooner or later.

Google stock price set, all ready for Dutch auction IPO - the initial price will be in the order of $108-$135 per share, and in spite of the unusual form of the launch, I'm sure most people will be hoping for a quick killing rather than a long-term investment.

Stan, portrait of a serial spammer - at The Register, how humble beginnings are no barrier to success in the global spam industry. Words fail me... Bah!

SpaceShipOne is go for 29th September - and just to prove that they're not afraid of the X Prize, they're planning for three flights in two weeks rather than just the required two! Just to add some extra tension, though, one of Rutan's competitors has emerged from the woodwork in the form of the Da Vinci Project's balloon-launched vehicle Wild Fire. It's going to be an interesting autumn in low earth orbit!

And talking of space, while looking for something else I came across a page on the classic "Space Cadet" keyboard, designed for the MIT LISP machines back around the computing dawn of time. With no less than seven different shift keys, someone with enough hands could produce over 8000 different characters. Many of the user-interface concepts behind certain key combinations never actually materialised in the software, though, and so it's a wonderful monument to technical design excess.

And finally - a souped-up off-road Segway. I have to admit that the mindset of someone who would do this is beyond me... Scary...


28th July

Well, I've found a house... It's not quite what I was originally looking for, but for reasons I can't quite put my finger on I liked it from the moment I walked into the front room. I'm not quite sure where the servers will live, as yet, but a quick look suggests that the space between the kitchen and the staircase seems plausible. Everything else will be easy to find a home for in the rather more conventional places, I'd say.  :-)

I've been in this position before, of course, only to have someone else sneak in and offer a higher price and steal the property out from underneath my offer - but I have a good feeling about this one, and the vendors and I seemed to hit it off, so we'll just have to see what happens...

The 23' lounge, part of the kitchen, and one of the two bedrooms. The decor is immaculate, and although it's not the kind of thing that usually appeals to me, there was something about it. It will be interesting to see what it looks like with all my modern furniture and a van-load of computers, of course!

There's a garden, too. As BIll and Ted would say, it was most tranquil. It will take rather more routine maintenance than I was expecting, of course, but the beautiful environment that all those the plants create will be worth it - and I can always hire a gardener in every so often to keep it looking neat and tidy.

The next step is a whole raft of form-filling, letters, telephone calls, waiting, and chewed fingernails - but at least (with luck!) I'm making progress at last. Watch this space...


26th July

Aaaaaargh! One of those days, at the office, so just another handful of links...

Ars.Technica has published the second part of their history of the Pentium microprocessor, covering the original Pentium 4, the Prescott and Pentium M, and explaining some of the design compromises made in the name of marketing. It's just as interesting and informative as the first part, and is well worth reading.

Apparently RealNetworks has unlocked the iTunes / iPod digital rights management, following a failure to agree terms with Apple. This would seem to be extremely dubious (if not downright illegal) under the terms of the DMCA et al, as well as being expressly forbidden by the iPod's license, so it will be very interesting to see how Apple reacts.

The title of the upcoming Star Wars movie has been announced, and it turns out to be "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith". There are a few teasers at the official Star Wars web site.

The future of data storage - molten silicon, designer molecules, cow protein globules, and other equally unlikely systems are all being examined as potential replacements for hard disks and conventional solid-state flash memory.

Want a job at Microsoft? Following the news that they're planning to recruit around 7000 staff this year, here are direct links to their vacancies pages in America and England. I think I could be an "evangelist" , definitely - although I seem to do enough of that for free that I'm not sure why they'd actually want to pay me for it!

Keeping cables tidy - via The Gadget Store, a clever little rack thing that attaches to the back of a desk and prevents cables from escaping. I want about a dozen of these, I think, although I'll probably wait until I've moved, now.

Ooh, a Lego guitar! - and it actually works, too, although I suppose it would be extremely embarrassing for it to come apart in a shower of loose bricks mid-way through a Pete Townsend windmill.

Finally, and thanks to Ros for the pointer, something for the geek who has everything - well, everything except fashion sense, that is... The Rosner MP3Blue is a jacket with a built-in MP3 player, microphone, headphones, Bluetooth interface, battery, special pockets for a cellphone and PDA, and the instructions printed on the lining... it even comes with pre-installed "lounge songs", whatever they are. Oh, and it has a hood, too, which some people might think makes it an anorak. I'm sure Rosner would disagree...


25th July

Ars.Technica says that the relationship between SCO and vulture capitalist group BayStar is on the rocks. Revenue from the SCOsource UNIX licensing has barely reached $30,000 so far this year, and this has not even started to repay BayStar's investment of $50 million last year, and BayStar claims that SCO has not lived up to its end of the deal - an allegation that they are prepared to take to court. With last week's bombshell in the  DaimlerChrysler suit, and an increasingly uphill struggle in the suits against Novell, IBM and AutoZone, it really does look grim for SCO. As usual, though, the various legal firms involved are raking it in all round...

A USB hub very neatly built-into a Gundam robot model - this guy obviously has far too much time on his hands, but I guess there are worse things he could be doing with it...

The ICANN's bi-annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur has passed with an unusually low level of acrimony and an unusually high level of productivity. The Register isn't very complimentary about Vint Cerf, though...

And, finally, The Register has been collecting the odd phrases that turn up in the lists of words used to pad-out spam email. I started doing this myself, at one point, although I was only looking for pairs of words - my favourites were incendiary braille, sagebrush dialysis, nylon immodesty, bastard cellophane, armadillo floss, and protoplasmic database. It's nice that spam is good for something, at least.


24th July

Another hot, sticky and ultimately fruitless day looking at houses. At this rate I'm going to be sleeping in the computer room at the office by this time next month...  :-(  Just a few random links, then, as it has definitely been one of those weeks.

In the wake of an announcement of healthy earnings last quarter, Microsoft are going on a recruitment spree - they expect to hire an additional 7000 staff worldwide, of which around 3000 will be at the headquarters in Seattle, Washington.

CPU Decoder Ring - courtesy of The Tech Report, a giant list of all contemporary CPUs, detailing their FSB speed, form factor, cache size, voltage and other useful values.

Hear your plants sing - while still in a legal state of mind. A cunning device hidden in the vase or pot and vibrates at just the right frequency to cause the stems and leaves to resonate, turning the entire plant into a loudspeaker. Cool!

From waaaaaay back in 1998,  the original list of haiku error messages from the Salon competition. Snopes has an entry with some variations, too:

Program aborting
Close all that you have worked on
You ask far too much
The code was willing
It considered your request
But the chips were weak
With searching comes loss
And the presence of absence
"My Novel" not found
Out of memory
We wish to hold the whole sky
But we never will


23rd July

I wish I could find the link, but it seems to have disappeared into that mysterious place where URLs go to hide when people are looking for them... I saw something a few days ago about street gangs in Northern India, I think, who are terrorising the populace by flaunting their big, bristling moustaches at them... Now, I'm just about to move to the Becontree / Dagenham area of East London, not famed for its peaceful and well behaved inhabitants, and if the most I had to worry about there were men wit bristling moustaches I would be a happy bunny indeed. Maybe I should consider moving to The Punjab instead, as the daily commute from there to Romford couldn't be much more awkward than navigating the perpetual A13 road works at present...

Who made your laptop? - most big-name laptops are actually made by a small handful of no-name Pacific Rim companies: Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta, for example, makes hardware for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba,  and Acer.

Backlash against web site registration - in the face of the increasing number of news sites that demand registration including various personal details, there is also a growing array of tools and services intended to spoof or circumvent the login process.

BBspot on Motherboard Feng Shui - "We didn't rely on reference boards or schematics from chip manufacturers. Those designs had too many straight lines and sharp corners, which are unnatural and direct poison arrows at our soul. Instead, we tilted the memory slots and added an extra expansion slot at an angle to direct those negative energies away from the user."

MS staff's 'foggy' blogging hoax - an alcohol-inspired spoof press release created by a group of senior developers (who should probably know better!) seems to have largely failed to fool the tech journalist they were hoping to embarrass. What a lot of fuss about very little...

SCO vs. DaimlerChrysler suit evaporates - in what may be the beginning of the end for the reborn SCO's litigation-based business model, one of their major suits against UNIX end users has been mostly dismissed by the Circuit Court judge. I think that SCO have gone much too far to back down now, though, and I'm expecting them to fight until the bitter end.

The real music pirates - in spite of the RIAA's obsession with file sharing, a recent report from the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry claims that 1 billion commercially pirated CDs were sold during 2003, one third of the total worldwide sales figure, to a total of around $4.5 billion. Suing grandmothers in Massachusetts and preteens in California seems rather trivial by comparison...

Rude power cables - apparently an advert from a now defunct Brazilian company. The host site, HappyScrappy, has some other amusing oddments too - another 419 scammer baiting, an eBay auction for influence over US government policy, and some appallingly drawn but actually quite funny cartoons.

And, finally - User Friendly on Stephen Hawking's Bet. Introducing: the Lucasian Professor of Sour Grapes?   :-)


21st July

Nothing to see here... Move along, move along...

Microsoft to share wealth with investors - as of March, Microsoft had $56.4 billion in cash and short-term investments. and have been under pressure from financial analysts to redistribute a portion of these holdings. In response, they announced yesterday that it will boost its dividend, buy back shares, and offer a $3-per-share one-time payout as part of a plan to return up to $75 billion to shareholders over the next four years.  I think I'll hang on to my token share, though - when it comes to Microsoft, I like to be able to put  my money where my mouth is.

On a related note, Chairman Bill has announced that he will donate the $3 billion windfall that he'll earn from the dividend payment to charitable causes, via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This news initially generated some smart comments amongst my PFYs, today, but when I suggested that they look at the Foundation's web site, which provides details of the $7.2 billion distributed so far, they both went quiet... That is a lot of money, and makes the contributions of major Western governments look thoroughly paltry in comparison.

Here's a cellphone detector designed by school children - Created as part of a school project, the device can detect the pulses of radio frequency generated when a handset makes a phone call and sends or receives SMS messages. It has a range of around 30 metres, and can also measure the RF energy level to determine the distance of the mobile from the detector. The idea itself isn't particularly new, but the design is far less complex than the other devices on the market and so is proportionally cheaper to manufacture and buy.

And talking of monitoring and surveillance, yesterday the power-crazed Home Secretary David Blunkett announced his latest plans to turn England into the setting for a dystopian science fiction story. As well as the much-discussed biometric ID cards, other measures to be introduced include GPS satellite tracking of petty criminals, increased use of electronic lie detectors in monitoring ex-offenders, massive links between previously separate government networks (for example between the DVLA and the Police National Computer), a scheme to reduce crime levels in residential neighbourhoods involving wide-spread use of smart video surveillance systems, and extensive monitoring of passenger lists collected from airlines and ferry companies to identify people who might intend to immigrate illegally. It's a horrifying document, I'm afraid...


20th July

I've been a regular reader of the hardware geek web site [H]ard|OCP for several years, now, and have always been impressed with the site - the news is timely and interesting, the reviews written by people who really do know what they're talking about, and the editorial fair and free from apparent bias. Because of these high standards, though, I was rather less than impressed to read something in one of their regular news updates a few days ago, under the headline Al Gore Knighted?, that definitely didn't measure up:

Apparently there's some confusion as to who actually invented the World Wide Web. In Al Gore's mind, it was him. To the rest of the world, it was Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the interface we all use to surf the internet. The Queen has now honored the man responsible for all of this by awarding him the title of "Sir."

I'm thoroughly fed up with this myth about Gore, by now, especially from someone who should know better, and after some fuming to myself I was moved to complain to the author...

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Subject: Al Gore and the Big Lie

I was peeved to see your crack at Al Gore in your 2nd edition news segment today. Like so many other techies and online pundits, I'm afraid that you've been conned - Gore never claimed that he had invented the Internet (let alone the World Wide Web, as you said!), but following an interview he did for CNN a few years back, during the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, what he did actually say was picked up and mutilated by his political opponents as another cheap way of racking some muck. Unfortunately you're simply perpetuating the sleazy personal attacks that characterised the 2000 campaign, and it's a shame to see this kind of thing at a normally balanced and well-informed site like HardOCP.

Gore's actual words were "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet", and this claim seems to be reasonable. He consistently voted significant budgetary appropriations for the organisations who were trying to hook the various networks together, strongly opposed moves to keep the whole thing classified and restricted as a military resource, and generally did the entire PR thing that made the public, commercial Internet as we know it today possible.

But don't take my word for it - listen to Vint Cerf, a man who really can claim to have invented the Internet - when asked about the issue, he had this to say:

Last year the Vice President made a straightforward statement on his role. He said: “During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” We don’t think, as some people have argued, that Gore intended to claim he “invented” the Internet. Moreover, there is no question in our minds that while serving as Senator, Gore’s initiatives had a significant and beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet.

Or, if Cerf is a bit too kooky and left wing for you, try someone at the absolute opposite ends of the technical and political spectra, Newt Gingrich, who contributed this:

In all fairness, it’s something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is - and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a “futures group” - the fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the ’80s began to actually happen.

Or, for the peer-review version, there's a long thread here at Slashdot, where the grudging consensus after several thousand posts is that Gore's statement was not only perfectly reasonable, but that he is the only politician who could ever actually make that claim.

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The author of the segment in question, a certain Tim, sent me a nice reply explaining his point of view:

The Gore crack was nothing more than me taking an existing internet joke and coming up with a news title that was attention catching. I've heard the stories before, heard the quote, and read all of the background information. I just thought it was funny to put it that way. I in no way meant to offend anyone.

Unfortunately, I think that actually makes it worse! I'd assumed that he simply didn't know that the meme he was recycling was just campaign propaganda, which was why I felt it was worth the effort to point him towards the real facts. If he really had "read all of the background information" though, and was aware of the truth, then it's a damn shame that he felt that it was appropriate to write what he did.



19th July

I was running cabling in the computer room with one of my PFYs, today, and ended up crawling halfway under the false floor to un-snag a tangle buried deep under the biggest, heaviest cabinet. The PFY told me afterwards that he was very tempted to push me in the rest of the way, pop the tiles back down and deny ever having seen me - in a small department like ours, "dead man's shoes" is often the only prospect of promotion, but the term isn't usually taken literally. The last laugh would have been on him, though - there's an escape route up under one of the router cabinets, and I'd have rewired his laptop's network wallport to the mains before he had time to get back to his desk...

Meanwhile, more letters from Dan - deodorising light bulbs, annoying transformers, and yet more wildly expensive audio products. The articles have come thick and fast recently, too, with a second letters update a few days later as well as a fascinating review of the state of the art in robotic vacuum cleaners.

New milestones in artificial stupidity - Palo Alto-based company Artificial Development reckon they're making real progress in understanding and modelling the cortex of the human brain.

The Amazon.com Knee-Jerk Contrarian Game - examination of the reviews of acknowledged classics in literature, music and film prove that there's just no pleasing some people...

Don Quixote rides again - can you change the trajectory of an asteroid by crashing a small, aptly-named space probe into it? There's only one way to find out!

TouchGraph Google browser - a graphical method of visualising the relationship between web sites indexed by Google. I'm not sure how it actually works, yet, but it's certainly very interesting to play with.

True tales from Microsoft - via TechNet, Microsoft's own contribution to the ever-growing canon of IT lore. I liked "Personal Information", myself...

US recording Industry under fire - P2P old-timers Sharman Networks have already been given permission to file their own ant-trust suit against the RIAA, and other lawsuits are likely to follow. Neat!


18th July

Disk drives have been on my mind over the last few days, so today I finally bit the bullet and extended my disk partitions to make full use of the 160Gb Maxtor drives. Support for the 48bit LBA required for Windows XP to manage disk partitions greater than 137Gb was rather a grey area last year when I built the PC, and with so much space available there didn't seem to be any rush. However, I noticed the unallocated space in the Disk Manager today while I was double-checking that flakey disc drive, and on a whim I decided to do something about it.

A rather confusing technote from Microsoft has all the details, but it took me a while of cross-checking elsewhere before I was actually happy that I understood the prerequisites. The Microsoft technote definitely implies that the EnableBigLBA registry key that enables 48bit LBA is not actually required for systems with SP1 installed, but almost every other reference seems to disagree. However, the technote does say that the setting will be ignored in SP1 or later, so I don't see that it can do any harm.

If the disks in question are connected to a standard motherboard IDE controller then the native ATAPI.SYS disk controller driver must be updated to version 5.1.2600.1135 by installing the appropriate patch. If however, as in my case, the disks are on an additional controller card such as the popular Promise FastTrak series or my ICP Vortex S-ATA controller, support for 48bit LBA is almost certainly included in the 3rd party drivers already. To play safe I upgraded ATAPI.SYS anyway, and after a reboot used the old favourite Partition Magic (strange to see it in rebranded as a Symantec product after all these years of PowerQuest!) to extend the logical drives onto the rest of the volume. Everything seems to have been perfectly smooth so far.

Elsewhere, a must-see - the movie Alien, condensed into 30 seconds and re-enacted by bunnies. Honestly, I'm not making this up...


17th July

How frustrating! A few nights ago some urgent beeping announced that one of the four disk drives in my main PC had gone west, probably as a result of the stuffy heat in the house this week. Initially this didn't really seem to be a problem, as I've seen enough dead disk drives during my long career in IT that I no longer trust my data to non-redundant volumes, and the ICP Vortex S-ATA RAID card meant that the drive volume carried on happily without even breaking into a sweat. An email to the supplier, Scan, produced an RMA number and I resigned myself to the awkward task of prying the drive cage out of the chassis to extract the failed drive.

Today, however, just before I powered down to open the case I rebooted into the firmware array management utility to double-check exactly which drive had failed - and to my surprise and annoyance all four drives now appeared present and correct, with the damaged mirror re-syncing onto the mysteriously resurrected drive. This is the worst possible scenario, as if I send the drive back to Scan and they don't find a fault, they'll charge me for it in about three different ways - but experience suggests that once a drive has started to fail intermittently like this it's usually all downhill from there, and I can probably look forward to increasingly frequent problems until it finally decides to give up the ghost some weeks or months later. Bah!

Meanwhile, the first virus targeted at handheld PCs running Windows CE / Pocket PC / Windows Mobile (or whatever it's called this month) has finally appeared, if considerably later than most of us were expecting. The code is only a proof of concept, at this stage, and appears to have been created by the same group who last month released the rather unsuccessful Cabir virus for Symbian-based smartphones. Neither worm is actually a significant issue at present, but the time is obviously nigh for PDA worms and I'd probably better check out McAfee's handheld anti-virus offering for my work systems before the rush starts...

Elsewhere, fashion house Oakley has announced their plans for sunglasses with a built-in audio player. The oddly-named "Thump" will have flip-up speakers over the ears to match the flip-up lenses over the eyes (boy, will that look nerdy!) and will come with either 128Mb or 256Mb of memory. Although there are a few images on the announcement page, they're all the arty, extreme close-up conceptual sort of thing that doesn't actually give any idea of what the final product will look like - but given that they'll have to find room for the electronics, battery, controls, USB interface and status LEDs, my bet is that it will look fairly monstrous - something suitable for one of Neal Stephenson's gargoyles.

Finally, Microsoft have won another of their series of lawsuits against large-scale spammers, this time nailing Daniel Khoshnood of Pointcom Inc for $3.95 million, bringing the total of their recent awards to a cool $54 million. In the last eighteen months Microsoft has filed 60 lawsuits against spammers - six of those cases have so far resulted in judgments, with one dismissal, and Microsoft have settled with four defendants and forced two others into bankruptcy. Hah!


15th July

Just links, tonight... But at least there are enough of them for everyone. Help yourself!

Nintendo charges $20 for repackaged classics - and not everybody is happy about paying so much for Game Boy versions of games that are now almost twenty years old.

Google IPO imminent? - According to the Financial Times, the long-awaited IPO may actually happen sometime this month. Shares will be available via an online Dutch auction, and competition is expected to be cut-throat to say the least.

Internet Explorer market share declines - although I think this may have less to do with the highly publicised CERT advice than the increasingly common alternative browsers based on IE's core DLLs.

iPod may discourage copy protection - the various flavours of CD copy protection continue to annoy the consumers, but the massive popularity of the iPod may give them some clout for the first time.

Use of geolocation growing on the web - what you can see and what you are allowed to do can depend greatly on where and even who you are. Some of the implications of this trend are a touch worrying, I'd say.

A strange interview with the CEO of Infinium - avoiding some questions, ignoring others, and thoroughly spinning his answers to the rest. No real surprises there, I guess...

Japanese school to RFID-tag children - the tags will be attached to schoolbags, name tags or clothing, and read by readers installed in school gates and other key locations to track their movements.

The Mexican Attorney General is going one stage further, though - together with a number of key staff, he has had a microchip inserted under the skin of his arm to give secure access to a national database for crime investigators, and assist with tracking in the event of abductions.

Apple not to participate at MacWorld! - although formerly held in Boston, for the last few years the venue has been New York, but this year's move back to Boston seems to have deterred Apple from participating. Some exhibitors and attendees are less than impressed...

Bill Gates say that open source development costs jobs - I can see what he means, but as you can imagine the response from the anti-Microsoft camp has been acerbic, to put it mildly!

Intuit loses personal data on 47,000 customers - a PC was stolen from the company's Omaha office, which contained customer data including credit card and bank account details. Oops!

Underwater robotics competition - the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (what a mouth-full!) is organising a series of competitions to design and build Remote Operated Vehicles in the hope of promoting interest in maritime applications of technology.

Stephen Hawking's U-turn on black holes - in spite of insisting for almost thirty years that even information can't escape from a black hole, Hawking is now suggesting that the event horizon is not as well-defined as has previously been thought, and may allow considerable information about the inner state of the black hole to be exposed.

IBM detects a single electron - if you ask me, some corporates have far too much time (and money) on their hands...

Run, don't walk, to the pitch drop experiment - in 1927 Professor Thomas Parnell began an experiment at the University of Queensland to illustrate that pitch has the properties of a liquid. For the last 72 years a blob of pitch has been slowly dripping from a funnel, and the eighth drop is just about to fall. Nobody actually saw the first seven drops, but thanks to modern webcam technology maybe somebody will catch this one live...

And, finally, User Friendly presents three different takes on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. The film is long, by the way, but I'm told that it is definitely worth seeing if you're at all politically aware.


14th July

My friend Mike saw my segment about flashing lights and pointed me to this rather cunning little widget, intended for use in the burgeoning market for PC flight simulator hardware but easily applicable to pure eye-candy instead. Controlled via a USB interface, it can address 64 LEDS independently, and the sockets look close enough together that square LEDS of the right size would provide a solid panel of lights. All I'd need then would be software to make them do something not unlike like the scrolling effect from the ubiquitous Matrix screensavers, for example - and Mike has already volunteered to write that for me if required. The module looks closer to my idea than anything else I've seen, so far, and at a reasonable $56 it's certainly very tempting...

Meanwhile, in the car this week I've been listening to the audiobook of Larry Niven's classic SF novel "Protector", and I've been impressed by the unusual willingness of the reader, Mark Sherman, to embrace the oddities of an alien language. The aliens in question are named the Pak, and in the book Niven describes that sound as that of their tough, leathery beaks snapping together - so rather than taking the easy way out and saying "Pak", as I have done for the last twenty years or so, Sherman actually makes a dry snapping noise that sounds just like Niven's description. The main alien protagonist is named Phssthpok, and again Sherman actually makes the sound, rather than just saying the word - or trying to, at least, as I never actually worked out how to say "Phssthpok", myself.

Most impressive of all, though, is the way he copes with the speech of a human who is turned into a Pak by an alien virus - the human species is simply the mutated but immature breeder stage of the Pak, and the first human to encounter the Pak is infected with the virus that triggers the change to the adult form. Niven describes how this unfortunate's speech is interspersed with the snapping, clicking sounds of the Pak beak, and how some English syllables are impossible to a creature without any lips, and to my delight Sherman manages to achieve this with an ease and fluidity that is utterly convincing. It's a marvellous performance, and I've been enjoying every minute. Bravo!

Incidentally, while tracking down some links for this segment, I discovered that Niven has just published the fourth part of his momentous Ringworld series. Reviews are mixed, it seems, but it's certainly not one I'm going to miss - I am a big fan of Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories. Some of the lightbulb jokes are almost enough to make me change my mind, though!


13th July

Meetings, training, more meetings, many telephone calls... And a few odd moments of managing the network in the occasional spare time in between. Just links, tonight, then...

The history of the Pentium microprocessor - courtesy of Ars.Technica, part one covers the original Pentium to the Pentium III. Very informative...

Windows XP SP2 still not quite ready - another release candidate is expected imminently, following further issues on the beta program. Confusingly, the third release candidate may actually be called RC2, just like the last one!

Oh, and a word of warning, too, while I think of it - following a mention of the new Windows Update V5 in that news article, I decided to take a look. Getting there was simply a case of substituting "V5" for the "V4" in the URL of the current version of Windows Update, but having downloaded the new support software (itself still in beta) the PC in question now seems irrevocably wedded to the beta site and will no longer go to the conventional service. It's not really a big deal, as everything seems to work perfectly well, but it's not really expected behaviour either - so make sure you know what you're getting into...

One motherboard, two PCs - Jetway's new TwinMagic motherboard allows two users to share a single PC. Hmmm... After some investigation, though, I can't see anything very special about the hardware at all, and I suspect that the multiplexing software would run happily on any PC with a dual-head graphics card - assuming that it isn't artificially locked to only that model of motherboard, that is!

The new Vapochill evaporative cooler - in spite of complete dominating the high-end PC refrigeration market, Asetek are not content to rest on their laurels and their new stand-alone model looks very impressive.

And, finally - Oooh, a pretty blue external disk drive housing! How cute!


11th July

Regular readers of Epicycle will have noticed my fondness for flashing lights on computers, but I've always been disappointed that I've never found anything to simulate that old-time look... My first job, back in the early eighties, was as junior operator of an ICL 2900 series mainframe, and in common with most of its contemporaries back then the main cabinet had a small panel of red status LEDs that reflected the state of various critical registers and system stacks - if the system underwent a catastrophic failure, the lights would freeze in their last position, hopefully revealing some telling insight to the engineer who would follow to pick up the pieces. I spent many hours during the graveyard shift watching these ever-changing lights and wondering what they meant - but ending up none the wiser.

Apart from the baroque mock-ups seen in sixties and seventies science fiction movies, some real computer systems had banks of lights that made the ICL's look thoroughly trivial. Foremost among them was the wonderful Connection Machine supercomputers spawned by the equally wonderful Daniel Hillis, and it is really the drifting, smoky red glow of the CM hardware that has captured my imagination. I would love to reproduce something even a fraction as fascinating and elegant on a desktop PC, but it's quite important to me that, just as on the mainframes, the lights actually mean something. Now, even a random flashing circuit is beyond my meagre electronics skills, but logic that would interface with the PCI bus, for example, is completely and utterly beyond my understanding.

I was encouraged, therefore, to see this design for sale at auction on eBay - it's not what I want, and in fact is not even close, but at least it shows that someone is thinking along roughly the same lines - and I hope that in the fullness of time some clever tweaker will come out with just what I want. I'm absolutely positive that I'm not alone in my fascination with blinking lights, after all. It's a classic geek thing....

Meanwhile (and thanks to Ros for the pointer) there seems to be something of a fuss in the media over a garment care label, of all things. Certain products from Tom Bihn Designs, an American manufacturer of laptop cases and travel bags with strong exports to France, include on the French part of the bilingual label, alongside the washing instructions, the immortal lines "We are sorry that our president is an idiot. We didn't vote for him".

(Image courtesy of Lepow.com)

Such is the attention given to the label since the story broke that the company is now manufacturing a T-shirt bearing the controversial text. A statement on the company's own web site claims that the label refers to the company's own president, founder Tom Bihn himself - but frankly I don't buy that for a moment. Do you...?


IE not the only browser with flaws - looks like all versions based on the open-source Mozilla project have a nasty remote-execute vulnerability, and need to be patched as a matter of priority. Now that the Mozilla family is gaining in popularity, I expect to see more vulnerabilities being unearthed...

An open letter to Steve Jobs, from Alex Salkever at Business Week. The success of the iPod is not being matched elsewhere in the company's range, says Alex, and something needs to be done. Fortunately for Steve, it appears that Alex can provide the answers too...

After a few months of keeping a relatively low profile, SCO's legal department have started banging their drum again. Last week they filed a renewed motion to compel IBM to release more memos from executives, source code underlying IBM's flavours of Unix, and details about programmers involved with their Unix and Linux implementations. This one shows every sign of running and running...

Poor Google - apart from all the legal fuss over the keyword-triggered advertising in their GMail service, they are now being sued by a Maryland-based children's entertainment company named "Googles", who have had a registered copyright and trademark on their name since 1997. With a massive IPO in the offing, I imagine Google will just pay them to shut up and go away - presumably exactly what Googles is hoping for.

Countdown to space funeral launch begins - after a three year pause, unique funeral company Celestis are to resume burials in space. A mere $1000 will enable a gram of cremated ashes to be placed in low Earth orbit, or $5300 for a more generous 7 grams - and the company offers a second launch for free if, as on the last attempt, a launch fails to achieve orbit. Apparently more ambitious options for lunar orbit or even beyond will also be available...

Alleyway to hell - veteran rock group AC/DC are to have a road in Melbourne named after them, to commemorate their thirty year contribution to musical mayhem. Oddly, the group already has a street named after them in Madrid!

Finally, Army Times has some video of the new Heckler & Koch XM8 Lightweight Modular Carbine System in action. It's an impressive weapon, certainly, and even its futuristic composite design doesn't seem so outlandish these days - although seeing an assault rifle being fired at arm's length like a pistol, one long, continuous burst of full auto from a 100 round drum magazine, certainly shows that this is something new...


9th July

Still not the end of the week, dammit, as I have to be in the office on Saturday to take care of some housekeeping chores that can only be done out-of-hours. Evidently Friday night is anti-corporation night at Epicycle, though, so here goes...

Primo geek site Ars.Technica is casting doubt on the BSA's claims that one-third of the software installed on computers worldwide is pirated, representing a loss of nearly $29 billion in revenue for the industry. As usual, there are some basic fallacies in the assumptions made (not all pirated software actually represents a loss of income for the manufacturer) and just to muddy the waters the way that the data has been collected has changed this year. Given the size of the axe that the BSA are trying to grind, their statements have to be taken with a considerable pinch of salt...

Also at Ars, an article on the implications of the INDUCE act, the latest attempt by despicable Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (relentless lobbyist and mouthpiece for the RIAA and the MPAA) to introduce legislation that champions the interests of large corporations over the long-established rights of "fair use" that used to be enjoyed by consumers. Bah!

DuPont Failed to Report Teflon Health Risks - The EPA has stated that the chemicals giant has consistently violated the Toxic Substances Control Act between June 1981 and March 2001, by not reporting known health risks associated with a by-product of the Teflon manufacturing process. DuPont completely denies the accusation, but as far as I'm concerned their long record speaks for itself.

And, talking of corrupt, immoral corporates... the ex-Chairman and CEO of Enron, Ken Lay, has been charged with eleven counts of fraud concerning the company's financial collapse in 2001. Lay is playing the plausible deniability card so beloved of fat cats caught with their fingers in the corporate cookie jar, and is insisting that he was duped by his underlings. Do I believe him? Hell, no!

Finally, IT trainer Matt Basham's suggestions for improving Cisco's official training manuals were ignored by the company for years, so he has decided to publish it himself, for free! The manual can be downloaded from Basham's own web site, and has also been made available at Lulu.com, an alternative publishing company run by Bob Young, one of the founders of Linux stalwarts Red Hat. I bet Cisco is fuming...   :-)


8th July

The spirit of Admiral Grace Hopper is alive and well in my computer room, this week, following the discovery of a very large, very dead, moth inside one of the old Compaq ProLiant servers that I've been decommissioning. Although Hopper's entry in the system journal shows that when she found her own bug in 1945 the term was already in common use among engineers (in fact the modern meaning can be dated back to at least 1896), as she said her find was definitely the first documented case of a real bug being found in a system.

At about an inch and a half long I think my bug is bigger than Hopper's, but I'm certainly glad that it hasn't followed Moore's law as well as the computer itself has. Even a thoroughly obsolete ProLiant 1600 is literally millions of times more powerful than the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator at Harvard, and that would leave the bug on the scale of Mothra from the classic Japanese monster movies (although even the experts can't seem to agree how large that actually is) - and there probably wouldn't be room for both of us in the computer room at the same time...

Ah, the good old days... back when Pentium II CPUs were the state of the art, 9.1Gb disk drives seemed impossibly huge, and Compaq gave away a free moth with every server.

Elsewhere, a new craze seems to be spreading through my office... MinnoKubes are little fish tanks, about six inches square and eight inches high. Each one comes complete with a plant, a handful of pretty gravel and stone chips, and four little fishes. Apparently the entire system is designed to be low maintenance and hardy enough to cope with office life (although the accuracy of those claims will remain to be seen over the next few months) and they certainly are both fascinating and relaxing to watch. On the whole I'm inclined to stick with my favourite aquarium screensaver, but I have to admit that they're extremely neat little toys.


7th July

Fish heads! Fish heads! Get your lovely fish heads here!

Oh, no, wait - I mean links. Sorry.

Two disgruntled users are suing eBay after being overcharged by about $20. However, although the actual amounts involved are trivial, the basis of the case certainly isn't - eBay has been rounding up its charges without telling anyone, it seems, so that a transaction of $30.78, say, is actually billed as $30.80. Given the huge number of transactions eBay processes, this obviously represents a nice little earner - and in my opinion is an extremely dubious practice.

Elsewhere in court, so far this session at least seven US states have proposed bills that would restrict the sale of violent video games. So far, all of the measures that passed have been overturned at appeal on the grounds of First Amendment protection, but legislators and activists are convinced that some titles must be kept out of the hands of children - or, ideally it seems, everyone else as well.

In video games these days, you can strangle someone with a garrotte, pop off an enemy's head in a shower of gore with a sniper shot, and direct a teenage girl to shotgun a demon dog. Not to mention beat up prostitutes, run down pedestrians, bathe in the blood of your enemies and curse like a lobster boat captain who's stubbed his toe.

Curse like a lobster boat captain? Cool! Where do I sign up?

Closer to home, an upcoming gun control conference seems to have brought hope of some common ground at last, as it is being jointly organised by BASC, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, and the Mothers Against Guns pressure group. Both have revealed that they have been under considerable pressure not to associate with what hardliners on both sides view as the enemy, but they are hoping that working together will uncover new ways of tackling the issues. I will be watching this with interest.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered hobby of airsoft seems to have received some rare (perhaps unique?) favourable publicity in the Scottish Sun, with a two page article covering a recent weekend game at Fife skirmish site The Fort. Congratulations to all those involved...

Elsewhere... the current version of the archetypal Motherboard Monitor PC hardware monitoring utility will be the last, according to creator Alex Van Kaam. After seven and a half years, it seems, he's just had enough - and given how thankless the shareware industry can be, I don't blame him one little bit.

New Bagle variants! Now with source code! - the sneaky little bastard behind the Bagle virus has released the assembly language source to the net along with two new versions, thus guaranteeing a bazillion new variants - and at the same time covering his tracks somewhat if he happens to get caught with the source code on his own PC. With the threat of a price on his head, is he starting to feel the pressure?

More letters from Dan - the early days of PCI Express, pontificating on Moore's Law, Iomega's "Click of Death", and yet another dumb add-on for audiophiles with more money than sense... if, admittedly, in this case not that much more.

Microsoft's official statement  - "Regarding Configuration Change to Windows in Response to Download.Ject Security Issue". What a mouthful to describe a security patch - especially one that may not actually work very well, anyway!

The customer is always right? - Not any more, it seems, at least according to US chain Best Buy, who are starting to differentiate between profitable customers and shoppers they lose money on. This is becoming increasingly common in many sectors, according to the article, which also mentions that the phone queuing system at the Royal Bank Of Canada sends certain customers to the front of the line, based on factors such as the balance of their account... I am definitely not impressed with that.

And, finally, Vogon Heavy Industries - an online version of the Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy; although at the moment it's long on technical hype and short on actually working... Check back in a few weeks, perhaps?


6th July

Tuesday Tuesday... Probably not a good idea to trust that day, either, now I come to think of it. In fact, all seven of them look pretty dubious to me - best to give the whole damn lot of 'em a wide berth...

Another urban legend debunked, thanks to the ever-useful Snopes reference site. This time it is the Smithsonian Barbie myth, seen before but forgotten until I ran into it presented as fact again a few days ago.

The Register has a guide to the government's plans for ID cards, contrasting David Blunkett's lies and hype with the reality that the current state of the art will permit - specially prepared using short, simple sentences for technically-challenged politicians.

Oh, dear! It looks as if Microsoft's work-around for the infamous Internet Explorer vulnerability may not be up to scratch after all - according to postings on the Full Disclosure mailing list at Insecure.org a slightly  modified form of the existing exploit will work on patched systems. This news comes hot on the heels of yet another as-yet unpatched weakness - and the word is that Microsoft is now intending a ground-up re-write of IE itself in an attempt to make the damn thing a little more secure.

Elsewhere, Microsoft have merged their previously proprietary Caller ID For Email specification with the independent SPF Sender Policy Framework specification that is rapidly gaining support amongst ISPs and sysadmins. While I don't believe that SPF will be a miracle cure-all, it will certainly help in certain circumstances and I intend to implement it in the office domain as soon as the current upgrade cycle is complete.

Finally, the creator of the Cabronator trojan was jailed for two years last week, after a Spanish court heard that the worm had infected at least 100,000 systems, harvesting personal details and turning them into zombies controllable over the IRC networks. Identifying the author was presumably made a little easier by the fact that he appears to have put his mugshot into later versions of the user interface. I've said it before and I'll say it again - these people are not, on the whole, very clever...


5th July

"Monday Monday, can't trust that day"... Productive, but busy - so just linkage tonight.

Dissention in the ranks of physicists - have the fundamental constants been changing? A lot of people are going to be rather annoyed if this turns out to be the case but, in spite of earlier reports, right now the smart money seems to think that a constant is a constant after all.

US, UK and Australia sign anti-spam act - a "memorandum of understanding" intended to promote joint enforcement and investigation of spammers across the three countries... But will it amount to anything?

Water cooling for servers coming soon - although the author of the article seems completely unaware that liquid cooling has been common in the hobbyist set for several years now!

An Innovative flash-hosted NAS add-on - a review at Tom's Hardware examines the new product from Open-e, with further details at their UK distributor, TMC.

Ask The Tech Girl - is it phone sex or technical support? At $29.50 for ten minutes chat, their business model seems to be similar to both...

Michael Moore on the unprecedented response to the first few days of Fahrenheit 9/11 - and the unprecedented surge on some of the file-sharing networks since Moore invited people to download a copy for themselves.

Ultra-wideband radar sees through walls - remember the sequence in Eraser with the rail gun armed baddies shooting through the walls of a building?

And talking of movies... an article in Wired, Online gaming moves to the next level of reality, really makes me think of a scene from the classic Blazing Saddles:

Hedley Lamarr:   Qualifications?
Outlaw:   Rape, murder, arson, and rape.
Hedley Lamarr:   You said rape twice!
Outlaw:   I like rape!



4th July

Microsoft has finally released a work-around for the rather nasty Internet Explorer vulnerabilities that have been making the headlines in recent weeks. It has to be said that it is a fairly crude solution, simply preventing the ADODB.Stream function that allows files to be created on the local hard drive from being executed within IE. This is not ideal, as there are legitimate uses of this function in certain web-based transactions, and presumably a subsequent patch for the vulnerability itself will have to enable the facility again - but given the potential seriousness of the exploit right now anything is better than nothing.

Elsewhere... Wireless cola gives USAF target practice - Coke cans with embedded cellphones and GPS positioning receivers are being used as marketing ploys in the manufacturer's summer promotional campaign. As The Register notes, though, Coke is popular in areas of the world where having guerrilla marketing teams descending from the skies in helicopters may be met with a distinctly hostile response...

Daleks boycott Dr Who - plans to include the perennial favourites in the upcoming new series have met with insurmountable licensing difficulties, thanks to the estate of the late programme creator Terry Nation, which has accused the BBC of attempting to "ruin the brand of the Daleks". Whatever that means...

Legal bills push up cost of Queen - the annual cost of funding the Queen rose by a penny per person to 61p this year, a total of £36.8 million. Additional state visits, overseas tours and ceremonial costs are blamed, together with the cost of new contracts intended to prevent royal staff leaking private details to the press. However, as she is the second richest woman in England, and (at last count) the 19th richest in the world, it's a complete mystery to me why I have to pay anything towards her upkeep at all! Hhmph!

Mobiles in hospitals are safe, say doctors - In spite of long-standing bans by the Department of Health, healthcare professionals insist that there is no justification for banning mobile phones, and claim that radios used by the emergency services (which are allowed into resuscitation units and intensive care rooms) have a much greater risk of interfering with essential equipment. The source of the conflict is clear, though - most hospitals charge patients a daily fee to have a phone by their beds, and also charge premium rates for friends and family to dial in to them...

And, finally, a warning about a French supplier of replica guns and survival equipment, Guns2U. Their web site is aimed largely at the English retail market, it seems, but as some of their products specifically state "cannot be sold to the UK" this may leave the inexperienced with the impression that all the others are safe to buy and own in this country. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth - their range includes pepper sprays, electric stun guns, automatic knives and black powder revolvers, all of which are either heavily restricted or completely and utterly illegal to own.

Perhaps worst of all, their blank firers are the variety that vent the discharge gasses forward through the barrel, and as in general this type of replica is deemed to be "readily convertible" by the police and courts, they will be treated as live firearms - with all the unpleasantness that implies. In fact, there already seems to have been some fall-out of this nature...

Be aware - the UK's legislation on firearms is extremely strict, and the axiom "innocence of the law is no excuse" has rarely been applied more enthusiastically... Given the potentially serious problems that may arise, when it comes to grey areas and dubious imports it is far better to be safe than sorry.


3rd July

Que es mas macho?





2nd July

Two large Compaq servers relocated, one nasty scratch on a techie's arm and one PFY with a slightly crushed finger. So far, I think the servers are ahead on points... It's been one of those days, so here are some random links in lieu of actual entertainment:

The Evils of Q-Tips, via Joel Stein at Time Magazine - an oldie, it seems, but if not a goldie then at least a gold-platie. Joel has a number of other rants, too, on subjects ranging from how not to spice up your marriage, to being let down by the latest fashionable computer viruses. Take a look.

A neat little software utility, CallerIP, which identifies the geographical location of the web site you're viewing. It's similar to the excellent NeoTrace utility I use (now apparently swallowed up by McAfee), but aimed at regular users rather than network geeks. The manufacturer, VisualWare, has a number of other interesting online tools, including the MailWasher email filter that seems to come highly recommended.

A sneak preview of Microsoft's new search engine - and to my considerable surprise Epicycle is already indexed there at least as well as at Google. They must have been secretly crawling the web for months and months in preparation...

Primitive man discovers overclocking - an optimist on the [H]ard|OCP forum is trying to sell a crystal oscillator used to overclock an IBM PC-AT from 6Mhz to a staggering 8MHz. It may not sound like much, but when you think of it that's a 33% overclock - which is actually rather impressive by current standards. I really can't see anyone paying the $500 he's asking for it, though!

Uproar as Microsoft patents skin - or, to be more accurate than most of the posts complaining about it, patents the concept of transmitting electrical power and data signals across the surface of the skin. Wearable computing, here we come!

And, finally, courtesy of Something Awful, a flamethrower made from DIY components. Don't try this at home... or at work... or anywhere else, really, either...


1st July

I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that John Cleese's kettle has been mended, which paves the way for the official grand opening of his web site "in the the autumn or the fall, whichever you prefer". Thanks to The Sideshow for the heads-up.

Meanwhile, the second-hand disk arrays I was watching have both sold, and as I anticipated they went for the proverbial song: £390 for the little one, and £870 for the 900Gb unit - rather more than I was expecting, I have to admit, but still far from excessive. I'm glad that I had the excuse of the upcoming house move to deter me, though - I was rather taken with the idea of them, and it would have been impossible to avoid a bidding war, especially on the larger capacity unit.


Oh, dear! Not a good month in the stats, in spite of some unexpected but welcome attention from the less geeky segments of the blogosphere - my segment on Reagan was linked by a well-known political blog, and then  mirrored from there around the usual little circle of Blogspot sites. After all that extra traffic early on in the month I was hoping for another record, but evidently traffic tapered off in the second half of the month in plenty of time to teach me a lesson in hubris - not only did the total fail to reach last month's, but also (by a narrow margin) that of the month before. Ah, well...

On the subject of Reagan, though, here's something that I was hoping to find when I wrote my own obituary for him - an extensive list of some of his more butt-headed, fatuous, absurd and offensive soundbites. And don't forget, this is the man they are calling "The Great Communicator". Well, I guess he's great in comparison with Dubya! This cartoon sums up Reagan's enduring myth rather neatly, as well...

Elsewhere - and quite a long way elsewhere, too - I noticed a reference to Epicycle on what turned out to be a Slovakian airsoft site. As you might expect I don't speak a world of Slovak, but thanks to Ros and the perennially informed and helpful members of the Cix online community, a translation was soon proffered:

It starts off something like:

"I was delighted to be able to buy stuff successfully through WGC as it allowed me to start experimenting again. I was able to browse through all the companies that sell Airsoft guns via the Internet, including companies I'd never heard of. And one, UN Company, had the Smith and Wesson M629 I'd not been able to find anywhere else.

I'm a conservative type, naturally suspicious of new untried methods, but shopping via WGC let me find out all sorts of stuff, even about this Hong Kong company, UN Company, which no one had ever heard of."

He then goes on about how he had to get round the fact airguns are illegal where he is and there were all sorts of problems, and some other company Red Wolf mucked him about, kept saying the M629 was out of stock, but UN Company obliged him immediately.

He then burbles on for several paragraphs about the problems he had with invoices, couriers etc trying to get his mitts on the M629, and some other bits and pieces to go with it, there were bank problems and all sorts of other stuff, but UN Company were unfailingly helpful. He is no longer afraid of ordering through the Internet thanks to the positive experiences he had ordering through WGC and from UN Company.

He then quotes your weblog where you complain about UN Company in connection with the same gun and says "Well, that's not what I found, but people probably ought to read this article to see that not everyone is quite as happy as I am" or something along those lines.

There's an awful lot more than that but I hope that gives you the general idea.....

Yes, indeed. Thanks to Jeremy Harris for the translation.



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