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31st December

The last entry of 2005, a year which definitely seems to have flown past on time's winged arrow etc etc. I've spent far too much money on replica guns and computer hardware, far too much time working at weekends while we rebuilt the computer room, and far too much time scouring the web for all the news that's fit to blog.

Regular readers will have noticed that I post graphs of the site's traffic at the end of each month, and will have correctly deduced from this that I am obsessed by my stats and have an ego the size of a 72" server cabinet. It won't come as any surprise, therefore, that I'm going to join every other site on the web by offering some kind of "best of 2005" list, in this case presenting for your edification and delight some of my own favourite posts of the year:

January - unimpressed by Dylan and the moons of Saturn

February - mourning Hunter Thompson and kitchen computing

March - bored by viruses and the prehistory of computing

April - building a store room

May - reviewing "Bio"remembering Feynman and criticising Card

June - creating a new PC, bitching about the law, and musing on Guantanamo

July - paying too much for DSL, enjoying Futurama, and daring to argue with Dan

August - pontificating on NeXT, and when geeks go bad

September - a very unusual gun, and rebuilding the computer room

October - strange search terms, having a go at [H]ard|OCP and very old hardware indeed

November - suing O2 and Zombie Night at Epicycle

December - picking locks and mixed feelings about furniture

Happy New Year!

 

30th December

The weekend again at last, and a nice long one too - although next Tuesday, after the courier companies start work again, my long-awaited tape library is due to be delivered so I'm also keen for the end of the weekend to come! It's a conflict that I shall just have to live with, but while I struggle with myself here are a few small news items:

I shot a bullet in the air - courtesy of the Notes from the Technology Underground blog (see Epicycle passim), the official verdict that discharging firearms into the air to celebrate the holiday season is indeed a bad idea. Given the proverbial nature of "what goes up, must come down", it's not clear to me why anyone ever thought that this might not be the case...?   [Update: more at Boing Boing]

Technology lowlights - courtesy of tech-babe Xeni, those events of the year that should make the industry hang its head in shame: Yahoo finking out a Chinese journalist, Apple suing its most ardent fans, and of course Sony opening a back door into PCs just to stop customers from fully using something they've already legally purchased.

Sony settles DRM class-action suit - It's a great pity that it didn't occur to them to make this kind of offer before the legal action, rather than maintaining the attitude personified by their President of Global Digital Business, Thomas Hesse - "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?".

Hardly a secret - I'm somewhat amazed to see an extensive article at the rather inappropriately named "Hardware Secrets" site, devoted to the process of connecting speakers to a PC. You wouldn't think that six pages needed to be devoted to saying "connect the coloured plugs to the same coloured sockets at each end", but apparently it does...

A very quiet leap forward - rather than using two separate ICs in devices such as cellphones and PDAs (one to handle the radio communication, and one to run the operating system), the technology is now available to build the entire device around a single chip. Strangely, though, the manufacturers don't seem very keen to capitalise on this advance, or even to publicise it.

 

29th December

I have my car back again, thanks to a very nice man from Essex auto security specialist Aveley Alarms, who braved the freezing temperatures to thoroughly test the alarm system, then resynchronise my keyfob and program a spare to match. The fitter, Martin French, was helpful and informative, and obviously extremely knowledgeable, and I'd have no hesitation in recommending the company.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the dregs of the year's news:

The year in review - it's that time of the year again, and The Register has summarised the last twelve months. As expected, computer security looms large, with Sony's DRM scandal ending the list.

The best of the robots - Wired has compiled a list of the fifty best robots: some from movies and television, and some from the real world... and some of them have guns.

Backyard ballistics - DIY ordnance guru and author William Gurstelle has started a weblog, recent topics including things scientific, things explosive, and Laurie Anderson.

The shape of things to come - what to expect from Microsoft in 2006, including new versions of MOM and SMS, betas of Office, Exchange and Longhorn, and of course the release of Vista.

Spam suits in the UK - a computer consultant has won a landmark case in the small claims court, receiving compensation for spam email sent to him by UK marketing company Media Logistics.

Lives of the profits - in spite of many rumours to the contrary, Microsoft has announced that the new Xbox 360 console will become profitable by the middle of 2006, sooner than expected.

Digital home movies - Intel sponsored a contest to raise awareness of the concept of the digital home (something close to their hearts and wallets) and some of the winners are available at Bit-Tech.

Merry christmas - a little late, perhaps, but this animated musical christmas card is well worth it. Thanks to The Sideshow for the link, which I missed at the time in spite of being only a few feet away.

 

27th December

As usual it's a slow time for news at the moment, but fortunately I'm a touch backlogged and have a handful of stories lurking from before the holiday period. I'm back at the silicon face tomorrow (as soon as my car alarm has been repaired or replaced, that is!) so it will be business as usual again in another few days.

Pots and kettles #19 - Florida attorney general Charlie Crist has spearheaded an aggressive campaign against unsolicited spam, including support for a law under which violators can be fined up to $500 for every message sent, but a recent report suggests that he has been sending spam of his own promoting his gubernatorial candidacy and soliciting campaign donations.

Commodore making a comeback? - what remains of the company (only the name, really, following a long sequence of acquisitions and bankruptcies) is apparently poised to re-emerge as a manufacturer of  multimedia devices, and although some of their hardware designs are interesting, it will remain to be seen whether anything comes of this latest foray back into the industry.

Media giants under fire again - crusading New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has no love for the big names of the music industry, and given that they appear to be corrupt to the core it's no surprise that he has issued subpoenas to Warner, Sony BMG, Universal and EMI as part of an investigation into collusion to fix prices of music downloads at iTunes and other online music stores.

Diebold takes its ball and goes home - the highly dubious maker of highly dubious electronic voting machines has withdrawn from North Carolina following the introduction of new election integrity laws which demand that manufacturers release their source code to the state for review. Diebold have been fighting the ruling, but the EFF has been lobbying hard and has achieved a worthwhile victory.

Hangover cures don't work - a team from the medical school at Exeter University has finished exhaustive testing on both commercial remedies and folk wisdom, and the results are not encouraging: "No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any complementary or conventional intervention is effective for treating or preventing alcohol hangover".

FBI called in to police virtual world - the popular online RPG Second Life has been hit with a denial of service attack, and unusually the source was the in-game scripting engine. A wave of annoying malicious activities culminated in a "grid crash" which denied game access to other players, prompting the company to contact the authorities.

Gone soft on Microsoft - veteran open source developer and evangelist Rafe Colburn has admitted that he no longer sees Microsoft as the evil entity he used to, partly because they obviously haven't crushed all the competition and taken over the world, and partly because the growing number of MS bloggers are putting a considerably more human face on the company.

Baiting the corporates - infamous torrent site Pirate Bay has received a generous quantity of legal complaints from the owners of the media they link to, but thanks to Sweden's unusually enlightened copyright laws they're comparatively untouchable, and are making the most of it by ruthlessly teasing the companies that have foolishly threatened them with the infamous DMCA legislation.

 

26th December

I had an extremely pleasant few days over Christmas, marred only by my car alarm failing to respond to the keyfob when it was time to leave, leaving me with a shrieking siren and a thoroughly immobilised engine. It's nice to know that the security system works as it should, but with all the specialists firmly closed for the holiday period it could have chosen a better time to demonstrate its prowess, and I had to enlist the services of my recovery company to ferry the car home on the back of a flatbed.

It's not yet clear exactly what the problem is, as the little red LED on the keyfob lights happily when the buttons are pressed, suggesting that it's neither a flat battery (I replaced it anyway) or the fact that I dropped the fob onto the pavement shortly before discovering that it doesn't work... Given my recent experience with the central heating boiler I'm hoping that someone will turn up and perform some twenty second miracle cure again, and as I'm relying on the car to get me to work later this week and the alternative is probably to replace the security system completely, I would happily swallow my pride again and admit my abject stupidity concerning alarms if that turned out to be the case...

Ah, technology... Don't you just want to hit it with a bat until it shatters into 37 pieces love it.

 

24th December

A few quick links before I head off to stay with friends for a couple of days over christmas. Updates will probably resume on or about Monday:

A shower of bastards - Dan has been ripped off by an eBay vendor overseas, and is somewhat bitter about it. Having been caught by the same dodge myself (as well as several other related shipping scams) I have considerable sympathy.

The Powerbook Prank - and talking of eBay bastards, courtesy of the remarkable Zug ("The World's Only Comedy Site") an excellent attempt to scam a scammer. They pulled it off, with the aid of a global network of secret operatives, but it wasn't without its tense moments...

Opera denies rumours - the browser company has been flooded with anxious phone calls after widespread gossip suggested that they were about to be bought out by Microsoft. Given that similar rumours surfaced last week about an acquisition by Google, I think somebody is playing games.

Ultima V Lazarus - Origin's 1987 classic fantasy role-playing game Ultima V has been given a thoroughly modern rework, using a modern 3D engine to render completely redesigned player characters, monsters, scenery and objects. It looks very interesting indeed.

Remembering the real Space Cowboys - veteran astronaut Wally Schirra is on tour to promote his new book, along with Huntsville Public Affairs Officer Ed Buckbee. Schirra has an ego the size of the Apollo VAB, but he's also a fascinating character with an armload of classic space race stories.

Dubious advice - an interesting test to see if your email is being intercepted by the government, using two dummy mail accounts and a dedicated web page - but it should be noted that spooks generally have no sense of humour and teasing them rarely works out very well in the long run...

 

23rd December

It's obviously a month for posting pictures of kittens and people with guns, for which I make no apologies. You can never have too many photos of people with guns, and if they're pointing them at something cute and fluffy then so much the better.

Elsewhere...

Deletion is not an excuse - the Information Tribunal has ruled that the government must try to recover "lost" records by undeleting, restoring from backups or reconstructing where possible, rather than just brushing requests off by saying that the data is no longer available.

Newton museum closing - a unique collection of Apple's much-derided PDA is closing after seven years, and is up for auction on eBay as a single lot (thirteen Newtons (one of every model), plus a raft of accessories, software and manuals) and the auction is attracting quite a lot of interest.

The last nail in the coffin - and talking of white elephants, the Bay Area NeXT Group has disbanded after fifteen years of slavish support to Steve Jobs' doomed computer company. I think that the Wired article over-estimates the technologies that NeXT contributed to the current OS X, though...

Bypassing web filtering - a clever dodge to work around the sort of commercial filtering software that my team manages at the office, for example: assuming you have the target URL, simply use Google's online translation service to convert from English to English. Inspired, but also annoying!

Critical Symantec bug - haven't we seen this somewhere before? Forty products across their range are afflicted by a nasty flaw in an library component used to scan RAR archives. Unusually, the vulnerability is cross-platform, affecting Mac and Unix versions as well as those for Windows.

Christmas lights hoax auction - Last year a Lafayette techie caused something of a media buzz when he web-enabled thousands of christmas lights on his house, and then a second buzz when it emerged that actually it was a clever hoax. Now the entire system is for sale on eBay to raise money for charity.

The curse of a new PC - [H]ard|OCP has reviewed Dell's new high-end home system, and was not terribly impressed. The hardware was fine, but the huge quantity of pre-installed evaluation software caused all sorts of problems. It's interesting to note that this is exactly the sort of situation that the rulings that followed the US and EU anti-trust suits were designed to encourage...

And finally, more monitoring in the UK - as if the country isn't under absurd and threatening levels of surveillance already (one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK) the Association of Chief Police Officers is proposing a scheme to install a nationwide network of roadside cameras equipped with automatic number plate recognition systems and linked to the proverbial giant central database. The only saving grace is that given appalling levels of incompetence demonstrated by all other government IT schemes, and the laughably rapid timescale quoted (March? You're intending to have it in place by next March?) it seems very unlikely that much will come of it any time soon. Thank heaven for small mercies.

 

22nd December

I'm relived to be able to say that I'm making some progress with the import of my tape library, thanks to an extremely helpful person at the UK office of shipping company UTI - but no thanks to the eBay vendor who sold me the item, who at this stage has pretty much cut me loose to swing in the wind. Having filled in some marvellously inappropriate customs declaration forms as best as I could, and having agreed to sign over an arm, a leg, and several major organs to cover the VAT and delivery charges, UTI fast-tracked my pallet through customs and are now ready to ship it out to my home address as soon as the christmas shutdown is over. I'm not too traumatised by the cost, as all-in-all I'll have paid a total of 1050 for a 3Tb tape library, which I think is quite acceptable, but the additional fuss that the seller has put me too is not something I will forget in a hurry - and, of course, if it turns out to be in worse condition than the eBay listing claimed I will be very, very cross indeed. There are serious limits to how much one can hassle a person in another country in a case like this, but you can bet your bippy that if it comes to it I will do whatever I can...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Ignorance or greed? - apparently customers who bring digital media to US branches of Staples for colour printing are being charged an additional fee of $2.49 per file for virus scanning! The contributor of the item is surprised that Staples haven't always been doing this as a routine safety measure, but I'm surprised that nobody has commented on how unlikely it is for an image file to be able to contain hostile code! The JPEG vulnerability aside (which was never widely exploited in the real world) the chances of anything nasty appearing during the printing process is minimal. What a rip-off...  [Update: It looks as if the original report may have been a little wide of the mark.]

Condemned by his own blog - a Florida teen who wrote a blog entry about his part in a fatal road accident pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter when the prosecution revealed that they intended to produce the (subsequently deleted) post as evidence. It's a salutary lesson, indeed - but one that only the terminally stupid need to learn from...

Naughty or nice? - another list from BB Spot (yes, the entire site is a spoof, OK?) suggests that fortunately I'm only half bad. That probably means that I'll get christmas presents, but they'll all be lumps of coal or potatoes...

Best of the rest - and talking of lists, Swedish tech site Fosfor has presented the ten most unusual PC case mods - and although I wouldn't have said that the stunning WMD case featured at Bit-Tech really belongs with the others, their number one choice certainly is weird indeed...

Not so new as all that - the "path-breaking technology" (come again?) behind a new anti-virus solution from Indian developer Sanrasoft Software turns out to be merely an extension of the old checksum approach used and abandoned by AV products in the nineties.  [Yawn]

Linksys ditching Linux - the popular WRT54G wireless/broadband router used to be based on a Linux kernel, and so was a favourite target for homebrew firmware tweakers, but current (and future) versions use the proprietary VxWorks OS as it will run in half the memory footprint and allow the manufacturing costs to be cut significantly. Initial figures suggest that sales have started to slump now that the hardware is no longer hackable, though, so the decision may yet come back to bite them.

Insane in the mainframe - figures suggest that the worldwide level of spam email is starting to level out at around 70%, and the FTC has taken this to mean that the flawed Can-Spam act is a rousing success. As Steve at [H]ard|OCP puts it, though -  "If 70% of your phone calls were solicitations? If 70% of the people coming to your house were door to door salesmen? If your mailbox was packed with 70% porno fliers and credit card offers? Would you be happy if you had to pay $59.99 for anti-phone, anti-door or anti-mail protection?"  Indeed - but when are you going to start using permalinks on your site, guys?

Storms in teacups - Microsoft are under fire again following an allegation from Linotype that the new "Segoe UI" font developed for Vista is a copy of their "Frutiger Next" design. I'm sure that there are indeed similarities, but after several hundred years of font design it must be getting harder and harder to avoid that even with the best of intentions - and as suing Microsoft has rapidly become a useful source of additional revenue claims of this sort have to be taken with a big pinch of salt.

Taking their ball and going home? - and talking of kicking Microsoft around, the EU is threatening fines of up to 2 million Euros per day unless it complies with their earlier penalties - the 497 million Euro fine, the order to share code with rivals, and the creation of a pointless version of Windows without the bundled Media Player. One does wonder how much the company can be pushed before simply closing down its EU-based operations completely becomes a cheaper and more attractive option. I certainly wouldn't blame them if they did...

 

21st December

As I write this I'm in the process of wrangling with the Canadian eBay vendor who sold me my tape library, and who seems to think that shipping the unit to London Heathrow airport instead of to the delivery address I gave him is perfectly acceptable. Needless to say I don't share this opinion, but he seems to be about to wash his hands of the whole business and as in this case lack of possession is nine points of the law I'm probably going to have to find and pay for a local courier myself unless I want the hardware to languish unclaimed in a warehouse somewhere. Needless to say, I am not a happy bunny.

While I fume gently, then, and in between increasingly terse email messages, some links:

Phone clone scam exposed - members of the terrorist organization Hezbollah have cloned the mobiles of senior executives of Canadian telco Rogers Communications, including the CEO, and run up many tens of thousands of dollars worth of calls. Although the frauds were detected in fairly short order, staff were apparently too frightened of inconveniencing the execs to do anything about it!

A sad state of affairs - Yahoo has released their list of the most popular search topics of 2005, and Caesar at Ars.Technica is not at all impressed. As the connected world's number one obsession is apparently Britney Spears, I can see his point...

Chilean and Peruvian hackers at war - apparently the two countries are currently embroiled in a fierce diplomatic dispute over Pacific fishing rights and ownership of a soft drink, and patriotic hackers on both sides are defacing the web sites of the opposing governments in order to make their points!

Typo-squatting - the latest sleazy trick being employed by the growing army of web con-artists is to set up a dummy web site at the a plausible misspelling of a well-known address, and then to serve Google AdSense ads to the inadvertent visitors in order to raise money for the squatters.

The real secret of Pixar - it wasn't the technology itself that made Steve Jobs and George Lucas look like visionaries (and made them a pile of money into the bargain), but instead the drive and passion of the company's founders, Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and John Lasseter.

The rights and wrongs of spying - following their analysis of the technology behind the recent wiretapping scandal, Ars Technica has published a follow-up on why casting such a wide net is a really bad idea, and probably increases the likelihood of the real terrorists evading detection...

Take four GPUs into the shower? - at Tom's Hardware, a preview of the upcoming twin-GPU Nvidia graphics cards from Asus, two of which can be installed on the latest PCI Express x32 motherboards. The hardware is still very much in development, but the raw horsepower is truly excessive.  :-)

And, finally Seagate are buying Maxtor in a the deal worth $1.9 billion in stock. In spite of almost continuous growth in the storage market over the last decade, the number of manufacturers continues to fall - Connor and Seagate merged back in 1996, Maxtor and Quantum in 2001, and IBM and Hitachi combined operations in 2002. This latest move leaves only Seagate, Western Digital and Hitachi dominating a market that had three times as many major players only ten years ago, and I can't see any way that this is a good thing for the consumer...

 

20th December

It was one of those days, today - the server I was working on started to die with memory parity errors, one of my own PCs suddenly lost the ability to run Internet Explorer (it won't run the Acrobat Reader, either - I think a full rebuild is called for) and, although I deny that this was anything to do with me, the MPLS WAN connection that links us to our regional offices dropped off for an hour or so in the middle of the afternoon. Some days it's a mistake to get out of bed...

Enthusiasm is a touch low, therefore, so you'll have to settle for some random news links again:

What a rip-off - following the expected but probably groundless allegations of vote-rigging in the weekend's final of television talent show The X Factor (I only watch it when my girlfriend is here, honest!) a story from a few weeks ago reveals the lengths that the production company has gone to to squeeze every last penny out of the millions of fans.

Perl warnings toned down - the popular scripting language is not quite as dangerous as some recent reports have suggested, according to damage limitation from (guess who) the Perl Foundation. If you listen (and you don't have to listen that carefully, either) you can actually hear the sound of an axe being ground...

Touched a nerve? - the name of a cancer-causing gene has been changed from "Pokemon" to the ever-so catchy "Zbtb7" after trademark-holder Nintendo threatened legal action to keep scientists from using the name. The choice of name was not entirely whimsical, however, as the gene is part of the POK family that is critical in embryonic development, cellular differentiation and oncogenesis.

Beagle 2 spotted - I woke up this morning to the unexpected site of OU space scientist Colin Pillinger's whiskers, and the news that the wreckage of the ill-fated Mars lander had been located, pretty much on target in the Isidis Planitia. It looks as if the probe was unfortunate enough to touch down in a crater, bouncing hard from the walls rather than rolling smoothly as planned.

Windows Server 2003 - the R2 intermediary release is available for download now (for Enterprise customers, at least) and adds some useful new features - chiefly, from my point of view, the ability to quarantine client PCs that are missing critical security updates until they can be brought up to date. It has to be installed onto an SP1 version of the OS, but in any case that's a worthwhile upgrade in itself.

The technology of spying - both left and right-wing blogs are buzzing over news of the US government wiretapping scandal, and as a change from politics Ars Technica is reading between the lines to put together a picture of the technologies that have taken over from the notorious Carnivore and Echelon systems, likely to be descendants of the slightly-less classified TIA and CALEA programmes.

Peer-reviewed encyclopaedia - in the wake of all the fuss over Wikipedia (will it, won't it, should it, shouldn't it?) it has evidently occurred to somebody that there's room in the market. The new Digital Universe project will mix user-contributed articles with those checked and approved by experts in the field - and both will be clearly identified. Where the money will come from, though, is not so clear...

The art of retouching - a fascinating interactive demonstration of all the little tricks used to turn a regular human being into a magazine cover model. Absolutely everything has been tweaked, from the shape of the eyes to the size of the breasts, and although the overall effect is clear when you see the before and after shots, I doubt that most people would realise how extensive the changes really were.

And finally, the man who invented the Web finally has a weblog, and in best tradition his first entry is titled "So I have a blog". I've always thought that Berners-Lee's contribution was more evolutionary than revolutionary, building as it did on concepts originated in a number of long-forgotten systems such as WAIS, Gopher, Archie and the like, and I was pleased to see that he seems to feel the same.

 

19th December

Just a few quick links, tonight, the first batch courtesy of the excellent geek site Ars.Technica - always one of my staples for news and analysis, and thoroughly recommended:

30 years of market share - from the launch of the Altair in 1977, through the explosion of different companies and models in the eighties, to the near-monopoly of the PC-compatible ten years later.

Online dating under the microscope - commercial dating sites are threatening to assume the mantle of the music industry, attempting to lay down moral codes that they themselves will not live up to.

Google buying into AOL - it looks as if the web giant will be paying $1 billion for a 5 percent stake in the ailing AOL, leading industry pundits to speculate about what this could mean to Microsoft.

Toys through the ages - among the earliest known toys are a set of dancing ivory figures from Middle Kingdom Egypt 4000 years ago, and things seems to have gone downhill steadily from there.

Subtle, restrained christmas decorations - Apparently it uses 16,000 lights, controlled by a computer - and as you might have guessed, is in Texas...

Whizz for Atoms - Dan is back, pontificating over the lure of the physical world experienced by even the most virtually-minded techies. (I still haven't got used to the rather sterile new decor, though.

Working for Google - Free food and laundry, child care, leisure activities on tap... I've heard this all before, though, from Microsoft in the first half of the nineties and Apple in the second half.

A classic hack - at the traditional home of hacking, MIT, an enterprising individual or group has redecorated the main building as a level from the Mario arcade games. Marvellous!

Robot to the rescue - following a minor but extremely problematic equipment failure at the White Sands Missile Range, an unexpectedly flexible remote handling system from Sandia saved the day.

Xbox 360 in an Atari 2600 shell - most people are still queuing, searching and paying over the odds for Microsoft's new console, but this adventurous modder has gutted his completely in a good cause.

iPod pants - It's the wrong trousers, Grommit! And they've gone wrong! If you've been lying awake at nights pining for a pair of boxer shorts with a built in pocket for your iPod, your wait is over...

And finally, a little-known tale from the early days of the space programme in the late fifties. As part of Project Man High, a series of tests designed to study the physical and psychological effects on humans travelling outside of the Earth's atmosphere, a test pilot named Joseph Kittinger repeatedly jumped out of a high altitude balloon wearing only an experimental pressure suit. His eventual record was a descent from 102,800 feet, outside 99% of the atmosphere, during which he reached a velocity of 614 miles an hour - almost the speed of sound! After this, and a related programme that followed, he volunteered for three combat tours in Vietnam, flying a total of 483 missions before being shot down in May 1972 and spending 11 months as prisoner of war. It's a fascinating account, and Kittinger was evidently a remarkable man.

 

18th December

People are always coming up to me and saying "Emo, do people really come up to you?"

 - Emo Philips

 

eBay admits growing fraud problem - the company's director of trust and safety (what a job title!) has admitted to "extreme growth" in the number of account hijacking and fraud incidents during 2005, believed to number in the tens of thousands.

Another Dell battery recall - only eighteen months after the last such incident, the company has issued a recall on a further 35,000 batteries, including models used with the popular Latitude and Inspiron range sold between October 2004 and October 2005.

Futurama to be resurrected? - regular readers will know that I am extremely fond of Matt Groening's SF cartoon series, so I've been following the various rumours of its return with considerable interest. The latest gossip suggests a DVD movie, an approach that has also been taken for Family Guy.

A new home for the GDI  - rumours are also circulating that for Vista Microsoft is intending to move at least part of the graphics subsystem up out of the kernel, reversing the controversial decision taken back in 1995 during the development of NT4.

Bill and Melinda honoured - Time magazine has named the couple as their "Persons of 2005", along with U2's Bono, for their significant contributions to the fight against poverty and disease in the third world. Compare this with Bill's arch-rival Larry Ellison of Oracle, who in spite of repeatedly claiming the moral high-ground during the anti-trust trials of the late '90s, apparently only gives to charity when he is forced to by the courts...

 

17th December

I've just acquired another of the marvellous little Sun StorEdge Multipack disk cabinets I use on my server at home (twelve ultra/wide SCSI drives in a unit the size of a large shoebox - neat!) and to my annoyance this one turned out to be locked. Having chased the eBay vendor to no effect whatsoever ("We don't have a key we had no idea it was locked! We only power them up and make sure they work!") and tried a large bunch of spare keys from assorted 19" racks at the office without success, I decided that desperate measures were called for and headed off to the infamous MIT Guide To Lock-picking.

Having digested the basics, it seemed that the most primitive technique (variously called "scrubbing" or "raking") would be the best bet - rather than concentrating on lifting each individual pin one at a time, it uses a rapid outwards motion in an attempt to bounce all the pins up together, not dissimilar to the way that a mechanical pick gun would. This technique needs less practice, and is well suited to cheap, simple locks, but can easily damage the relatively soft brass pins of the mechanism and so is not advisable for a lock that needs to be used and relied on after being picked.

In this case, however, I was intending to leave the cabinet permanently unlocked and so I made myself a simple pick from a piece of scrap wire and set to work. It was pretty boring, and pretty frustrating, and as I didn't seem to be making any progress after ten minutes or so of alternately working my pick through the mechanism and re-reading the instructions for some additional clue, I was considerably startled when the lock barrel suddenly turned in my fingers and the catch sprung back. I think this was was a classic case of beginner's luck, as I didn't really feel that I'd been engaging with the lock mechanism properly up until then, but I'm certainly not complaining!

To my delight, the side panel lifted off to reveal three antique hard disks, the original Seagate Barracuda units that used to be the cutting edge of server storage back in 1996. They were among the first 7200rpm drives on the market, and with an access time of around 8ms they're still no slouch today - but at a meagre 2.1Gb capacity they are useful only as paperweights... It's sobering to think that the disks that used to run Sun and Netware servers for entire corporates wouldn't even hold the pagefile for most of my servers at the office. Oddly, though, they're in the new-style plastic Spud brackets that have only been around for the last few years, so presumably this system was in use until recently! Of course, as soon as I can source some additional Spud brackets it will be pressed back into use again, but this time with rather more capacious 18Gb drives providing a RAID-5 array in the order of 200Gb - slightly more useful, I'd say!

Meanwhile, some links...

Wikipedia founded on porn - it has emerged that the popular (if controversial) web encyclopaedia was initially funded by $500,000 from online porn company Bomis Inc. As could be expected, critics of the site are having a field day over this news, which in any case comes at a difficult time... A recent comparison of randomly chosen science entries with their equivalent in the Encyclopaedia Britannica has revealed a worrying number of factual inaccuracies and a general lack of understanding, and following an equally high-profile scandal concerning apparently malicious changes made by a user who claims (rather unconvincingly, if you ask me!) that he thought it was a "gag site", even Penny Arcade is poking fun at the ease with which highly capricious editing can be performed.... What will become of one of the showpieces of Web 2.0?  [Update: Here's another excellent example of how easily the database can be fiddled with...]

Tech girls - and talking of porn, this gallery of pictures from a Swedish LAN party is full of  girlies fondling network hardware, mostly the rather elegant purple Summit switches from Extreme Networks. I especially liked the blonde handcuffed to the 19" rack... Why don't I have one of those?

IBM hot, Sun not - the favoured platform for big iron Unix servers is no longer Sun, it seems, but instead IBM with HP nipping at their heels. A survey of sysadmins from big corporates shows the traditional market leader lagging behind the competitors right across the board.

Mona Lisa decoded - a researcher at the University of Amsterdam has used prototype emotion-recognition software to analyse the famous smile, revealing that the model was 83 per cent happy, 9 per cent disgusted, 6 per cent fearful and 2 per cent angry. Indeed.

How to make a DRM CD - Alex Halderman, one of the researchers who has been analysing the various nefarious techniques used by Sony's notorious audio CDs, has released a guide to creating your own equivalent to the disks protected by systems such as XCP and Macrovision.

 

15th December

Apropos of nothing:

Fry:  If I could just learn to play this stupid thing!

Bender:  Oh, but you can - though you may have to metaphorically make a deal with the devil. And by "devil", I mean "robot devil", and by "metaphorically", I mean "get your coat"...

- Futurama Episode 5-16: "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings".

 

Elsewhere, some random links...

How to kill a mockingbird - if you listen carefully, you can actually hear Harper Lee spinning in her grave. Well, to be honest, you don't even have to listen that carefully...

Self-assembling cubes - yet another small step towards the SF dream (or nightmare, depending on who you listen to!) of universal nanotech assemblers.

The evolving alphabet - an extremely clever animation showing how the modern alphabet has emerged from early European languages over the last three thousand years.

3 years of Catalyst drivers - a fascinating comparison at AnandTech reveals that, apart from early on in the development process, performance gains have been relatively minimal.

Bounty for upgrading PVR - a company that specialises in TiVO tweaks and addons is offering to pay for techniques to open up one of the latest, and heavily locked down, entries to the market.

Xbox 360 already halfway cracked - in spite of the fact that it's only been on the market for about thirty seconds, considerable progress has been made to defeating the new console's protection.

Dangerous magnets - United Nuclear is selling the largest Neodymium Magnets I've ever seen, and from what I've seen of their smaller cousins the safety warnings are not to be taken lightly.

High-tech babes - an Italian entrepreneur is hoping to start the first talent agency for computer generated models, and from the look of the sample images it's not a totally silly idea...

Platform games not quite dead - the popular first-person shooter Halo has been transformed into a side-scrolling game somewhat reminiscent of the classic Apogee games from the pre-Doom era.

Java falling from grace - the growing popularity of Microsoft's .Net and lightweight scripting languages such as Javascript, AJAX and PHP has lead to some commentators suggesting that Java is fading.

Confessions of an honest cracker - this unrepentant gamer has been cracking legally-purchased games for more than fifteen years simply to avoid the annoyance of the copy-protection systems.

Video game myths debunked (again) - courtesy of the director of comparative studies at MIT, an excellent rebuttal of the absurd claims made by the lying, self-deluding anti-game campaigners.

 

14th December

All the news that's fit to link... Well, actually, only some of the news, as I'm pushed for time again.

A sanitised history of the web - To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the World Wide Web, CNN has presented a list of the "Top 10 Moments" in its development - although as there is no mention of rampant porn, warez sites, pointless blogs and dead links it doesn't seem to be the same web that I've been using...

Apple eyeing-up the competition - Following the announcement that Microsoft and MTV are to develop a new online music service, I can imagine signs of tension in the boardrooms at Cupertino - the party line is that iTunes is unstoppable with its current 70% market share, but actually that remains to be seen.

It walks, it talks, it pulls a cart  - The second version of Honda's remarkable Asimo robot has had its public debut, and from the look of the video clips on the official site it's as much of a step forward as the original.

A new offering from Silverstone - This fully-modular EPS-12V power supply would have been just what I wanted, had it been available a few months ago when I bought my Seasonic S12 - although the tests suggest that it's not as whisper-quiet as my current model, something I have certainly grown to appreciate.

EFF warns off Warner/Chappell - Following the music giant's cease & desist order against a small
freeware developer over an application that inserts music lyrics into iTunes songs, the EFF has responded in no uncertain terms.

Intel processor roadmap revealed - Although the officially announced CPUs are 65nm, the move to 45nm technology is imminent and it will bring chips with as many as eight cores and up to 12Mb of shared L2 cache in a single package. That's a lot of horsepower, certainly, but one wonders what the thermal load will be...

 

13th December

I have a nasty case of mixed feelings, today, having received some very poor service from a company that nevertheless eventually produced an extremely high-quality product. The company is Luminati Waycon (which never fails to remind me of Weyland-Yutani, the ruthless military-industrial corporation from the Aliens movies), manufacturer of display cabinets etc for shops and museums, and the product is a beautiful acrylic cabinet that they made to my exact specification, intended to hold all my models, knick-knacks, thingamajigs and oddments once I finally get around to unpacking them.

The problem is not with their manufacturing prowess, which is obviously more than competent (if perhaps a touch slower than I was expecting at around seven weeks from placing the order to shipping), but with that last and often most problematic step, delivery. I forgave the first time they postponed at the last moment, although it caused some considerable inconvenience for the friend who had kindly offered to wait at home to accept delivery, but that was considerably harder to manage when the second date they gave me also came and went with an equal lack of progress. By this time the long-suffering friend had run out of holiday days, and when the courier company phoned me by surprise this morning to check that I would be available to sign for the crate I had no option but to throw myself on the mercy of my manager and slip out for an hour mid-morning to take delivery.

That ominous word "crate" inspired me to throw myself on the mercy of one of my PFYs, as well, and I'm very glad I did, as when all packed up the thing was approximately the size, shape and weight of an upright piano. We managed to drag it into my front garden to prise it open (it would have been impossible to manoeuvre through my rather narrow front door and hallway still packaged) and quicker than one could translate the Book Of Macabies from Hebrew into Lithuanian we had the cabinet itself exposed - at which point it became significantly more manageable. By then work was calling so we quit while we were ahead and shot back to the office, leaving me to unwrap several dozen yards of bubble wrap and carefully lift the cabinet into its intended home when I got back this evening.

So I'm cross, tonight, because according to the freight company itself the "economy" service that Luminati Waycon had booked couldn't possibly have got the cabinet to me on the day promised - in spite of earnest assurances that it would do just that - and so my friend wasted two whole days waiting and my PFY and I had to leave our workplace in the middle of the day, something not done lightly given how busy we are...

On the other hand, the cabinet is beautiful, and everything I'd hoped for - all the joints and edges are clean and sharp, the doors fit nicely and open smoothly, and the clusters of white LEDs in the base light the interior brightly and evenly. It's also very big - surprisingly so, given that it was made to my exact specifications! - and has enough room to hold all my space models (even the large Mir kit, I think) with room left over for all the ones currently languishing un-made in boxes. I'm hoping that will inspire me to do something about the backlog, as some of them are going to be really interesting and rewarding to make.

I still have to find someone to re-plaster the wall behind the cabinet, as the bright lights brutally highlight the yawning void where I removed a fireplace surround to provide sufficient space for the cabinet to stand (the black background is a sheet draped over the gap as a temporary measure) and of course I still have to unpack all the models and ornaments from the boxes in which they've spent the last eighteen months - but even now, empty, it's certainly a thing of beauty.

 

12th December

An interesting evening helping a friend move house, involving much driving around East London with a car-load of assorted things'n'stuff, and an impromptu demonstration of the approved yardie technique of opening a Yale lock using only a piece of bent wire. Informative, but tiring, and it doesn't leave much time for links:

 

Linux tablet from Nokia

Planespotters keeping tabs on the CIA

More uses for a Pringles can

The IT year in quotes

Apple losing ground to Linux

Chameleon scarves and cyborg suits

Bees not as stupid as they look

Thought Wikipedia was a "gag site"

Revolution not especially revolutionary

Case crying over split milk

This SMS will self-destruct in 30 seconds

Cool watches and annoying clocks

 

10th December

A few links for the weekend:

P2P U-turn - Loudeye, one of the companies employed by the RIAA to pollute the file-sharing networks with fake MP3s in an attempt to make them unusable, has decided that actually there's more money to be made by crossing over to the light side of the Force and concentrating on distribution of digital music instead.

eBay pulls security auction - a bizarre auction for the details of a vulnerability in Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet has been cancelled before some spotty little script kiddie could capitalise on it to create an exploit, and in my opinion the balloon head who decided to try to profit from the flaw in this way deserves to be charged under as many computer misuse laws as possible.

Things Lovecraftian - pocket-sized papercraft Necronomicon notebooks to make, the legend of The Great Old Pumpkin as text or podcast and, courtesy of the wonderful Cthulhu Lives! site, sensational musical offerings in the form of A Very Scary Solstice and A Shoggoth on the Roof. Just the thing when you're relaxing in your plush new slippers.

Meanwhile, I found this marvellous photograph by accident on a somewhat disreputable German media 'blog, and finally managed to track it down to a photo album at the TroopCarePackage.com site, which credits it only to "Felicia in Iraq". Apart from being almost insufferably cute (yes, I admit it, even I think that little kitten is sweet) take a look at the assault rifle - anything modified in such an extensive but businesslike manner (bipod, ACOG scope and cheek rest, magazines taped back-to-back, extra padding or heat insulation on the handguard) is designed for the sharp end of combat and nothing else. It's a far cry from the clean, elegant factory configurations that my replicas are modelled on, and serves as a much-needed reminder to stay-at-home enthusiasts such as myself exactly what these weapons are meant to do. I will be hoping that both the owner and the kitten manage to stay out of harm's way.

 

9th December

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'd bought myself a new tape library for the server, but unfortunately when it arrived it was far from satisfactory: the casing was horribly scarred, the two removable tape magazines were missing, and three of the four tape drives appeared faulty! Given that it was described as being in "A1" condition and full working order, needless to say I was not at all impressed... The vendor offered a refund, but then admitted that actually they had another identical library in stock, leaving me wondering whether they'd sent me the wrong one! I agreed to consider a swap if the second library tested out Ok, but when I hadn't heard anything from them after two days I started browsing again. In the event I'm quite pleased with the way this worked out, as almost right away I came across an example of a library that looks far more suitable to my requirements, the Exabyte "Arrowhead" 690D. It's broadly comparable in its capacity to the ATL library, but rather than a low, cube-ish form factor suitable for rack mounting, it's a tall, slim, free-standing wheeled unit far more appropriate to a computer facility located in a domestic kitchen.

This model has four of the six drive bays populated with DLT7000 drives, and 90 tape slots giving a native capacity of around 3Tb fully loaded, and when it was new in 1998 it would have cost well in excess of $50,000! What is interesting about the design is that to achieve the slim form factor, as well as the usual XYZ robotic picker assembly, the tape magazines are mounted on a series of hexagonal rotating carousels - an idea that greatly appeals to my love of tape automation. I am very much looking forward to watching everything moving and turning through the big window in the front panel, a feature that in my opinion all tape library manufacturers ought to incorporate - as well as making status checks and troubleshooting considerably easier, the robotics are so cool to watch in action!

The downside to this particular purchase is that the library is currently located in Canada, and I'll end up paying considerably more for shipping than for the library itself - but this sort of hardware is very cheap at present (the enterprises who originally bought mid-range libraries have long since outgrown the DLT7000 tapes they support) and as obsolete tape systems are traditionally somewhat eccentric and demanding beasties nobody else wants them except the brave few who manage a datacenter in the comfort of their own home. Watch this space for further details (and maybe even some video) - and cross your fingers for me that it survives the long journey intact!

Meanwhile, at least a little closer to home...

Ballmer speaks - Microsoft's fearsome supremo holds forth on subjects ranging from the growth of the company and the threat of Google, to the rumoured lack of Xbox hardware.

Pocket Linux - fancy a Linux server the size of a stick of gum? I have to admit that I don't, particularly, but it's a wonderful achievement and I'm sure some earnestly-bearded types will want them...

Dual graphics - Tom's Hardware Guide compares the offerings from ATI and nVidia and concludes that although the latter is ahead at present, things will even up as soon as ATI's next generation ships

Silicon disks rear their head again - this idea has surfaced every five years or so, as regular as clockwork, since around 1985... And it still doesn't seem to be up to much even twenty years later!

The chemistry of brewing - a long-running effort intended to analyse the myriad of chemicals that form the flavour of beers is starting to make some significant progress at last, but it's still far from over.

More RIAA bastardry - the take-down notice that Warner Chappell issued against PearLyrics last week turns out to the the first shot in a war against online lyrics sites. <sigh> Where will this end?

And finally, a recent column at The Register was extremely scathing on the EFF's apparent talent for losing the legal challenges they take on, and predicted an equal lack of success with their case against Sony's rootkit DRM. I have to admit that I was surprised, as although one has to admit that they haven't been the most sucessful of organisations, at least they're trying (show me anyone else who is!)  and they do end up facing the most daunting and well-resourced of opponents - the Federal Government, the global recording industry, etc etc. I was even more surprised when the next letters column revealed that a significant number of Reg readers seem to agree with the indictment, and it was only after the story appeared on Slashdot that any significant opposition to the article emerged. I think this is a worrying trend, as if the EFF starts to lose popular support then financial support will tail off as well, leaving them even more ineffectual and leaving us without any defence against the tide of corporate bastardry that threatens to overwhelm the Internet, the media, the copyright and patent laws, and anything else that those money-grabbing, power-hungry SOBs feel like laying their hands on. It's a sobering thought...

 

8th December

Imation's new Ulysses device is the cleverest thing I've seen in ages - laptop-format SATA hard disks inside a casing the size and shape of an LTO tape, and a matching "docking bay" the size and shape of an LTO tape drive... They drop into an existing library and emulate the tape subsystem exactly, only with the performance of a hard disk instead. Laptop-style 2" drives have relatively small capacities in comparison to conventional 3" drives at the moment (I don't remember seeing one greater than 100Gb, yet, which is broadly equivalent to an LTO-1 tape) but this will change soon enough, making the system even more interesting. There are no price details (and not enough technical details at present, either) until the product ships early next year, but it is certainly worth investigating.

And talking of hot hardware, the latest offering from water cooling specialist Koolance is a water block that slips over a pair of memory modules. I'm not sure how many systems really need water-cooled memory DIMMs, but I have to admit that they look fantastic - all pipes and tubes, and very elegant. Perhaps fortunately, though, it wouldn't be feasible to add more resistance to the cooling loop in Infinity 4 and so I don't need to blindly obey my urges by rushing out to buy some.

Not so hot, but equally cool, are some remarkable audio electronics designs from Susan Parker. I spent a while chatting with Susan at a Thanksgiving party a few weeks ago, and it made a refreshing change to find someone whose knowledge of physics makes mine look like a schoolboy hobby. I'll have to take her word for the unusually high fidelity of her audio amplifiers (although I am more than happy to do just that!) but even my tyro's eye can appreciate the elegance of the white marble sphere speakers. Take a look - it's a fascinating site, I'm sure, if you're into high-end audio...

More on the back yard cyclotron - the erstwhile physicist's neighbours have convinced the city to propose a law specifically banning particle accelerators in residential areas. Spoilsports!

Helmet covers - cycling helmets are not traditionally the most elegant of headgear, but these add-on foam covers transform them with dinosaurs heads, brains, spikes and insects. Wonderful stuff.

DIY passport photos - fed up with queuing for a photo booth then paying through the nose? The ePassportPhoto service will process an existing picture into the standard format required, for free.

The ultimate in personalised products - have your DNA sequenced, and then representations of the base pairs copied onto ties, jewellery, mirrors, or champagne glasses. The latter are really elegant.

Creative playing hardball - the audio company seems to be about to take aim at Apple's iPod, having somehow managed to patent the idea of selecting songs by their metadata. This is getting silly...

 

7th December

I'm still searching for an ATI Radeon X800 All-In-Wonder multimedia card to allow me to use dual monitors on my main home PC, so I was excited to see a batch of them being sold on eBay at a temptingly affordable price. However, I soon realised that unfortunately these are the so-called Special Edition cards, where "special" in this case means "artificially crippled". The absence of half of the sixteen pixel pipelines of the full-bore XT model mean that the SE GPU is noticeably slower, and in fact in some tests it isn't very much faster than the last generation 9800 XT I'm using now! They're certainly very reasonably priced at 200 each, even for white box OEM cards, and it is still tempting, but the meagre performance gains really wouldn't be sufficient for my tastes and I guess I'll have to keep searching. Even though it allegedly launched a year or so ago the PAL version of the XT is incredibly rare, however, and none of the suppliers I've found so far even have it listed, let alone in stock!  <muttering>

Meanwhile, all the news that's fit to link:

More bullying from the music industry - a small freeware developer has been hit with a takedown notice from Warner/Chappell Music because of an application that searched for music lyrics! Bah!

Supply and demand pricing for music - fancy paying a few cents to download a song that nobody else likes, and five dollars for a popular track? No, actually, neither do I...

Gaming gifts for the obscenely rich - CNN chooses christmas presents for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Queen Elizabeth. Bill gets a quarter of a million dollars of wall-to-wall computer screen, by the way.

A damning analysis of 180solutions - following their lawsuit against Zone Labs, an enterprising blogger puts their Zango online game service under the microscope and watches it misbehave.

eBay confused - a phishing email was convincing enough that eBay's own tech support initially thought it was genuine - but the way the fake site is hosted on compromised PCs is fiendish.

Running Linux on Windows - it's been possible to install Linux into Microsoft's Virtual Server before, but that configuration is now fully supported in the latest version of the product.

IM worm chats with victims - the latest instant messaging malware, the catchily named IM.Myspace04.AIM, attempts to con its targets by sending them simple chat phrases.

Aperture fails to live up to hype - Apple's new "professional" image editing application has failed to impress, it seems, with low graphics quality, poor performance and basic features missing.

Reverse engineering - in an unusual twist, the new Deflexion is the physical board game of the classic computer games where you shine light beams into a grid to interact with reflective objects.

 

5th December

A very modern implementation of a very traditional concept, and just the thing to take the place of a mantelpiece clock which I've had to retire - along with the mantelpiece, which will be replaced with a custom Perspex display cabinet currently on its way to me from specialist manufacturer Luminati Waycon. It's been a small frenzy of interior design here at Chteau Epicycle, celebrating one year of being in the house, and if I can find someone to plaster and paint the yawning void where I prised off the fireplace surround and mantelpiece, it will all be ready in time for christmas. It will be good to have all my ornaments, models and knick-knacks out on show again, though, and that might even inspire me to start building a few of the un-made kits that I have tucked away in the back room. Watch this space...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

A make-over for Dan's Data - the redoubtable Dan has tarted up his equally redoubtable web site with a new, modern look, one which has totally traumatised me after many years of the old design.

Comprehensive list of MS-DOS 6 documentation errors - found by accident while searching the knowledgebase - and nobody can accuse Microsoft of not supporting their old products...

Xbox vs. Xbox 360 - Gamespot has compared the two consoles using a set of games that are available on both. The differences are certainly notable, but why so many damn sports simulations?

Top 10 hacks - an odd selection, including rtm's unintentional Internet worm but omitting the Chaos Computer Club and the infamous hack of Prince Philip's Prestel mailbox live on UK television.

Wikipedia under fire - the value of a user-edited encyclopaedia is in question again, thanks to some deliberate muck-racking and a fine example of complete idiocy.

Microsoft to modify IE - the way in which ActiveX controls work will change in response to the controversial Eolas lawsuit, but Microsoft insists that they are still determined to fight the decision.

Evil, but cosy! - soft, cuddly slippers in the form of Chthulhu, the Great Old One from the Lovecraft mythos. The wisdom of trusting your tootsies to The Eater Of Souls has to be questioned, though...

USB-powered air darts - if you can't survive for a moment longer without a desktop surface-to-air missile battery (and god knows, I can't!) then help is on hand at a surprisingly reasonable price.

Vista's Restart Manager - an interesting feature of the upcoming version of the OS, Restart Manager minimises system reboots and, if they are still necessary, at least minimises their impact.

RAID on rye - at Tom's Hardware, another marvellous modding job, a regular domestic toaster hiding a Linux-based file server configured as a network attached storage device.

Set-back for game content law - controversial legislation passed in Illinois to restrict sales of "violent" video games has been found unconstitutional in a federal court, a decision that may well hinder the conservative plans for equally restrictive legislation, the Family Entertainment Protection Act, due to come before the US Senate in a couple of weeks.

 

3rd December

Random links, and lightning-fast, too... Blink, and you'll miss 'em.

Cooling your children - a previously unsuspected use for those discarded CPU heat sinks.

Porno for bibles - you have to admire their style, but mostly their sheer chutzpah.  :-)

The Tardis Tapes - speaking off the record, a Dalek shares its thoughts on Dr Who.

Stallman rocks - the Unix guru has been out manning the barricades at a recent DRM protest.

Unlicensed nuclear accelerator - setting up a cyclotron in your home may annoy your neighbours.

Small, but perfectly formed - after a long wait, Storage Review's first laptop disk tests.

Apple, the T-shirt years - the history of the company, as illustrated by the geeks themselves.

Chest wear - and talking of T-shirts, some of the offerings from Busted Tees are excellent.

Zone Labs sued - spyware manufacturer 180solutions really hates the term "spyware"...

Ingenious photo library - carefully designed threads of images to illustrate the world around us.

Scratch-proof disks - these blank CDs have little bumps around the edge to keep them safe.

Evading wiretaps - switch off the recorder remotely using off-the-shelf hardware. Marvellous!

Knitted zombies - cult movie Shaun Of The Dead re-enacted with woolly dolls. Time. hands, etc.

Giving it all away - Sun are putting their money where their corporate mouth is.

Adventures in synthetic biology - the hot new topic of artificial life in comic strip form.

No Xmas for Sony - I don't see this boycott catching on, but it has to be worth a try...

Government waste - this DVD intended to promote the ID card scheme costs 290 per disc!

Archaeopteryx had dinosaur feet - even more evidence of the link between reptiles and birds.

Podcast hijacked - the latest cyber-crime, having your RSS feed held to ransom.

 

2nd December

My central heating has been fixed at last, so as I write this I'm nicely warm but also feeling somewhat chastened. The engineer arrived this morning and I pointed him to the boiler in its little cupboard in the hall - and while I was turning around to close the front door again he fixed the problem! It seems that an overheat protection thermostat in the boiler's electronic controller had tripped for some reason, and all it took was to press a little reset button underneath the unit for everything to burst into life again. As it happens I actually have the technical manual for the system, but it's full of manifold pressures and flow rates and wiring schematics and contains very little information appropriate to the end user - although the reset button is shown on the diagrams now I know to look for it there isn't anything that says "if things go wrong just press this button"...

It was a sobering experience, as after two decades of fixing computer problems with a few keystrokes or a couple of mouse-clicks, only to have the user exclaim "well, if I'd known it was that easy...!", it's rare for me to find myself on the receiving end of such treatment. I've been without proper heating or hot water for almost a week because I didn't know enough to press a button, and I think the 45 he charged me for doing that (I guess he took pity on my abject ignorance, as he tested the various thermostats quite extensively and gave the rest of the system a once-over as well while he was there) was worth the lesson. As a hardware and systems geek this stuff shouldn't be quite so impenetrable to me as it apparently is, and I'm resolved to learn more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the baleful gaze of New York's formidable attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, has fallen on Sony once more following their little adventure in DRM. Spitzer has already sued the company once over a classic "payola" scam, which they settled earlier in the year for $10 million, and now it seems that there's a good chance of his state joining Texas in filing suit over the rootkit as well.

And while I'm on the subject, thanks to the high number of people making comments comparing file sharing to car theft in that thread - in spite of the rhetoric from the media industry, downloading or sharing copyrighted music and movies is not "stealing", it is not "theft". Those acts are when you take something away from the rightful owner, leaving him without it, and that hardly applies to making a digital copy of a wholly intangible item whilst leaving the original intact. Depending on the circumstances it may (or may not!) be illegal, and may (or may not!) be immoral, but it isn't theft.

The correct term, of course, is "copyright infringement", but the RIAA and the MPAA are deliberately using these inaccurate but highly emotive terms in an attempt to whip up public support for their case. Fortunately, it appears that the vestiges of support they have are being eroded by the fallout from their continued campaign of litigious bullying against children, grandparents, disabled people, etc - which, amazingly, shows no sign of slowing down. Also worth noting is the moral low ground taken by the industry itself - for all its hectoring words about right and wrong, every month brings further news of payola scandals, price-fixing cartels, faked-up movie reviews, and recording artists being cheated out of royalties. For people throwing so many stones, an unusually large part of their houses seem to be made of glass...

 

1st December

Good grief, it's December already!

Porn off 80 - a bunch of right wing loons (connected with the infamous SCO Group, as it happens) has started a campaign to have Internet pornography moved away from the standard HTTP port 80. Anyone who understands computers and porn companies will know immediately how pointless that is

Tesco spamming - Tesco is blitzing the UK with spam e-mails, dispatching between 16 and 20 million every month to four million consumers. Last month they sent out 44 separate mail shots, each promoting a different offer, while their competitors in the marketplace sent out ten or less.

No more Pentium - it looks as if Intel will be retiring the venerable "Pentium" trademark, after four (or maybe five, if you count the current dual core chips) generations stretching over more than twelve years.  [Brushes away a tear]  Ah, but I remember the launch as if it was only yesterday...

Two cores good, three cores bad - Tom's Hardware has created a bizarre three-CPU monster using a dual-core and a single-core chip on an Athlon SMP motherboard - and as one might expect the results are mixed: it's fast, but it's certainly not the most stable of systems...

First RIAA lawsuit nears - in spite of the astounding number of lawsuits brought against alleged file-sharers, the RIAA's bullying tactics have dissuaded almost everyone from challenging their claims. One courageous woman is standing up to them, however, and she's about to have her day in court.

Use of lie detectors to spread - a new walk-through airport lie detector will ask airline passengers a series of yes/no questions (lasting around a minute) about their intentions and analyse their replies for voice stress, and the success rate claimed for the system is high. As usual, I am extremely dubious.

And finally, at some 3rd rate geek blog I've never heard of (apparently an offshoot of THG), a brainless article on women and computer pet simulations, in which we're informed that:

"Women seem to have an almost mystical bond with animals. Can science truly account for the affinity that women have with dogs, horses and cats?"

Oh, please! But the author doesn't stop there, unfortunately, as in a companion article on horror games, we're assured that:

"Women will go places that men find fearful - such as exploring their dreams or the occult. Women know how to suspend disbelief and let things happen, like believing in intuition. Men are often freaked out by intuitive things that women can do quite naturally. No one really knows why, but women are drawn to mystery-related entertainment. Women like surprises."

The author of this twaddle is a woman, it seems, but it's clear to me that she massively over-estimates her ability to speak for the majority (or even a significant minority) of her sex. Of all my female friends I'm only aware of one with any noticeable fondness for animals (and she wouldn't have any interest at all in imitation ones), and none at all who like "horror games"... So there you go.

 

Meanwhile, back at the stats... As predicted, another gentle climb over last month's figures, helped along a little by a link from Avedon when she was guest blogging at Kevin Drum's high profile Political Animal column at The Washington Monthly. That caused a spike in the stats sharp enough to impale myself on, which is always fun - even if only briefly.   :-)

I'm not expecting much of an increase next month, now, as I have the feeling that I'm approaching my natural level again now, but there's always the unexpected. We shall have to wait and see...

 

 

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